Brooklyn-based post-punk band Groupie, consisting of Ashley Kossakowski (bass, vocals) and Johanna Healy (guitar, vocals), has carved out a niche through its DIY approach and riot grrrl-inspired aesthetic, drawing from the likes of Patti Smith and Sleater-Kinney. Having put out two EPs, 2017’s Groupie and 2018’s Validated, today the group releases its debut album, Ephemeral. – available on vinyl via Handstand Records and cassette via Tapehead City.
The band formed in 2015, after Kossakowski read a book about the riot grrrl movement. “I was really inspired because a lot of those bands, like Bikini Kill and all the bands in that scene, didn’t have any experience when they started and just kind of came together and started learning their instruments together and made awesome punk music,” she says. “So I decided to put out a Craigslist ad just really honestly being like, ‘I don’t have any technical musical experience.’ I listed some of my influences, and Johanna responded.”
Healy had been writing music and playing it in her bedroom, though she wasn’t making music formally either, so she helped guide Kossakowski as she learned the craft.
Kossakowski grew up in Chicago and attended shows constantly, earning the nickname “Groupie” from her mom – so it made for a perfect band name. While some might think of a groupie as a woman devoted to following male musicians, the band wanted to redefine the concept to include women who care about music and make it themselves.
“The scene that I was in when I was in high school was super male-dominated,” says Kossakowski. “I think I can name one woman in one band that I would regularly see. I definitely felt like there wasn’t a place for me then, so I wanted to kind of flip that meaning on its head.”
The album incorporates elements of shoegaze and talk-singing a bit reminiscent of the Velvet Underground, as well as shout-singing more along the lines of Rancid. The title Ephemeral encapsulates a common theme among many of the songs, exploring the moments in life that may feel big and long-lasting but are actually fleeting. It comes from the chorus of the single “Thick as Glue,” which repeats the word “ephemeral” as the band comments on groupie culture: “Young woman, idolizing heroic men/singing ’bout heroin/Tried to keep it cool, now it’s my turn too/Who you think you’re looking up to?”
“We had just finished recording vocals, and Johanna and I were just going back and forth and thinking of different names for the album,” Kossakowski remembers. “I remember we were listening to ‘Thick as Glue;’ the engineer we were working with was starting to fix it, and in the chorus we say ‘ephemeral’ together, and we turned to each other and said, ‘Is that it? Yeah, that’s it.'”
Even though they finished recording the album in January 2020, a number of the songs are relevant to the current state of the world. The second track, the bass-heavy “Waiting,” for instance, was written by Kossakowski while she was unemployed and feeling depressed, and its message may be uplifting to those who’ve lost their jobs due to the pandemic. “That moment ended up being fleeting. It felt like it was never going to end and it was many months of that, but in the grand scheme of my life, it was a fleeting moment I learned from,” she says. “I’m sure everyone feels like we’re in a state of flux and just kind of waiting until this pandemic eases up.”
The mellow, bi-lingual “Daleko,” which Kossakowski co-wrote with her Polish immigrant mom, is named after the Polish word for distance. It was written as an homage to Kossakowski’s relatives in Poland, but it also now speaks to the separation between her and Healy, who have only been able to see each other once in person since the pandemic began.
Other songs on the album include the surfy, sassy, tongue-in-cheek “Half Wave,” in which deconstructs a dysfunctional relationship Kossakowski was in; the minimalist “Industry,” which describes buying things you don’t need in order to numb yourself, and the angsty “Human Again,” a reflection on post-tour depression.
Their overall goal with Ephemeral was to create a “dichotomy of soft but also hard-as-fuck edgy,” says Healy. This was partly achieved through the addition of guitarist Eamon Lebow, who added delicate notes to some places on the album and dark, dissonant chords to others. The instrumentals were recorded live with Kossakowski, Healy, Lebow, and drummer Aaron Silberstein, and they added the vocals afterward.
With the album, the band aims to cement their unique sound. “I think it would be nice if people saw this as something fresh, like an original sound within the rock/indie/punk world,” says Healy. They’re also hoping to remind people that the emotional roller-coaster we’re all on, much like the ride that inspired it, won’t last forever. “I think there’s some really fun moments on the album and some darker moments, so if listeners go on that journey with us of the highs and the lows, I think that would be really awesome.”