Indie rock duo Boyish started from a free burrito.
“There was a restaurant on campus that on Thursdays, was an open mic night, and if you played you’d get a free burrito,” guitarist Claire Altendahl said, in an interview with The Daily Californian. “Our goal was to have free dinner. So we started writing songs and just performing at that. We literally did it every week for as long as we could, because we didn’t want to eat at the cafeteria anymore.”
It was the humblest of beginnings.
“It makes so much sense,” she joked. “We’re food motivated.”
The duo, composed of Altendahl and lead singer India Shore, met in college, at an audition for a showcase at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. They were rejected from the showcase, but were told they should continue working together — and have been ever since.
“We would just meet up and work on music a couple of times a week for several months, and did not speak outside,” Shore said. “And then one day, we were forced to have lunch alone together somehow, and we were like, ‘Oh, we actually are friends!’ ”
Now, their bond is undeniable: On the phone, as the pair hit a series of bumps in the road, they burst into senseless laughter. Banter aside, it’s clear Shore and Altendahl possess a rare creative chemistry, having mastered an intimate collaborative process. Both artists contribute lyrics, their signature poetic, personal songwriting the result of a natural synergy. The band’s most recent EP, “Little Demon Boy,” was created in this way — entirely together, with untapped brutal honesty.
“ ‘Little Demon Boy’ is by far the most personal album we’ve put out so far, and it touches on a lot of the things that really messed us up growing up,” Altendahl said. “I had almost a weird sense of guilt when we released this. I was actually on a call with my therapist, where I was like, ‘I feel bad for the person that this is about, who is an addict in my family.’ A lot of the songs are directed at him, and it was the first time I’ve ever done something like that, and I felt this foreboding guilt about it. She was like, ‘No, no, it’s going to help people who are in a similar situation.’ That gave me a lot more confidence.”
Alongside their ability to tap into devastating emotional honesty, Boyish is full of witty and good natured humor. The EP’s very title “Little Demon Boy” is proof of this.
“We had just moved from New York to LA, and we were both throwing little tantrums,” Altendahl said. “Especially while working on music, whenever someone would start to throw a little bit of a tantrum or have a meltdown when a song wasn’t going right, it’d be like ‘stop being a little demon boy.’ It just kind of stuck. This EP was probably the hardest one we’ve ever had to make. We really worked for it, so the EP itself felt like a tantrum. It felt like a little demon that we were trying to wrestle into something.”
Much of “Little Demon Boy” revolves around the struggles and insecurities that come with being young — particularly the single “Girls are Mean,” which was written on tour last year. “I was so good, but I could get better,” Shore’s voice echoes at the end of the song — a haunting but relatable refrain that continues to resonate with them both, even eight years and scores of success later.
“I always need to be something more, I always need to reach the next level,” Altendahl said. “That’s something that India and I always struggle with day to day, trying to reach our ultimate dreams, and pushing ourselves non-stop.”
Both artists are still wildly ambitious, but they’ve begun to see the value in letting go. A main inspiration for them is singer Mikaela Straus, better known as King Princess, who was featured on the catchy single “Kill Your Pain.”
“We were so nervous for that session, we rolled up about an hour early and literally sat on the street just hyperventilating,” Altendahl said. “We totally didn’t need to. She was so cool.”
Straus finished her verse in five minutes, and also contributed drums, guitar and production — an impressive and surreal experience for the duo.
“I want her to work on all of our stuff forever,” Shore said. “I found her attitude really inspiring. She’s very sure of her decisions. Often, especially when recording, I’m second guessing myself a lot, and it was really nice to watch someone just be like, ‘No, that’s good. I’m done now, that can be it, it’s good.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, I could do that in my own life.’ You don’t need to tear yourself apart every time.”
“She took all the drama out of the process,” Altendahl said. “It’s the opposite of ‘Little Demon Boy’. It was like, little angel boy.”
Perhaps the duo has more confidence and surety than they admit. Much of their recent work has been entirely self-produced — originally out of necessity due to their low budget. The pair set up a makeshift recording studio in Altendahl’s bedroom at her parents’ house in Minnesota, and, armed with a $100 interface and a pair of headphones, created their second album “Garden Spider.” What started as a process borne out of necessity has quickly become a passion for both, especially Shore, who cites production as her favorite part of the writing process.
“I feel like I’m always producing as I’m going. I guess my favorite part of making music is being a producer now,” Shore said. “I want to make really high quality sounding music. That’s my next step. The evolution of Boyish.”
With their sights already set on an upcoming album, the pair may always be striving to improve, but their most recent EP is proof of a long-possessed craftsmanship and a constantly maturing sonic evolution.
“One thing that ‘Little Demon Boy’ really taught me was how to be free in our music again,” Altendahl said. “For the past couple years, we were really, really nervous about, ‘How is it going to be received by the industry?’ Will it do well to any listener? On this EP, we’re just like, ‘Screw it, we’re gonna do what we want to.’”
Clearly, Shore and Altendahl have battled their musical demons — and won.