- 12 Oct 22
As the Dublin four-piece now known as Gilla Band return with their boundary-pushing third album, Most Normal, vocalist Dara Kiely and guitarist Alan Duggan discuss teenage fashion misadventures, touring, M(h)aol, and hitting 30.
Looking back at his teenage years, the age of 14 was a particularly low-point when it came to Dara Kiely of Gilla Band’s fashion sense.
“I’d get all my brother’s hand-me-down clothes – and he’s like ten years older than me, but he’s a bit shorter,” the Dublin band's vocalist recalls. Looking out on a freshly rain-washed Dublin from a quiet corner of a hotel bar, Dara’s mild-mannered nature provides, as ever, the sharpest contrast imaginable to his famously intense on-stage energy.
“So I’d have these giant flares that would hit mid-shin, and a Jack Jones t-shirt that said, ‘Dog Skiing’ on it, with a picture of a stickman and a dog,” he resumes. “I don’t even know what it meant. I thought it was kind of cool, but everyone was like, ‘What the hell is that?’ I’d be wearing that, and rocking a pair of Pumas, with blue Dax in the hair.
“Just a regular cool kid!” he adds, laughing – before turning to his bandmate beside him: “What was your worst look, Alan?”
“Maybe when I was 16 or 17,” guitarist Alan Duggan ventures. “Before that, my sister used to work in G1, the skate shop. So I used to get loads of skate gear, for mad cheap. And that was a look! But then I was like, ‘No, I’m going to get my own style.’ But I just didn’t know how to fucking dress myself. I’d be wearing Pulp Fiction t-shirts and stuff. Around that time was probably my lowest.”
These early fashion woes provided some of the inspiration behind idiosyncratic outsider anthem ‘Eight Fivers’, one of many stand-out tracks from Gilla Band’s eagerly anticipated third album, Most Normal, released this month via Rough Trade Records.
Arriving three years after their Choice Music Prize-nominated second album, The Talkies, the new LP marks a crucial progression for a band who – with their penchant for surrealism and their boundary-pushing approach to noise-rock – have already established themselves as one of the most innovative forces in Irish music.
In fact, since the release of their debut album, 2015’s Holding Hands With Jamie, Gilla Band have been credited with redefining the landscape of independent music in Ireland, and helping to foster an avant garde spirit among a shockingly broad spectrum of artists – influencing everyone from Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital, to Kojaque and Kynsy, as well as international acts like IDLES and Shame.
Most Normal is also the first album that the four-piece – which also features bassist Daniel Fox and drummer Adam Faulkner – have released since ditching their previous moniker, Girl Band, back in November.
In a statement announcing the change, they apologised for “choosing a misgendered name in the first place and to anyone who has been hurt or affected by it.” The name, they explained, was originally settled on “without much thought”, and they’ve spent the past few years unable to “justify or explain this choice.”
“To try and negate any unfortunate role we’ve played in propagating a culture of non-inclusivity in music or otherwise, we have decided to change it,” they stated.
Almost immediately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the comment sections of Gilla Band’s social media posts transformed into forums for bemoaning the state of the world, as hundreds of accusations of PC-pandering rolled in.
But there were many supporters of their decision too. As Dublin artist Fears, also known as Constance Keane of acclaimed intersectional feminist band M(h)aol, wrote on Twitter at the time: “I love [Gilla Band], they’re an incredibly supportive force in Irish music and to me this is just them showing they have empathy…”
“Calm down boys with guitars,” she added, “no one is taking them from u...”
Gilla Band’s support of progressive social change, particularly in the music scene, is nothing new either. Back in 2015, Dara supplied vocals to M(h)aol’s debut single, ‘Clementine’, inspired by misogynistic discourse around the time of the suffragette movement in the early 20th century.
M(h)aol are now set to join Gilla Band on their upcoming European tour, which includes gigs in Dublin and Belfast. Previous support slots over the years have also gone to the likes of PowPig and Pretty Happy.
“I think that’s important,” Alan says of platforming artists that are disrupting the overwhelmingly male-dominated guitar scene. “And yeah, it would be intentional. If you’re in a position where you can do that, then it’s just a good thing to do. But a band like M(h)aol, it’s pretty undeniable – they’re just so fucking good. They’ll be like, ‘We’ve got a week to write and record this record.’ And they’ll just do it! They’re all good friends of ours. Jamie [Hyland], the bass player, is an old friend. Our first record [Holding Hands With Jamie] is named after her.”
Most Normal features notable changes across the board for the band. While The Talkies was recorded during an intense period spent at Ballintubbert House in Laois, the making of the new album – which was recorded and mixed by their bassist Daniel – sounds almost laidback in comparison, despite largely taking place over the course of the pandemic.
“It was very different,” Dara nods. “We basically spent a lot of money on getting nice recording equipment, that we have in our practice space. So we were demoing constantly. Around half, if not more, of the songs were done in the practice space.”
