Girlschool – It Is What It Is

Thursday, 20th July 2023

Photo by: Adam Kennedy

The longest-running all-female rock/metal band internationally, Girlschool has always been one of those groups that put the focus on music first. This scribe remembers watching footage of the group live in the 80’s and hearing Lemmy of Motörhead praising their musical abilities and tough as nails image. Celebrating forty-five years together as a band, their fourteenth album WTFortyfive features the quartet ripping through twelve tracks of down-to-earth heaviness, primal with the right melodic sensibilities. We reached out to guitarist Jackie Chambers to catch us up on the new record, how she got the Girlschool gig replacing Kelly Johnson, animation video work, favorite memories from festivals to meeting Alice Cooper, her newfound appreciation for meditation, and lots of touring plans.

Dead Rhetoric: WTFortyfive? is the fourteenth studio album for Girlschool – and first in eight years for the group. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for this set of material – and where do you see this record sitting in the discography of the band?

Jackie Chambers: Yes, it’s been eight years since the last one. We’ve been asked about that a few times, it’s just one of those things where time just seems to go by so fast now. Before COVID we started to plan to do the next one, and then COVID happened. We thought we might as well wait until the 45th anniversary, and so we recorded it in December last year, in Wales.

Where does its sit? With every album, we just want it to be the best that it can be. We aren’t trying to have it sound like Demolition, or Hit and Run in the 80’s. We just want to be ourselves, there’s no bells and whistles when it comes to the production. It’s just Girlschool, every time. That’s how it is.

Dead Rhetoric: I heard that you recorded the album fairly quickly. Is that because all the material had been very well prepared or is it something you choose to achieve because you want to capture more of that live, in the moment feel?

Chambers: The album wasn’t all written before we went into the studio. Kim and I spent a lot of the last few minutes working on lyrics. We don’t labor over much – we want to capture things in the moment, capture the feel, the energy. We’ve never done an album that’s taken us longer than two weeks. We book two weeks, and we have to do it in that time. Drums, bass, guitars, vocals, and we are done. We won’t spend three months on one vocal like some bands will do.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you also try to be spontaneous when it comes to your solos for the record?

Chambers: Sometimes, yeah. A couple of songs I had ideas ahead of time for, this time. I often want to try to make certain solos a little more melodic, instead of twiddling. Sometimes I’ll just play, see what happens, and then string it together. It can work in different ways on different songs, really.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us about the guest spots with Joe Stump on “Are You Ready” and Biff Byford, Phil Campbell, and Duff McKagan on the closing Motörhead cover of “Born to Raise Hell”? Who have been some of your favorite musicians over the years that you’ve had the chance to jam or interact with because of your work in Girlschool?

Chambers: Let’s start with “Are You Ready”. Alcatrazz and ourselves, we are both on the same label, we have the same management company, so we’ve done a couple of tours together over the past few years. When we were on tour the last time, they asked if we would be on their upcoming album. We went into a studio, in a hotel room funny enough, and did some backing vocals on “Don’t Get Mad…Get Even”, and the video came out. We figured from there we should have them on our album. Kim rung up Joe and asked if he would like to be on our album, and he wrote a guitar riff for “Are You Ready”. I learned it, recorded it, put stuff around it, but then we thought about the fact that he was not still on it – she rang up again and asked him if he would play a lead break over a part of the song. He came out with a load of twiddly piddly bits, and we put that over the top of the song. It’s very Joe Stump.

“Born to Raise Hell” – we decided on that because of our 45th anniversary. We asked Phil and Biff to be on it, and then somebody we know knows Duff, he said yes, he would love to. We went into the studio and did the basic track, the three guys put all their bits in, and that was it.

Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of the favorite covers Girlschool has done over the years – as you’ve picked a lot of unique songs?

Chambers: The most unusual one was on the Guilty as Sin album, we did “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees. We were messing around with it, I tuned down to drop D, and made it weird and different. It was fun to do. Why do the same ones all the time, and what is expected of us?

Dead Rhetoric: You did an animated video for “Are You Ready” – how do you feel the work of Natalia Jonderko Smiechowicz turned out, as it’s a sequel to an Alcatrazz video that Girlschool was featured in from their album, correct?

Chambers: We loved doing that one. Videos can be hard to do and make them interesting. For the Alcatrazz one “Don’t Get Mad…Get Even”, we were in it, so we could use her for ours. Silver Lining decided that we could use the same animators and get Joe in this one. It’s fun to watch ourselves.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it hard to figure out the first singles from a new album, or is that something you work out with the record company and management?

Chambers: Actually, the record company worked that out – especially with Joe being on that song, it seemed like the obvious one for the first track. “It Is What It Is” – we all like that one. It’s hard to pick from all these songs, when you stand back from them, and see what other people would like. It’s a good opener for the album. We don’t know what the third single will be – it will be interesting to see.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you remember about your early days with Girlschool in the late 1990’s? As I had heard you initially were hesitant to join the band because of your lack of skills in lead guitar play – how did you break through this fear and finally settle into the group?

Chambers: I met Kim in 1995 as a friend. We hung out as friends, so I was able to hang out with Kim and Denise all the time. And I was in other bands at the time. Kelly was always telling me I should learn the material so that I could join. I’ve never played lead guitar; I could play bar chords and riffs. Kelly and this other guy Chris offered to teach me the guitar solos for Girlschool, and asked if I would join the band. I thought it was never going to happen. I practiced for three or four months, knuckled down. I joined a cover band just to get my chops up to par to push myself. I joined in 1999 and started rehearsing. We got some gigs in, and that was it. I was supposed to do Wacken as my first gig, and I said absolutely no way. Let me do a small club gig first. Now I’m still here, nearly 23 or 24 years later.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe you were well-accepted as the new lead guitarist for Girlschool back then, or was there a feeling out period?

