Horsegirl. Credit: Cheryl Dunn

With chugging, fuzzed-out guitars (à la Dinosaur Jr.) and sporadic vocal deliveries that can range from singing to spoken word—often in the same song—alternative/indie-rock trio Horsegirl’s garage-grunge sound always offers something unique. For a prime example of this, check out listener favorite “Anti-glory.”

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The Chicago band, which the members started when they were in high school, has landed touring gigs with hometown heroes Wilco, and has crushed successful headlining tours—all while dealing with the travails of college. You can catch the band at Coachella on Saturday, April 15 and 22.

Horsegirl members Nora Cheng (guitar, vocals), Penelope Lowenstein (guitar, vocals) and Gigi Reece (drums) shared their thoughts on making the Coachella lineup during a recent Zoom interview.

“I don’t even think it was in our brains as something that would be on the radar,” Reece said. “It feels like Coachella is the type of thing that only, like, Billie Eilish plays—but I guess us, too, now.”

While Reece dropped out of college—we’ll get to that later—Cheng and Lowenstein are full-time students. The Coachella news made each of them think of their high school and college experiences.

“This is the one thing that everyone from my high school is now contacting me about, and congratulating me,” said Cheng. “Before, they kind of wouldn’t really care, but it’s Coachella, and it’s weird to have something that’s a big deal to the general music-listening audience be something that we’re a part of.”

Added Lowenstein: “If I’m skipping school to play this, which I will be, I can say to my teachers, ‘Hey, we’re playing Coachella,’ and they’ll know what that is, versus sometimes when I’m, like, ‘Oh, I’m opening for this band,’ and it’s nothing to them. It’s cool to have an excuse that connects with people.”

I asked the band members if they ever get tired of their youth being the focus of attention.

“I think that at the beginning, because we were also still in high school, it was even more dramatic,” Cheng said. “It was, like, ‘We’re young, and we’re girls.’ I think that kind of perception of us has gotten less prevalent. It’s still there, but I don’t think it’s as it used to be.”

Added Lowenstein: “A lot of our press at the beginning was, like, ‘17-year-olds!’ And that’s fair. I think that’s really unusual, and it kind of came out of nowhere for us as well, so I understand. … This is my last year as a teenager, so we won’t be teen sensations for much longer. Hopefully we still have something to bring.”

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Late last year, Horsegirl released Rough Trade Super-Disc on streaming services. It’s a short EP consisting of demos from their debut LP, Versions of Modern Performance. Demos often aren’t taken as seriously as other recordings, and musicians often erase their early recordings. However, the members of Horsegirl said was important for them to document their journey.

“I was listing in my head this morning all the songs that we’ve written—like, fully written and developed songs—that we just totally abandoned,” Cheng said. “Thank God we didn’t have recording supplies back then. At this point, all of the music we’ve released, we feel is important in the trajectory of us. Like our first song, the first one released, ‘Forecast’—the way it’s recorded is great. It sounds very DIY, and there’s spoken word. It’s not how we are anymore, but it feels very important to how we came to be.”

Even though the band’s profile continues to grow, Cheng and Lowenstein are sticking with their plans of graduating from college and being average humans.

“Sometimes we have to make sacrifices in both areas, but right now, I feel like everyone is feeling good about the choice to be doing college right now,” Lowenstein said. “In my personal life, I want to be able to hold on to being 19 and what I saw for myself at this age, which was moving out of Chicago for a little bit and having that transition. I think it’s nice that we didn’t just get thrown into a super-rigorous tour schedule, for example. I think we made good choices for the longevity of the band, and also going to school.”

While Reece dropped out of college, she is supportive of her bandmates’ college plans, and she has a job outside of the band.

“School doesn’t work for me,” Reece said. “It has nothing to do with the band—but obviously, we’ve got the band happening, and it was just impossible for me to be in school while also having all of the excitement of everything in Horsegirl. That is how my brain works, but Penelope and Nora function differently than me. School is working for them, and I am nothing but happy for them continuing in school. I’m mostly just happy that we live in the same city together.”

Cheng and Lowenstein are both interested in English as a major—but they each have a different outlook on how it relates to their songwriting.

“It kind of just all feeds into each other,” Cheng said. “I mean, there’s some appreciation for the way words go together and the ability to tell stories in some different sort of way. I don’t think there’s anything specific though.”

Said Lowenstein: “Jeff Tweedy said to us, ‘It’s important to have a life to live so that way, you have something to write about.’ I do think that education is a really awesome life to live to write about. It’s kind of exciting, and if classes are good, it can be a really awesome feeling. I took a creative-writing class for the first time last semester. … The experience of sharing poetry, even though I’ve never straight-up written poetry before, and having people discuss it, was so awesome for me. I’m very excited to approach lyric-writing now that I’ve had that experience.”

The members of Horsegirl are keenly aware of the harsh realities of how hard it is to make a living as a musician.

“It’s a pretty demanding job,” Lowenstein said. “We’ve loved touring, but also, it’s a hard thing to keep up as you get older. It is a crazy thing to wrap your head around as a young band—just what the job entails if you love it, and want to do it for a long time.”

Added Reece: “Maybe this is just part of being a musician, but I think there’s always a tiny little thing in the back of my mind being like, ‘At one point, this is just gonna all go away, like really, really fast.’ When you’re actively trying to pursue any job, like being an artist, it is very easy for other people to be like, ‘What’s your Plan B?’”

However, they’re all continuing to work hard on Plan A.

“We were expecting to just all move to college in different places, and then be like, ‘All right, our band is over,’ which we did not want at all,” Reece said. “Thank God it didn’t happen. … We try to work to really make it seem like this is what we want to do for our careers—and this is our dream.”

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

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