Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Church Girls - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Mariel Beaumont and Rob Dywer of Church Girls perform at Ortlieb’s | Photo by Charlie Wrzesniewski | Courtesy of the artist

Hello there, it’s me. Your good friend summer. I’m here to tell you: congratulations on making it through fall through spring. It’s been a tough row, for sure: the pumpkin-flavored everything, the bulky coats and jackets, the “April showers” that last well into May. The good news is: the worst is over. From here on out it’s nothing but music festivals and going down the shore; water ice and jean shorts and cocktails with tiny umbrellas. Isn’t that what this column is all about?

It’s true. This is year THREE of Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds, our seasonal foray into summer drinking and summer vibes, where we kick back with our favorite bands, share a drink, and wax poetic about summers past and present. For our first 2016 edition, I meet up with rising Philly band Church Girls, whose cathartic basement rockers bring back memories of sweating it out at DIY punk shows in Jersey, on summer nights when the only thing holding you back was your imagination and your car (a ’93 Taurus for me) – your ticket out of the suburbs and into something real and raw.

Church Girls formed in 2014 in Philadelphia, around singer/songwriter Mariel Beaumont, a soft-spoken beauty who comes alive when performing. Prior to our interview, I catch Church Girls Saturday night at Boot & Saddle (appropriately, opening for first ever Sips band, Work Drugs)—and am impressed by her passion and talent. Especially striking is a cover of Modest Mouse’s “Custom Concern,” Beaumont closing her eyes as if feeling every lyric.

2016 has been a big year for Church Girls. Their debut full-length, Thousand Lives, dropped this January (listen here on Spotify); post-release they gigged regularly in Philly and NYC, earning the requisite blog buzz along the way. It also saw some changes, such as the departure of original members Jack Firneno and Max Beaumont—the latter Mariel’s twin and confidant (read about it here) —and the addition of new members James Udinsky and Will Schwartz. As for Mariel herself, 2016 has been a year of growth—she tells me she recently quit her job to focus on Church Girls full-time, and has been writing songs with longtime guitarist Robert Dwyer.

For our interview, I meet up with Mariel and Rob at South Philly’s Cantina—in between margaritas and tequila sodas, we talk summer soundtracks and summers spent skating and lounging. Read on to discover what tunes are on their summer soundtrack, their best and worst summer vacations, and why they’ll never be able to re-capture the exuberance of summers past, no matter how hard they try.

Church Girls at Boot & Saddle, Saturday, June 11 / Photo by the author

Church Girls at Boot & Saddle, Saturday, June 11 / Photo by the author

The Key: So it’s finally summer! What are you looking forward to doing this summer, in Philly or beyond?

Rob Dwyer: I’m heading down to Florida next week to visit my brother—by which I mean I’m flying down there and then we are going to road trip up the East Coast back to Philly. I’m going to take him to Nashville—he’s never been—then later in August I’m stopping in Myrtle Beach to attend a mandolin school. Other than that, her and I [gestures toward Mariel] will be drinking tequila sodas and writing riffs. [He laughs]. I’m not really a beach guy—I don’t go down the shore every weekend like some people. I’m not a fan of the sand. I’d hang out at a lake over the beach for sure.

Mariel Beaumont: I’m into the ocean. Lakes seems so dirty. [She pauses]. In the summer, I love how light it stays at night in the summer. Plus I enjoy drinks and tacos at Cantina [she laughs].

TK: So let’s talk childhood for a sec—to me, listening to your songs reminds me of being a teenager in NJ and for some reason those feelings of nostalgia seem tied to the summer, when time was endless and I could listen to music all day.  Where did you guys grow up?  What sorts of music did you listen to then, and how does it affect your writing now?

MB: We actually grew up and went to high school together in Berwyn, about 30 minutes outside of Philly. We weren’t friends though until senior year. [Pauses] I grew up going to the First Unitarian Church and seeing a lot of sweaty basement shows—punk bands like Against Me!, BSOM, Municipal Waste. I loved that feeling of being covered in sweat—it means you had a good time. [NOTE: Read an essay Mariel wrote about it here.] But Rob and I had very different tastes.

RD: It’s funny because I remember not really liking music for a while—when I was in 5th grade I remembering declaring “I don’t like music.” My parents never really played music at home, and everything on the radio was like Britney Spears and stuff. So it wasn’t until Napster came about, when I was in like 7th grade, that I starting really enjoying music. I remember discovering Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and Phish, who I am still really into today—in summer 2009, I saw Phish eight times in 2 months. I didn’t start playing guitar until later—I wasn’t very good at sports so I figured I would take up guitar.

The only music for me that feels nostalgic to summertime is oldies music—I remember going down to my uncle’s house in Ocean City, NJ and that was the first time I heard Billy Joel. So I hear songs like “Piano Man” and “Movin’ Out” and I can smell the funnel cake in the air.

MB: Once Naptser came out I remember my best friend and I would spend hours making mixes and burning CDs. And I feel like the main activity when we first learned to drive was just driving around for hours listening to those mixes. There was such a freedom, come summertime. I had one of those six-CD changers—and I just recently got a new car—but before that, I swear I had the same six CDs from high school—full of Modest Mouse and Against Me! “Custom Concern” was one of my favorite songs—I specifically remember listening to that song late summer nights.

