making loneliness an art: verdigrls
There’s nothing typical about Verdigrls, the self-proclaimed ‘sad girl electro chamber pop’ girl group hailing from Brooklyn, NY. Made up of sisters Catherine and Anna Wolk and Catherine’s college “friend crush” Rachel Rossen, they’re regulars in the growing Brooklyn DIY music scene and on social media--posting #relatablecontent for their fan base that stretches far past Bushwick neighborhood lines. But perhaps what’s most impressive about Verdigrls is the way they approach their craft. There are no facades and no gimmicks--Verdigrls are unapologetically Verdigrls and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
The group is a product of producer/vocalist/cellist Catherine’s 2013 “musings of isolation and nostalgia”, that quickly turned into a full band, according to their Facebook page. After beginning college to become a doctor, Catherine fast realized it wasn’t a profession she could envision herself in for the remainder of her life. She turned to music for solace, recording in Anna’s college dorm. After a failed run with another band made up of male musicians where Catherine was told she was “trying to write girl music”, as she recalls, is when Verdigrls truly came to fruition.
But the inclination towards music was always there. A rare feat for even the most iconic of musicians, each member of Verdigrls is classically trained since childhood--Rachel and Anna in violin and Catherine in cello. You’ll often hear this background reflected in their music now. Songs like ‘Heartbreak Hour’ and ‘Think in Blue’ have dreamy string solos intertwined with the tender vocals of Catherine and Anna, adding a monumental quality to nearly all of their songs.
When I sit down with the group at Brooklyn Whiskers, a local Bushwick coffee shop, the bandmates are animated and brimming with quick wit and dark humor, similar if not exactly the same as their online persona. Sincerity? Check. After grabbing our coffees, we all squeeze into a tiny corner booth and get chatting about the band’s beginnings, what power being women musicians holds for them, and the unmistakable lifelong relationship they have with music.
“It’s the only thing we’ve ever loved extremely. I’ve never loved a boy or my own family more,” Catherine says, half serious, half not when I ask why they all eventually settled on starting a band. The three girls nod in agreement, mentioning that even though Rachel had to go through a “vetting process” at Anna’s request, it wasn’t until she joined that Anna “truly felt like we finally became a band.”
During the 4 years since Verdigrls became a group, the three musicians have learned to be honest with themselves about their strong points but also the things that occasionally hold them back. As classical musicians they have the notion that music is “about perfection, every detail has to be perfect”, Rachel says. In their pursuit for the perfect song, Catherine agrees that they sometimes feel inhibited from “letting go and just releasing music.”
But this hasn’t stopped them. Their music, which is available on Bandcamp and Spotify, has garnered a response from fans of all ages, all creeds, and all countries. And perhaps what balances out their perfectionism is their honest understanding that music serves to help people.
“We have really young fans 17-18 year old girls in the UK and all over the USA and even though we’ve only released 1 song in two years, we still have people coming to us for a reason,” Rachel says.
Anna adds that “music isn’t an escape so much as it is, someone gets it, someone gets what I’m going through.” To them, that’s the pinnacle of success--speaking on an emotional level to their audience. The girls make it clear that they’re not here to change the world or start a movement, but rather connect with people and communicate personal experiences without “using social issues as click bait,” says Catherine.
Verdigrls do speak to the life experiences that have shaped them for inspiration, aiming to do so without exploiting topics such as sexual assault or mental illness. But they were frank about their encounters with sexism in the music industry.
“One of the hardest things about being a woman in music is people trying to tell you how to do things or assuming that you can’t do certain things,” Anna admits. They acknowledge Rachel’s identity as a female guitarist as an example, noting that often times she is talked down to because “everyone is skeptical of women musicians, especially guitarists.” But Rachel is quick to shut down any impression that she can’t handle her own.
“It bothers me but I can’t even engage in it because it’s so behind with where the world is headed right now. There’s no way to engage with that without getting angry,” Rachel says. Anna adds that there is power in seeing a woman playing guitar and for their young fans, they might see it and think “oh shit, I can do that too.”
Rachel was equally candid about the fact that while not what defines Verdigrls as a whole, her queerness and recent coming out is now a facet of the band’s identity. She’s wary to delve into too much detail, acknowledging that topics on sexuality and gender can get a little messy, but wanted to assure fans that might want to come to her for support, that she’s open to having those conversations with them.
“I do think it’s important that people know, but I don’t think it’s fair that I could be grouped into the same area as someone who identifies as trans or nonbinary because obviously I’m a cis woman and I have a certain privilege,” she considers.
After an hour or so with the ladies of Verdigrls, my time in Bushwick is coming to a close--but not before asking what advice they have for the next generation of women in music.
“Just do it! Learn any instrument that you can, trial and error. Learn Ableton, use Garageband! Look at the gear your idols use and try to figure it out through that. There’s no rules to making music or a requirement for how experienced you need to be,” Catherine says.
With that, the ladies of Verdigrls collectively urge young women artists to do it for themselves, make something that’s uniquely their own, immerse themselves in music of all genres, and don’t forget to keep music fun.