Lady Pills: A Radical Transformation
by James Ammirato
I first saw Lady Pills in a basement in Mission Hill, at a house called The Kennel. I had seen their name on quite a few bills before, but I didn’t know anyone who knew them. I was at the Kennel show to see Squitch, but I never like to leave a show early, just in case one of the other bands is, by chance, phenomenal.
This band is why.
Just a three-piece of Berklee grads, Lady Pills creates wall-of-sound style music that’s incredibly dynamic, blending post-rock, math rock, and post-punk in an extremely unique way, while remaining effortlessly in sync with each other. Guitarist Ella Boissonnault and bassist Alison Dooley both sport classic Rickenbackers, and harmonize beautifully; each note has been clearly planned and executed to perfection. Drummer Ruben Radlauer keeps the band true to form, playing methodically and dynamically, a human metronome.
After their set, I talked to Ella about where I could find their music, and she told me their first album, Despite (2016), was on all streaming platforms. She informed me that the music was drastically different than what they had just played, but that they were planning to release an album in the spring. I went home and listened to Despite, and though it is indeed very different than the band’s current material, it still stands out as a well produced/written record of catchy indie rock. I eagerly awaited the announcement for their follow-up.
The news came in February that their sophomore LP, Pink Void, was to be released on April 4. In March, they put out the first and only single from the album, “Moving,” an inventive track that tells a story in just four minutes, while at the same time showing off the instrumental brilliance of the trio. I contacted Lady Pills’ Instagram in hopes I could get an interview, and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to Ella and Alison in their home.
How long has Lady Pills been a band with this lineup? How did you guys meet?
Alison Dooley: Well we’ve been a band for almost four years… so long. We met at Berklee… I don’t know, Ella just invited me to her birthday party randomly and was like ‘Margaritas and mac & cheese!’ and I was like ‘Don’t really know her, but I’ll go’ and I was the only person who showed up on time, and then we just kinda became friends.
How did you guys meet Ruben?
Ella Boissonnault: Berklee, and he was hanging out with the same people, and we needed a drummer and he was like ‘Sweet, I’ll do it.’
Where are you originally from?
EB: I grew up outside DC.
AD: I grew up in Texas, in Houston.
And Boston just stuck?
AD: Well, we were here for school, and then we’ve just stayed here for the band.
The name Lady Pills to me is really unique, who came up with it? Does it have a special significance to you?
EB: I thought of it before we were a band. I was touring with another band and we were talking about something and it came up and I saved the Bandcamp and Instagram, and I was like ‘One day…’ and then once we became a band I was like ‘I have it saved’ but I was never able to log back in or get the password, so that’s why we have the dots.
So there’s just a random account that’s @ladypillsmusic?
EB: Somewhere, with nothing to show for it.
AD: It doesn’t belong to anyone, though.
EB: Yeah, so buy it and sell it back to us.
I mean to me, I guess I’m reading into it, but it’s a thought-provoking name. Did you mean it to be that way?
EB: What does it make you think of?
It makes me think of birth control, and I thought it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek comment on it, was that intentional?
EB: I guess originally, yeah, and then Alison had a spin on it.
AD: Yeah. You know when people are like ‘You’re a pill,’ it’s like a Texas thing-- a Texas spin on it.
What would you say your songwriting process is, generally?
AD: I feel like we’ll have an idea or two and then jam on it, and it always ends up being totally different than what we hear. And we write our own parts. Ruben’s our second long-term drummer, but our third drummer, so the drum parts were already there, but [he’s] done such a good job that he’s made a lot of the parts his own. A lot of it is just jamming and figuring it out as we go along, and trying to be as creative as possible.
EB: There’s a lot of us just sitting on the floor playing the same thing for like an hour, being like ‘Oh wait, that one note was cool, [laughs] what can we do with that?’ It takes a very long time for us to complete a song. Not too long, but it takes a while.
Who writes the lyrics?
EB: We both do, we write everything together.
My biggest question, personally, is how did you get from the songs on Despite to here? It’s remarkable, the evolution of the band, so what would you say contributes to that most?
AD: Just getting to know each other better and developing our musical voices. When we started playing we both were pretty unfamiliar with our instruments in that setting.
EB: I think a lot of it was spending more time together, talking, hanging out, getting to know each other more. Not that we weren’t friends, but we were more acquaintances at the beginning. And then I think as we shared music and talked about our perspectives on the world and what we were trying to say musically, and the backgrounds we’ve come from, we started playing together not with any intentions, just playing. I think the first song was “Tides” and then we were like ‘Whoa! What?’ and then after that it felt like what we were supposed to be playing, and the way we were supposed to be communicating musically.
AD: It felt weird to play any other way than that after we started writing that way, just playing off of each other, weaving things, instead of being like ‘Bass, guitar, drums, verse, chorus.’
EB: I think a big part of it was confidence. That’s not quite the right word, but like ‘Are we comfortable?’ We did something in one way that fit at the time and how the people around us were playing and what we were listening to, and then we kind of branched away from that. It feels like a more honest or true representation of not just what we like to play but how we see things and how we experience them. It’s not like ‘This thing happened to me and I’m writing a song about it,’ it’s like ‘What does it all mean?’
