In this edition of the Edinburgh Interview Series, Geofrey Njovu speaks with Debbie and Suzanne from garage rock band Thee Girls Fridays about Edinburgh girls rock school, the feeling of performing live and how surviving COVID-19 made the band feel much closer together.
Geofrey – Hey! Introduce a little bit about yourselves.
Debbie – I'm Debbie, I play bass in Thee Girl Fridays and also write some of the songs.
Suzanne – I’m Suzanne, aka Miss Sue Kuzuki from Thee Girl Fridays, I’m the lead vocalist and general noise maker and sometimes I write as well.
Geofrey – You have some pretty interesting stage names – how did you come up with them?
Debbie – So I suppose within our genre it’s a bit of a tradition to have a stage name, but not just a stage name but quite a silly one, like Miss Boom. The reason behind Miss Sue Kuzuki (Suzanne) is because she plays the kazoo – and it sounds amazing in a kind of silly 60s kitsch way.
Geofrey – And then Rotator Cuff (Leanna), that was particularly peculiar!
Debbie – (laughs) I think that’s one Leanna picked herself actually, Rotator Cuff is the joint that connects the arm to your shoulder, just because she’s such a fierce drummer you know?
Geofrey – How did you guys meet? Are you long-time friends?
Suzanne – Our roots come from the Girls Rock School in Edinburgh which was formed in 2015, I knew one of the founding members Fiona who was starting up some all-female workshops for particular instruments, so I ended up being one of the first members after signing myself up to play bass guitar. There I met Shawn (Flangelina) who plays guitar, Shawn and I became friends and would talk about performing together or playing in a band and after the 6 weeks of workshops we got the opportunity to form a band, playing the songs we’d learned throughout the workshops. They were a really fantastic opportunity for women from all different ages and genres of life to come together, develop a sense of community with music in common and support each other.
Debbie – The year after I went to the girls rock school and learned bass, I’d been in a band in my 20s called The Golddiggers. Fast forward 15 years I decided this would be the last chance I had to make something musically. I saw an advert that Sean had put up on the girls rock school forum about needing members to make some music so we met, we had some members come in and out and needed a lead singer. I knew Suzanne from going to gigs so we got in touch and that was it really!
Geofrey – It’s interesting to note that you were previously in bands that didn’t work out, music is this broad spectrum of different sub-components and is about trying to find that sweet spot where each of you can be creative in your own space, but ultimately come up with something you can all be proud of. When I listened to the songs that you shared with me they evoked the same feeling in me that I get when I listen to The Beatles for example, what inspires your music?
Suzanne – What you mentioned earlier about the spectrum of music and the sense of it coming together to create something is magical. The uniqueness of our band is that we all have our specific type of genre, we do all have a love for garage but also quite different tastes in music. I think having those different tastes creates something unique between us. Garage and trash underpins all of our music predominantly, I can be quite souly, Leanna is pretty into rock and indie, Shawn is more into garage and punk, Debbie is garage to her heart. Garage is our passion.
Geofrey – How did you tend to come up with your music? Is it random or planned?
Debbie – I think it’s a bit of both. We all contribute in different ways, there’s no set way we do it, it just happens. And much more easier than 4 years ago. We all have different influences but all cross over as well.
Geofrey – Seeing some of your performances it seems like you have so much energy, how do you do it?
Suzanne – I’ve always been quite an energetic person, maybe over the top! I was in the Edinburgh soul choir and started off being part of the ensemble and as I progressed through I took a leap to do solos, I found they really energised me. Being with the rest of the band makes me feel energised but also calm cos I’ve got my girls behind me. I believe that if I didn’t perform to the best I can I’d feel like I’d be letting the others down. When I’m performing I feel like I can truly let go, the feeling after is amazing.
Debbie – The longer you are together the better you are at winging it, even the biggest bands make mistakes and everyone is human.
Geofrey – What have been your favourite moments in the band so far? For example, a moment where a person in the crowd has had an amazing reaction.
Debbie – We played in November at The Voodoo Rooms and we were supporting a friend’s band. I think there was just a really good atmosphere there, really packed and everything just seemed to work. For me one of the best gigs we’ve done, if not the best. Seeing people singing the songs is just, oh my god!
Suzanne – There’s been some gigs we’ve performed at where people have seemed a bit aloof or detached, to be honest though it doesn’t really matter because it’s just like a practise. The things that really tickle me are when people are singing our lyrics, that blows me away. Once Debbie and I were in Spain at a festival, I was in the toilet queue and this girl went up to me and went, are you one of Thee Girl Fridays? Those moments just blow my mind.
Geofrey – The reaction you get from releasing something is like the last stage of the recording process, and I suppose it takes a lot of maturity to be ready for whatever that reaction is going to be, whether it is good or is more of a learning curve.
Debbie – I guess we’re at that age where we really don’t care what other people think, we’re not in our 20s anymore and not doing it for a living, so is purely for fun and the enjoyment of it. Personally, I don’t really care what anybody thinks. If they enjoy it, fantastic.
Geofrey – That’s great, you can then enjoy music for what it is. Nowadays the commercialisation of music can definitely distract from the pure enjoyment of what music is.
Now for the elephant in the room, COVID-19, I can’t think of any industry as affected as music as it relies on constant practise, coming together, performing for your fans. How have you managed through this?
Suzanne – I’m actually a COVID survivor! My first symptoms started in March and I’ve been off work for 3 months, just going back now. Feeling a lot better now. No scarring of my lungs so I can keep singing! I work for the NHS and it can be quite emotionally draining, for me to have a sense of well-being music is massive. Not only is music something I can tap into at home but also where I socialise, it’s where I’m inspired and connect with other people, and where I can dance like a dafty and not care. Everyone very quickly tried to connect to make a forum where they could share this passion, such as online festivals and DJs we admire doing sets. Although we weren’t connecting physically there was some connection and that really kept me going.
Debbie – Like Suzanne I very quickly connected to things online, the DJs particularly. Seeing other people in the groups and having a chat really did get me through in the early days when things were uncertain and isolating. When we found out how ill Suzanne was we found the emphasis coant be on the band right now but in a way it has brought us all closer together, we really took the time and effort to keep in contact with each other. Out of a really horrible situation there has been some good come from it. We really care about each other’s wellbeing and careful not to put pressure on other people if they don’t want to do something, I’d say we’re in the best place we’ve ever been.
Geofrey – Sometimes these really horrible situations can teach us a lot. Hopefully going forward you can use this energy as a unit, it’s very powerful. What are you plans going forward, any records coming soon?
Suzanne – We’re currently working on a few things, Debbie and Shawn have written some cracking things so they’ve met up (socially distanced) to come up with some great tunes. When we can get together we’ll be able to work on these things.
I feel the stuff we’re doing now is better than the stuff we did when we first started. It would be good to get another record out but that depends on when we can get back into the studio.
Geofrey – It’s been great speaking with you and just to wrap it up, would you say is your favourite song from the band?
Suzanne – For me, Too Much Of A Good Thing.
Debbie – I think my favourite off the EP is Shake Shake because it’s quintessentially 60s, it’s got that sound. That’s kinda my thing.