- 12 Oct 15
The most ferocious young act on the planet. But not in a macho way. Girl Band on their music as glorious release, how their visceral debut album helped lead singer Dara Kiely put a psychotic episode behind him, and why the world needs more Kanyes.
Despite never being much of a horror film aficionado, I always enjoyed John Carpenter’s explanation of how the genre deeply affected him. Talking about his experience watching the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Halloween director admitted that it terrified him. But then…
“I went home and slept like a baby. It pacified my soul.”
A quote to admire for sure, if not one this writer could relate to fully.
Since Holding Hands With Jamie arrived in my life however, I’ve found my own personal approximation (minus the cannibal gore).
The last few weeks, running late at night, four chaps from Dublin have been riding shotgun in my ears. Occasionally, it’s been a harsh ride with Girl Band (name chosen simply because a Wombats fan found it disgusting, which is all the reason you’d ever need). And yes, there have been moments when an unexpected roar from Dara Kiely or sharp trebly twist on Alan Duggan’s six-string has arrived at the wrong unlit spot and made me fear my own shadow, or worse, some other ne’er-do-well’s. But after repeated listens and runs, these nine pieces of varying length but shared industrial intensity take on a genuinely calming quality. A sonic and physical purge. And then… the home straight. Pacified.
Seated alongside his frontman on a sunny September day, bassist Daniel Fox muses on this impromptu review.
“That’s cool if someone else can get that,” he decides. “I like that. And the music’s pretty aggressive but it’s totally un-macho aggression. It’s not like ‘fuck you, fuck this, fuck that, FUCK IT ALL!’”
The pair admit they hadn’t given much consideration to the settings in which their debut LP would be enjoyed. One thing’s for certain, it’s hardly baby-making music.
“Well... some people like it freaky!”
It’s fair to say things get pretty freaky, pretty quickly.
Putting aside that undulating, churning-Earth bass, unrelenting guitar and drummer Adam Faulkner borrowing the repetition and pound of electronic music rather than rock ‘n’ roll, the other thing that will grip you are those vocals. From seemingly free association lines and humorous quips, to pained, slurred hollers, it’s initially tough to grasp what’s going on. But Dara Kiely has it all mapped out. And it tells the story of his two-year struggle with mental illness. Following a tough break-up, Kiely got very, very elated, to the point where he thought he’d achieved some sort of divinity, and then plummeted emotionally.
“Yeah, that psychotic episode I had,” as Kiely calls it, before opening up as much in person as on candid record. “I didn’t intentionally set out to write it about that but I had to write about something. All I was doing was sitting on a couch for a couple months, or in hospital. It gradually came out. I couldn’t write anything for a while – I was on medication, I couldn’t think.
And then I was listening to Leonard Cohen with my mam, and it eased out. The lads were really good for that too. It’s weird because I was really, really shy growing up. Extremely shy until about two years ago... And I then I got overly not shy! Thought I was God and all that stuff.”
With Kiely recovered and Holding Hands With Jamie arriving through Rough Trade and delivering on a couple of EPs’ worth of monster hype (noting their name is no longer un-googleable prompts an enthused high-five between them), the band decided the unvarnished truth was the best policy when faced with enquiring journos.
“We’d a conversation about it,” nods Fox. “I remember Al saying ‘people are going to ask us about it.’ So the question was whether it was a good thing for us to talk about it. But when you think about it, it’s like ‘yes, it’s obviously a good thing to do.’ It normalises the whole thing. And it’s a huge problem in society that people think it’s weird.”
Has Kiely seen any improvement in people’s attitudes towards these illnesses?
“I think so. I grew up with my dad being bipolar. It was very hard to comprehend what it was, because not everybody was dealing with that type of thing. I couldn’t talk to anyone about and went very insular. Then it would come out if I was drunk or if something happened. And then it all came out! I had no shield to block me any more and had to deal with it.”
He’s pleased it’s gone from that situation to everyone knowing about it.
“People take you to one side like it’s a quiet thing but I’m not private about it any more. And I’m not flaunting it either. But it was a big thing in my life, the whole scenario. My whole life has been around that and I’m sick of being ashamed of it. Now I feel proud of myself for not feeling that way any more. I feel really light. I’ve nothing to hide. I think that’s what art should do.”
“It’s all about the tone. Or you can hear them as jokey things. Or throwaway. But actually every line was thought out to not have throwaway lines. I really don’t like lazy lyrics. I really don’t like seeing laziness in a band.”
The hard work has paid off, and brought him a sense of closure.
“It feel like a really nice release for me in that way. It’s drawn a line under that period and now it’s over. The whole thing has been documented up to that point and I think that was important for me.”
