UTG INTERVIEW: Strawberry Girls

There’s some bands we’ve loved since before they got signed to any record deal, before they had any publicists or campaigns, before their albums were available on any physical format. One such band is Strawberry Girls, who play a distinctive brand of instrumental groove rock, sharing more in common with “Focus” by Hocus Pocus than any song their guitarist ever played with Dance Gavin Dance. When Strawberry Girls rolled into town with Stolas on tour, we had a chance to interview the trio, who shared a certain playfulness as a three headed monster in the interview.

How did you guys each start playing music?

Zac Garren (guitar): I got my first guitar probably in sixth grade. It sat around; I think I learned the intro to “Secret Agent Man,” which was the first thing I ever learned, and then my step-brother would come to visit and he taught me Green Day’s “Time of your life.” There’s a learning curve between those two songs, so I don’t know what I was doing between those two songs. I was skateboarding a lot but I was scared of skateboarding, I didn’t want to get hurt; I picked up guitar and was like, “Oh! I can’t really get hurt!” so I just started playing guitar.

Have you ever been hurt playing guitar?

Yeah, I’ve got a scar. I’ve gotten shit thrown in my face. But I guess, for the most part, no. It’s a bit safer than jumping down stairs and shit.

And you guys?

Ian Jennings (bass): When I was a little kid, my grandmother had a piano at her house. She was a music major. Whenever I would visit her, I’d bang around on the piano; she taught me things here and there. Sort of as a requirement on my mom’s side of the family, I had to take band class in fourth grade, so I picked up trumpet. I played baritone and a couple of other instruments into high school. I picked up guitar and played that for a couple of years; after high school I was in a couple of bands and met Ben. When I was in that band, I switched to bass, and that’s how I got into the position I’m in now. I’ve been playing piano pretty much my whole life. I don’t play it in bands, but I have a classical background in that.

Ben Rosett (drums): Both my parents were music majors, so I grew up playing drums and piano. My mom taught me piano. I didn’t pick up guitar until I was like 10 at summer camp; I got interested in that and was in a punk band and stuff, doing stupid stuff. In high school, I was in a few hardcore bands. I started playing drums. Now, I don’t know if I consider myself mainly a drummer or a guitarist; I like playing drums more, but I play a lot of guitar too.

Who are your biggest influences as musicians?

Ben: Musicians? Mike Kinsella.


Zac: [laughs]

Ben: Yeah.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to doubt you. [laughs] You guys just don’t seem that emo.

Ben: [laughs] He’s actually a really good drummer. He’s just a good musician, and he inspires my guitar side. For drums, Vince Rodgers, who used to drum for Tera Melos, and Omar Cuellar from Facing New York, and also Eric Frederic from Facing New York.

Ian: As a kid, a lot of classical composers; Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Chopin, Liszt. Then as I got older and picked up guitar, Eddie van Halen was the first to really get me going and really push myself, Jimi Hendrix. For bands? Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, Refused, Led Zeppelin; those are some big influences for me.

Zac: For me? The first band that got me into guitar was probably Thrice in 2001 when I was like 12. I wanted to play all their shit so I learned all their songs. Then in 2003? Whenever De-loused in the comatorium the same day Artists in the Ambulance came out. At first, I didn’t know what the hell was going on with De-loused, but then I started liking it, and then at 16 years old or so… Thrice taught me songwriting and guitar, but The Mars Volta taught me feeling and groove, and eventually, The Mars Volta took over on influence because of the feeling and groove and how far they took music to me. Thrice was the solid, songwriting guitar work. I started with guitar work then moved onto the songwriting thing, but overall, Omar Rodriguez from The Mars Volta.

Unrelated to the interview: the original reason I gave up on Pitchfork was because De-loused got a 4.9.

Zac: There’s one they didn’t review. I feel like they have so many different reviewers at that site, there’s gotta be *someone* there that loved that album. But no, let’s get the guy who hated it to review it.

Ian: It feels like they just want to stir the pot a little bit.

Zac, how did you make the transition from playing in Dance Gavin Dance to playing this style of music?

Zac: Well, for a few years, I was doing a solo thing, which was… I don’t know, I did all different genres. Literally, everything; I’d write a country song, an electronic song, dance stuff, a reggae song.

You were a scene Bruno Mars.

Zac: [laughs] I did that. And then I was doing acoustic shows after a while, because I just wanted to play shows again. Then I played a show with these guys other band, The Trees, and then they started to break up and we live down the street from each other; we grew with each other a bit. Mutual friends, and knew each other from bands. One day Ben hit me up like “we should jam!” And we just kept jamming and we wrote four songs in four days and played a show. Our first show was their band’s last show, and it was just Ben and I. Ian saw us and was like “I want to play with you guys,” and we were like “Alright.” We became a three piece and just went from there.

