Fueled by youthful bravado and an explosive retro-futuristic sound, this young punk-rock power trio blasts the lid off your expectations with their debut, Versions of Modern Performance.
Since the dawn of garage rock, basements and carports across America have played host to untold thousands of high school friends looking to fulfill that insatiable need to form a band. And, of course, it’s never easy, but even when everything clicks, it’s probably safe to say that not many of them wind up getting signed to the genre-defining indie rock label Matador Records on their first try.
“For us, it started purely as three teenagers who were doing it for fun,” gushes Penelope Lowenstein—at 18, the youngest member of the teenaged three-piece Horsegirl, who in the short span of three years have gone from jamming together in their parents’ basements to, this October, opening for the legendary alt-rock outfit Pavement on their much-touted reunion tour. “I don’t know how it usually happens for bands, but it was just this weird moment where suddenly we were on peoples’ radar. Eventually we recorded a bunch of demos, put them on Soundcloud, and sent them to all the labels who had become interested, and that’s how we were connected with Matador.”
It isn’t easy to make good songwriting sound effortless, but this power trio—and they are definitely that—is making it happen.
There’s more to the story, but for now here’s the nitty-gritty: Versions of Modern Performance, Horsegirl’s debut album, is 34 minutes of voluminous sonic joy, tracked in its entirety at Steve Albini’s stalwart Electrical Audio and produced by studio vet John Agnello, whose prestigious credits include work with Dinosaur Jr.,Sonic Youth, the Dream Syndicate, and Kurt Vile, to name just a few. Lowenstein switches off on guitar, bass, and vocals with Nora Cheng. They met and cemented their friendship while taking part in the School of Rock program in their native Chicago. (Sidenote: They first played together in a cover band that featured, you guessed it, Sonic Youth songs on the setlist). Gigi Reece, Horsegirl’s drummer, joined in early 2019, bringing an instant powerhouse backbeat to the band’s sound, which surges with a psychedelic fervor that conjures tastes of the Velvet Underground and Nico, My Bloody Valentine, Stereolab, and Yo La Tengo—again, to name just a few.
“We were brought together by this shared love for the same kind of music,” says Cheng, describing how the resurgent Chicago scene, tough-to-crack but nurturing when it counted, eventually helped propel Horsegirl into the spotlight. They recorded their first single, the cavernous and hauntingly folk-tinged “Ballroom Dance Scene,” with their friends Jack Lickerman and Niko Kapetan (whose own band, Friko, has carved out a distinctive dream-pop niche). Eventually the Chicago Tribune came calling, running a high-profile feature on Horsegirl that sparked a critical buzz. “This was after more and more bands had started popping up that seemed to share similar influences with us, or the same ethos, I guess you could call it,” Cheng observes. “I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it all turned into a very supportive, young community.”
In a sense then, Versions of Modern Performance is as much a reflection of the scene that elevated Horsegirl as it is the band’s full-throated statement of purpose. From the sharp angles and resonant chords of the uptempo opener “Anti-glory” to the layers of sludge and whistling guitars in the mournful “Billy” (loosely inspired, with its E–B–E–B–E–B tuning, by the music of Nick Drake), the album conveys a warm, enveloping analog atmosphere where heavy-leaded psych rock, recombinant proto-punk, wistful indie-pop melodies, and volcanic blooms of guitar feedback all collide in a crucible of spontaneity. Infuse all that with a healthy dose of controlled chaos and the multi-colored picture of what Horsegirl is all about begins to take shape.
Nora Cheng’s Gear
Nora Cheng gets sonic with her Ibanez Roadstar II at the Sinclair in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 7, 2022.