As for performing the songs live, for the most part the lyrics are vague enough that he can just enjoy the moment and apply fresh meaning to them.
“I can stay in the moment and stay mindful. I’ve been doing Mindfulness and meditation really helped me. Though with ‘The Witch Doctor’, when we play that, it’s just completely about a psychotic episode. There’s no other way I can really apply it... When we play it, I sometimes need a bit of time off. Five minutes by myself. I do the merch as well so I’m like [takes a deep breath]: ‘I need someone to take over’. We can’t play it mid-set, we have to play it at the end, if we’re playing it.
Fox: “It’s just a lot of screaming!”
Kiely: “It’s horrible at the start, but when it’s over it’s an amazing primal scream thing. Pure. I never snap at anyone, never shout at anyone in my day-to- day life. But now in my day-to-day life, I shout all the time! I don’t need to snap at anyone. I’m drained.”
Created without the aid of an outside producer in Dublin, with Holding Hands With Jamie, the band wanted to capture their live assault, while still having time to experiment. With, say, two drums. Or their singer being in the nip for his part on opener ‘Umbongo’.
“I did it with all the lights off, so no one could really see it. Maybe just a light silhouette of my arse.
“The faint hue of a pasty arse,” agrees Fox. It sounds like a future title.
“And that’s how it happens,” Kiely laughs. “‘Album two!’ I’m not a naked guy. But I’m interested…”
We can speak all day of troubled subject matter, but surely the roars of “NUTELLA!” during the bracing ‘Fucking Butter’ are just the least commercially- sound attempt at getting a bit of sweet advertising cash ever?
“We’re rolling in the green,” Fox deadpans. “It’s so good!”
The reference to the popular Italian spread actually arrived courtesy of the bassist.
“There’s a Nutella hotline,” he explains. “You know like how there’s also a Jaffa Cakes hotline as well? So I was imagining people on a chat show going [sincere American accent]: ‘Nutella saved my life.’
“We were laughing about that,” says Kiely. “I completely forgot about it, but it was in my notes, so I started singing ‘NUTELLA!’.” It ended up relating to a late Beatle’s take on meditation.
“It was like John Lennon doing that thing where he would chew something 100 times and try and stay in the moment.”
That coincidental moment of zen features on the track Kiely took the longest to write.
“It wrote so many drafts but it wasn’t doing anything... But then I wrote the whole ending in one sitting, after two years’ work. It was weird. It was my Everest. Then I decided not to put them in the lyric sheet. That’s mine. Because when you release something, it becomes everyone else’s. If people ask me I’ll tell them, but it’s a weird thing... I just wanted to have something for myself on the ending.”
Fox: “Selfish bastard!”
Does Daniel have anything on the album just for himself?
Kiely: “Yeah, he named the album after Jamie, his best mate [studio engineer James Hyland].”
They’re not ruling out the possibility of working with a producer in the future. If an offer to go to Malibu, “wear pyjamas, grow a beard” and collaborate with Rick Rubin, they reckon they’d give it a go. For their debut, however, they got their wish and did it their way.They’re thankful to Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis and Jeanette Lee for trusting them, while affirming that it is simply “the way it should be.”
Lee, in particular, impressed them.
“The cover of PiL’s Flowers Of Romance, that’s her.... And she was living in New York in the early ‘80s for the whole birth of hip-hop as well. Grandmaster Flash and all that.”
Who else features on the list of Girl Band’s favourite music veterans?
Leonard Cohen,” says Kiely. “You’d have some sort of Merlot with him, and I don’t even drink red wine. What would you wear? You’d wear all beige.”
“A panama suit,” Fox nods sagely.
Kiely: “It’d be somewhere in the Middle East, and you’d have a Capri Sun with Leonard Cohen. Something like that would be cool!”
“I’d like to meet Kanye as well,” says Fox. “The thing about Kanye is, he’s obviously a complete narcissist, but people like that do great shit. And he’s so entertaining as a person.”
I’ve long thought that a lot of what Kanye deals with is actually low self-esteem, so he overdoes it. I’m not convinced he looks in the mirror every morning and loves what he sees.
Fox: “I think he does.”
Kiely: “Coming from someone who literally thought they were a God... he does think that!”
Girl Band agree that you need characters like that in music.
“It keeps it interesting,” says Fox. “Everyone loves a mad fucker.”
“It’s beautiful,” concurs Kiely. “He’s running for US president! It’s class!”
After Godhood, the White House would be a breeze. As for Girl Band’s ambitions? Well, they’ll settle for making “loads of tunes.” With lucrative product placement?
“I’ll just keep name-dropping,” says Kiely.
“A big brown spread of Nutella,” Fox concludes. That’s the dream!”