Girlschool released their fourteenth studio album for their 45th Anniversary as a band in 2023, WTFortyfive?. Metal Contraband’s Chelsea recently had a chance to speak with Girlschool frontwoman Kim McAuliffe about the latest happenings with the band. Check it out below:
Chelsea here, very excited to be joined virtually by the amazing Kim McAuliffe. I’m excited to talk to you about your new album, WTFortyfive?, I love the humor of the title, but also congratulations on 45 years as a band. That’s remarkable. And it may feel like a “WTF” moment to you, but it’s so inspiring to see talented women sustaining an amazing music career like that.
Oh, cheers. Thank you. Well, obviously that’s why we were looking for an album title. And we suddenly realized that we’re always going around saying, “what the f…?!” You know, obviously the swear word. I can say it kind of, “what the fu…What the hell’s happened here?” It made us laugh. So we just thought we’d play on words and just put, “what the forty-five”, you know. So that’s how that came about. Because we can’t believe it. We seem to be in some sort of weird time capsule bubble thing, this band. Because it’s like time doesn’t seem to…I don’t know, it’s not that it doesn’t exist, it just seems to be different from other people’s time. Because 45 years is a long time, but to us it doesn’t seem like a long time, so very strange.
The whole, “time flies when you’re having fun” concept, so you must be having fun if you don’t feel the time.
Obviously, we’re having too much fun, obviously.
That’s great. Well, I mean, this is your first release since 2015 with Guilty As Sin, another great album. So can you give us a glimpse into the world of Girlschool in the time between those albums?
Yeah, basically, the record company said, probably about five years ago now, “Oh, you owe us another album. It’s about time you probably went in the studio”, and we kept going, “Yeah, yeah, of course we will work, of course we’ll get it, you know, of course we’ll do one. Yeah, yeah, yeah”. It’s like us always thinking, oh yeah, it’s a bit like “mañana, yeah, of course we’ll do it tomorrow” sort of thing, or whenever. Then of course, COVID hits, so that knocked two years out. And then of course we realized, I mean, we used to go on stage, we played Guilty as Sin on stage and I’d go, I’d say like, oh yeah, this is from my last album that we recorded a few years ago. And somebody in the audience shouted out, “Eight years ago!” we thought, “Oh my God, really?” You know, again, it’s just this time thing. And of course the record company were getting on our backs and they just sort of said, “No, right, this is it now. We want it out next year” – obviously this was last year – “and you’ve got to do it”. So that’s what it took for us to do it, really. We just needed a big kick up the backside to actually do it. ‘Cause otherwise we’d be quite happy, we’d go, “Yeah, all right, yeah. Of course we will!” So that’s what we needed. We always need a big kick up the bum. So as soon as we knew that we had to be in the studio, you know, at this particular time, me and Jackie said, right, oh bloody hell, come on, we better get on with it then. So that’s what happened.
Well, I’m glad you did get to it because this is a fantastic album. I’ve been fascinated listening to it. It’s really such a great blend of styles and sounds. And “It Is What It Is” is a fantastic opening track because it feels like a great reintroduction to Girlschool after the break. It has your classic rock and roll sound, but fits perfectly in 2023. So, can you tell me about what went into this opening track?
Yeah, well, funnily enough, again, Even though I’m saying that we did, in the end, have to get the album together quite quick, but obviously over the years, you have ideas and you jot them down, so there was quite a few that we sort of racked up over the years. And this was just the title that I’ve had in my head for like quite a few years, because that’s another thing we always say, “Oh, well, it is what it is, what’re you going do about it?” And I thought to myself, oh yeah, that can make a really good song. And then I had the tune, just going around and around in my head, and then just the song came together so quick. I just said to Jackie, “I need a riff. I want a really powerful riff”. And that’s how we wrote it, really, we wrote it over Zoom. So, I mean, I’m the biggest technophobe in the world. All this stuff is like, I haven’t got a clue about it most of the time. But it does come in handy because obviously we’ve all moved from London now. Like she’s back up in Leeds, I’ve moved out to the countryside, Tracy’s in Spain. Denise, though, is up near me, we moved up here together. So having Zoom was brilliant for songwriting, because me and Jackie then used to get together every Tuesdays and Thursdays or Fridays on Zoom and put all our ideas together. So you know, it really worked out all right. So I said to her “Right, come on, I want real heavy for this”. She’s playing, I’m going “It is what it is”…So that’s it, we just wrote it, you know, in literally five minutes. So that’s the most fun way to do it. But that’s how we wrote a lot of the album.
