Gang Gang Dance’s Lizzie Bougatsos on Making Music in NY

Sometimes when you’re interviewing somebody, and they laugh, to evoke such a primitive, unconscious expression of amusement in the transcript, you might throw down something like this: [laughter]. For the following interview with Lizzie Bougatsos, lead singer of the New York experimental music fixture Gang Gang Dance, just imagine one of those laughter markers at the end of each answer. In her spacey, makes-you-wanna-pinch-her-cheek voice, the Long Island native was in great spirits, despite fighting off the flu. I’m not sure if she’s just super jazzed that her band’s new album Saint Dymphna is coming out soon, or giddy about their upcoming tour with Of Montreal, but Bugatsos couldn’t stop herself from giggling. It was endearing as hell. Here she is reminiscing on the New York music scene, the global appeal of her band’s new album, and getting hit on by Hasidic dudes in vans.

Are you going to France? Yes, Brian has an art show there, and then they’re flying out a member of my other band to play the opening, so everyone is going to be there for my other musical project. Its called I.U.D.

What’s that stand for? Well, we put periods in between it. An IUD is one of those methods of birth control that you use to block the sperm. It’s a really horrible method of birth control in the 1970s that they used … its terrible and I don’t know, a lot of girls use it.

So are you excited about the new album? Yes!

When can we expect it? It comes out October 21, but we have some singles that have come out before.

I read an article that called your last album, God’s Money, an “almost-masterpiece.” Have you guys made a masterpiece this time around? I was worried because so many people loved God’s Money, and I feel like they wanted us to — everyone was expecting this follow-up album, but you can’t really plan how music is going to sound. You can’t really say like okay, let’s make a pop record, or you know, we’re going to make like an ambient, fuck-noise album. You can’t really plan out music, just like you can’t plan out life.

Did you go into the studio with a specific idea of what you wanted to create? I think we tried to go into the studio with pretty loose expectations, because you can’t pinpoint something that you didn’t even create yet, you know what I mean?

And so what kind of record do you think you ended up making? Let me see. I think we made like a global awareness record

Sounds like a genre that I’ve never heard of before. I know, I just feel like it’s a really universal-sounding music, and I think that people from all over the world can relate to it.

Have you done something new on this record that you haven’t done before? Well, we had an MC spit on it, like when you rap, its called spitting, so we had this really cool young MC on it. His name is Tinchy Stryder. He’s my little prince.

So were you born in New York? Yea, I’m a Long Island Lady.

And when did you move to the city? Well, I was kinda coming in all the time. But I guess in 1997 I got my first apartment in Williamsburg. It was very, very different then.

How was it different? It was very barren then, there were no shops, and it was scary. There were all Hasidic men driving around in vans late at night, trying to pick me up. It was horrible! I looked kind of arty then, a lot of people think I look arty now, but I really looked arty then. I looked like a Beastie Boys backup dancer. Like I had a bowl haircut, and I was dressed in a lot of fluorescents, like very new-wave. I feel like a lot of people would egg people that looked like art kids.

And now everyone looks like that? Yea, everybody does. I don’t fee like it’s eggs anymore, maybe water balloons, or paint guns. Or maybe machetes, which is really scary.

Has New York inspired your music at all? Yeah, I would say so. There’s a lot of activity, and I feel like things really fly in New York that don’t fly other places, you know what I mean? You can get away with a lot, and I think that’s inspiring.

Do you see yourself as part of the long lineage of New York, experimental, underground artists? I do, yeah. Because we did form in New York, and at the time when we formed, we shared a practice space with two other bands that also formed here, and there was very much of a community at this time, and now it still exists, and we still meet here in New York and see each other play.

What are some of these other bands? TV on the Radio? For sure, they are really old friends of ours.

What’s it like coming up with these bands, getting your starts around the same time, and finally seeing everyone get the recognition they deserve? I remember the first show I ever played in New York. Nick Zinner was in the front row, from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and that was in Williamsburg. Josh, my guitarist, used to work at the Pink Pony, a coffee shop next to Max Fish, which is still there, but it’s totally different now. It used to be owned by the woman that owns Max Fish, and it was very much a bohemian, beatnik hangout kind of place. Taylor Mead was always there, and a lot of really rare, free jazz music. It was a really intense, poetry, music hangout. And that’s where guys from TV on the Radio would work, at Max Fish. So that’s how we met them; we were really really close.

What about Animal Collective? I love Animal Collective. They’re probably one of the only bands that I listen to in New York.

Have the art and music communities changed in New York? We don’t have Tonic anymore. It was this club that a lot of experimental acts could just like wail out and go crazy. It would be like a member from Animal Collective with a member from the Brazilian Girls. Like very random collaborations, people playing together. And it was really the only place in New York that you could really see that. Before that there was this place called the Cooler that was kind of cool, but Tonic was the coolest. But it’s changed in good ways too. There’s this new club called Santos’ Party House. I love it. My best friend Spencer Sweeney opened it up.

Are you able to support yourself on your art now fully? When I make work, yeah. I feel like sometimes I don’t have that much time to make work, so when I do make work, I have to pop it out really, really fast. But I’m doing okay, individually and with the band. I mean, a lot of people don’t believe me, because a lot of the times we’re extremely broke and its really, really hard because we’re perfectionists, so people don’t believe that we’re broke. But we actually really are. Really broke. But that’s only because we live in New York City.

So what’s your favorite venue to play in New York? Right now, Santos.

What do you like about it? I didn’t play with Gang Gang Dance, I played with I.U.D. But I really can’t play anywhere else now, we’re addicted to the sound system there.

That’s what does it for you, the sound system? It’s so good, its wall-to-wall sub, and it’s the sickest bass I’ve ever heard in my life. For Gang Gang, I like Bowery Ballroom, and I like Webster Hall a lot. I like the balcony, cause then like my family can come and sit down and have table!

Do your parents like Gang Gang Dance? Yeah, they love it.

Are they also music, art people? Well, my mom’s a writer and my dad, he’s a cobbler. He fixes shoes for a living, but he was a singer before he had me. He wanted to be a singer, and his dad made him play professional soccer. So … he like booked himself at a nightclub, and they bought him all these suits, and he came home with this suit one day, like a white suite, and he had big hopes that he was going to be a singer, and then his dad said “No, you’re going to play soccer for a living”, and then he became a professional soccer player … but my roots go deep, you know.

So what are you doing tonight? You’re going to stay in and recover? I’m going to do my laundry, and then I have to go to my gallery. Yeah, I’ll probably be drinking some whiskey later on.

Yeah, that’s the best way to get over a flu. Yeah, I dunno, we’ll see.

Where’s the gallery? My gallery is in Chinatown, close to my house.

What’s the gallery called? It’s called James Fuentes Gallery. And there’s a great show there now, it’s Agathe Snow? You should go see, it she’s really great, she’s one of my favorites.

How long is the show on for? I think a few more weeks.