U.S. Girls Embraces Righteous Rage on 'In a Poem Unlimited'
"From a young age, I suffered abuse, and I was basically told, 'Deal with it. It's part of life. Men do these things, and it's our job to not let them crush us, but carry on and don't say anything'"
Published Feb 08, 2018On February 16, Meg Remy will release new album In a Poem Unlimited, her sixth under the U.S. Girls moniker and first since 2015's Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted Half Free. On that record, Remy used her songs to spotlight the lives of women, occupying a neutral, almost journalistic role in telling their stories. There is no such neutrality on In a Poem Unlimited; Remy's pissed, and with good reason.
"When I started making Half Free, Trump was just starting to make noise about running; then it was the first Republican debate," she tells Exclaim! over coffee in Toronto. "My record was just about to come out, and I was flying to play a show, and when I watched that first debate with him, I was so upset that I lost my voice. The show I had to play, I had no voice, but I was so pissed so I was like, screaming onstage.
"Making [In a Poem Unlimited] around the time that he was nominated to be president, everything became so unreal that you couldn't even be scared; it felt like a glitch in the program, so it also felt like I was free to do what I want."
So Remy embraced her anger, channelling it into songs like "Mad As Hell," about the way Obama's charismatic public image obscured his trigger-happy drone strikes; "Incidental Boogie," about a woman who equates physical abuse with love; and "Pearly Gates," in which St. Peter abuses his position of divine power to coerce women into sex before entering heaven.
If Half Free shone a spotlight on the lives of women, In a Poem Unlimited moves it slightly off-kilter, illuminating the men lurking on the shadowy periphery.
On early single "Velvet 4 Sale," the record's opening track, one woman implores another to get a gun and confront the man that's abused her: "Don't offer no reason," she sings; "Instil in them the fear that comes from being prey."
And yet, as is characteristic of Remy's rich, nuanced songwriting, this isn't the stereotypical tale of a femme fatale. The twist is small but significant; in the song's second verse, the first woman offers to the second that, "This'll surely feel against your nature, but girl, you gotta move on."
"So much of the stuff that plays with this female fantasy revenge stuff," Remy pauses; "I feel like a lot of it that I've consumed is made by men. And it's like, 'That's not how it would be!' I was thinking, if you were armed, would that make you feel differently, would you find a secret confidence and power? I don't think so. It would be conflicted; there would be more going on there. I've had interviews for this record where the interviewers were like, 'All your characters are like Quentin Tarantino characters.' It's like… okay. They're not supposed to be sexy."
Complicating things further is the actual sound of In a Poem Unlimited. For all the thematic darkness of the record, it's also the most musically buoyant set of U.S. Girls songs to date, wrapped in funk and disco genre tropes and sparkling, radio-ready production.
"[I knew] full well that if I wanted to really go for it with the lyrics, I'd have to wrap it up in something that was not scary, that was digestible — you know, 'Mad As Hell' sounds like [David Bowie's] 'Young Americans.' I want to have fun, and I want listeners to have fun as well, but you can have fun and think at the same time, and work towards a greater good."
That ability to marry seemingly incongruent things — murderous revenge fantasy with emotional nuance, sad messages with upbeat funk — is reflective of Remy's mindset these days. The world is a terrible place, she knows, but she's been able to carve out a space of happiness and distance from which she can confront it and call it out.
"From a young age, I suffered abuse, and I was basically told, 'Deal with it. It's part of life. Men do these things, and it's our job to not let them crush us, but carry on and don't say anything.' There was a succession of things, growing up, and it wasn't until I moved out of the U.S." — born American, Remy is now a permanent Canadian resident — "that I identified that anger."
"Having a border between me and my past made me fearless. And being in a new family, my chosen family — my husband and his family and my friends and collaborators — made me realize how much better it could be. Knowing that I was supported emotionally made it so that, 'Oh, I can be pissed now! I can say these things. I can be seen.' All instinct and the world is telling me, 'Stay home, read books, maybe go back to school,' but the pot is boiling right now. I have to say this stuff."
In a Poem Unlimited is out February 16 on Royal Mountain Records/4AD.