Pool Boys’ Emma Browne on influences, inspiration, and cool boys being cool
Out of the depths of pandemic doom and gloom, a new world of art and sound are beginning to resurface. Amidst fresh new bands and longtime legends, Pool Boys floats somewhere in between: their long awaited debut EP “Obviously, Doctor” set to release June 21, two years later than originally planned. After laying low the past few years, Pool Boys is making a splash into the summer, kicking off their release at Mississippi Studios alongside Night Heron and Sunbathe.
Rocking cobalt and embracing harmonies, songwriters Emma Browne and Caroline Jackson sing candidly about feminism and equity with a cool and refreshing sound. The band has an astonishing ability to combine honesty and levity in a way that sounds both familiar and unique. Browne and Jackson are linked with a dynamic duo of musicians. Former drummer Alex Radakovich can be heard in the EP recordings, and current drummer Monica Metzler can be seen rocking out alongside guitarist/vocalist Annie Dillion to make up the “boy band-esque” outfit.
“Obviously, Doctor” was produced by Justin Chase (Pure Bathing Culture) and recorded at Flora Recording and Playback; “44 Stone Lions” feature additional chorus vocals including Lily Breshears (Haley Heynderickx band, Sheers), Lisa Adams (Sama Dams), Laura Hopkins (Black Water Holy Light, Death Parade), and Dasha Shleyeva (Radiation City).
Eleven had a chance to chat with Emma Browne of Pool Boys about influences, inspiration, and cool boys being cool:
Eleven: This EP has been in the works for a little bit, right?
Emma Browne: Yeah, we first booked this release show at Mississippi Studios for May or June in 2020. At the time we were like, “Maybe it’ll actually happen!” because at the beginning of Covid we only thought it would last for 2 weeks or something. We thought about just releasing it online during the pandemic at some point and decided that we worked really hard to make this EP and we wanted to be able to celebrate it with the community, so we decided to wait. The timing finally felt right this year. I can’t wait to release it and have it out in the world. We spent most of pandemic writing new music, so we’re excited to get this out and then record either a bunch of singles or an LP this year!
11: And this is a debut EP right? This is a big deal!
EB: It is! We only have one song released and we’ve been a band for more than 4 years now. One of the things Caroline (Jackson) and I talk about a lot—Caroline is the bassist and other songwriter—what we’re really proud of with Pool Boys is how we have so much diversity among all of our songs. So you really don’t get a picture of what Pool Boys is like when you only hear one song.
11: I do hear that in this EP—it’s cohesive, but it’s definitely different and it locks in and fits together. Versus, if you just heard one thing, it would be such a different experience to listen to. There’s some of that when you go see a live show too—not just diversity in music, but it’s a full performance where you’re all wearing outfits that match and it’s immersive in a way. I’m curious—what’s the story behind the blue outfits?
EB: It’s not a hugely cerebral thing. I think it’s fun to craft an entire performance. Art and music to me is just more interesting when it’s immersive. I think we’re all also kind of performance dorks, if that makes sense. We don’t think we’re too cool or anything like that. Really getting into a theme is really fun for us! We all really love theme parties and dressing up in costumes. Halloween is huge for us! So yeah, I really wanted this band to have some kind of visual aesthetic to go along with it from the very beginning. I had a few ideas and proposed them to the girls at one of our very first meeting at Paymaster Lounge. We all just thought the blue aesthetic worked really well. It allowed us to still express our personalities and personal style, but have something thematic among all of us. I think that being called Pool Boys and thinking about water and blue—it was an easy aesthetic choice.
11: Can I ask where the name comes from?
EB: Yes, I like this story. Actually, originally we were going to be called Cool Boys because my friend’s dad once said to one of my close friends since high school—who’s in bands and a “cool boy”—“Aren’t you in a band or something.” And Kyle’s like, “Yeah, I am.” And my friend’s dad is like, “Well, then why do you have a regular-boy haircut? You should have a cool-boy haircut!”
When I was in Argentina and Trump had just been elected, I was like, “I want to start an all girl band called Cool Boys.” So I texted a few girls that I knew—drunk in Argentina—and they immediately texted back and were like, “Yes, I want to join Cool Boys!” Pool Boys is because I was at Rontoms and my sister was there. I said “I’m starting an all girl band called Cool Boys,” and she was like “Pool Boys?!” and I’m like… “Yeah, that!”
11: I like that! I feel like not everyone has such a lengthy origin story to their name. It’s playful too.
EB: And I think it fits the band really well, as all femmes who focus a lot on social issues in our songwriting. I think that the vision of a pool boy—maybe it’s from the movie Legally Blonde or something? I kind of have it associated with a hot older woman, maybe a divorceé, who has her cute pool boy who comes over and she’s flirting with him. There’s something really empowering about that dynamic.
