Robbie Byrne talks to ‘the most exciting band in the world right now’ about coming home to Dublin, battling mental health, and crafting that noise-punk sound.
“Umbongo was the one track we just couldn’t perfect. It sounded pretty good, but we just knew a certain something was missing. Near the end of the recording sessions we had a telepathic moment. We dimmed the studio lighting and got Dara to strip off all his clothes – he laid down the vocals bollock naked.”
You have never heard anything like Girl Band. Disfigured waves of heaving amplified chaos propped by nihilistic lyrical dread, Girl Band stretch once organic instrumentation into vendors of destruction. A chaos that deconstructs our preconceptions of song writing convention, and what seems possible within the Irish musical microcosm.
Labeled “the most exciting band in the world right now” by a certain British music magazine, the band’s drummer, Adam Faulkner, remarks that outside pressure to record a stellar LP had little effect on the making of their debut full length, claiming that “most of the instrumental material had been written and gigged before press coverage began,” dispelling any myth of a writing crisis.
Part of the fascination for an outfit as unorthodox as Girl Band is how these alien sounds come into being. But according to Faulkner, the instrumentation is born from the most standard writing techniques. “Basically, all of our songwriting is done conventionally,” he says. “The instrumental elements always come first. One of us might spearhead an idea, then I’d try out some drumbeats. After that, Alan and Daniel will work out the guitar and bass overlays. Writing for us is a generally very slow process. We’re always trying to improve the sound, making everything that little bit fresher – a little more honed.”
Capping off 2014 with an international record deal with Rough Trade Records following a spotting by the label’s founder at Great Escape Festival, Girl Band refused to let a big label signing get in the way of their Dublin roots.
“Despite Rough Trade, we didn’t have a tonne of cash to flash about – and recording in America is ridiculously expensive. It just didn’t make much sense for us to travel to the USA, especially as we had just returned from a coast-to-coast tour. We just needed to be back in the comfort of our own homes.
“So we began recording in Bow Lane Studios just two days after we returned. The place was owned by a friend, who gave us free reign for the best part of five weeks,” Adam says; keen to highlight the DIY nature of the record. “It had this big old Harrison mixing desk, which needed some rewiring – doing something as simple as mending that old desk brought some much needed freshness back into the band.”
If anything, the band’s debut album Holding Hands With Jamie is a reunion of sorts, with old Liffyside friends, estranged from their time on the road, lending a hand in the album’s creation. The efforts of one of these, Jamie Hyland, can be observed from the album’s lo-fi aesthetic to its heartening title.
“Holding Hands With Jamie comes from an ongoing in-band rumour that there’s a romance between Dara and Jamie,” he says. “Jamie’s like our ghost member. He’s been there since our first single – a helping hand that guides us when we’re doing something wrong and stays silent when we’re on point.”
Despite the cacophonous sonic palate, Girl Band remains an intensely personal proposition. Dara Kiely’s vocals, which flicker violently between muffled drawl and punk-rock growl, soundtrack the singer’s recent battles with mental health.
“It all came to a head when Dara was in the dole office with our bassist Daniel,” Adam explains. “He was going up to strangers, telling them that he worked for a PR company. He told them he could help them achieve anything they wanted. This was just after the release of our ‘Lawman’ single. Dara had just gone through what appeared to be a bad break-up, but he seemed elated. From there he just crashed.”
For six months the Girl Band vocalist traded living in a tent for seeking help from his doctor, family and friends.
“One moment he was assuming this God-like state, believing he could control the weather, while the next he was experiencing these unbelievable lows – convinced that nobody was there for him.” Of course, this wasn’t true, leading to Faulkner reassuring that “the spell brought Girl Band closer together that we ever were.”
To aid his rehabilitation, Dara’s mother encouraged him to write a piece of poetry every day for sixty days. The lyrics penned from this time are uncomfortable accounts of image punishment in Pears For Lunch, where he sings “I look crap with my top off” and philosophical absurdity, “how many bulbs does it take to screw a light in?” amid the visceral electronic collisions of Paul.
Yet, the LP has its lighter moments. Texting an Alien flaunts some airy fretwork, only to be pulled into the mire by the bass heavy production. Still, it’s Dara’s ad lib commentaries on the mundane that offer the most welcoming retreat from the surrounding darkness, be it remarking on the use of Sudocrem in Baloo, or the debacle over which spread to use in Fucking Butter.
It is these little insights that reveal that even the darkest music can have four friendly, down to earth and downright funny guys behind it. And as Faulkner explains, it’s a reality that even the band’s fans have trouble accepting.
“I don’t think we have the image or personality that you’d associate with a band that sound like we do. People are always surprised that the Dara you see on stage and the Dara that sells merchandise after the gig seem like two totally different people. But that’s how we are, four normal guys that like to joke around.”
Girl Band debut album, Holding Hands With Jamie is out now.