When I hear the term “Girlyman” I immediately think of a certain Saturday Night Live (SNL) skit featuring Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon playing Hans and Franz the Austrian bodybuilders who where said to be cousins of action bodybuilder superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger. I still laugh at those skits…
The Girlyman I am referring to though is not associated with SNL or even the current governor of California. Instead I speak of a three piece folk act originally from New York City. I was introduced to them through my wife who has a love, almost obsession, for them. She shared them with me one day after saying “We’re still making payments on the cannon” and I had no idea what she was talking about. After giving her a puzzled look she told me about the Girlyman band. She sampled some songs to me and I found myself quite interested in them.
Girlyman is a trio of harmonic performers, rather best friends, who have stated they play “harmony-driven gender pop” featuring “leading edge three-part harmony folk-pop”. Consisting of Nate Borofsky, Doris Muramatsu, and Ty Greenstein, the band has a huge following with their “gender pop” music.
Gender pop? That’s right folks all of the members from this band are involved in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community one way or another. Don’t let that hold you back though because if you do you are missing out on some amazing harmonic folk music with heavy doses of comedic interludes, especially when seen live. Think Rupaul meets Simon & Garfunkel with more folk harmony then you have ever heard before. Where a lot of the songs are fun, many have meaning about life, love, and living but all with perfect collaborated vocals from all three members.
Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Doris Muramatsu, the “tootsie roll center of Girlyman”, who has the duties of vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo in the band. The multi-talented musician was more than kind to answer some questions for me.
So what exactly is a Girlyman?
A Girlyman is whatever you want it to be, just someone who is nontraditional in some sort of way or like to play with gender roles or isn’t afraid to have a sensitive side.
How would you describe Girlyman to someone who has never heard of you before?
We’re a folk pop trio of almost lifelong friends who sing traditional and nontraditional three part harmonies and play multiple instruments and like to laugh and be ourselves on stage.
When you started creating music was it clear you all wanted a more folk sound? Was the harmony always there between the three of you or did it need some fine tuning? I have to admit your combined harmony is all so appealing.
Ty and I started singing harmony when we were 12 years old and have always been fascinated by the beauty of interweaving voices. Our voices blended very well and we knew we wanted to write and sing music that was harmony-based. When we met Nate his voice seemed to naturally blend with ours, so it was a go. Of course there is always fine tuning whenever harmony is involved, for instance, we have realized that if we all don’t sing a certain vowel in the exact same way it will sound out of tune, so we’re always examining how the lead person is pronouncing that vowel.
Who/what are your influences for the music you create?
Growing up, I fell in love with Simon & Garfunkel. I listened to the Mamas and the Papas a lot too as well as old Jefferson Airplane and the Bee Gees. Indigo Girls, The Story, Patty Griffin were also [other] people who influenced me.
I understand that you and Ty have been best friends since elementary school. When did the two of you decide to start your first band The Garden Verge?
We officially started up the Garden Verge out of college although we had been signing together as a duo since middle school.
How and when did you meet up with Nate?
We met Nate [during] our sophomore year at Sarah Lawrence College at a cross-dress cabaret [that was more] like a talent show with more gender-bending. He was backstage [while] Ty and I were singing an Indigo Girls song to warm up. He came [up to us] and joined us out of the blue. We were insta-friends.
How was it being cramped up in NYC trying to start a band? Where are you currently residing?
It didn’t feel cramped at first. [It was] mostly just really exciting and creative time for us all. Of course our first rehearsal for Girlyman was scheduled for September 11th [and] after witnessing the events of that day we were shocked and speechless. We didn’t really know what to do but all that felt right to do was to be together, make music, and share it. So that was the birth of Girlyman; formed in the spirit of upliftment.
After seven years of living together and touring together, however, things did start to feel small and cramped. We were basically living on top of each other with no privacy and the need for expansion, both creatively and physically, became paramount. Nate and Ty moved to Atlanta in 2007 and I chose to stay in Brooklyn [NY] for another year but [soon] joined them in 2008. We all live separately now but happily see each other practically every day.
What types of venues did you first start playing at? Did you have success from the get go or was it more of a slow start?
We played at little coffeehouses and churches as well as some lunchtime college gigs. We just kept building out audience from the get go and even though we didn’t shoot up into massive fame, we definitely started climbing slowly but steadily.
Your live shows are full of humor and fun, especially in between songs. When did live Girlyman shows turn almost into a stand up performance or has it always been like that?
I have always been a pretty shy person in front of large crowds and I think it was hard for Ty and me [as Garden Verge] to be as funny as we are in private. When Nate joined the group he added an element of humor and improvisation that allowed us all to be more relaxed and silly together. It’s a strength in numbers thing I think. I also thing it keeps things interesting for us to do or day things on stage that makes each other laugh because then every show feels like its own thing. We need to keep things light and fresh in order for the [live] show to feel fun for us too.