That’s so fun though. I love that Girlschool is still so connected, even if you guys are all scattered across the world in different ways.
Yeah, well, obviously this Zoom business, as I say, worked out quite well.
Definitely. No, I get it, honestly, I never really even touched Zoom before 2020. And then 2020 kind of made it mandatory to touch Zoom.
It used to be Skype, didn’t it? Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, I was never good at that. And I couldn’t, you know, just signing in business and all that. I’m just hopeless at that. This is, and Messenger, I must say, that’s really good now. All you do is like, press the button and you’re there, talking to somebody. I’m sort of getting there with this technology.
That’s all good. And then of course, the next track on the album we get into is “Cold Dark Heart”. I have to say that has to be my favorite for this one. I’m fascinated with this heavy track, the atmosphere, the harmonies. Can you talk about the writing and recording of that one?
Yeah, that’s another one that I had in my head. I had all these titles written down and ideas for them. And on one of our Zoom things again, Jackie came up with this riff. ‘Cause I said, “Oh come on, look, we really wanted this album to be heavier and rockier than we’ve ever done before”, or try and make it more. Because we actually thought, this could be our last one, you never know, do you? So we just wanted to go out with a bang sort of thing. But anyway, so yeah, so she came up with this riff and she’s playing “Dun dun dun” and I’m going, “Oh yeah, I really like that!” And then I started singing, “Cold Dark Heart” and that came through. And then, of course, we had the idea for the lyrics, but me and Jackie wrote them, basically, when we were recording. So, yeah, that came together pretty quick. It’s basically all about Countess Bathory, who used to bathe in virgins’ blood to keep her young. So we just thought that lent itself to that. So yeah, we had good fun writing those lyrics, you know, trying to be so creepy as possible.
It’s cool, with great results. Awesome track. You also have Joe Stump featured on the track, “Are You Ready?”, plus Girlschool did guest vocals on an Alcatrazz track, “Don’t Get Mad…Get Even”, so tell me about the connection with Alcatrazz and making those two songs.
Well, funny enough, I’m actually getting up as a guest to their gig next week in London. So that’s another story anyway. But yeah, we’ve become great mates because, basically, our manager manages Alcatrazz, and even before the Covid thing, and that’s when Graham was still in the band, there was this idea that we were going to do this European tour together, but on a bus, on a bloody nightliner bus, and we were like, “Oh God, this is going to be a bit odd”, but anyway, whatever, that didn’t happen because of Covid. And then obviously they got Doogie in, who’s sort of been through the same thing as we’ve been through, he’s been in amazing bands and all that, and he’s such a lovely bloke. Anyway, we did first of all, I’ve lost track of gigs and tours now…We’ve done three tours with them now. But the first one, the first British tour we did with them was only a short thing, like a week or so, seven or eight gigs. But that got cut short because half of us got bloody Covid and we couldn’t play the two big ones like, you know, the London one and all that. So that got rescheduled for this year past. We were thinking then, oh my God, you know, that’s another year away. But anyway, in the meantime, we then did this massive, something like 17 dates in 21 days tour in Europe with them. So you can imagine, we got to know each other quite well at that point. And of course, Joe is an incredible guitar player, you can’t stop watching him, it’s like, “Oh wow”. And so, when we knew we were having to do this album, I said to Joe, “Come on then, come up, give us some riffs and all that”, so of course we did. And I put them all together and wrote the song with him, so yeah, that’s how that came about. And then of course, this was another thing, this is when we were on tour, we were going in France, we had a day off, and Jimmy had his little recording thing set up in his room and he says, oh, do you want to do some backing vocals on one of our tracks? You know, “Don’t Get Mad…Get Even”, which is what I’m going to be getting up and singing with him next Thursday. And so we said, “Yeah!”, so we all trooped in, and off we go singing away to it and it turned out really well. And of course, their video turned out really funny with us all in it and we’re going, oh, this is really great. So then of course, when Joe was featured on ours, they said, “Oh, no, they’re going to use all the characters from that video to use in this video”. They’re quite nice together really, and we love that because it’s brilliant being cartoon versions of yourself because obviously it’s not you. See how we really look. We like our cartoons.
