Otto Janes, the drummer and co-song writer of Oakland’s Same Girls, had been out of work for about a month when he sat down to be interviewed, but he was calm as a Hindu cow. “I’m retired from the restaurant industry,” said Janes, sharing a knowing laugh with his bandmate and friend since childhood, frontman and guitarist Taifa Nia. “I don’t play well with others.” The 24-year-old Janes has a well-adjusted attitude that any (or at least this particular) neurotic young adult is a little envious of — one of a person who is not taking their 20s too seriously. In other words, someone who is living their youth well.
It’s an attitude that matches the title and thematic conceit of the band’s first LP, Young Minded, which it finished recording with Text Me Records in 2018. At times groovy and bouncing, at times pulsating and attacking, yet always catchy, Young Minded alternates between exalting the thrills of first love and bloodletting the frustrations when that love goes unrequited, all from the personal perspective of a young adult with a listening palette stuck somewhere between 1980s New Wave and early 2000s garage rock.
Janes and Nia both agreed that feeling young-minded was also the meta-experience of the entire recording process. It was the band’s first opportunity to record, so it laid down every song Janes and Nia had written since the band came together in high school. “It sounds like a mix-tape, right?” probed Nia, the more critical of the songwriting pair. He’s not wrong. Much of the album’s eclecticism is due to Nia’s vocal range. He jumps from a pseudo-British tenor (presumably a nod to Robert Smith of The Cure) on “Inner Space,” to a buttery croon on the groovy yacht-rock-meets-hip-hop track “Sailing,” to a screamo growl on “Hello” in front of belligerent, fuzzed-out guitar riffs that smack of American punk legends Black Flag. Track for track, the album is reminiscent of a teenager in the throws of a mood swing — the sonic embodiment of young musicians trying on and shedding musical sensibilities like clothing styles in a search for their identity.
If anything, Same Girl’s issue is an embarrassment of riches. It pulls off all of these sounds with a tautness and verve that is starting to catch the eye of the local music machine. In 2019 alone, Same Girls booked venerated indie music venues like Bottom of the Hill and Cafe Du Nord, landed a spot on the Noisepop bill, and opened for internationally acclaimed bassist and songwriter Thundercat.
Its members say that their recent successes are due in part to their obsession with New Wave albums that they bonded over when they were just kids growing up in the East Bay. “We’re too punk for the pop genre and too pop for the punks,” Nia said. “We just stick out like this weird groovy thumb.” In a sea of post-punk bands, Same Girls attracts attention with its brighter music and curated stage presence, both of which the band’s members intentionally wield to get people dancing. “It was the four of us sitting in Tyler’s dad’s shed and we all asked ourselves ‘What is it that we all like about bands?'” Nia recalled. “We all agreed New Wave groups have the things that we like about watching bands. They have the theatrics, the presentation — a package so that you can walk away from a song and attach your own personal feelings to it.”
Even though they have a simpatico relationship with groups solidly in the post-punk vein, the band’s members said that their divergence from the genre can make billing situations confusing and occasionally rub punk diehards the wrong way. “We’ll get the side eye from Mr. and Mrs. Zine now and then,” Nia said with a chuckle. But overall, carving out their own lane has been net-positive. Same Girl’s divergence from the darkness and seriousness of post-punk gives it a chance to appeal to a wider variety of audiences, especially relevant now that the Bay Area is made up of more transplants than ever, attracting people in the U.S. and abroad with different sonic tastes than those typically bred in the East Bay underground music scene. Its New Wave label also grants Same Girls the freedom to get goofy and experiment. “It gives us more of an opportunity to be like ‘Fuck it, let’s write a disco song,’ or ‘Let’s write a dance track,'” Nia said.
For all their disclaimers about their naiveté while recording Young Minded, the band members shared mature observations about the music industry and how it will influence their approach to their second album. They want to push back against the trend in the industry that allows groups to blow up just from releasing a stream of singles. “We’re ’90s kids and we grew up with the album mold,” Nia said. “The goal for upcoming work is to create something cohesive on an album scale,” Janes added.
The two wrote many of the songs on Young Minded when they were still teenagers at Berkeley High School. Now that some time has passed, they believe their approach to writing has matured with them. “Our music now is more existential as opposed to introspective,” Nia said. The myopic notion that all teenagers have — that their experiences and emotions are impenetrable and uniquely theirs — has evolved into a curiosity about shared human experience. “Is the world what you think it is?” Nia asked. “Does a person in your life love you as you think they do? These are universal ideas that people feel and I want to give them the template to fill in the space for them.” We, for one, cannot wait to hear it.