words by alex wexelman
photo by emily burtner
Changes scare me. I tend to get stuck in routines because the familiar is comforting. And so, for a year, I talked about moving to New York while I worked a shitty restaurant job in my home state of Florida. Cozy in my complacency but longing for something more, Littler’s Of Wandering became the soundtrack to my ennui. The Philly four-piece’s Madeline Meyer summed up the album’s themes to The FADER as, “wondering what comes next and who I am.” Both questions weighed heavy on my mind and so last summer I booked a weeklong trip to New York during which I caught Littler’s last set before they went on hiatus. Shortly after, Dan Colanduno and Meyer—who both provide guitar and vocals for the group—relocated to L.A.
I now live seven blocks from the venue where I saw Littler perform. Nearly a year later, that period that felt so finite for me now feels like a transitory stage. Now, as I settle into the daily motion of big city living I have a new soundtrack: Littler’s Bad Hand, which Meyer describes as, “a record of resignation, of acceptance.”
Recorded before Dan and Madeline moved from Philly, Bad Hand comes out Friday, April 28. Littler—which also features Anne Burtner on drums and Ivy Gray-Klein on bass—finds the perfect balance between pop and punk shifting from the anthemic chorus of “Running Hot” to the fast and furious “Out of Your Rib.” Ahead of the EP’s release, I emailed the band to talk about their beginnings, the new EP and collective changes.
Littler started as somewhat of a one-off project under the name Calamity Jane. What was the trajectory from never having played an instrument to being a full-fledged rock band?
Ivy: Madeline and I decided to start playing music when DIY PHL announced a call for new bands to perform a showcase gig called First Time’s the Charm. The event was all about encouraging marginalized, under-represented, and/or new musicians to start a band. That gave us a platform and a structured deadline to work towards. While Madeline and I were totally new to our instruments, Dan had played in other bands for years and was a super helpful resource and support to have as we figured things out together. After the show, we decided to keep playing and, for me, it still feels super surreal. This is something I never thought I would get to do and I’m really glad it came together in this way.
Madeline: Yeah, I think we’d spent our whole lives wanting to do this thing and then after playing the one show were like, we can’t be done now! I’m not going backwards. That being said it wasn’t a totally linear transition– we changed drummers, changed our name. The core of it stayed the same but we made some adjustments for a more long term idea.
What moment in your time as Littler has been the most surreal? What career highlight do you think would make your 14-year-old self beam?
Ivy: About a year ago, Madeline organized an amazing Planned Parenthood benefit show at the Church in Philly. The gig quickly sold out and we got to open for a bunch of bands we really admire and love (Dark Thoughts, Amanda X, Cayetana, Screaming Females). The Church was where I went to my very first Philly gig in 2010 and playing a sold out show there was definitely surreal!
Anne: Going on tour for the first time in my life last summer was a very special thing for me. I have a tendency to live in a fantasy world when I’m home and just going about my life which is distracting and counterintuitive to getting anything done. Road trips oddly have always had a way of bringing me back to reality, and especially being on tour and kind of have a job to do. Being on the road for about two weeks was a really good experience for me. Sounds silly but I was just really feeling it, on our way home, all I could think was “I could keep doing this for another 2 weeks, 3? Hell, why go home.” But we ended up going home. I guess 14 year old me assumed that I quit music for good in middle school to play sports, so going on a tour was never really on the horizon. Suck it, sports.
Madeline: Yeah, playing with bands that I grew up worshipping is obviously a big one. But honestly, the thing that strikes me as the coolest is doing interviews or projects with teen or girl-focused stuff (The Le Sigh/She Shreds etc.) that I would have been obsessed with when I was 14. Being accessible and valuable to teens is really important to me.
When speaking with ‘She Shreds’ you described the video for “Somewhere Else” (from last year’s ‘Of Wandering’) as being about, “ tools that fool you into thinking you can live in multiple worlds.” Now Littler lives in multiple worlds as a bi-coastal band. How do you make it work? Are there any tools that make it easier?
Ivy: We knew Madeline and Dan were planning to move to LA for a while, so that gave us the opportunity to be sort of strategic about how we spent our last few months living in the same city. One of the final things we did was record Bad Hand. So we left off having this EP of new material that we could continue to build around despite being geographically apart. While we don’t play shows as frequently, it does allow us to be a lot more intentional about what we do and when we do it.
Madeline: Luckily, LA is a fun place to visit and Philly is still home to Dan’s family/our friends so we’ve been able to make it work!
Madeline, you said ‘Bad Hand’ “is about negotiating whatever cards you’ve been dealt, and making it work.” Was this a theme you were conscious of while writing? What inspired the songs on the EP?
Madeline: It was not a theme I was conscious of writing about until I looked at the songs collectively. The songs I write tend to be about my family who are an example of being dealt a ‘bad hand’ in some senses. My mom died when I was little, and my father who had fairly little experience with parenting, was left with two babies. He was unequipped (as many would be) and had just lost the love of his life. But we all had to deal with it because what else can you do? So this record is about a bad hand in an overarching sense, as well as, the mundane things you have to come to terms with like, being a sensitive person, having to move when you’re not sure you want to, being sick. And from one perspective those are things to struggle with and from another those struggles will pass and turn into something else. It’s how you’re looking at it.