*laughs* That’s really cute, that’s fun. That definitely does connect the two bands.
Oh, we get on so well with them. I mean, we’re just like brothers and sisters. And we just…you know, ‘cause obviously sometimes there’s like a bigger dressing room and a little cupboard, we don’t care now. We just all share together and you know, and as Doogie says, “It’s nothing you don’t see at a beach” *laughs*.
*laughs* That’s great. The other track I really wanted to ask you about is “Barmy Army:. It’s so fun and a perfect tribute to your legacy. I love the line, “You’re the ones who put the ‘girl’ in Girlschool”. So can you talk about the fan connection you have?
Yeah, well, I mean, a lot of those lyrics are true. They really did sleep in phone boxes and stuff like that, so we felt it was a good thing to give them some sort of credit for supporting us all these years. I mean, they still come, half of them still come to the gigs and stuff and they sing along and all that. Of course we know them all by name and all that, after all these years. So we just thought it’d be nice to give a nice little tribute to them.
Yeah, that’s very nice! You and Denise have been the two consistent members since you founded the band. Never has there been an instance of Girlschool without you and Denise, even in the time when She-Devils and Strange Girls were happening, a little bit of derivation from Girlschool, it was still you and Denise. So what do you think has kept that staying power for you two?
I don’t know, just, well, we’re like sisters. Of course we are. I mean, obviously we knew each other before Girlschool as well, because I was in this covers band, Painted Lady, dreadful, dreadful name. But anyway, Denise, used to come and see us, because we all come from South London, so we’ve known each other probably about 47, 48 years now. I mean, she’s actually living just down the road, not that far. We’ve moved up here together in the countryside. So I can’t imagine being without her, simple as that, really. And of course, we drive each other mad, of course, we drive each other nuts, but I mean, literally, I was an only child and she has a brother, but he lives in Tokyo now, and all our parents are dead now, sadly. And so it’s just us two sort of here now. So I’m her next of kin, and she’s mine, really. So yeah, we’re stuck together. Love her to bits, and she’s still so brilliant. I mean, people can’t believe it when she gets behind the drums still. She’s literally just one of the most powerful drummers I’ve ever heard, male or female, I mean, a lot more powerful than most men.
Absolutely, and I love to hear that. And as you’re reaching 45 years as a band as well, you have the staying power because you are talented women, you are very strong, and you never really seemed “different” or “separate” because you were women musicians, you know what I mean? The fact that you’re female musicians never held you back in any kind of way, especially at the time, because I remember I read one time that when you were in Painted Lady, it wasn’t even necessarily that you set out to start an all-girl band. It was more that you didn’t find guys who were willing to play in a band at the time, which is crazy to think about, especially now…
Oh, yeah! But we don’t care now because we showed them, didn’t we?
Absolutely, that’s what I mean!