Photo by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography
• Ibanez Roadstar II
• Fender Jaguar
• Vox AC30
• Fender Twin Reverb
• Ibanez Tube Screamer
• Keeley Electronics Loomer Fuzz/Reverb
Strings and Picks
• Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys (.010–.046)
• Various picks
“We had a very clear idea of how we wanted this record to sound,” Cheng says, referring to the band’s initial sessions with Agnello. “The main thing was to stay away from being too polished. We wanted it to sound like our live set. It just goes with the idea of us being a trio, and wanting to capture that live sense on the record. And it was really helpful to have somebody working with us who understood that.”
“It was hard to keep up on an actual bass, but the Bass VI made it easy for my hands. It was also a huge turning point for us songwriting-wise, because as a guitarist I can only think of it in guitar terms.” —Penelope Lowenstein
Daunted only slightly at first by the magnitude of recording at Electrical Audio (“it was crazy to see Fugazi’s thank-you note taped to the fridge there!” recalls Cheng), the trio quickly took to their surroundings and established a free-flowing collaborative rapport with their producer. “I think John’s philosophy was very much like, ‘If we get a good live energy going between the three of you, then you don’t really have to add very much else,’” Lowenstein recalls. The band set about duplicating their live setup, with Cheng relying on her Ibanez Roadstar II (her dad’s college guitar) running through a Vox AC30 or a Fender Twin, while Lowenstein played her early ’90s Fender Strat Ultra (which once belonged to her dad), often through a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. Interestingly, both guitarists also use coiled guitar cables from axe to pedalboard—a bit of an old-school move that’s perceived by many players as a midrange tone thickener, due to the cable’s length and high capacitance.
Penelope Lowenstein’s Gear
Penelope Lowenstein plays the Squier Classic Vibe Bass VI that she shares with Cheng. The instrument’s guitar-like playability made it an inspiration for songwriting for the band’s debut album.
Photo by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography
• Early ’90s Fender Stratocaster Ultra
• Fender Jazzmaster
• Squier Classic Vibe Bass VI (also used by Nora Cheng)
• Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
• EarthQuaker Westwood Translucent Drive Manipulator
• EarthQuaker Bellows Fuzz Driver
Strings and Picks
• Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys (.010–.046)
• Various picks
For the low end, they switch off on a Squier Classic Vibe Bass VI, which Lowenstein acquired from a friend. “I’m still trying to figure out what it needs amp-wise when we play live,” she admits, “but it was really a solution to being in a trio. It was hard to keep up on an actual bass, but the Bass VI made it easy for my hands. It was also a huge turning point for us songwriting-wise, because as a guitarist I can only think of it in guitar terms, but because it’s not a bass I feel like it lets me write whatever the song needs. Sometimes I’ll do low-end things, and sometimes I’ll almost take a guitar solo on it.”
Naturally, both players have embraced the expressive scope of effects pedals, and distortion in particular. Cheng prefers her Ibanez Tube Screamer for most songs, but on the ironically titled “The Fall of Horsegirl,” the violin bow comes out (shades of Jimmy Page!) and she leans into a Keeley Electronics Loomer fuzz/reverb box. “I got it when I was really big into My Bloody Valentine,” she reveals, “and it has some really cool—I think they’re reverse—reverb sounds. We just cranked a bunch of stuff on it like, ‘Okay, what sounds cool with the bow?’ And it turned into this very big, cathedral-like sound. It’s noisy, but it’s also a bit beautiful. That came from a lot of experimentation.”
“The idea behind interludes is not just to be there for no reason. They’re meant to break apart the album and let you settle after this one and prepare for this next one.” —Nora Cheng
Lowenstein comes back to “Billy,” the album’s closing track. “I’ve basically stolen my dad’s Jazzmaster to play just that one song on tour, because it’s ridiculous to retune like that,” she says. “But I have an EarthQuaker Westwood on it—that’s the sound of my main distortion. I also use a Bellows pedal with it near the end. Whenever we want a crazy Horsegirl ending, I just hit the Bellows and it does the rest.”Horsegirl’s itch for sonic exploration gets scratched on the album’s three brief interludes: the the cavernous “Bog Bog 1,” the feedback-soaked “Electrolocation 2,”and “The Guitar Is Dead 3,” which features all three band members seated at one piano, plunking out a single mournful chord progression that gets processed through a building wave of echo and delay.