Hanging at Cantina with Church Girls / via the author's Instagram

Hanging at Cantina with Church Girls / via the author’s Instagram

TK: What was your favorite way to spend the summers when you were younger? Anything you wish you could revisit now?

MB: It’s funny—the other day we made a music video for the song “Dead” and we were skateboarding during the middle of the day as part of the video. I recently quit my job to focus on music, so it’s like, suddenly I have these opportunities to do things like go skateboarding in the middle of the day again, which is something I might have done in my youth.

It’s definitely different these days though—when I was younger, I didn’t stress as much. Back then I didn’t have this feeling of constant anxiety like I do now. I used to feel so free in the summers—there was a time when you would wake up and the entire day would be free. These days, I think about time a lot—if I’m spending it the right away; if I’m wasting time.

RD: I agree. Now if I don’t do anything all day, I get anxious. I feel bad when I sleep in, or eat shitty, or don’t work out. When you’re 12, you don’t think twice. All you’re thinking is: What shows are on TV? When can I go skating?

TK: Anything you did when you were a kid that you don’t miss at all now?

RD: When I was 12 through 22 I caddied at a golf course every summer. I definitely don’t miss it. It required you to work the whole weekend, so I would miss going to the beach—I don’t like the beach really, like I explained, but I hated to miss all the parties. Also I hated waking up every morning at like 5:30/6 a.m.—especially because I would always be up until like 1 a.m. the night before drinking. Looking back, I can’t believe I could even physically do it—get 4 hours of sleep, show up smelling like booze, and sweating it all out on the golf course. It definitely wasn’t fun—but then by the end of the day it wouldn’t be so bad because I would be sober, and would make like $160. It was good money.

TK: So how similar was caddy life to the movie Chaddyshack?

RD: We would joke that our caddyshack was better. Our shack was deep in the woods, down this shady path, and, you know—it would be 9 a.m. on a Wednesday or something and there would be drugs happening. I remember the caddy master telling my dad—I was like 12—“your kid’s gonna see some stuff.” I learned some crazy stuff at the caddy shack. There was another caddy that was a squatter—he would spend the night in people’s garages, and sneak out in the mornings. A lot of crazy characters.

TK: Did you ever go on any family vacations in the summer? What was your best or worst trip?

MB: My dad is really outdoorsy, and one trip I remember was he took us all to Alaska for 10 days in August. It was awesome. We stayed at this lodge in the middle of Denali National Park in the middle of nowhere—the closest town was 70 miles away and had a population of like 10. The lodge was owned by a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses and our family of six were the only guests. I remember going hiking and there was just nothing—no powerlines—nothing. I remember we went ice-fishing—it was pretty great. It was probably our best family vacation.

RD: I remember my family flew out to Denver, and then rented a town car and drove to San Diego through Sedona and the Rockies. We took my cousin along too, so it was me, my brother, my sister, my cousin, and my parents, and the car was packed with three in the front and three in the back. I was 13 and a real wise-ass. My mom worked in the AV department at our high school and had this high-tech video camera that cost like $3000 that she borrowed, and filmed the whole thing. It was called “Best of the West” or something. Looking back, there was all this gorgeous scenery but I was not impressed at all. I just wanted to play my Gameboy.

TK: Let’s switch gears and talk about summers today. What’s your favorite thing to listen to on a summer Sunday?  A summer Saturday?

MB: It’s weird, but now that neither of us have traditional, Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 type jobs the idea of “Saturday” and “Sunday” don’t have as much meaning—which is a very new concept for me. For example, Rob’s birthday was on Sunday…and I guess we had kinda a bender. And someone said to me “Woah, on a work night?” And I mean, I still work on every day—it’s just not a standard schedule. It’s a weird feeling.

As for music that I listen to now—probably about five years ago I started getting really into Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. It’s funny—my dad was always really into the Beach Boys, and as a result I didn’t really listen to them at all—you know, because they were like my dad’s band. But I finally broke down and listened to it and it just consumed my brain. It was all I could listen to for three weeks straight. So this time of year, at the beginning of the summer, I always get lost in it again for a few days.

RD: I like to listen to jazz or bluegrass most of the time in the summer—I can blast Miles Davis driving home from somewhere and be pumped. If I’m getting ready to go out somewhere, I’ll listen to techno or hip-hop—Biggie, Tupac, Eminem, Marshall Mathers LP. And I listen to Katy Perry when I’m running—I love her.  I actually have all of her CDs. A bandmate from a former band used to work at Capitol Records, which is her label. And she thought it would be funny to send me all of her CDs because I was supposedly a music snob or whatever. But the joke was on her because I secretly love her. She lit a firework under me. [everyone laughs]

TK: I never would have expected that!  Ok, let’s close out here with some quick hits—what is your favorite summer drink?

MB: Tequila soda

RD: Tanqueray and tonic

TK: Favorite summer movie?

MB: I’d say Wayne’s World—I remember spending one summer watching it over and over.

RD: Fast Times at RIdgemont High.

TK: Favorite place to go swimming?

MB: The ocean

RD: [laughing] the lake.

TK: Thanks for meeting up with me, and hope you guys have a great summer!

This summer, Church Girls will play Johnny Brenda’s on Tuesday, July 26th, opening for Cold Fronts. Their new album Thousand Lives is available at Bandcamp.

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