“With The Talkies, or even the first record, it was like, ‘Cool, these are the tracks, they’re done – now let’s go record them in the studio,’” Alan reflects. “Whereas this one was like, ‘We’ll just keep writing and recording as we go.’ And they ended up being the tracks.
“Over lockdown, when it got to the point where you could hang out with five or six people, we were like, ‘Great, let’s just go down to the rehearsal space,’” he adds. “We’d go down there, have a few cans, and hang out for the night. You’d work on music for a little bit – or maybe not. That was something that was really fun about the whole lockdown period for us, and it ended up being productive, as well.”
Of course, the disruption and forced-hiatus of lockdown was not entirely new to Gilla Band. They had previously taken a necessary step away from the spotlight, and cancelled multiple shows, following their debut album – as a result of the mental health issues Dara had spoken openly about. 2019 marked their long-awaited, but unfortunately truncated, return.
“It was kind of familiar – like, ‘Okay, back in the hole!’” Alan says of lockdown. “But we’re really lucky in that regard. We don’t live off the band. So having loads of shows cancelled was shit, obviously, but it’s not like we were worrying about paying rent off the back of it. For other bands, lockdown would have been a lot more intense.
“I teach in a music college,” he adds. “And Daniel engineers – he’s recording every band in Ireland right now, it seems like. Dara just finished college. Everyone’s busy doing stuff. To live off being in a band is really hard. Because touring is where you’re going to be able to actually make money. And touring’s pretty exhausting, so we just don’t do that.”
“We enjoy it a lot more than we did, I think,” Dara interjects. “If you’re going away for a month, you’re going to get really homesick very quickly. But over the summer, we did a load of fly-in festivals, and stuff like that. And they’re tiring, because airports are annoying, but every one of them was a really good time, in some regard. And it’s the highlight of the week, as opposed to being the main thing of the month.”
Alan states that acts like Chicago noise-rock icons Shellac “would be an inspiration” when it comes to how they now approach the band.
“They have their separate jobs, but they also put out records and tour and stuff,” he says of the Steve Albini-fronted outfit. “But only in little short blasts and then they go away again. That seems to be the blueprint.”
While lyrics like “Inevitable depression when I do nothing” from ‘Post Ryan’ certainly sound lockdown-related, Dara notes that getting older had an even more pronounced influence on Most Normal.
“When I was writing all the lyrics, it was around the time when I was turning from 29 to 30 and that weird freak-out happens,” he tells me. “It’s all you can think about for ages. You’re thinking about being mortal. That lyric was just a phrase in my head. It was probably a lockdown moment of being like, ‘What the hell am I doing? I can’t do anything.’ And then you’re immediately sad. And you just have to keep on working on stuff. So it was a bit of both.”
The anxieties associated with hitting his thirties were explored elsewhere on the album too.
“I was talking about my teeth a lot,” Dara grins. “And balding. And sea creatures, like sharks and stuff – but I don’t know where that came from…”
As we’ve come to expect from Gilla Band, there’s no shortage of bizarre humour packed into Dara’s lyrics, with references to rubbing vaseline on a trout, dressing up in plastic bags, and bingeing Big Brother. But the intensity of his approach has gone nowhere.
“The aggressive side of it is more the delivery as opposed to the meaning of the stuff,” he considers. “It’s fun, shouting about something that’s a bit mundane. I don’t think I was that angry at anyone – I was probably angry at myself.”
In recent years, Dara’s personal experience with mental health issues have informed the direction of his life outside of music too.
“I studied Peer Support Work in Mental Health in DCU,” he tells me. “I was working in a day hospital, and I got a lot out of it. I’d like to eventually get into some kind of field with that. I do peer support for some people. And I also give shouting lessons.”
Like primal scream therapy?
“That, with a lot of very embarrassing warm-ups,” Dara laughs. “I’ve taught three people that recently. It’s amazing. I never raise my voice to anyone, but I have this unique thing in my life where I get to shout my head off – and not get arrested because of it!”
Gilla Band got the chance to return to the stage under their new name, and give some of their new material its first live airing, at their intimate three-night run in Whelan’s earlier this year.
“Originally we wanted to do the much smaller Upstairs at Whelan’s, which I’d still really love to do,” Alan remarks. “One of my favourite gigs I ever saw in Dublin was Parquet Courts doing a secret set there. It sounded like shite but it didn’t matter, because it was just so good! I remember talking to Andrew Savage about that, and he was like, ‘That’s the perfect spot for a Parquet Courts gig.’ And I think it’s true. In those small venues, that feel more like a dive, that kind of music translates really well.”
Looking ahead to their upcoming European and UK tour, Gilla Band’s main focus is getting the tracks from Most Normal gig-ready – but they’re also starting to write new material.
“There’s no real plan or vision, but I think it’s just important to start something,” Alan says. “We’ve been going into our rehearsal space and hanging out, and going, ‘Let’s try something.’ Hopefully we can get something out sooner rather than later. Even those three years for us felt fast!
“It can be a little daunting when you’re coming into a new record. Where do you start? What’s it supposed to be? You can get bogged down in that. But if you just start writing, and throw stuff down, it does start making sense.”