But yeah, of course, it was my cousin who lived next door who I grew up with like a brother, because we were both only kids, and he got the guitar first. I still remember my mum and dad going, “Don’t you get any ideas”, you know? And then, of course, within the year, I got his guitar when he got a better one. And of course, we started to learn to play. I was sort of thinking, “Oh, it’d be great if we joined a band together”. Of course, he was in a band with his mate, he didn’t want girls playing in their bloody band, you know? Mind you, I can’t blame him too much because we couldn’t really play anyway. We just wanted to be in a band. So anyway, we just found other girls that were like-minded, that’s how we kept going. And then, of course, we found Deirdre Cartwright – and she sort of took us under her wing – who’s a brilliant guitarist these days, but she’s more into jazz now. But because of her, we were able then to go up a few steps and actually play gigs. Because her brilliance sort of brought us up. And then, of course, we weren’t stupid because we suddenly thought…obviously, in the beginning, it was all in us and we didn’t think anything about it. And then of course, when we started to get recognition and people started to sort of come and see, we suddenly thought, “Oh, hang on a minute, this is probably quite a good idea”. And by that time, we didn’t want blokes in the band anyway. So we thought, “No, that’s it now”.
Who needs them, right?
I love the fact that they were like, “Oh, don’t get any ideas”, but you did get ideas and you’re still getting ideas all these years later. Still making music.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! Yeah, mom and Dad in the end, loved it, of course. Coming to all the gigs and very proud.
I’m glad that they supported you, even though they may have been a little opposed at first, they loved it eventually.
Oh, God, yeah. Well, I mean, obviously I wasn’t supposed to stay home at school, had to do A levels and all this sort of business. And then I said, “no, look, I want to leave”, and I was 15 at the time. And I said, “I want to leave because I want to be a band and I want to do this, blah, blah, blah. Dad, but I need some money. I need to buy like, a Marshall and I need a guitar and blah, blah, blah”. He said, “Okay, I’ll lend you the money, but you’ve got to get a job and pay me back every week until you pay me off. Then I’ll take you seriously”. So of course I did. I ended up getting a job in a bloody bank for a year. Paid him off every week, and I was actually doing two gigs every week with the covers band at residencies in the local pubs. That was so funny, because we were too young to even be in a pub, let alone…but anyway, that’s another story. So yeah, then he took me seriously, and I quit my job and off we went.
That’s all it takes sometimes, you’ve just got to spend a little time working at it and then it just takes off. Who have been some of your favorite artists to work with, whether you toured with them, recorded with them, or even just got to meet over the years?
I count myself so lucky because obviously when I was growing up, I used to go see bands, like I saw Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, Hammersmith Odeon. Or, the very first gig I went to was Slade at Wembley. And of course, you know, they were our heroes, so…ended up working with them. That was so funny, because every time I kept trying to tell Jim and Don that, “Oh, you were the very first band I ever saw back in 1970”, they’d go, “I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to hear it”. *laughs* Anyway, so yeah, little did I know that a few years later, I’d actually be working with these people and meeting them and actually be headlining on that stage, you know. Working with Jim and Nod was obviously brilliant for us. But Black Sabbath, I mean, we’ve played with them throughout the years in all their different bloody lineups. Ever since 1980, I think we’ve played with them. We’ve played with most of them, even the weirdest ones with Ian Gillan and Bev Bevan, I think was the weirdest one. Oh, Richie Blackmore, playing with him and he’s so funny. People don’t seem to realize how bloody funny he is, you know? And, oh, I don’t know, meeting Cozy Powell and half of Led Zeppelin. I’ve met most of my heroes, to tell you the truth, and they haven’t disappointed me, really none of them, which I’m pleased to say, yeah.
That’s wonderful. I mean, that’s the key part there. They’re not disappointing, because every once in a while, you know, the cliché phrase, “Never meet your heroes”. It doesn’t always hold, especially in the metal world. I feel like there’s a lot of cool people in this rock and metal universe here.
