Although never fully broken up, D.C.-rooted quartet Girls Against Boys has been pretty quiet since 2003. But now, 10 years after its last album, the band is again making swaggering, bass-heavy music.
As singer-guitarist Scott McCloud notes, the renewal began the way the band (whose name is usually abbreviated GVSB) formed in 1988: by building on musical sketches from keyboardist-bassist Eli Janney.
“It’s exactly how it started the first time,” says McCloud, his laugh echoing over a Skype connection from Vienna — the one in Austria — where he lives with his Austrian girlfriend. “Three out of four of us were in Soulside,” a Washington hardcore-punk band that began in 1985 as Lunchmeat. “Eli was kind of the fifth member of Soulside in a lot of ways. He was often on tour with us, doing sound.
“Eli and I always wanted to play together, and Girls Against Boys was the first opportunity we had. It started out with a couple songs. And it kind of restarted the same way.”
There are five tunes this time, collected on a mini-album, “The Ghost List,” due later this month. The band’s four East Coast dates this week precede the EP because the tour was scheduled expressly to include a stop at the Black Cat’s sold-out 20th-anniversary show on Friday.
That booking is the result of a trip McCloud made to visit family in Washington last December. While here, he stopped by the Black Cat, which is run by Dante Ferrando, another 1980s D.C. punk veteran. Ferrando suggested that New Wet Kojak, a McCloud side project that also includes GVSB bassist Johnny Temple, play the anniversary show.
“I said, ‘How about Girls Against Boys. Can they play, too?’ ” McCloud recalls with a chuckle.
Ferrando had no way of knowing that GVSB was making new music, but the bandmates had been discussing that for several years. The process began when Janney unearthed some song ideas from 2003, just after the group made its final album, “You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See.”
“What drew me originally to Eli’s proposed ideas was that they reminded me of a time in the band’s trajectory when we weren’t worrying so much about being innovative,” McCloud says. “They were very much ’90s-style songs, and that really matched what I felt we could achieve. I was interested in seeing what would happen if we didn’t premeditate too much. Just be ourselves.”
Some fans worried that GVSB’s members had lost themselves when they made 1998’s “Freak*on*ica,” the band’s only major-label album. Released by Geffen, the record incorporated more electronic timbres and effects.
McCloud remembers that period as having “an atmosphere of stress. But I remember it coming from me.” When the group recorded “Freak*on*ica,” he says, “there were no Geffen people in the studio. All the mistakes that were made were made by us.”
“The Ghost List” is a conscious return to GVSB’s earlier sound, the guitarist says. “I felt, ‘Let’s do what comes natural to us as a four-piece group. Four people in a room.’ ”
That’s not how the recording process began, however. Janney, Temple and drummer Alexis Fleisig live in New York; McCloud lives in Austria in his girlfriend’s hometown. Initially, he suggested the musicians work separately, sending tracks and riffs digitally across the Atlantic.
“I don’t think anybody else in the group wanted to pursue things that way,” he says. “It was kind of a turnoff.” Plus, he concedes, “I don’t have a good setup for recording, and I’m not really good at computer stuff.” The band ultimately chose to record “The Ghost List” in New York.
McCloud is the only band member who lives in Europe, but GVSB has continued to tour there occasionally. “I think in some ways we’re more remembered over here than in the U.S.,” he says. “I don’t know why.”
Now that the band has a new EP, it has scheduled some December dates for Europe, where it played two shows in August. The band may hit the West Coast in January, but the musicians have too many other projects to reunite full time.
McCloud recorded two albums with Paramount Styles, a group that also features Fleisig. In addition, the drummer plays with the Obits and Bellini. Janney is busy as a producer and engineer. And Temple runs a publishing house, Akashic Books (which published a book co-written by this reporter).
Of GVSB’s return, the guitarist says, “it’s something that could be, and has been, so far, another experiment. There’s no master plan at all. There’s no need to think commercially about things.”
At first, McCloud admits, “I worried about living up to whatever expectations there might be.” But, he adds with a laugh, “we waited so long that I don’t think there are any expectations.”
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
With Gray Matter, Ted Leo & Pharmacists, the Shirks and the Max Levine Ensemble on Friday at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. Doors open at 8 p.m. 202-667-4490. www.blackcatdc.com. Show is sold out.
For a sampling of Girls Against Boys’ music, check out:
“The Ghost List”:
“60 Is Greater Than 15”
“It’s a Diamond Life”
“Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby”:
“Kill the Sexplayer”
“You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See”:
“All the Rage”