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A Quietus Interview

Shakedown The Breakdown: Girl Band Get Serious
Ian Maleney , September 28th, 2015 09:16

Ian Maleney talks to the Irish noiseniks about drinking Dave Grohl's ale and the serious story behind their surreal lyrics

The debut album by Irish four piece Girl Band, Holding Hands With Jamie, is one of the strangest records of the year. It’s fiercely aggressive, but also terrifically funny. It’s repetitive, built on a foundation of monotonous, anti-melodic pounding, but also amorphous, swelling and distending in all sorts of unsightly ways. Guitars are distorted, forced into unfamiliar, unfriendly shapes. The singing is the tuneless litany of a malcontent, a nonsensical rant that circles back on itself endlessly, hopelessly. The whole damaged package usually coalesces as something between noise, punk and motorik, but an unhealthy dose of chest-battering techno makes its presence felt too. None of it is easy to listen to. It sounds fucking weird.

The band started in Dublin in 2011, with singer Dara Kiely backed by Alan Duggan on guitar, Daniel Fox on bass and Adam Faulkner on drums. Kiely, Duggan and Fox had been in bands together since their time in school, but the addition of Faulkner marked a step change in quality. Early tracks, including the still ferocious ’Twelves’, appeared on Bandcamp before a handful of limited 7”s came out on local label Any Other City and a cover of Blawan’s ‘Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?’ attracted widespread attention.

They squished themselves into the back of a Fiat Panda and completed some self-booked tours of UK. Lengthy spells on the road around Europe gave them time to hone an explosive live act that balances all-out aggression with a deep-set unease. Holding Hands With Jamie is their second release on Rough Trade, following on from a 12” collection of their earlier work which came out earlier this year. As with all their previous work, the album was entirely self-produced and it channels the same jittery, anxious violence as their live performances.

We met upstairs in an old double-decker bus that now serves great pizza out the back of a pub in Dublin. Faulkner ordered a vegetarian option, which he was kind enough to share.

You recorded the album just after getting back from America for the first time. What was that trip like, especially after having to cancel shows there before?

Adam Faulkner: We were meant to be there in January but two days before we were due to fly, it was like, nope, no visas. It really was disappointing. Savages had a residency in Baby's All Right at the time and we were meant to play two support slots with them. And then a couple of other shows, a handful of shows within a drivable distance of New York. It just fizzled out but it almost worked out better. A lot of people got pissed off over the fact that we weren't able to make it and they were complaining about the US immigration. Some people rallied behind the fact that we hadn't made it over yet, so when we finally did make it over, we played two shows in New York back-to-back and they were both seventy or eighty-percent full, which you just wouldn't get for a band from Ireland.

Dara Kiely: We did a show at the Black Cat in DC. We were treated so well. I think Dave Grohl had something to do with it. We took his beers anyway.

AF: Was he playing with Eagles of Death Metal? They were playing in the bigger room, and we were in the smaller one. We were like, any chance we could get some beers for the road, we have to do a four-hour drive tonight? They were like, sure, and they came back with twelve beers or something and said, 'These belong to Dave Grohl but he left them behind so there you go.'

DK: We decided to celebrate by dropping our trousers, all of us, and drove to the next place. Going by the White House like, 'Yeaaahhhh!'

I wanted to ask you about releasing the album with Rough Trade. How did that come about? They seem like the kind of label who can give you the kind of support that bands need without it being some big, impersonal thing.

AF: The whole thing that started out with Rough Trade was that Geoff Travis happened to be at our show at the Great Escape and then was at one other show. Then they got in touch, said they'd love to meet. We met up with them and one of the first things he was adamant about making super clear was just like, 'We want to facilitate what you're doing now on a bigger scale'. So it was never about taking us from where we are and putting us in a new place, it was just expanding the reach of what we were already doing. That was the bigger attraction. It makes you feel really comfortable when someone is like, I'm not going to touch what you're doing. Do what you do and I'll put it out, but as opposed to sticking it out in Dublin and in one shop in London, it's going to go all over the world and you'll have the backing of a PR team and whatever else you need. It was like, cool, that sounds like the right move.

DK: We got full creative control and they said they wanted us to produce ourselves as well. They didn't send over label people to listen to the album. We really trust them. We took a modest advance in order to do whatever we wanted. We really don't like excess in any way. As long as we have enough to go on with. I don't see what the obsession is with bands that want to be really big. It's not really in our vocabulary.

I know Daniel has worked a lot as a recording engineer, so was it an easy decision to record the album yourselves?

AF: Yeah. We’ve produced everything all along, and it's been a learning curve every time figuring out what works best for ourselves. We had help. Liam Mulvaney who owns the studio helped engineer it so himself and Jamie [Hyland] who, like if Daniel was gay and Jamie was gay, they'd be married already. They're completely made for each other. Jamie has been there for every single session we've ever done. Between himself and Liam, they kind of ran everything in the background while we worked away and over-produced it. We were in control all the time, but it meant that Daniel wasn't running in pressing record and running back out again. But every time there was a decision being made, he was there. He was the one who OK'd it from our perspective. If someone suggested something, it would go through him.

To have someone like Dan who can bridge that gap in the studio between the creative impulse and the technical know-how must make things far less daunting.

