Girl Band – Interview

The Dublin four piece have been kicking around for more than a decade. With vocalist Dara Kiely, guitarist Alan Duggan, bassist Daniel Fox and drummer Adam Faulkner, making up the band. They have two albums under their belt, both released on the Rough Trade label: Holding Hands with Jamie (2015), and last year’s The Talkies. With a loud, tightly coiled aggressive sound, the band are literally manipulating their instruments, while Kiely howls his way though via impressionistic lyrics. Portraying themselves as ‘the least macho bunch of people you could think of’, the band’s name has also caught the imagination. Brightonsfinest Jeff Hemmings caught up with Dara Kiely, chatting about the importance of noise, Leonard Cohen, and how he became a singer.

You’re at home, in Dublin?

Yeah, we just came back from Switzerland yesterday, played a festival there, Antigel, It was a fly-in, fly-out thing, had to be at the airport at 4am to go out, and then 8am in the morning to come back. A little tired. It was good fun though, they treat you really well.

What’s the band generally up to?

We’re writing at the moment. We take ages to write anything. We’re going to the Album of the Year thing in Ireland (Choice Music Prize – Girl Band have been nominated, alongside Fontaines DC, Lankum, Daithi and Soak), and doing the odd show here and there.

It took four years to write the second album, and all our lives to write the first one. So, it’s not going to be out this year! We’re just doing a lot of demos. Dan, who records us a lot – our bass player – he’s got a really nice recording environment. It’s nice doing the random gigs every now and then.

We played in the key of A on the second album. Is this too much, are we selling out? I do manage to do a bit of writing when we’re way on tour, just to fill the time. But, yeah, we do need to be in the same room at the same time!

Do you jam away in the studio, see what happens?

It’s the best idea in the room, regardless of who it comes from. Everything is analysed. Everything is played over and over again until we think it’s actually good. We constantly demo stuff. A lot of the time someone will just play something (mimics noise). Play that again! (mimics noise).

Writing for the second album was kinda scary – are we ever going to finish a song? Now, it looks like we are going to be able to, which is cool.

Girl Band has been around in one form or another for quite some time now….

We’ve been in bands since we were 16. Yeah, we’ve been together for a very long time…

You were originally the drummer, but somehow became the singer. How?

I’m a very limited drummer. What basically happened was that I was having singing lessons. My sister is a singing teacher. I was doing it for confidence reasons. I am naturally very shy. I was doing that to try and be more comfortable within myself. And after Harrow (the pre-Girl Band band that included all current members except Adam) we tried several singers, which didn’t work out, and we didn’t have a name for the band. So, we went to Leeds to visit our friends, and we did the Otley Run, this 17 pub crawl thing. It’s chaos, but we are 20, 21 at the time. The next day we were completely destroyed, and booked tickets late at night, to fly back the day after. And myself and Alan started to write joke songs, under the name ‘seasons’. We wrote a song about Pancake Tuesday, and on that I started to shout. I didn’t think much of it at all, just having a laugh. But Al showed Daniel, and Daniel was like ‘shall we try and get him to do the singing’. My response was, ‘if we get a better drummer, and I can’t sing, can I please still be in the band’.

The first practice was quite terrifying. I’m getting a bit used to it now.

You really give it some on stage, must be hard on your voice?

Yeah, I do my warm-ups, which I learned from my sister. They are really embarrassing. I make sure I get an hour on my own beforehand. I do the warm ups, and then I do my rugby stretches. I used to play rugby. And I also do a bit of mindfulness meditation, which helps me to stay in the moment, instead of freaking out, like a lyric that might come up that you can’t remember. You basically stay in the moment, focus on your breath, focus on the lyrics. And it kinda works, you just have to trust it. That’s my process of getting ready

Jonny Lydon also gives it some, when singing live. I think he gargles brandy in-between songs…

Speaking of Public Image, we played a gig, and we were with this journalist friend who we knew, and he said ‘Keith Levene wants to meet you’, the guitarist from PiL. ‘OK, cool!’ And he brought his guitar to our soundcheck ‘Alright… that’s cool’. But, we hadn’t added up why he had brought his guitar. We were playing our cover of Blawan’s ‘Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?’, and he just comes up on stage, and plays guitar, and then just leaves. He did not want to be introduced, or anything like that. So, we accidentally had a collaboration with the man from PiL. He was a nice guy. It was very cool, but a bit strange.

Why did you decide to do a song that was palendromic (‘Aibophobia’) ?

We learned it one way, and then reversed it, and recorded it. I don’t even know if I said that correctly…. We wanted to get a David Lynch type sound for the vocals – back and forth. So I thought palindromes could be the way. But none of them worked except Navan, which is a place in Ireland. We can’t really play it live. Which is unfortunate, because it’s my favourite one on the album! It was a lot of fun doing it. I gave it a go.

And you did everything in the key of A?

I think so, Al just came in one day, and juts said ‘let’s play something in A’. And then it all fell into place form that…. You’ll have to ask Al about that! I think it was just an experiment to see if we could do something more melodic, or something. I know it doesn’t sound that way! But, it made things flow a bit more.

Anything new for this album, any new process, gadgets or anything?

I’ve got a couple of pedals, for the vocals, which is a new writing tool for me. I’ve got this Echo Master thing, like a delay. These French guys came up to us at one of our gigs, and gave Al a guitar pedal, called the Black Hole Collision Device, which is like a multi-effects, weird pedal. Al said I could use it for my vocals. That alone has taken me out of my comfort zone, and I’m making something a bit different. Yeah, loads of new pedals for the guitar and bass. And Adam’s kit just keeps getting weirder and weirder; broken cymbals, a hubcap, and a drum machine that we might start using. Still the same band really.

How important is noise to you, the level of it…?

It’s huge. We’ve played venues where there has been a dB limit. We go over it before it goes through the PA… The way they get their tone from the guitars is because it’s cranked to the max. Daniel’s broken, I think, nine bass heads, in the last ten years or so, and blown many a speaker. Adam beats the shit out of the drums, and I shout my head off. You can’t really turn it down.

I don’t actually listen to much noisy stuff at the moment. I’m a big Leonard Cohen fan. I need to calm down after a gig, like Death of A Ladies Man all the way through, or something.

I love Leonard Cohen. So glad I got to see him live…

I got to see him in Ireland. He said, ‘thank you friends. Last time I was here I was 60 – I was just a kid with a dream…

Jeff Hemmings