Night falls on the first freezing February night of 2023 in Pittsburgh. The Venia, a now-retired house venue in Friendship, comes to life as friends and strangers shuffle in through the back door into the unfinished basement.
The smell of bodies crammed together underneath the overhead wires mingles with cigarette smoke as the door opens and closes with the passage of visitors. In the house upstairs, a nostalgic animated show plays on a box television, capturing the attention of the line waiting to use the single bathroom. Below, in the chain-link fenced yard, the bands gather outside for a smoke in between setting up and going on stage, while those too freezing for a cigarette crowd into the kitchen around the fridge adorned with posters from previous sets and other happenings.
A few guitar chords strum, a signal for everyone to get back downstairs for the show, and the stone basement is soon filled with an audience bundled up in coats and scarves. Graffitied cabinets serve as backdrop for “goth-pop, slackergaze trio” Gina Gory as they take the stage.
25-year-olds Veronika Cloutier and Connaley Martin assume positions in the foreground on guitar and bass, respectively, while 26-year-old Dylan Henricksen slips behind the keyboard. (Animatronic band mascot, Ronnie Jr., stands before them all.)
As they begin their set, it is difficult to tell that this is their second show together as a band, their only live performance prior taking place in December, 2022. They launch into what will become known as the “GG Summer ‘23 Demos,” along with other yet-unreleased treasures: songs characterized by fun ditties about food forgotten in the refrigerator or an intruder in the bedroom are brought down to earth by dark guitar chords and melancholy tone. Gina Gory describes themselves as a band “unable to write pop-songs because they’re too haunted by the ones they’ve already buried— thus providing them with the necessary grief to begin writing pop-songs again.”
This nostalgia is evident in their 90’s revival sound marked by the beat of Henricksen’s electronic drum kit and the pop-punk-meets-slackergaze vocals. The Pittsburgh-based three-piece can be thought of as originating from two places. Boone, North Carolina was arguably the true birthplace of Gina Gory, although the band didn’t form until the members’ migration to Pittsburgh. Cloutier, Martin, and Henricksen all attended Boone’s Appalachian State University, where Cloutier and Martin were in a project called Veronika’s Midnight Cowboys, and Henricksen was the inherited keeper of local house venue, The Womb.
Prior to Gina Gory, Henricksen’s musical experience was limited to this inheritance, but he was not inhibited by his lack of technical knowledge. His enthusiasm fueled him as he learned to play the keyboard and to use the drum machine to complement Cloutier and Martin, as they learned how to harmonize melodies.
Gina Gory was formed in Pittsburgh as the culmination of a series of “stupid boyfriends and shitty roommates” led all three musicians to be in the same place at the same time. North Side staple The Government Center, composed of a record store, bar, coffee shop, and music venue, served as a unifying space for Gina Gory. Upon moving in with Martin, Cloutier began working in the store and in October, 2023 opened up the Government Center Outpost in Dormont as a separate branch of the parent store.
Not long after came Henricksen, who moved into the vacant tenement above the bar. As Gina Gory came to life, a large chunk of their performance repertoire in 2023 was hosted by the Government Center, where you could catch the band on a weeknight or a weekend bill jamming with other local or touring acts.
The rise of Gina Gory, from a basement show where several people thought that a band member was named Gina, to increasingly filled rooms at the Government Center and Mr. Small’s Funhouse in Millvale, is tangible for those paying the slightest bit of attention to the Pittsburgh DIY scene.
“There’s nothing like playing live to learn how to play your instrument,” Henricksen says, as the band experiences some technical difficulties during a November show with newly-reunited Kisswhistle at The Government Center. Cloutier looks to opener Late in the crowd, mouthing “I just forgot how to play everything!”, leading to a shared chuckle of appreciation from the audience.
The band rehearses everything unplugged in their studio space in Cloutier and Martin’s home, leading to a very different experience when fully rocking out onstage for shows.
Crowded around a table in the Government Center bar post-show with Kisswhistle, members of Gina Gory are tired, but smiling. Martin’s platform cowboy boots pay homage to the band’s Applachian heritage. Henricksen’s bulky, bedazzled belt stands out from an outfit that is simple in a way that commands attention. A pleated skirt and oversize hair ribbon emphasize the trademark vintage comfort that balances out Cloutier’s dark guitar riffs.