11: I haven’t seen The Virgin Suicides, but I love that the title of the LP comes from the line, “Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen year old girl.” I can make an inference as to what that means, even without having seen the movie.
I’m curious, what is significant about that to you? Does it resonates to anything in your past?
EB: 100%. I saw that movie for the first time when I was 13 and I was watching it with my mom. That line happens really early in the movie, I think. So, I’m 13 and so angsty. Emotions are so hard when you’re 13! You’re going through all these hormonal changes and everyone at school makes you feel weird in all these different ways and—at least in my family—emotional intelligence was not a thing that was talked about or encouraged or taught.
I’m watching this movie with my mom, and one of the girls—the youngest of the sisters—has a suicide attempt and she’s in the hospital. She’s talking with this doctor and he’s like, “You’re only 13 years old, you don’t even understand how hard life can be.” And then she—deadpan—she’s got no emotion in her voice, says, “Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a 13 year old girl.”
And I’m 13, sitting there watching this and it’s like, “You get me! This is made for me, it’s so true!” I’m thinking this, and at the same time my mom’s sitting next to me and scoffs. I was so affronted by that. It was a whole complexity of emotions. And so a lot of this album, specifically, is about complexity of emotions and about feminism and being a female and being recognized. I think that that line, in such a short period, does such a good job not only talking about the feminine experience, talking about young feminine experience, but also showing how little that feminine experience is understood or valued.
11: I’m also kind of curious to hear about the album art itself. Who put that together?
EB: The illustration is something from a friend named Amy Martino. She’s a really badass illustrator/graphic designer. I saw it on her Instagram one day and it really spoke to me. It was something she created that had nothing to do with Pool Boys, but it just happened to also have that blue aesthetic. Some people pointed out, “Well there’s four of you, but there’s only three people on the cover. What are people going to think about that?” But I think to me it’s not really a representation of anyone in the band, it’s a representation of women working together. It exudes such strength to me.
11: So you’ve been making music for about 4 years as Pool Boys. Have you worked on projects together before?
EB: The original drummer, Alex (Radakovich)—we had been in a band together before and got along really well musically. She’s still a very close friend. Caroline and I met at Rigsketball and we were always fans of each other’s bands. We weren’t even very close friends when we started the band together. She’s an incredible musician, a rippin’ musician and singer. And then Annie (Dillon)—who plays guitar—was one of my very first friends I met in Portland; and I moved here almost 10 years ago now. She was at the first open mic show I ever played, where I played my own music with songs I had written. Annie and I have a long history but we had never played music together. All of us have been part of the same scene and community for a long time.
11: I feel like a lot of projects come together that way, locally. It feels like a special community.
EB: Our drummer now is Monica Metzler. Her band is called Forest Veil; she’s also an amazing guitarist and singer. Actually at the EP release show, Annie can’t play, so Anna Sabatino from Twingle and Rayon is filling in on guitar and we’re really grateful to have her. She’s a fuckin’ shredder, I’ll tell you what!
11: I wanted to ask some more about the music itself. I can hear some of your musical influences, like the Cranberries. I listened to the first song and I was like, “The vocals are so Cranberries!” just in that first little pocket. I thought it was cool that I could hear those specific influences, but in a really new way. What are some of the bands that you listened to growing up that are still really part of you?
EB: This is pretty cheesy, but one of my favorite albums ever is still the (Blue Album) by Weezer. It’s always hard for me to say what influences my music because when I’m writing, I’m not always thinking (about it). But they’re really influential to how I write guitar solos, specifically. I don’t like solos that go everywhere and are just technical. I want a solo I can sing. If anyone sings my guitar solo at practice, I’m like “Yes! I did it!” Yeah, I think that that was an album that I grew up with.
11: And fittingly, it’s blue.
EB: Yeah, I didn’t even think about that!
It’s also very generic and cheesy, but I grew up loving The Beatles and other Brit Pop, like the Zombies. The Zombies are a huge influence for all of us I would say, especially with harmonies. I also grew up during the boy band era—Spice Girls and pop stars like Britney Spears. I think that focus on harmony from the boy bands and Spice Girls plays a pretty big.
11: You kind of have a boy band.
EB: We do! Pool Boys, boy band. Maybe if we ever change our name, we can just change it to Boy Band.
11: Is there anything else that feels important to mention about the EP?
EB: The very last song, “44 Stone Lions.” This is something I’m particularly proud about. We actually had a choir of eight women, in addition to the four of us in the band—so we had a total of 12 of us all singing on it at the same time. We had to bring some of our own headphones to Flora—which is one of the most decked out studios in town—because we had so many people!
I read something in this Rebecca Solnit essay, about how there was this study at UCLA talking about the fight or flight response. In this study, one of the things they noticed was the feminine side of a lot of species would have a third response to an existing trauma or danger: to gather together. So, that part of the section was really inspired by that thought.