Horsegirl digs into a song from their new record onstage at the Sinclair in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Photo by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography
“I guess the idea behind interludes is not just to be there for no reason,” Cheng says. “They’re meant to break apart the album and let you settle after this one and prepare for this next one. And something interesting about that was we’d developed interludes just playing them live, so it was something that was maybe natural for us to do anyway.”
The band’s most compelling collective trait is their willingness to explore all these possibilities together, as a unit. “Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty),” their latest single, is a beautiful example: Over a Breeders-like groove, Cheng and Lowenstein lay into chords that bend and move between Reece’s loping rhythm with judicious use of the whammy bar. “I play my Strat on that one,” Lowenstein recalls. “That’s the only song we recorded with two guitar parts first, and then we added the bass part. We’ve rearranged it live so Nora plays bass and I play a hybrid of the two guitar parts.” The song also moves between minor- and major-sounding moods, and tails out on a sunny coda where both singers take up the underlying wordless melody in unison.
What makes Versions of Modern Performance such a solid and endlessly accessible debut is how the band managed to harness their freewheeling sense of abandon into the rigid structure that memorable songs demand.
Further on, “World of Pots and Pans,” played in open E, harnesses the band’s psychedelic-punk leanings, as does the epic “Homage to Birdnoculars.” The song is a roiling workout that feels seamlessly drawn, with its simple two-note anchoring guitar melody and the recurring lyric “fall into my wormhole,” sounding inspired by the modern Texas-psych blueprint perfected by bands like the Black Angels. But it would be a mistake to try to pigeonhole Horsegirl’s sound as the sum of any set of perceived influences. What makes Versions of Modern Performance such a solid and endlessly accessible debut is how the band managed to harness their freewheeling sense of abandon into the rigid structure that memorable songs demand. It isn’t easy to make good songwriting sound effortless, but this power trio—and they are definitely that—is making it happen. And together with Agnello at the mixing desk they’ve crafted an album that merits repeated Saturday night listens in—where else?—the nearest basement you can find that’s tricked out for sound and kicked-back listening.
Cheng describes “Beautiful Song,” the album’s oceanic second track, as a vivid snapshot of what the band sought to harness and then release. “That’s how we want people to listen to us,” she says. “We all really enjoy the process of listening to a record all the way through, so it was something that we were thinking about. A record was the goal, from even before we had enough songs to make one. And there’s the typical first song that’s strong and sets the tone for the album, but I think the second song is underrated. I tend to really like second songs, because to me, that’s when we’re in the album.”
Recording at Steve Albini’s famed Electrical Audio studio was initially intimidating, but the trio doubled-down to make a compelling, vibrant live-vibe album that recalls primal Sonic Youth.
“I think this is the hardest we’ve all worked in our lives,” Lowenstein asserts, citing the hurdles Horsegirl had to overcome as a band of teenagers seeking entry into an adult world.
Their journey from the hyper-competitive live venues of Chicago to the hallowed studio spaces of Electrical Audio has been a rollercoaster, but, through it all, friendship and an ever-nurturing sense of community have kept them grounded. “We wrote all these songs while we were living this experience. Throughout high school, we were a live band. It was just what we love to do. And where we are right now feels like a really important thing to share with everyone. It’s very special to us.”
Horsegirl - Full Performance (Live on KEXP)
The band runs through some of the meatier cuts from their new album (as well as the fan fave “Ballroom Dance Scene”). Nora Cheng opens with her Fender Jaguar, tuned to open E, and then switches to her reliable Ibanez Roadstar II, while Penelope Lowenstein holds down the harmonic interplay and lower frequencies on her Squier Bass VI.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
Belltone P-90 Foil-Tron Pickup
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.