What does the collaborative process look like for Littler? What does each member bring to the group?
Anne: I’m not the first drummer of Littler, and when I joined, the full length Of Wandering was practically done being written. So for that, I was mostly learning songs. Dan had written drum parts for most of the songs already, but was open to me bringing my interpretations to the table. Even playing those songs live now, I play them differently than I did on the album because in my past 2 years in the band, I have become a better and more confident drummer. With the new songs we wrote and recorded last summer, I was much more involved in the writing process. Dan or Madeline would bring a riff (or something they’d been working on together) to practice and we’d figure something out from there, which was a really fulfilling process for me.
Which artists inspired you to pick up music? And which artists inspire you to continue playing?
Ivy: I used to book shows in college and one of the bands I brought to campus was Potty Mouth. Since I was at Bryn Mawr and Ally and Victoria went to Smith, we immediately had this women’s college connection. Their whole ethos about starting to play music later in life and/or around the time they started Potty Mouth really resonated with me. A few months later Madeline and I decided to start a band. I really credit that experience with being the initial catalyst for me thinking this was something I could actually do. Other artists that have inspired me in the past and continue to do so are Vivian Girls, Japanese Breakfast, Black Tambourine, Suzi Quatro, and Mannequin Pussy.
Anne: I started playing drums in elementary school because everyone in my school had to pick an instrument in 4th grade. I think I chose drums because I was in love with Micky Dolenz of The Monkees. Or because I was a tomboy and my older sister had started listening to pop punk bands so I wanted to do that. Something like that. (Stay tuned for my forthcoming autobiographical solo record Young Tomboy in Love) (just kidding) But I guess to be more relevant, I really felt a desire to start playing drums again years after quitting because of being involved in Philly’s music scene, watching my friends start band after band and thinking “I could do that to, you know?” Madeline asking me if I wanted to play in Littler was the kick in the ass I needed. Lately, I’m really into artists like Takako Minekawa who take an experimental approach to writing and recording that I’m really influenced by as I move forward musically.
The opening line of the EP is, “Open, don’t mean any deception / Pinned this heart to my sleeve.” Littler’s lyrics always seem to touch upon personal elements (fear, uncertainty, ennui). Is wearing your heart on your sleeve a conscious effort while writing or does it just come naturally?
Madeline: Unfortunately, I’m just an open book—overly self reflective and prone to hurt feelings. But, I’ve come to see my being sensitive as also making me a communicative and transparent person. The older I’ve become, the more I’ve seen it as a good thing. That’s what “Running Hot” is about. Sometimes though I get jealous when I hear a good song like… I don’t know one time I was listening to Jeff the Brotherhood’s “Sixpack” and thought, I could never write this song and sing it with any sincerity. Jeff the Brotherhood made a good song out of getting beer. Being “chill” sure does sound cool.
“Out of Your Rib” is the most intense I’ve heard Littler be. The lyrics are less sung than they are yelled. What was it like to record that song? What inspired this stylistic shift?
Dan: We wanted to write a song that was structurally the same throughout – where the parts kept repeating but got louder and more layered, building to a crescendo. Madeline’s voice was recorded through a Fisher Price karaoke microphone, which is why the vocals sound sort of raw.
Madeline: Screaming comes more naturally to me than singing. When I do karaoke, I’ll do Sheryl Crow and scream the whole thing. I always thought the first real band I would be in would be some Ramones-type punk band. That’s not really what this band does though so I’ve “evolved,” which I appreciate. That being said, we’ve always been the kind of band that has relished shifting our sound around and experimenting, like with this song. I’d originally tried just reading the lyrics, like a poem, over the riff but I couldn’t get it quite right and Dan suggested yelling it when we got to recording. Screaming in front of a room filled with silent people, especially into a child’s toy, is embarrassing so I got drunk and closed my eyes and tried to forget they were there.
Since there are only four songs on the release would you be able to give a little info about each (i.e. what inspired the song, what the song means to you now, what you want the listener to know about the song, etc)?
Madeline: What can I say about “Running Hot?” We were listening to a lot of REM at the time.
Dan: “Lousy,” is the only one featuring lyrics that I wrote, and the only one with myself as the predominant voice. I try not to do that too often because I find it bizarre to hear my own voice played back — I find it equally bizarre to see myself on video, or even catch a glimpse of my reflection in a car window or a cat’s eye. It’s like: “Whoa, holy shit, that’s me, man…” Trippy. Anyway, that’s not at all what “Lousy” is about, I don’t think. It was the last one we wrote and I had finished the lyrics minutes before I recorded them, so I was stuck with whatever I had. I think it’s about finality?
Madeline: Yeah, I started trying to write lyrics to “Lousy” and it kept sounding like a horrible emo song. So the only thing I kept was that chorus, “The stars won’t look the same/I won’t forget your name.” I’d been thinking about moving a lot and how to keep the relationships I’d made, together. Dan built off that and made something way more magical. “Out of Your Rib” is about loving someone fiercely and being angry as you watch them make the same mistake over and over again and not being able to fix it for them with rational advice. I wrote “Oversteeped” when I was sick for months and just in this constant fever dream of wanting to be well again and see my friends and feel like a functioning person. There’s a happy ending though! I got better.
“Bad Hand” is out April 28 on via Disposable America/Yellow K/Anxiety Pop
Order it here