Chambers: I honestly don’t think most people even noticed. Most people look and see a blonde female guitarist, and thought it was Kelly all along. I took it as a compliment. I just slotted in, and people really accept me now.

Dead Rhetoric: Considering the forty-five-year legacy of the group, how hard is it for the band to maintain a level of relevance while not resting on the achievements of the past to appeal to a second and third generation of heavy music followers?

Chambers: Good question. We just play, and until anybody doesn’t want to hear us or see us anymore, we are not concerned about fitting into certain genres. We are musicians who love playing. If they go to the shows, they go to the shows. If they buy the albums, they buy the albums. When nobody wants to see us or hear us, then we may go away. As long as people are enjoying it, it doesn’t matter if we are relevant or not. What is relevant these days?

Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a preference for the studio or the stage – or do you enjoy both aspects equally for different reasons?

Chambers: I love both. I love being on stage – who doesn’t? When people are singing your songs, and hearing the songs, it’s the best feeling ever. When you are in the studio, and you see a song that you have written come together, it’s like your little baby coming alive.

Dead Rhetoric: What is your philosophy when it comes to guitar playing – and how would you say your technique and abilities have evolved since your early days to your approach currently?

Chambers: I think I’ve gotten worse because I don’t practice as much as I used to! (laughs). I used to practice a lot, because I needed to be up to the same standard as Kelly. Now I don’t practice, I just enjoy it. If it sounds good, it’s melodic, and people like it, you don’t have to play a hundred miles an hour. Some of the guys who play that fast, I can absolutely admire what they do, but I can’t sing it. It’s not something I can go away and hum. Each to their own. I love a player like Brian May, he can play a solo that you can literally sing. People love Yngwie Malmsteen and that sort of music, and then they like the Chuck Berry type solos. I go short and easy, that’s my kind of style.

Dead Rhetoric: When looking at the long career of the band, what do you consider some personal highlights of your time in Girlschool? Be it specific albums, tours, festival appearances, travel excursions, and standout moments that will stay forever in your memory bank?

Chambers: There are so many. If I have to pick one, every time it would be supporting Alice Cooper on one of his shows. He’s been my hero since I was in school. We played together in Spain, and I got to meet him in person. He was so lovely to sit down and chat with him. I went back with him backstage and saw all the equipment with the guillotine, the gallows, put together. It was a moment in time that I never thought I would see growing up as a young girl. All the big festivals are massive moments – Wacken, Hellfest. You meet so many of your friends and the musicians that you admire over the years.

Dead Rhetoric: How does it feel to be such an influence on fellow female musicians over the years?

Chambers: It’s one of the biggest compliments in the world, when you are playing a gig and someone comes up to us and says, ‘I took up guitar or drums because I saw you play live’. I thought these girls meant when they saw Kelly, but no – they tell me when they saw me. Oh wow – it’s a huge compliment, very humbling. There is something in this – and I never set out to do that. I’m a musician and a female, but it’s lovely to hear and still happens now, which is incredibly exciting.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the current state of the metal music industry? What excites you most about the scene – and what changes (if any) would you like to see made for the better of all parties involved?

Chambers: I think it’s never going to go away. People say that rock is dead – but you have these massive festivals that prove that rock is not dead. There are thousands of people that go to these festivals every year and they love it. Lots of new bands are coming out, there’s a lot more genres, you can’t keep up with all of them now. We still get put in the punk category – when we played in Germany, they thought we were punk. Even Motörhead were put in that category. I see a lot more metal being put in the magazines, Eurovision the song contest also has some more rock-oriented bands involved. It’s kind of cool, people are still loving it, and it’s not going away.

Dead Rhetoric: You also are involved in another band Syteria, can you tell us more about this band and what’s going on?

Chambers: We did a crowdfunding campaign for our latest album that went incredibly well. The album comes out two weeks after the Girlschool album, as we recorded it in March. It’s been an interesting time to have two album releases and promote two different albums around the same time. You get more press around this. We have been getting some great reviews for the new album. This is more rock-oriented, with elements of pop and punk in it. It’s a really fun band and live you can see that we are having fun. I’m hoping people will get to hear it soon. Help the little bands out.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some hobbies or activities you like to engage in away from music when you have the free time and energy to do so to recharge your collective batteries so to speak?

Chambers: For me, I used to drink and party all the time. I can’t do that anymore, so I have discovered meditation. I just love it, it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever done. I can concentrate more on my mental health, it’s very important. If you can control your mind, you can take better control of your body. It keeps you centered, there’s no downside, it’s very freeing. You can do it any way you like – you can do it alone; you can do it while on tour. It’s an uplifting feeling.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Girlschool over the next twelve months to support the record? And is there anything left personally to check off the bucket list that you would like to achieve in this band?

Chambers: We have been playing some of the festivals, we just did some in Sweden and Denmark. We will tour South America in September, and hopefully America in November. We plan a two-parter, as we will go back to America hopefully in March of next year. Once an album comes out, that’s usually when the offers start coming in. More and more gigs will happen. We have a UK tour possibly in January again. We’ve played almost on every continent. I’m not sure if we’ve done something in Africa. That would be great. I haven’t played in India; I know that the others have before I was in the band. Maybe play on an album with Alice Cooper – move over Nita (laughs).

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