Ben: We were a four piece for a bit.

Ian: A little bit.

Zac: Oh yeah. We were a two piece, a three piece, and then a four piece.

Who was the fourth?

Ben: The original synth player from Arsonists Get All The Girls was in our band for a little bit.

Wait, how long is a little bit? Like a week?

All three in unison: No. A couple months. [Editors note: they literally said this in unison at the exact same time.]

Ben: Like a summer. But he was just too into school, so, priorities and what not.

Ian, you play a lot of simple bass parts, but the songs mostly call for that. Do you think you’ll get a song where you’ll get to show off a bit?

Ian: I don’t know, I think it depends on where we progress with our music.

Zac: I say yeah.

Ian: Yeah, I’d like to do some more parts where I can do more technical things and stand out more, but I also enjoy doing the solid stuff now. It depends on what we’re writing and how we’re feeling now.

Zac: Even now, there’s a part where he does a little guitar solo on the bass.

I noticed that live, with the whammy pedal live.

Ian: It’d be cool to integrate something like that, write something more like that, and really integrate that more.

Zac: Once it comes up in a random jam, we’ll do that. Someone else said “where’s that coming from?” and we like to catch people off guard.

Ben, you do a lot of ghost notes on snare drum, and on “Negro Spiritual” you do a polyrhythm on drumset. Is it a conscious, composed thing or is that just how you jammed out?

Ben: Every part is really thought out. I play it the same every night; it’s really thought out. I never took drum lessons, so I guess I just have a unique style?

You never took drum lessons?

Ben: No. I just started messing around on drums.

Ian: I don’t think any of us really took lessons. I was in school for music theory, but none of us really took lessons. No one taught me to play bass or the instruments we play now.

Zac: I always knew [Ben] as a guitarist. [laughs]

Ben: I’ve also progressed slowly because I haven’t taken lessons. I’ve been playing for a long time; I could be a lot better.

When you’re not on tour, what are your day jobs?

Zac: I used to work at the mall but I had to quit for tour. We’ll see.

What’d you do there?

Zac: …sold t-shirts.

Ben: He won’t say it! He worked at Victoria’s Secret.


Zac: [laughs] No.

Ben: Ian and I work at a recording studio. That’s our main business. I also play guitar for events and stuff.

Ian: I also do photography.

You’ve done a bunch of top 40 and hip hop covers. Now that you’re signed, to release it you’d probably have to pay. Are you going to keep doing that?

Zac: We’d like to.

Ben: I think it depends. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with it if we’re not trying to make money off of it. Look at how many people post cover videos of themselves.

Zac: We want to do something we really like that we think other people would like.

Ian: It’s also a brilliant plan to get exposure. [Laughs]

Zac: Nah, but it’s not like, “what’s the biggest song now? Let’s cover that.” It’s gotta be something we all vibe on. We all loved Kendrick Lamaar. It was all we listened to on our first tour.

How did you guys get signed to Tragic Hero Records?

Zac: I have a friend, Brian, who sings for We Are Defiance. I sent him our record for fun, like “hey friend, check this out,” and he was like “I really like this, I’m gonna send it to our label,” and I said OK. He did, and the dude liked it and was super stoked on it. At first, I was like “That’s a weird label for us to be signed to.”

Ben: We’re the only non-hardcore band on it.

Zac: Yeah. But after talking to him, he was super into the band and wanted to help us, and that was what we wanted in a label. Someone who cares about the music and really wants to work with us, so it sounded good for us. Another cool thing is there’s not a ton of bands on the label, so we won’t be lost in shuffle. And the two biggest bands on the label are friends of mine, so it’s another good thing; I know people on the label who vouched for him. It just kind of worked.

Ian: It seemed like a good fit. We all vibed on it.

Zac: Some labels are trying to be management, and he was like, “Whatever you’re doing, I like. So keep doing it.”

Are you guys working on a follow up release now?

Zac: Kind of.

Ben: we’ve written a little bit, but we’re going to focus more when tour ends.

Ian: Definitely when tour ends.

Are you going to feature vocalists on it like French Ghetto?

Ben: I want to. I think it’s a cool thing to do, it gives us more exposure, it’s fun. We might perform with Nick in Seattle. I really want to.

Zac: I think we should meet a few more people first. Play with a few more bands to meet new people.

Ben: After tour, I think  we’re going to just go play and write a bunch. We don’t have a ton of plans to tour just yet, so we’re going to focus on writing.

What bands would you like to tour with?

Zac: Letlive. Night Verses would be cool. Justin Bieber. [laughs] I’d like that.

Ben: Closure in Moscow would be fun. They have that kind of TMV thing.

Ian: Refused. Second reunion tour.

Interview by Dan Bogosian – Follow him on Twitter

Dan Bogosian
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