AD: I feel like it’s all larger statements, like trying to write music from a bigger picture perspective instead of a super ‘I’m sitting in my room writing on guitar.’ There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously, but it’s different.
At that Great Scott show, I bought the Despite tape--
EB: Sorry [laughs]. Surprise!
I mean, I wanted to have it, but I was like ‘Can I have that?’ and [Ella was] like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s just kind of like baby pictures of what we’re making now,’ and I thought that was a really good metaphor.
EB: I think we’re proud of it as a stamp in time, but we’re very happy to not be there anymore, not that there’s anything wrong with it, but… it did its job.
AD: Very fond memories.
Who did the artwork?
AD: Me, with the help of my sister’s photoshop skills.
It’s such a different visual, there’s so much going on, but the Pink Void cover is much more minimal. [Alison] did that art, too, right?
How did you come up with that design? What does it mean to you?
AD: It’s kind of funny, I used to paint a lot and then I stopped while I was in college. And then one day I was like ‘It’s time,’ and I bought this canvas, and I didn’t know what I was gonna paint on it, it was mostly just to be cathartic. And I painted it black a couple of times, and then I did a bunch of tiny detailed shit all over it, and then I painted it black a couple more times. Then I painted the red circle once, and left it like that for maybe a month, and it was just sitting on the floor in my room. And one day I was just chilling and I was like ‘It needs something now,’ [laughs] and I painted a white circle under it, and I was like ‘I’ll add more later, I don’t know what yet,’ but it was just a very slow process, and once it was like that it was in front of my bed for months, and I would look at it and be like ‘Does it need anything? I really don’t know,’ and then eventually I kind of gave up on it, but I think it works. My mom saw the artwork and she was like ‘It’s very simple’ [laughs] which is super cute.
EB: Did we decide on the name before or after the painting? I think during, maybe? I don’t know. Now it makes sense.
AD: I remember I was in the kitchen at our old place, and I don’t know how we got there, with the name, but--
EB: Oh, ‘cause you said that being women is existing in the void.
AD: Yeah [laughs].
WECB: Wow, that’s pretty heavy.
EB: Yes-- the pink void.
About “Moving”-- What’s it about?
AD: It was written at a very emotional time, and I think the first couple times we played it was with Mike?
EB: Yeah, our friend Mike Costa.
AD: Yeah, he just wanted to play drums with us for a while, and filled in for a show once years ago. I don’t know, the lyrics are about moving forward and chuggin’ along, and healing at the same pace, not leaving anything behind.
Would you say the other stuff on the record is similar in sound?
AD: I think the rest of the album is similar in mood. A lot of it is about inner currents, and how things project onto the world, and how to navigate those things, or not knowing how to navigate those things.
EB: Yeah, it’s a concept album.
Where does “Moving” fall in the tracklist?
EB: A lot of the stuff, when we’re writing it, is [kind of a mess], and then [we] organize it and look back on it. It’s making sense of everything within and without. I feel like now we’re just getting to the point where we can look back on it and start making sense of what was happening throughout the whole thing with each song, and there’s the memories of where things started from, but what came out as that was being created isn’t necessarily how it fits into the bigger picture of the record. It’s a very reflective album.
AD: I feel like it will be really interesting to hear what people have to say about the content on it too. That helps a lot, ‘cause we obviously have our own feelings about it and what we said and how we feel we conveyed it. But I feel like it will help a lot to hear people’s input, and even with the way we wrote all of the songs, it was easy to not be super actively focused on what we were saying, or what we were necessarily doing. You know, you sit down and jam for an hour, you’re not really worried about constructing something super particular.
How long has it been in the works? Since Despite came out? Before, even?
AD: I think we started writing the album in 2016, in the Fall.
EB: The first song was after the Rickenbackers.
That’ll do it.
AD: It was after I moved to [my old apartment]. There was a little basement room that me and my roommates converted into a practice room, and it was super tiny and really loud. I remember writing a lot of the stuff there, that was September 2016.
EB: But the last song we finished writing was “Moving,” and that was like a month before we went into the studio, so the whole time in between was spent piecing it together.
AD: And we recorded the album late 2017, early 2018. Ruben had been in the band for like a month or two.
And he did all the drums?
Wow, that’s impressive. So it must feel really good to get it out.
EB: Yeah, it’s about time [laughs]. We got somethin’ to say.
What would you say is the future of Lady Pills, after Pink Void is released. Do you have any tour plans, any new album plans?
EB: Yes, we got big, big plans [laughs].
AD: We have tour plans-- we have yet to map out. But we have plans.
EB: We’re gonna go in May, I think we’re gonna go up to Canada, midwest-ish, back? Two weeks or so-- whatever we can afford [laughs]. And then we were just talking about the next thing.
AD: We’re probably gonna release an EP next.
EB: Hopefully by the end of the year. That’s the goal, to keep the ball rolling.
Any final thoughts?
EB: Final thoughts… First of all, huge thank you to Sean McLaughlin and 37’ Productions who did our record, and Jason Trefts for booking the release, and Jeff Lipton for mastering it. I don’t know, we’ll keep doing things in a weird way and hope that something works. Who knows.
AD: Just keep doin’ it.
Pink Void drops April 4. Lady Pills is playing their all ages release show at the Lilypad in Cambridge the same day, with supporting acts Kindling and Earthquake Party.