Famous Graves, the title of the Cheap Girls’ highly anticipated fourth album has two meanings. The first is pretty obvious. It’s a literal reference to the Michigan band’s favorite tour activity of visiting notable gravesites—they’ve seen everyone’s from Bon Scott in Perth to Ian Curtis near Manchester. The second meaning is a bit deeper. “The phrase started taking on the idea of common error,” explains bassist/vocalist Ian Graham. “It refers to obvious ways to make mistakes—ways to get caught doing the same thing over and over.” Fortunately, the Michigan three-piece hasn’t done much of that.
In their seven years as a band, Cheap Girls seem to have won people over left and right. Their 2007 debut album Find Me a Drink Home was released on Bomb the Music Industry! founder Jeff Rosenstock’s label, Quote Unquote Records. “I saw them play at Don Pedro’s and they were so good,” remembers Rosenstock. “Random people were walking in off the street to see them. It was amazing.” From there, Cheap Girls continued to make friends in high places. Their last album, 2012’s Giant Orange was the first album ever produced by Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, who agreed to work on it after playing a few dates with the band. The album’s opener, “Gone All Summer” can even be heard kicking off comedian Kyle Kinane’s Comedy Central special, Whiskey Icarus. “I think I even saw a picture of Kyle and Robin Williams wearing our shirt which is pretty cool,” laughs Graham.
The critical reception to Giant Orange was overwhelmingly positively, with many reviewers likening its sound to bands like Smoking Popes and drawing parallels to 90s alterna-rock heavyweights like the Lemonheads, Superchunk, and even the Replacements. Graham’s poetic heart-on-sleeve lyrics have been compared to that of the the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn. But even if no one was listening or paying attention, Cheap Girls would still make music. Graham, along with his brother/drummer Ben and guitarist Adam Aymor are the type of guys who don’t care much about fanfare, critical reception, record label deals, or making famous friends.
It’s not that they’re arrogant, they just feel at home as a band. They owe much of this to their base of Lansing. “There’s not a whole lot to do here and I think that’s why we’ve been able to put a record out every year-and-a-half or two years,” says Graham. Their stay-active-at-all-costs attitude coupled with the city’s affordability has kept Cheap Girls prolific as well as mobile, having completed several tours over the last few years with bands like the Gaslight Anthem, the Front Bottoms, and the Bouncing Souls. “We ended up playing a lot of shows and we were just around,” says Graham. “If there was a festival going on, it was pretty likely we were there. We just played.”
The band’s dedication to touring whenever and wherever possible has earned them fans across many different scenes. The punk kids who chug PBR by the gallon at Fest, the record-collecting indie rock snobs, and the flannel-clad grunge revivalists all seem to love Cheap Girls. And Famous Graves, their first record on Xtra Mile Recordings, delivers a little something for all of them. Some songs like “Pure Hate” flaunt the band’s penchant for loud, driving distorted guitar work while others like “Turns,” the album’s mostly acoustic closer, slow things down to better showcase Graham’s way with words. (The song features the double-take of a lyric: “So I should take you out one last time, show you to all the dicks in this fuckhead city of mine.”)
Go ahead and try to peg Cheap Girls down. You can’t. They’ve made it impossible to categorize them as a punk band or a garage band or anything, really. “It’s loud, sure, but it’s not fast or aggressive,” says Graham. “I’ve always thought of us as a rock band, a pretty simple one at that.” They are constantly changing things up to avoid creative pitfalls and not make the same mistakes over and over again. Or, as they sing on the album, they avoid leaving their mark on famous graves.