If you want to hear modern New York’s hot underground sound without any fireworks in the pit, snot-nosed testosterone or buzzsaw feedback, add Household to your queue! This semi-functioning band has been responsible for some of the most curious indie music to come out of Brooklyn in a while, filled with nervous confidence and quiet anger, among many other delightful contradictions. Comparisons like Young Marble Giants and Marine Girls pop up frequently (and aren’t off-base), but any artsy introspection is tempered by a deep-rooted punk attitude, the sort of stink you can’t wash off no matter how low you turn the volume knob. The new Household record, Elaines, is their best one yet, and if the sharp and illuminating conversation guitarist/vocalist Talya Cooper shares with me below doesn’t have you scrambling for a copy, I’m not sure what will.

How did Household get started? Would you say it’s “your” band, in the possessive form, seeing as you are the guitarist and vocalist? Do you write all the songs, or is it more of a democratic thing?
The initial batch of Household songs came out of an attempt to rid myself of serious bummer vibes in the summer of 2010 by holing up in a practice space with borrowed gear and some Tecate. I met Isabel Freeman, our bassist, soon afterwards, and the band has been a collaboration between the two of us ever since – she even came up with the name! Although I write the riffs and lyrics, she edits them down, reorganizes them, tells me how many times things should repeat, and cuts out a lot of ancillary bridges (or, on rare occasions, makes me write a bridge). Sometimes I think she is wrong, in which case two practices later I’ll acknowledge that yes, that should be a tom hit not a snare hat and no, we don’t need that bridge after all. The core of our sound is the interplay between my guitar and her bass parts. Isabel is moving to England at the end of this spring, and the band will then go on extended hiatus.

Why an extended hiatus, and not a breakup? Do you not feel the pressure that so many bands do, to sort of make the most of your small “window” for success and constantly notify the audience at large that you exist?
We already took a year-long hiatus a while back, right before our first record came out, so this last batch of recordings and shows has basically been our reunion. Isabel and I would like to play again together in the future, and it might be fun to tour the UK while she’s living there, so we decided that we’ll keep saying that we “are” in a band instead of that we “were.” To some extent I think that “window” might not exist anymore – given proper internet/friend momentum, it seems like any band can revive itself. I mean, think about all the unlikely tours that have gone down over the past couple years. Additionally, almost all the positive feedback we received about our music came while we weren’t playing shows, as the first LP kind of took on its own life, with minimal promotion and no touring. I know that’s more the exception than the rule, but it’s nice to know that there’s some leeway in how even such limited success as we’ve had can come for a band.

Do you have any guesses as to why your LP kinda took off when the band was inactive? Do you think it’s as simple as a bunch of people just really digging the music?
Honestly, I do, and that gives me a strange and otherwise unfounded faith in the internet. I also think that the moment was ripe for our kind of music, both politically (when our LP came out, I think it was the heyday of a lot of really awesome music-and-feminism Tumblrs) and sonically: we sounded sufficiently similar-but-different to some of our peers who were at or near their peak, like Grass Widow and Yellow Fever.

From your records, and band name, I get kind of a personal, domestic vibe from Household… like you’re a band that exists in the comfort of your own homes, more than trucking across the country in a van or living out on the streets. Is that something that rings true to you?
Partly that’s out of necessity. We have a Spinal Tap-esque disappearing-drummer situation, I have an office job, and Isabel works in film, which sometimes means she has to run off to Australia at the drop of a hat or something – all factors that making touring difficult. Also, I guess we do Household mostly as a form of psychic-death-resistance for ourselves. We picked the name partly because we found it evocative of womyn’s communal living/family of choice, and for me, playing music with other women serves the purpose I imagine consciousness-raising groups had in the day: a space where we can learn from each other (musically and otherwise) and collaborate – with all the joys and struggles that entails – in a place that’s set apart from the everyday. What we do is secret!
Finally, we’re old people and don’t go to a ton of shows or hang out or whatever, and our friends who’re musicians span a broad spectrum of genres and interests, so there’s no particular “scene” in which we feel particularly at home (aside from the general company of other mostly-female-identified and/or queer bands). It’s nice to be able to slip between so many different musical worlds – we’ve played with everyone from James Chance & The Contortions to Warthog to TEEN – but also sometimes feels a little lonely. Our scene is the internet? I don’t know.

Even though I realize my stereo has a volume knob, Household strikes me as a “quiet” kinda group. Is that something that is intentional? Am I off the mark here?
I like our recordings to have a lot of empty space; I like clean, thin, trebly guitars. Partly the quietness comes from the band’s sparsity, but I also imagine our music as a soundtrack to quiet desperation. In the ancient world, if you were mad at or jealous of someone, you’d write a curse on a tablet or a bone fragment or something and bury it in the ground. I think of our music as some kind of equivalent.

