Girl Band: what's that noise coming from across the Channel?

© Rich Gilligan

They don’t have a single female member, they have banned pronouns from their lyrics, and they uncover the missing link between Twin Peaks, Buddha, and Marvin Gaye: Girl Band are both the most radical and the most fun group in the latest cohort of rock bands from across the Channel.

In case you have spent the past few months living under a rock: there is a new wave of guitar bands from Dublin that has been washing over the music scene. Fontaines DC, The Murder Capital, Silverbacks, Pillow Queens, Just Mustard: the list just keeps getting longer. The earthquake that triggered the tsunami is a four-piece called Girl Band. They debuted in 2015 with the brazen, unsettling Holding Hands with Jamie, which combined the raw power of The Birthday Party after a bad trip with the crushing noise of early Liars. After singer Dara Kiely suffered from an overdose of white noise in the head – he suffered from psychoses after his relationship ended, started thinking he was God and that he could control the weather, and secluded himself in a tent in his garden – the clouds seem to have now cleared.

Well, cleared…The Talkies, their new album, feels like being banished to a haunted house somewhere deep in the darkest forests of Ireland. The opener alone, entitled “Prolix”, packs a powerful punch of disquieting gasps over an ominous drone. One minute and forty-nine seconds of discomfort on tape.

“It seemed like a good idea to start the record,” Dara Kiely and guitarist Alan Duggan tell us as they sit in front of immense pints of beer at Café Le Coq. “I’m into mindfulness meditation, where you have to focus on your breath and stuff like that. But I was going through a bit of a rough patch that day, and the breathing ended in a panic attack. We decided to keep the recording, because it’s such a powerful opening of the album. So...claustrophobic.”

Girl Band
© Rich Gilligan

Is it difficult to listen back to those recordings?
Dara Kiely: For a while it was, but now I’m just kind of immune to it. Because I’ve heard it so often. We recorded that in 2015, when things were difficult for me. I see it as a good documentation of that time.
It reminded me of...The Blair Witch Project.
Alan Duggan: Or Darth Vader having sex?
Kiely: Quite an artistic experience! (Laughs)

Artistic, but also very weird and disquieting. Song titles like “Akineton” and “Amygdala” are a good evocation of the atmosphere. And you have also decided not to use any pronouns in the lyrics, which only adds to the confusion.
Kiely: Meditation led me to explore Buddhism. There is a famous quotation from the Buddha: “Nothing is to be clung to as I, me, or mine.” That kind of clicked with me. Pronouns have a lot of weight to them; they make things very personal. I thought if I trimmed them out then it would give me a completely different platform to write. First of all, it took away a lot of potential pitfalls and clichés. But it was also a lot of fun. I love making up phrases and messing around with sentence structures.

One of the songs is called “Aibohphobia”, the term for a fear of palindromes. But the lyrics consist entirely of palindromes. Smart, but it must have taken a long time to write.
Kiely: Not really. I just surfed to the website palindromes.com, and I picked the best ones that didn’t have pronouns in them. (Laughs)
Duggan: When I told my wife that Dara had written a lyric with only palindromes in it, she went, “Oh, my God, Dara’s a fucking genius!” When I told her two seconds later that he got them from the internet, she said, “Yeah, obviously he fucking did.”
Kiely: For two seconds I was a fucking genius!
Duggan: The original idea for that song came from watching Twin Peaks. There’s this scene in the Red Room when agent Dale Cooper meets The Man from Another Place. The way he speaks, sounds very strange. David Lynch used phonetic reversal for those scenes: he recorded the words and played them in reverse, after which the actor learned the words backwards. That was re-recorded and then reversed in the normal word direction. So we tried and recorded the guitars backwards, and played them in reverse. The Beastie Boys did a similar thing with “Paul Revere”, when they recorded a beat on an 808 backwards.

I read that Marvin Gaye was another inspiration for The Talkies. I must admit that he didn’t immediately come to mind when I listened to the record.
Duggan: I spent a long time listening very intensely to his album What’s Going On. That record is brilliant. And ours is a piece of shit. (Laughs) Anyway, musically, that album hooks together perfectly, with little bridges between each song. We tried to reproduce that song cycle, be it a noisy post-punk version.

What’s Going On was a concept album about the war in Vietnam and ecological awareness. Does The Talkies also have a leitmotif?
Kiely: My father is a big John Lennon fan. I have always loved his weirdest lyric moments, like “I Am the Walrus”. And I am currently really into comedy, Monthy Python and things like that. I like to include absurdities in my lyrics too because it clashes really well with the screaming. But to answer your question: I usually only figure out the meaning of something I have written months after writing it.

Marvin Gaye asks what is going on, but in “Going Norway” you ask “What is normal?”
Kiely: Is that not something you ask yourself? I do it all the time. (Laughs) I have my issues, but everyone has issues. I just thought it was interesting to put it in there and get naked. I was in a bit of a jam when I wrote those words. I thought I just wanted to be normal. But what is normal? It’s really impossible to come up with a blanket term for that. I’m playing with it, though, because in the previous sentence I say: “That’s just mental.” Those two sentences seem to contradict each other, but then they’re kind of the same.

You don’t specify the anxieties exactly, but the subversive, uncompromising music does express it.
Kiely: Usually we write the music first, and then I write the lyrics.
Duggan: I like the idea of making polarizing music. Particularly now because everyone is trying to be so polite.

Between the screeching scrap metal sounds, you also descry twisted techno beats, like in “Prefab Castle”. Where did you pick those up?
Duggan: When we first started, in 2011, we decided that we didn’t want to be the next band that was trying to sound like Radiohead. There are tons of bands doing that and doing it terribly. So we started exploring noise and pedals, but at the same time I got immersed in the techno scene. I lived in Prague for a while, and there was a flourishing dance scene back then. Along the way, we incorporated elements from that into our sound. There was a reason that we covered DJ Blawan’s “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?” For us, techno music has been just as informative as The Beatles.

The guitar scene in Dublin is getting a lot of attention. You are dragging Fontaines DC up onstage with you at the Botanique. What is your relationship with all the other bands?
Duggan: Fontaines are good friends of ours. We practice next door to them. The post-punk thing is mainly perpetuated by the media. There have always been good bands with guitars in Dublin. My Bloody Valentine, Rollerskate Skinny... If you go on and on about how amazing the scene is now, it’s an insult to all the great bands that came before us.
Kiely: There’s an amazing lineage of Irish guitar music. Of course we love being a part of it, but there’s no more to it than that.

You were previously in Harrows, a band that you called “a shit version of the Strokes”. How would you describe Girl Band?
Kiely: A shit version of Harrows. (Laughs)

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