Well, yeah, the only one I didn’t meet, who is my ultimate hero, is David Bowie. And I never actually met him, but I was lucky enough to be backstage at the original Live Aid back in 1984, wherever it was. And of course, these were the days before mobile phones and that. And I still remember on the side of the stage, there was a bank of normal phones, but they were free to use. So I thought, “Oh, I’ll go and phone me mum quickly”. So I’m on the phone to me mum at the side of the bloody stage, and next thing I know, this figure in this green-y blue turquoise suit, just sort of walks up just about to go on the stage, and it’s David Bowie, and he was literally about, I don’t know, 10 feet away or something and my knees started going all funny and I’m going, “Oh my God Mum, I can’t — I can’t speak — I can’t speak, it’s David Bowie! He just said hello to me!”, She’s going, “Go and say hello to him!” I’m going, “Don’t be stupid, he’s just about to go on stage! I’m not going to go and say hello to him!”, so I just stood there with my knees shaking, look at him like a right little fangirl, you know. And that was one of my highlights. Just being ten feet away from him.
Yeah, I was going to say, you were very close and you caught him in a behind the scenes moment. So it still counts.
Yeah, yeah! And he was chatting to somebody just before he went on stage like as if I’m just gonna go rolling up to him, going, “Ah! Blah, blah, blah!” I restrained myself. But yeah, Alice Cooper, I’ve met him a couple of times. Most of my heroes, yeah. And obviously Motörhead, but they certainly weren’t my heroes, they were our mates, and so they weren’t around when I was young. But all the ones that when I was young, that I used to look up to, yeah, managed to meet them along the way. You know, it’s a long time, 45 years, so you do tend to bump into people. So yeah, it’s brilliant.
Bump into people, *laughs* that’s great. And then of course, this album is also released on Silver Lining Music. It’s your first time releasing music with them, but they’ve also released some Motörhead music. So in a way it feels like you’re still being connected with the band as the whole “Sisters of Motörhead” moniker and all.
Well, we don’t mind that. Of course it’s been brilliant. And of course we were very lucky because we were on their very first major British tour, the Overkill tour. And then we were on their very last tour, Lemmy’s last tour, the 40th. So we were there at the beginning and at the end. And obviously all in between. So yeah, very proud of that, you know. I still can’t believe that all three of them are – we call them our Motörhead, you know, I’m sure other people do, the original three, you know, Eddie and Philthy and Lemmy, that I just don’t think you can beat that line up. Even though we love Phil and we love Mickey and all that, but just that original line up, you know, that’s who we started off with. Lovely blokes they were, of course. I’ve got to tell you one thing, we’d only just met them. I think we’d been on tour with them for three days or something. And they always used to come in with a crate of beer because we were broke. Obviously we’re thinking, “Yeah, well, they’re trying to get us drunk or so, whatever”. But anyway, used to come in with a crate of beer, wish us good luck for the gig. And this particular time, Lemmy was hanging around a bit longer than normal. And we’re looking, we’re going, “Hang on a minute, we’ve got to be on stage in five minutes. Why? This is a bit weird. Why is he, why is he still here?” Anyway, eventually he went. We thought, “Oh, right, okay, he’s gone now. That was all a bit weird”. Anyway, then I open my guitar case up, I scream my head off, I thought there was a human hand in there. It was half a pig’s head. With its ear sticking up, in my guitar case! With all the brains coming all over inside my guitar. I screamed, and of course he missed it. So, you know, we realized that’s why he was hanging around.
Yeah, he was trying to see you open it. He was trying to be like, “Come on, open the guitar case already” *laughs*
So he missed it, but apparently they heard the screams all the way down the hallway.
So they still satisfied their prank then.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Our roadie wrapped it up in a towel, knocked on their dressing room door and said, “I think this belongs to you”. He gave it back to them. That was one of our first meetings with them, yeah.
What an impression.
Lovely boys, lovely boys! I can still see it like it was yesterday. I could, because it was so horrific.
I really thought it was a human hand! And it was the ear sticking up!
I mean, definitely the last thing in the world you’d expect to see like, in your dressing room, in your guitar case, definitely shocking.
Yeah, exactly, swines.
I feel like tour pranks always have to be a part of things though, especially when you’re first starting out.
I never forget it, there’s all sorts of stuff that’s happened since then, but yeah, that’s the one that stands out to me the most.
So at this point in your career, does touring feel like sort of a routine by this point? You just get right into it, get comfortable, get on the road?
