- 10 Feb 21
You Can Go Your Own Way: Belfast power trio Dea Matrona didn’t set out to confound antiquated expectations. It just happened naturally, as they racked up the views on Facebook and YouTube in millions – and established themselves as one of Ireland’s hottest properties. “You can’t put a gender on music,” they tell Pat Carty.
A year ago, almost no one had heard of Dea Matrona. Now, they are right up there among the Irish acts most likely to make a major breakthrough in 2021. It is worth examining how that happened, not least in a year in which they were denied the rock ’n’ roll oxygen provided by live music. But first there’s the name to consider. Where did it come from?
“We think it means Mother Goddess,” they explain. “We really like Celtic mythology, and we just thought it sounded cool.”
The band members were hooked early by the Mother Goddess of rock ‘n’ roll. Orlaith Forsythe and Mollie McGinn were best friends in school and, before Mollie’s sister Mamie joined the ranks, they started playing together, thanks to a shared taste for the music of the 1970s, a decade when giant, hairy Gods walked the earth. Mollie takes up the story.
“We come from musical families,” she says, “but they weren’t really playing the sort of music we were listening to. Our Mam listened to a lot of R&B and pop, and I think our Dad listened to a good bit of rock back in the day, ‘cause he was in a rock band.”
Mollie is – I presume – referring to the very-much-still-rockin’ Finn McGinn, who served time with Tiberius’ Minnows and has since released two solo albums, including 2020’s Where You Once Were. But I digress.
“It mostly stemmed from when we started wanting to learn guitar,” Mollie resumes. “When you Google the best riffs and things, it’s the best music to be into, because it’s the best guitar music.”
Googling “best riffs” is as good a way as any to fall for the charms of the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Cream.
“Before we became friends, we were just doing acoustic things,” Mollie continues. “We both got into the electric guitar, sending each other new riffs; it was encouraging to have someone else to learn it with at the same time. We needed to get out and play somewhere, so we thought ’let’s go to the streets – let’s busk!’”
Orlaith and Mollie were about 16 at the time, so heading out on the streets of Belfast with an acoustic guitar and a Cajón took guts, not least because they didn’t exactly have a massive set to draw on.
“We only had five songs at the start, so we probably sounded like we were on a loop, annoying the people of Belfast,” Mollie remembers with a laugh.
One might have thought the parents would have been a bit reluctant to let their young charges head off into the big town. Not so. And when Orlaith points out that “instead of making a racket in the house, we could go play in the street,” you can kinda see why permission was granted.
“The first time we went busking, we didn’t expect anything,” Orlaith says matter-of-factly, “but we got offered a paid gig and a wedding booking as well. And we thought, if we keep on going, we might get more offers.”
Then Play On, Fleetwood Mac once said. So they did.
Let There Be Rock
One thing was missing, however.
“Rock needs drums,” says Mollie, with authority. “We put an ad in the paper, but little did we know that the drummer was here all along.”
“I started learning the drums,” says Mamie, “and a year later I was in the band.”
Recording was the next logical step.
“Back when Mamie was practicing,” says Mollie, “Orlaith and I recorded an EP as a duo and then, about a year later, we self-produced an EP as a band, with more of a rock influence.”
It’s this Away From The Tide EP that nailed their colours to the mast. It was a mixture of ‘60s and ‘70s harmonies on ‘Siren Song’ and their rockier obsessions on ‘Just Wanna Rock’, with its immortal opening couplet, “He was from Inishfree/ Well, he was good for me.”
The ‘Matrona explain those ‘60s and ‘70s influences, with Mollie nodding at “Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and Papas.” Meanwhile, Orlaith nominates “Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.”
There’s more men than women there, I point out.
“You’re right,” Molly agrees. “We thought the same thing when we were getting into all this music: ‘Where are the women’? So we started getting into a lot of female rockers – like Joan Jett, The Runaways and Suzi Quatro.”
“Stevie Nicks, Heart,” Orlaith continues, “but when you listen to bands like Deep Purple, it’s all just music. You can’t put a gender on music itself.”
The EP didn’t get any huge immediate response. Then, some bright spark put a video of the women busking The Mac’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ on YouTube. That was when people really started to take notice.
