People don't really like the Atlanta-based pop-folk trio Girlyman. Truly, people don't like the band that has opened for such folk icons as the Indigo Girls and Dar Williams, and guest-starred on comedian Margaret Cho's upcoming album Guitarded.
Nope, people don't like Girlyman; people wholeheartedly love them, with unabashed glee.
On the band's homepage, Cho herself effuses ecstatically about the trio, saying that they "genre-bend as fearlessly and flawlessly as they gender-bend. It's the music of my heart and soul." It's a sentiment that's echoed by the band's loyal fan base, one that began building soon after their first practice in a Brooklyn apartment in 2001.
On the phone from his home in Atlanta, guitarist and vocalist Nate Borofsky—one-third of a band that also includes guitarist Doris Muramatsu and drummer and multi-instrumentalist Ty Greenstein—remains both incredulous and thrilled by the fan response.
"I have a work ethic that makes me think in order to be successful you have to suffer somehow. You have to slave away," Borofsky says. "It's amazing to realize that what we do in the band is fun and joy-filled for us, that those are things that people are connecting with."
The best part, according to Borofsky, is that he would be making this music anyway. "In a lot of ways, that's where the creativity comes from," he says. "If I was thinking, 'Oh well, this many thousands of fans out there are going to buy this CD,' I don't think I would be able to write a thing."
Heavily influenced by the vocal harmonizing of the Mamas & the Papas and Simon & Garfunkel (Greenstein says that she and Muramatsu "got into a huge hippie guitar kick and spent a lot of time playing songs from the '60s late into the night in her parents' kitchen"), the members share years of classical and jazz training, leading to a solid blend of acoustic, Americana and rock.
The band's genre-bending makes for a hard-to-categorize sound. "I try to get a gauge on what someone's musical tastes are before I describe what we do," Borofsky says. "To someone who listens to hip-hop or electronica, 'folk music' sums it up nicely. But for people who listen to folk, what we do is more pop. There are acoustic instruments, but there's also a pop sensibility. We're making the music that feels most natural to us; it doesn't fit neatly into one category or another."
This refusal to follow strict musical categorization allows for a layered interplay between melody and tension in Girlyman's songs. On "Easy Bake Ovens," from the band's fourth studio album Everything's Easy, a sugar-spun harmony contrasts with upfront lyrics that challenge the false placidity of suburbia: "You were setting those Easy Bake Ovens on fire / I was carving my name on a chalkboard with nails / Waiting for somebody else to be there."
Playful performance is another ingredient in the band's broad appeal; gender-queer visibility is a hallmark of Girlyman shows. Borofsky often takes the stage in mascara and lipstick, while Greenstein usually wears a masculine vest and tie, confounding societal expectations of gender conformity.
"It's what feels natural to us," Borofsky says. "And certainly all of us would identify as queer, at least in the most general sense."
Girlyman fans, known as "Girlyfans," showed their appreciation when it came time to record the self-produced and engineered Everything's Easy. While the band had most of the equipment to be able to record the album on their own, they were missing one crucial element.
"We sent an email out to our fans and said that anyone who wanted to contribute could, that we would thank people in the liner notes," Borofsky remembers. In an incredible show of support, they collected enough to buy a $10,000 dollar microphone in less than two months.
"I don't know if we are affecting a lot of people somewhat, or affecting a smaller amount of people incredibly. But, definitely, there are people that certainly connect with the music that we do, and it's nice to realize that," he says.
Girlyman play on Friday, Nov. 6, at the Sebastopol Community Center. 390 Morris St,, Sebastopol. 8pm. $20&–$25. 707.823.1511.