Lyrically, what are your songs about? Is there any particular mental space you come from, when writing the lyrics?
The first Household songs emerged from the first time my heart broke, which is also the moment when I think I became an adult. They’re about being less angry than just disappointed to find out the world is just how the world is, that what I want is to see capitalism go down in flames but in the meantime my job wants to know if I want to withhold part of my paycheck for retirement savings and should I do that? And that you want things – the world, your friends, relationships – to change for the better from the patterns and relationships you saw adults living out when you were young, but everyone just starts getting married and eating meat, and so many things that seem so basic and obvious continue to be denied from so many people. The songs on the first record have a lot to do with dudes and jobs, and most of the second record pertains to my own relationship to New York, which has been my home for twelve and a half years. Once when I was fighting with my mom about something, a general lack of ambition I think, she said “you know, Talya, New York doesn’t love you back,” and I just thought “that might be the thing I know best of anything.”

Do you ever think about moving somewhere else? Do you have any idea how easy it is to be in a band if you live in Portland or Baltimore or Columbus, etc etc?
If I leave New York ever I will move to the woods somewhere and learn how to play the dulcimer and make weird shaky-voiced old-lady recluse music about the moon, kind of like a cross between Kath Bloom and the Fates Furia LP.

Have you ever considered playing in a band where the other members are men? Or are there just already enough male-dominated bands in the world?
I’ve played music with men, both in Household (two of our wonderful fill-in drummers, Nick Millhiser and Jay Hough) and in a few other projects that never took off. While I’m not opposed to playing music with men, it’s just not as fun. Partly, this pertains to my personal history of playing music. Though I learned guitar in high school, I rarely played in public and quit when I started college because every band around me seemed comprised of dudes with sick chops and intense riffage. I didn’t sense a space where I could refine my skills and come to find a style that suited me, and decided that my role in music lay in DJing, collecting, fandom, etc. I didn’t form my first “real band” until well into my 20s, when I inherited a slot at a practice space, and my best friend Hannah (now of http://silentlunch.bandcamp.com) and I pulled our high-school-era Squier guitar and bass out of our parents’ houses and tried making music together, for the first time. It took a while to understand how to participate in a collaborative, creative process, to learn how to play and sing at the same time, to get better and more confident. We laughed, we cried, we talked about our periods, we wrote a couple hits. We played our second show the night before Hannah moved away, and I remember that when I hugged her goodbye and I was all teary and she was trying to get me to chill out she reminded me of how a year or even six months prior, it never would have even occurred to us to start a band, an activity that had abruptly become one of the most important pieces of our friendship and our lives (I think she actually just said “did you ever think we could do this?”).
As a result of this introduction to making music, I think of band practice as a safe(r) space. Because that moment of “oh shit/we can do this/we can do this together” is so fresh for me, and because most dudes around have been playing in bands since they were ten, I relate a lot better to women who – even if they’re seasoned pros – face some level of discrimination, or at least a set of misguided assumptions that so often frames the way people listen to and receive music made by women. Playing with women who are better musicians than I am has allowed my confidence and musical capacities to grow, and I’m able to share what I know now with women who’ve just found, as I did a few years ago, that jamming serves as a perfect counterbalance to the gnarlitude of the day-to-day. Whoa, I just typed the word “women” so many times. True confession: I sent this response to one of my sheroes, Grace Ambrose, to read over to see if it makes sense, and she helped me come to maybe the crux of all this: for many of my friends and bandmates, being in a band is doing something for yourself, but doing something for yourself together. Few dudes, in my experience, have that same set of stakes and desires.

Are there any Household songs in the works? Are you always writing new music?
I have a few pieces of things but I tend to work in spurts. Usually, when I start listening to a record compulsively and nail down what aspects of the songwriting appeal to me, I start reshaping those ideas into riffs and parts. My mood dictates my productivity a lot, though variably; sometimes when I feel super-depressed I can’t stop playing guitar and other times I deem everything I do totally worthless and just sit around and watch a lot of old-person-y British TV mysteries. This winter has been mostly the latter, unfortunately. Maybe sometime I’ll write a solo LP about Miss Marple and redeem myself.

Last question – if you could only have one in your life: punk or hardcore? Obviously they both can mean a million different things, so you can go with whatever definitions you want.
Punk! Imagine a life without the Petticoats? Or the Ramones?! Forget about it!