Their casual but purposefully nostalgic look leans towards the 90s fusion the band finds inspiration in. “I had a customer named Lizzy Lust, which I thought was just the coolest band name ever, but she lives in Pittsburgh so I thought that might be kind of weird,” Cloutier says, inreference to the band’s etymology. “I love Gigi as a nickname, and I love the phonetics of the word ‘gory’, even though we all hate gore and horror.”
Although there is a Gina Gory who lives outside of Pittsburgh, the band prefers to think of Gina Gory as “a concept,” according to Martin, or “a girl that lives inside of all of us,” in the words of Henricksen. The band’s Bandcamp states, “In dedication to thee, Gina Gory, wherever she may be wandering,” solidifying the character’s existence as a traveling abstract presence rather than a concrete namesake. The casual intimacy and respect between the three is palpable as they speak both about their work and their shared lives, and travels throughout all of their interactions in the scene. Where one is, the others are not far behind. It is this pure human connection that drives the unifying force of creation between them.
An inspiration to Cloutier in her songwriting is her 5 year old beagle-mix pup, Baby. “Baby’s Lullaby” was written ambiguously, “so maybe it could be about someone I have a crush on and want to be my baby, but really it is about my dog,” Cloutier says. “I wrote this about how much I love her and how much I wanted her to go to sleep when she was a puppy and had all this energy. It was originally about us growing old together, because I got her in my twenties when she was a puppy. It was very acoustic and very sad.” However, over time the song evolved into a trademark Gina Gory tune, with seductive riffs and multi-faceted lyricism.
Gina Gory’s first release was six tracks collectively known as the GG Summer ‘23 Demos, recorded “at home with their shitty gear.” Well-known live favorites such as “I’m a Handful” and “Bite Me” along with four other familiar demos became available for both streaming through Bandcamp and through physical copies. Michi Tapes, the local record label created by Eric Stevens, worked in collaboration with Gina Gory to create and release a set of 25 unique cassette tapes to accompany the six-track digital demo release on July 1st. Each J-card was hand-collaged by a combination of band members and Stevens and combined with individualized tape shell covers, making each tape a unique memorabilia of this precious early era of Gina Gory. Stevens also backed Gina Gory’s demo release show at Mr. Small’s Funhouse on November 5th with projection manipulations of combined footage, making the room feel like an immersion of the tapes themselves.
This hands-on approach is not foreign to Gina Gory and their collaborators. Learning to hand-stitch made their merch even more individual and special. At shows, you can catch embroidered shirts, pants and more laid out for “$15 or $30 or whatever you feel is fair,” surrounded by handmade stickers with uneven edges and unique patterns servings as a background to the band’s name or adopted motto, “I Love Gina”, written in sprawling letters.
DIY music, a subgenre of punk in which all responsibility of booking, promotion, and releases falls on the band and their constructed network, is becoming more celebrated in the Pittsburgh scene as more people adopt the less-manufactured way of life. This method contributes a genuineness to the Gina Gory project and enhances the individuality of their sound to separate them from those who came before.
As this revival manifests itself, Gina Gory hopes to see more three-pieces like themselves, especially without drummers. “I’m loving the emergence of pop in the scene,” Cloutier says. “I just love fun music. You don’t need to know what you’re doing to start a band. If you have something to say, that’s enough.”
“Don’t let being awkward stop you from following your dreams,” Martin says, to his bandmate’s laughter, aware of the lovable awkwardness and vulnerability that has cemented their important niche in the Pittsburgh scene.
Catch Gina Gory this Friday, January 26 with Kiwi Jr. and the Gotobeds at Club Cafe. The GG Summer ‘23 Demos are available for streaming on the band’s Bandcamp.
Riley Kirk is a music journalist with a special focus on the Pittsburgh DIY scene and poetry. Her work has been featured through Grain of Salt Magazine, The Saturday Light Brigade, and Remake Learning Days. You can find her at a show or performing readings live throughout Pittsburgh, and read any of her freelance on her Instagram, @rileyalicewrites.