- 04 Jun 19
Young guns, go for it! Whenyoung's Aoife Power sits down with Peter McGoran. for an interview after their debut album.
Having moved from Limerick to London, Whenyoung forged a unique indie-power pop sound for themselves, living anonymously in the UK capital. As they release their stonking debut album, Reasons To Dream, frontwoman Aoife Power opens up about everything from insomnia and class inequality, to mental health and rediscovering home.
The previous evening, Whenyoung - the Limerick trio made up of singer/bassist Aoife Power, drummer Andrew Flood, and guitarist Niall Burns - had supported Nick Cave and Patti Smith in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. The morning after, we gather in a Dublin hotel. Nursing hair-of-the-dog pints and glasses of wine, we talk about their extraordinary progress to date. A deal with Virgin EMI, ell-received hit singles. The opportunity to perform alongside Bono, Sinéad O'Connor and dozens of other rock luminaries at Shane MacGowan's 60th Birthday celebrations in the National Concert Hall. Supporting some of rock's most revered legends.
But that rapid rise shouldn't distract from the real story. Prior to 2018, Whenyoung had been through the kind of bruising process out of which some bands never lift themselves. They'd spent several years in the musical wilderness in London. Worked dead-end jobs to pay for rehearsal studios. Ran up and down the country playing any and every gig they could get. Paid their dues, and paid a little bit more besides. Some bands never get that downpayment back. That Whenyoung were finally coming good was inspiring. Could they keep the momentum, going? As I turned off the recording machine at the end of the interview, there was no way of knowing. In rock 'n' roll, nothing should ever be taken for granted. They knew that. But there was something in Whenyoung's attitude that made me feel: these guys are in it for the long haul.
May 2019. Whenyoung's appropriately titled debut album, Reasons To Dream, has just been released. Already, it has been accorded a nine out of ten welcome in Hot Press. It turned out that those wilderness years were even more productive than might have been imagined.
"A lot of these songs were written in London before we were signed," says Aoife, relaxing in the front-room of her London abode. "We'd have been working hard at our jobs, just so that we could afford everything we needed to live and make music. We'd rehearse in the evening time as much as we could."
The trio enjoyed the freedom London afforded them. They threw themselves into their music. Many of the songs that arose from this period were about the experience of landing in another country.
"I suppose it is about being immigrants in London and finding our place here," she says. "It's comes from us leaving Limerick, moving here, and finding it really exciting - that feeling of being anonymous. Nobody knowing your business. That's great. But there's also a sense of loneliness to it as well. You wonder why you're doing it? Would it be easier to be at home with your friends and family?
"But our experiences here allowed us to grow. And then in doing that, we were able to look back at our relationship with Limerick and even start to miss it. That inspired a lot of the album - that juxtaposition between the two places."
As if to add another layer to that immigrant-in-London experience, Whenyoung found themselves working with producer Al O'Connell, who was originally from Dublin.
"We were called Sisters at the time," she recalls. "We recorded a song called 'Hush' with him. We'd always kept up a relationship with Al and wanted to work with him somewhere down the line - but it wasn't until the album that we got the chance to. We chose him because we have a really good friendship with him and he's a really hard worker and very creative. So we made the record with him in a place called East Coast studios in West London."
DIFFICULT SUBJECT MATTER
The last time we spoke, Whenyoung talked about the feeling of helplessness they experienced, being in London and not being able to vote in the Repeal referendum back home. By the same token, they watched in horror as Brexit turned the country they'd lived in for the past few years into a regressive, divided country. These issues have seeped into the album. On one of the singles, 'Future', Aoife writes to a close friend of the band's back in Limerick, who died by suicide.
"A lot of the time, our melodies can be euphoric, but the lyrics are a lot darker," she reflects. Aoife believes that it's important to acknowledge that Limerick has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.
"I refined the lyrics as I wrote it," she says. "They were heavier before. I've extracted parts that were too intense. Because it was this subject, it was hard to write it. It was so raw. But we thought it was important to open the conversation around it, and we're really happy with the result."
Even against a backdrop of tragedy, 'Future' conveys a message of hope. Many of the songs follows this theme; they're hook-filled numbers, which despite the subject matter are optimistic, and meaningful without being trite. Another of the standouts, 'You're Grand', deals with Aoife's battle with insomnia.
"I often get insomnia and sometimes just dread the evening-time, and being alone with my own brain," she tells me. "I've always felt that you're your most mortal when you're on your own at night. You don't have anything to distract you. You're sitting there, just in confrontation with yourself. There's that kind of Irish thing of saying 'you're grand, just get on with it.' Sometimes that can be difficult - but it can also be useful."
Elsewhere on Reasons To Dream, the band deal with the stark class divide they've witnessed, living in London. In particular, 'The Others' stemmed from Aoife's time working as a gardener for wealthy politicians, around the time of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
"ÒI used to work for a garden maintenance company and I'd be up quite early in the morning going out to work," she says. "We worked for a lot of clients with lovely gardens, some of whom were well-known politicians. If I could've chosen, I probably wouldn't have worked for some of those people. But on this particular day, I'd left the house early, and I'd read the news, and seen that the tower was on fire and still burning. And when I got out of the station and went to the first house I was meant to be working in, my boss said, 'There's no work today. The roads are completely blocked'. And on the streets there were fire-trucks and ambulances going up and down the road towards the tower.
"I could see the smoke in the distance. I wasn't right beside it but I wasn't too far - and I just started crying. It was too late. Nothing could be done. And I had this horrible feeling of shame, that I was working for these people who should be looking after their communities and looking after the country. They're in power. They have these lovely safe homes with gardeners. Never mind even the luxury, but the safety. Everyone should have the right to safety.
"It's this thing that happens all over the world," she adds scathingly, 'people who are in power forget the most vulnerable in society." Attuned to the sensitivities of the time but bursting with truly inspired indie-pop songs, Whenyoung's debut album secures their place as one of the brightest bands coming out of Ireland.
Reasons To Dream is out via-Virgin EMI. Whenyoung support Garbage at Iveagh Gardens, Dublin on July 18.