There is drama in the Horsegirl van. The Chicago three-piece is parked outside a café in Milwaukee, and drummer Gigi Reece and guitarists/bassists Nora Cheng and Penelope Lowenstein are sharing the back row. Or, as Lowenstein used to call it, her row.
“I was shafted from my row and moved to the front where the air conditioner started dripping on me,” Lowenstein says. “But it wasn’t dripping when they were in the row. As soon as the feng shui of the van got challenged, it started to drip on me. And now I’m in the worst row. I’ve been there for a couple of days.”
“I was in the first row, which is the worst row,” says Reece.
Cheng speaks up: “For the longest time.”
“For, like, the longest time,” says Reece. “And then one day I wanted to sleep.”
It’s at this point that Lowenstein laughs, which is good because all of this is happening on Horsegirl’s very first tour, which brings them to the Sinclair on Sunday following an attention-getting set at Boston Calling in May. And it would have to be their first, as the young band formed in 2019 as high schoolers (Lowenstein was the last to graduate, this year) right before a certain pandemic shut everything down. Cheng was the connective tissue, meeting the other two separately through music programs and bringing them to local rock shows.
“Both of us really wanted to be friends with Nora so bad,” says Reece, adding, “Now Penelope and I love each other even more than we love Nora.” That’s when Cheng lets out an exasperated “Yeah.”
Horsegirl’s exploration of the sounds and songcraft carved out by ‘80s and ‘90s indie bands like Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, and the roster of New Zealand’s Flying Nun label (home of the Clean, Tall Dwarfs, and the 3Ds) is a curiosity, given that the aforementioned acts’ heydays were before Cheng, Reece, and Lowenstein were even born. “I think guitar music and rock music is always meant to be for young people,” Lowenstein says. “I think there’s a very specific draw of a band, a really minimal set-up and it’s all being made there in real time.”
Their approach results in the extended brain-fizz of the band’s delightful debut album “Versions of Modern Performance,” where songs often seem to swerve and follow linear impulses instead of iterative verse-chorus-verse structures.
“I think the way that we’ve started to write as a band is very much instinctual,” Lowenstein says. “We’ll just chip away at it until it makes sense. When we write parts, we basically vocalize among the three of us, like a feeling that we think needs to come next or a shift in energy or a change in space. And then we improvise stuff until we get there, just try to capture an energy that is in the room.”
It’s a process that was challenged by the pandemic lockdown. Efforts to write and practice virtually proved frustrating, as did open-door garage rehearsals. (“I felt like my neighbors could hear everything,” says Lowenstein.) But once they decided to become a pod, Horsegirl really started becoming a band.
“Honestly, the pandemic was such a huge moment for us as a band,” says Lowenstein, “because going to different schools, I would only see them on the weekends and it was this very special moment where I got to see my best friends. And suddenly we were together doing school together from our computers. We also would dream about Horsegirl a little bit more seriously, and we really got very serious about writing during that time. And because we couldn’t see anyone else, we just became such a unit in terms of what we were obsessing over musically and how often we were playing.”
Another turning point, and one with less epidemiological implications, was a November 2020 feature in the Chicago Tribune. “In the interview, if you read it, it’s literally us being like, ‘Well, all high school bands, you go to college and the band ends,’ ” says Reece. “That was all we aspired for. We were happy and content with that. And it was obviously sad, but we kind of knew that that’s what was coming. And then once that got published, people started paying attention.”
“It was a very quick shift that we were not expecting,” Lowenstein says. “Suddenly we started getting e-mails and we were like, ‘Oh my God, how do we even handle this?’ And I think then we were like, ‘OK, we’re gonna be able to do this longer than we thought,’ which was very exciting.”
To that end, the whole band has relocated to New York City: Cheng is a student at NYU, Lowenstein will join her this fall, and Reece is already in the city, having left college after a year. Staying together year-round seems crucial to maintaining the creative spark and momentum that has gotten Horsegirl rather far in such a short time, at such a young age, at such a chaotic historical moment.
But until then, they have to make it out of the van in one piece. Asked about the presumptuousness of naming one of their album tracks “Beautiful Song,” Reece is unrepentant. “Well, we know what we made,” Reece says, affecting a serious tone. “Gigi, what the hell?,” says Lowenstein, laughing once more.
At the Sinclair, Cambridge. Aug. 7 at 8 p.m. $18-$20. axs.com
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spacecitymarc.