“We didn’t put it up,” says Orlaith, still a bit in shock. “I came home and my phone was going mad, with thousands of views.”
Going viral also meant punters coming through the door.
“We first realised what had happened when we sold out the show in The Black Box in Belfast,” reckons Mollie, “and that’s when we started getting more interest from management.”
All was looking rosy in the garden – and then the world fell apart.
“After that show sold out, we booked a tour of Ireland, and it was looking like it was going to be a sell-out – Whelan’s, The Limelight and so on – and we were talking about booking shows in London and Manchester. And that’s when Covid hit.”
Macca And The Man
Like all of us, Dea Matrona had a very different 2020 mapped out than the one that ultimately transpired. Unlike most of us, they were headed for gigs like Glastonbury.
“That was really crushing,” says Mollie, with what must be considered admirable understatement. “We were just on the streets in January, then we had actual gigs, then we were getting the message that we had been booked for Glastonbury – although it was in the back of our minds that maybe it wasn’t going to happen because Coronavirus was all over the news, then. So, you know yourself.”
I do, unfortunately. What I do not know is how you would prepare for such a show. As it turns out, Orlaith isn’t sure either.
“I don’t know how we would prepare, because it’s probably the biggest thing you’ll ever get to do,” she laughs. “It was such a dream for us because we’re massive, massive music fans, apart from being a band – so to think you’re a small part of the same line-up as Paul McCartney! It’s just living the dream!”
There’s no arguing with that. Missing out on Glastonbury was a heavy blow, but no one could accuse Dea Matrona of wasting the year that was in it. They released two singles, including the arse kicking ‘Make You My Star’, three minutes of glam stomping, unleashed last July, which should have roundly silenced anyone who doubted that this band means business. There was more busking in Belfast, including having a go at another Fleetwood Mac classic – this one from the original ‘60s line-up – ‘Oh Well’, which again proved to be wildly popular.
Actually, ‘wildly popular’ is putting it mildly. It earned many thousands of views on their own page, but when it was shared out by the ‘Music Man’ Facebook account, the numbers went stratospheric – there’s been over a million views so far and counting.
In fact, if you’re after more figures, go look at the band’s YouTube page: you’ll see the kind of serious numbers that would make better-known bands weep with envy. Here, after just a couple of weeks, the same version of ‘Oh Well’ has over 500,000 views – and rising. On top of that, Jack Bruce’s family shared out their version of ‘Crossroads’: that now has 571k YouTube views.
“What was funny,” Orlaith tells me, ”was that Michael McKean from Spinal Tap shared it out on Twitter the same day.”
The ‘Tap! I know bands that have retired on less.
“I’ve watched Spinal Tap fifty times,” Mollie adds.
I know, I know, only fifty times. Remember, she’s still young. There was also the in-no-way-small matter of taking part in the Hot Press Rave On Van Morrison celebration. They were well aware of the importance of the Belfast Cowboy.
“Yeah, of course,” Orlaith observes. “He put this country on the map. He’s one of the best musicians ever to come out of here, so it was a real honour to play in the video series for Hot Press.”
“’Gloria’ by Them is so iconic,” says Mollie, taking over from her pal and explaining their choice of cover. “It’s been done by all our favourites – Jimi Hendrix, The Doors – and it’s a song we were already thinking of doing, so we just wanted to put our stamp on it.”
I point out that more people have watched them so far than Hozier. And the number is rising steadily…
“We just can’t get our heads around it,” says Mollie. “It’s absolutely crazy.”
The Northern Questions
We have now reached the point in the interview where I am obliged, as it is written in the Charter of Rock And Pop (C.R.A.P.), handed down to me on my first day in music journalism school, to ask a few serious questions, for these are “Women In Rock” who come from “Northern Ireland”. Let us get these out of the way quickly so we can go back to talking about The Zep and The Mac.
Serious question #1: Dea Matrona streamed two shows towards the end of 2020 from two iconic Irish venues – The Limelight in Belfast, and Whelan’s in Dublin – and they were both a roaring success.
“I was looking at the comments after,” Orlaith says, “and it was like ‘hello’ from Mexico, Finland, Denmark, all these countries, and you wouldn’t connect with them if you didn’t have the live stream.”
The Whelan’s show was funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport: but has that kind of support been forthcoming in the North as well?