Yeah, I must admit now in me old age, I’m quite comfy at home, you know, I sort of sit here, but then of course, once you get into it, then it’s great fun, especially like with bands like our mates Alcatrazz, we just have such a laugh. And of course, these days we won’t do it unless we have some sort of degree of comfort, none of this sleeping in sleeping bags on top of the gear and all that malarkey. We make sure that we have, you know, nice hotels and own rooms, obviously. And, you know, we make sure that we have a bit of comfort in our old age.
Well, you’ve earned it, you deserve it. And you’re not old at all, I wouldn’t even call it old age. I mean, you’re still going very strong. I mean, years are years, numbers are numbers. But, you know, you’re still rockin’ and rollin’ just like you always have, nothing’s changed, in my opinion.
Oh, cheers. Cheers, Chelsea.
So back to WTFortyfive?, I love the closing Motörhead cover because it’s a perfect display of what people like to call NWOBHM, The New Wave of British Heavy Metal. You’ve got you, Motörhead, Saxon. And then you’ve got Duff McKagan, who’s from a different world, the LA Sunset Strip scene. But he also comes from a punk background as well. So it’s just such a cool blend. Did you guys also do this in the modern age remote recording style?
Yes. Well, we had to with that one, of course because there’s no way they could come to deepest darkest Wales where the recording studio is. So of course, this technology does have its advantages. And it’s so lovely of Duff to do it, we’ve never even met him, and it was just a friend of a friend who said, “Oh, do you want me to ask Duff? I know he was a big fan — well, friend of Lemmy’s, and a fan of Girlschool”, and we went, “Yeah, right, as if”, you know. And then of course, next day, Duff comes back saying, “Whatever they need”. And we were just like, “Wow! He’s lovely, isn’t he?” We’re massive fans.
That’s great. That’s really fun too! I love that you had that collaboration.
Hopefully we’ll meet him one day and thank him in person.
This has been so much fun, this entire conversation. I love getting to know more about the new album, getting to know you better. I’ve always been a fan of Girlschool, so this has been a very exciting interview for me, thank you so much for spending your half hour with me.
Whereabouts are you? Where are you?
I’m in California, in LA.
Oh, you are in California, right? Oh, excellent. Yeah, because we’ve got friends in Long Beach, and West Hollywood. Pam and Debbie and all that lot there. So they’ll go, “when are you coming over again?” We’re going, right, I’m gonna get onto my manager and we’re gonna be over there first. Well, apparently we got approved the other day for our American Visas. So looks like we’re coming.
Ah, perfect, that’s exciting!
So I know we’re definitely coming in March because we’re doing that Hell’s Heroes Festival in Texas, and I think there’s a tour around that. But there’s talk of us coming in November. So hopefully, hopefully we’re coming your way so we can see a bit of sunshine, that’d be nice for us.
Absolutely. And even sooner than expected, that’s great. So just to wrap things up, on the horizon for Girlschool is touring, right?
Well, yeah, we’ve got to tour this album, and then the record company is now saying they want another one. We’re going, “Hang on a minute, it took us eight years to do this one. Give us a chance!”
They’re trying to keep the time a little closer.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So yeah, but that’s not till next year, the end of next year. We’ve already got the title for the next one, we’re going to go “FFS”, basically, “For Fu…’s sake ’47”, that would be the next one.
We’re keeping a theme here, I love it.
Yeah, exactly. As the years go on.
Well, it’s wonderful. I mean, while we’re waiting for a new album, we’ve still got plenty to listen to and love, and can’t wait to see you guys on tour across the world.
Yeah, let’s do this one first, it’s only just come out! And it went straight into number one in the official rock charts and it charted in all these other charts, we couldn’t believe it.
Definitely not surprising, well deserved for sure!
Brilliant, thank you.
Well, thank you again so much for spending time with me today.
Hope we see you soon!
Absolutely, looking forward to it!
Thanks for the support, Chelsea. Big kisses.
Thank you for making wonderful music, keep it up!
Thanks so much.