AF: Yeah, it's way less stressful. Things flow better and everyone is in a better mood because they're like, 'I got my point across and it sounds like I want it to sound'. Also the studio got a big desk about six months ago and we did the mixing live. So, as it was playing in the computer, we turn something up and someone else on another part of the desk would do something else. There was a little bit more push-and-pull in terms of how it goes into the final 24-bit audio.

DK: We wanted to do it on tape but unfortunately the tape machine wasn't working.

AF: Also we get real picky about frequencies. Put it on a tape, start on tape, and it's kind of locked to how it sounds. Which would have been a very interesting thing to have done, but we were very aware that we wanted a bizarre kind of production value on it. The way myself and Al were approaching it was somewhat like the way Kanye's Yeezus record is. Where things are here, and then they go down and then they're over here. But the production pushes and pulls you as much as the song does. It's almost more to do with the production value of how each bit was done as opposed to the actual track itself.

The album is compositionally quite repetitive, rhythm-driven and influenced by electronic music of different kinds, but the recording is all live. It seems like a productive balance, playing the two sides off each other.

DK: It kind of just happened that way. We never sat down and said, lets make techno. We did that Blawan cover and that was a proper eye-opener. We needed to do a cover and our friends' band Peaks were like, you should do this. I purposely didn't listen to the track because I didn't want to be influenced by it. I listened to it afterward and was like, 'I see what you did there'. But there was definitely a shift when we did that. It was really fun to just keep doing the same thing over and over again. So for a song like 'You're A Dog', we were like, let's not have a chorus, let's just keep repeating the same thing, the monotony of that. That kind of tied into techno.

Is it strange to you how much is made of that confluence of influences? Like, it’s surely not a totally unique thing for a band to listen to both punk and techno. People hear so much these days, everyone listens to everything.

AK: You don't have a choice anymore. If you haven't listened to a wide variety of stuff, you're kind of out of touch because everyone else is listening to so much stuff. It seems like your view on music is too narrow. People are like, 'What do you mean you don't listen to 115 different types of music?'. You can't just listen to The Smiths anymore. But then there are plenty of people that do only listen to five bands and six albums and that's it. My playlists are massively varied. There's never a theme throughout, it's never like everything is based in funk or based in reggae or whatever. It's 210BPM gabber-style techno and 40BPM reggae in the same list and it's like, yeah, they work. Humour is a big part of our lives as well as our music. Making it fun is the most important thing.

DK: Yeah, like if we were doing this music we're doing and I was singing like, 'Fuck you Mom!', it just wouldn't work.

I was wondering about the lyrics being a bit silly, a bit funny. Like, particularly with heavier music, because you’re shouting most of the time, if the lyrics are too serious, they end up being hard to take seriously. There's sort of a credibility gap there, it’s easy to sound pretentious or annoying. You need to come at serious topics in a different, more roundabout way.

DK: Definitely. The whole album is based on this psychotic episode I had two years ago. I was in a bad way. The whole thing is based on the build up to that, it's chronological sort of. I couldn't write anything. I had a break from college and I just stayed at home. My mam took time off work. She said, 'Just write stuff.' Just write anything. If it's like, 'I can't think of anything to write', just write that down. I was doing this thing where I'd make a lot of notes, so I have all these little sentences and stuff that I've had for ages. I'd put them all together and they'd trigger memories in my head.

So I think the tone is always kind of there but the songs are nonsensical sense. If I told you the meaning of them, they're actually quite serious but the language is kind of colourful. 'Pears For Lunch', the second track on it, I showed the lads and it said, "I look crap with my top off". And I was dead serious writing that. But I showed Al, who I usually show the lyrics to first, and he started to laugh. I realised it actually was kind of funny. It's very true as well. So I just went with that. All of the lyrics, they're not throwaway but they sound throwaway. They sound all over the place. The album is about my scattered brain at that time. The last track, 'Witchdoctor' is actually about that stage where I was going around with a woman's jacket.

AK: That was quite an interesting time.

DK: I was going around in a woman's jacket at the time. Very, very happy. Elated! I was mad. I love the idea of like, people ask me about 'Lawman', is that about a murder? I'm like, 'No, I think it's about a break up'. 'The Last Riddler' is an actual story where I went into hospital and my sister was really worried about me, I was at this acute stage, and she was like, ‘Dara why don't you take a seat?' and I said 'I think I'll stand.' So I stood up and was walking around the room. The doctor, his name was Doctor Murray. I was like, 'Can I ask you a question? Can I call you Declan? Declan, what's your favourite band?' He goes Abba, dismissively. 'Perfect'. I write him a note that just says 'The winner takes it all', hand it to him and say, 'Think about it.' That whole thing is about breaking down into that.

At the end of that I had to go into hospital for a couple of months. But I got into meditation and now I'm the happiest I've been, within reason. I'm very calm now. I'm around people I really like. That album is the perfect document of the best I could do with that whole thing. The last day of recording I finished the lyrics, and now I've got a blank canvas. The weight is gone, I can write about anything. I've drawn a line under it. It was properly therapeutic. I think it's really fun if people think it's throwaway and they can enjoy whatever part of it. But I know there's a meaning to it that's not specific. Because I use those trigger sentences, when I'm doing it live, I can channel that into different things that happened to me at the time, so I can feel the gig in a different way. Instead of thinking about the monotony of playing gigs, I can kind of re-experience it in a different light. Every time we do a gig, I get all my aggression out and I never snap at anyone, I'm never angry at anyone.

Holding Hands With Jamie is out now on Rough Trade