Orla Hodnett catches up with the Irish girl group.
Heathers have enjoyed quite a successful few years on the back of their DIY debut, Here Not There, a primarily acoustic record, which was written while the girls were preparing for their Leaving Cert. Having balanced university, touring and writing over the past few years, twins Ellie and Louise McNamara are back with a new album and a whole new sound. Speaking to Louise, she explained that they went for a change in tactics when it came to song-writing this time around. They worked with a producer for the first time, taking on White Lies producer, Max Dingel. ‘The majority of the songs were written this time last summer. We found it a bit more difficult to write for but it all came together last September. It was more of a non-collaborative process than it was for ‘Here Not There’ which we wrote together. Myself and Ellie would sit down together and write songs, whereas with ‘Kingdom’ some songs on the album are mainly written by myself, some by Ellie. It was a different process than with the first album.’
With this change in the writing process came a change in sound. The most remarkable thing about Kingdom is the change in style that Heathers have undergone. The twins’ characteristic breed of acoustic pop songs has taken on more electronic elements. While some might regard it a departure from their roots, Louise considers it to be more reflective of their own tastes. ‘People are surprised when we say we listen to a lot of chart music. Myself and Ellie wanted to write a bit more like what we listened to. We didn’t write music that we thought would get into the charts – not at all! It was just progression.’
Lyrically the album is quite escapist. Louise stated that they wanted to convey a worthwhile message at the same time. ‘The album is quite upbeat but there’s some with a sad side to them. Kingdom is kind of about escapism and trying to find this perfect utopian place where everything is okay. A lot of them are about feeling like you’re on your own. ‘Forget Me Knots’ is definitely the most personal song to us on the album. We wrote it about two years ago just after a friend of ours had died. As you can probably tell from the line “it’s alright not to feel okay”, we’re trying to get that message out there to people of all ages. Depression nowadays in Ireland has such a stigma that you can’t talk about it or you can’t tell anyone. In the States everyone goes to see their shrink and it’s treated as normal. In Ireland, if you’re going to go talk to a counsellor you don’t tell anyone. We think that it’s important that people talk about it more to show that there’s a lot of people feeling the same way. That’s really what ‘Forget Me Knots’ is about.’
The use of artists’ materials in advertising and television has increasingly become a main source of income for musicians since the advent of illegal downloading. The likes of Two Door Cinema Club have cited that allowing their material to be used in such a way has helped to finance touring and recording. Heathers well know this with the success of their track, ‘Remember When’, after it was used in a Fáilte Ireland advertisement. ‘That was a huge opportunity for us and it really got our music out to a much larger audience. That was kind of a once off thing, but we’ve actually just signed a publishing deal with Universal in the UK to deal with getting our music into TV programmes, etc. ‘Forget Me Knots’ was used in the Wimbledon coverage and on a TV show in the US called Mob Wives. I think nowadays it’s pretty hard for musicians to make money out of music because of illegal downloading, so it’s a great way to get by.’
A DIY ethic has always been part of Heathers’ work. Their first album was released on DIY labels both here and in the US, which Louise noted was very significant to them. ‘We grew up going to DIY gigs and we released ‘Here Not There’ through DIY labels. That ethic has stuck with us throughout. I think it’s really important that you have control over your music. It’s our baby and we wrote it ourselves, so we don’t want to just let that go. You don’t necessarily need big labels to get your music out there. You can do it yourself now, just record your own album at home and put it up on the internet. We may have a publishing deal with Universal but we’re releasing Kingdom on our own label, Aunthill Records, which we founded in 2010. It’s very important to us to be in control of our own music.’
With new opportunities and a hunger from their fans for gigs as well as the new material, the next twelve months look very exciting for Heathers. After the album release the band will be going on tour. ‘After our Irish tour in September we plan to do a good bit more touring with most of that being abroad in the UK and Europe. We’d both love to go back to the States in the next year or so. We can’t wait to tour Ireland. It has been like a year since we played any gigs here so it’ll be cool. The tour in September will be with the whole band and the new live set, because Kingdom will be so different to just the acoustic guitars and vocals. We’re looking forward to it.’
Heathers’ new album, Kingdom comes out on the 7th of September and they will be playing in Cyprus Avenue on the 4th of October.
Their single, ‘Forget Me Knots’ is out now.