“I’m not really sure about the Limelight show,” Mollie answers. “But I know that we did another one in Portstewart that was funded by The Arts Council.”
Once restrictions are lifted, will Brexit make it more difficult to go and capitalise on the exposure your video success has earned you in Europe and America?
“Yes,” says Orlaith. “I read recently that there mightn’t be a free touring visa for (UK based) musicians within the EU, so obviously that will make it more difficult.”
“We’d love to go over and play in America,” Mollie continues. “Hopefully, it won’t make it harder to play there as well!”
What do they think of the way Westminster has handled the pandemic?
“It’s been really hard for musicians trying to make a living,” says Mollie. “But we’ve just been happy that we’ve been able to write and practice.”
Serious Question #2: You don’t have to spend too long looking at any kind of online music forum to see that sexism is still very much alive and well in rock ‘n’ roll. I wonder if there has been any guff from spotty Herberts, living in their Ma’s basement, jealously claiming that Dea Matrona are only getting these big viewing numbers because they happen to be women, rather than accomplished musicians?
“I think people like to see that there’s three young girls interested in classic rock,” says Mollie. “I don’t know if we have directly experienced sexism: we’ve found the whole experience so far to be really enjoyable. I know that there’s definitely a lot of female bands who do experience that, and we feel lucky that we’ve just been around great people. If there were those sort of comments, we would just ignore them.”
“We don’t really like to focus on the fact that we’re females, you know?” Orlaith offers. “We don’t think of it as ‘we’re girls who play guitars’. It’s just the music.”
Serious Question #3: Coming from the North, have they ever experienced any kind of sectarian prejudice in the music business, or elsewhere?
“Well,” laughs Mollie, at a question that hopefully belongs in the past. “We haven’t experienced much this year! You’d have to ask our parents that one!”
Which is exactly the kind of answer you want to hear.
Le Big Mac
That’s the serious stuff from the manual out of the way. Let us finish then with perhaps the most important question it is possible to ask. We have three musicians in thrall to the classic rock era – and rightly so – so what is the greatest record ever made? I’m looking for three separate answers here.
“Led Zeppelin IV”, Mamie pipes in, straight away. “Definitely. Every song is perfect.”
Beat that, Mollie.
“Abbey Road has to be up there. It’s got the mini-songs going into each other, and it was when George Harrison showed his best songwriting abilities.”
What about ‘Octopus’ Garden’?
“What about ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’?” adds Orlaith, taking my side.
“‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’…” Mollie cogitates for a second. “It still just fits the vibe. It wouldn’t be Abbey Road without it.”
I sensed that Orlaith had been stalling for time, while she flicked through some records on the shelf. She proceeded to knock it out of the park altogether by nominating the 1973 Buckingham Nicks album from, yes, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. It was the one that got them their invitations to join Fleetwood Mac. Orlaith asks politely if I know this record, which I do, and I point to the final track as a particular favourite.
“’Frozen Love’,” she says emphatically. “And it’s got the same guitar solo as ‘Go Your Own Way’, in a different key! This is my favourite album. Rumours is maybe, in terms of production, better, but this is the genesis of Buckingham and Nicks.”
This brings up serious question #4. Which is better, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, or the Buckingham-Nicks version? There’s a consensus.
“At the minute I’ve been listening to a lot of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac,” says Mamie. “But I think it is the Buckingham-Nicks albums that touch me the most.”
“I’m actually jealous,” tuts Mollie. “I wish I said Buckingham Nicks instead of Abbey Road!”
“I love both line-ups,” Orlaith says reasonably, “but they’re two very different bands. But I got into Fleetwood Mac because of Buckingham and Nicks, so I’m going to have to go with that line-up.”
Talk of The Mac has me grumbling about their last Irish show, without Buckingham – who had been given his marching papers. Orlaith and Mollie are having none of it, telling me about taking the bus down to Dublin, getting in early to get a good spot after doing some extra busking to pay for golden circle tickets, and loving every minute of it. They even got to meet Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, who they “bumped into” because they hung around outside the hotel.
It should be obvious to all and sundry at this stage that Dea Matrona are true believers. And is there a moral to their story? Let us yield the floor to The Mac one last time.
“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow/ Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here.”
2021 could be Dea Matrona’s year.