Horsegirl guitarist/vocalist Penelope Lowenstein had to skip her own high school graduation to play the band’s June 5 album release show at Thalia Hall in her hometown of Chicago. It was the start of a whirlwind summer for the trio.
After the band’s debut album, Versions of Modern Performance, dropped on June 3, Horsegirl embarked on their first UK tour. Now, they’re touring North America, with major festival stops at Boston Calling, MOPop, and a Lollapalooza — in their hometown of Chicago. It also includes a more intimate July 27 stop at Madison’s High Noon Saloon. Opening the 8 p.m. show are Los Angeles buzz band Dummy and Madison popsters Seasaw.
It still feels surreal to the teenage alternative-rock group. “It was cool to be in these foreign countries and see the reception of our album,” guitarist/vocalist Nora Cheng says. “It’s a crazy thing. Even in places so many miles away, it’s being treated like a real thing.”
All three members of Horsegirl are still young. Cheng and drummer Gigi Reece are college freshmen in New York, while Lowenstein just wrapped up high school. In their earliest days performing as a band, the fact that they were underage meant they were quickly turned away from most venues, but Shuga Records was the first to take a chance on them. When Horsegirl released “Ballroom Dance Scene” in November 2020, the Chicago Tribune took notice and featured a profile that put the indie-rockers on the map.
All three women are veterans of Chicago’s youth music programs, from Girls Rock Chicago to School of Rock — which is where Lowenstein and Cheng first met. The two bonded over their shared love of punk-rock bands like Sonic Youth. “It was a natural progression,” Cheng says. “Penelope and I were the only ones in the program who were into these certain types of bands, so it kind of made sense to start playing together.” When Cheng introduced Lowenstein to Reece at a local show in 2019, they quickly hit it off and began jamming together.
They credit their chemistry to their shared love of music. They incorporate those influences throughout Versions of Modern Performance. Some of the trio’s favorite bands — including Stereolab, The Breeders, and Sonic Youth — inform their sound, which is evocative of the post-punk, alternative rock, and no-wave music popular in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I think the fact that the three of us felt like we were in this little bubble falling in love with bands like The Breeders and Pavement made writing together feel so much more special,” Lowenstein says.
Cheng credits their mutual love for the same artists for creating a creative language in their songwriting process. Like most of what they do as a band, the Horsegirl songwriting sessions are collaborative. All three members share responsibilities for lyrics and instrumentation, and all suggestions are welcome. Often, the trio will spend a full day in Lowenstein’s basement bouncing ideas off each other, suggesting riffs and musical influences, and improvising until they have a finished product.
“Sometimes we’ll just be playing for fun and not have the idea we’re working on a song. And suddenly, it’s ‘Anti-glory’ and it’s the first single on the album,” Cheng says.
The opening track on the album, “Anti-glory” is a drum-driven anthem marked with guitar riffs and an energetic chorus featuring Lowenstein and Reece chanting “Dance, with me!” The Sonic Youth influence is evident throughout the track. Elsewhere, tracks like “Electrolocation 2” and “The Guitar is Dead 3” serve as interludes that allow Horsegirl to explore more avant-garde experimental sounds.
It would be reductive to sum up Horsegirl’s music as just a pastiche of the alternative rock of yore. With Versions of Modern Performance, they’ve crafted a sound that brings post-punk and shoegaze to a newer, younger audience, while also establishing their own unique voice.
“We did want to play at how this is our own making of everything that has inspired us, and we’re trying to make it modern,” Reece says.
As early as they are into their music career, the women of Horsegirl seem to know exactly who they are as a band. Versions is a confident, experimental debut that suggests a bright future for the trio. Above all else, Lowenstein hopes the trio’s close friendship comes through onstage.
“The people who made the record are the same people onstage, and you can tell our friendship. I think that’s what I like about seeing kid bands in Chicago, and I hope we can bring that feeling outside of Chicago.”