In 2006, OUTmusic awarded Girlyman for the OUTSong of the year for “Young James Dean”, how did this make you all feel?
We were really honored! It always means a lot when something you’ve created reaches people and speaks to them in a significant way.
What can you tell someone about OUTmusic who has never heard of the organization before?
OUTmusic is a wonderful organization that connects [the] lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual musicians, composers, producers, and artists [together]. It works to create opportunities and tried to raise awareness for the growing number of us [LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender)] out there.
I understand you are currently touring and will be performing at a couple of folk festivals as well. Having sold out venues before how exciting is it to be on the road?
We love being on the road and we love being at home too. It’s a balance but we are doing exactly what we want to do and have so much fun doing it. Sure being on the road has its challenges, like endless drives and late hours, but when we’re on stage and connecting with each other and the audience it is always worth it no matter now many people show up. It’s the energy from the audience that really helps us keep going.
How long have you actually been touring now?
We have been touring since 2001 when we first became a band.
Do you prefer festivals or venues?
I prefer venues because I find it’s easier to connect with people. Festivals are fun because there’s a feeling of celebration but I also get distracted by all that’s going on… like all the funnel cakes and hot dog stands!
Where is your favorite venue to play? Is there a favorite city you all enjoy?
I love Club Passim in Cambridge, MA, Old Town School of Folk in Chicago, Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA, but there are so many! We love New York City of course, and the Bay Area, but Atlanta’s pretty great too.
How are the lodging arrangements when you travel? Have you ever crashed in the van?
Thanks to Priceline.com lodging is fantastic! We often stay in three star hotels which makes us feel rich and comfortable. We don’t stay overnight in the van though we have a loft and a refrigerator set up in it. It’s too small for all of us [to sleep in].
Who usually takes up the driving duties on the road? Is there anyone in the band who is not allowed to drive?
Everyone takes turns driving although I can’t parallel park the Sprinter [van] for the life of me [as it’s] 21 feet long. Ty is not allowed to drive at night because she usually falls asleep.
Any crazy touring stories you want to share? Maybe a run in with the law or just something drunk and hilarious?
Well, the scariest thing that happened on the road was when we hit a deer at two in the morning in the middle of Wyoming and the Sprinter broke down. Nate and I didn’t have cell[phone] service but Ty thankfully did; but only when she stood a few feet from the van. We had to get towed 200 miles to the nearest Dodge dealership in Montana. When the tow truck came and started towing us it broke down too, so we had to wait until [the tow truck] got fixed.
Finally after a scary drive where the driver [of the tow truck] kept falling asleep and running [over] all [of] the rumble strips on the highway we arrived in Billings, MT at seven in the morning. We had to stay there for a couple of days while out manager found a U-Haul truck that could fit three of us in the cab. [We] then made our way though treacherous, snow-covered passes in Washington state [on the way] to Seattle. We were [all] totally traumatized by the whole experience.
You’ve been in Cleveland a few times now. Just curious what you think of the city as it is my hometown. Any favorite memories?
Our favorite time in Cleveland was when we played at Cleveland Pride. They put us up in a fancy hotel and we shared the stage with Rupaul.
Do you think the folk festivals may help recruit new fans who may not necessary be involved in the LGBT community?
Some of our fans are part of the LGBT community, but just as many are not. We have a wide range of fans of all ages and identities.
Not everyone is accepting of the LGBT community unfortunately, have you ever had problems with people while out on the road?
It’s funny, we have a lot of people who, not knowing our music, initially feel put off by our man, but then when they hear us they immediately get over it or feel surprised that they actually like our music. Other than that, I think we’ve been lucky that we haven’t had many incidents being a queer band.
Tell me about your “Girlyfans”.
Out Girlyfans are our best support network. They are the ones who help promote us and bring new people to our shows. We couldn’t tour and do this for a living without them.
Can you tell me about the Brauner VMA that many of the Girlyfans helped raise money for you all to acquire? It looks like a masterpiece of a microphone. How is it working out for you?
It IS a masterpiece of microphones. It’s a handmade microphone from Germany and sounds out of this world. We are really happy with the sound quality we’re getting out of it.
When can your fans expect some new material to be released?
We are hoping for a fall release of our new studio album, although we’ve been playing out a lot of our new stuff at shows.
What’s next for Girlyman?
More of everything! We love how life just presents us with the next logical stay and that we’re brave enough to take it.
Just one last question… Are you still making payments on the cannon?
-For more information about Girlyman check out their website.
-Here are a couple of videos: