They’re the distortion-laden noisemakers that helped revitalise post-punk sonics in Ireland, and laid the table for the current host of major-label genre pretenders to eat from. Having come back from real-life adversity with second album ‘The Talkies’, Dublin’s Girl Band are ready to set the pace for DIY music in Ireland once more, with national touring and festivals ahead. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist Alan Duggan.
It took four years for Dublin four-piece Girl Band to follow up on debut album Holding Hands with Jamie, released in 2016 via UK indie institution Rough Trade. Just off a roll of limited singles and EP releases, and amid the growth of a burgeoning live reputation anchored in shards of deafening distortion, the band seemingly had the world of independent music at their feet. Then they disappeared, taking an indefinite sabbatical necessitated by mental-health concerns within the band, and in the intervening years, a generation of younger Dubland noisemakers cited them as influence on their way to industry-darling status, including Fontaines D.C., keeping the band’s name, and the question of their eventual return, in the cultural conversation.
Last year, the band’s follow-up long-player The Talkies released, again via Rough Trade, and suffice to say, it’s been a triumph, from strong domestic gig attendances to a positive international critical reception. For guitarist Alan Duggan, whose jarring, industrial textures are central to the band’s sonic hellscapes, the album as a “finished” body of work represents validation.
“We’re all very proud of it, very happy to have it done. There was a point in time where we didn’t think we would. Creatively, it feels good, but it doesn’t feel limiting, we can move on to the next thing. In terms of how it’s been received, that’s been amazing, because you disappear for a few years, it’s plausible that no-one would care. ‘Band releases album’ isn’t all that interesting. The fact that people were interested and it went well… happy out, ultimately.”
Without the benefit of the whole band being together for long stretches over the course of the album’s lengthy and troubled gestation, Duggan brings us into the writing and recording of The Talkies, as well as post-production, and the differences in recording between it, and the band’s debut.
“The difference between this and their first record was, the first record was all about ‘live’, so we all got into a room and played together until something made sense, and whittled it down til a song appeared from it. This one was definitely more fragmented, it didn’t require all four of us to be around at any given time. It was more sketched together, and then we went at those sketches as a band, so it was different at that. The majority of it was recorded live, but we gave ourselves a bit more flexibility. We did it in a big house, rather than a studio. Got a lend of a load of gear, brought that all down to a house in Laois, in a big wedding, manor-type place, and we stayed there for two, three weeks and recorded them. Just a nice environment to do it in.”
Leadoff single ‘Shoulderblades’, a standout example of the band’s guttural sonic excesses, was accompanied by video directed by longtime collaborator Bob Gallagher, a world-class videographer, and centred on a seemingly abstract dance performance. What has that relationship been like to continue and develop, and what was the process of working together like on the idea for ‘Shoulderblades’’ video?
“The process was pretty much the same. We don’t have many ideas (laughs), so we take it to Bob, formulate ideas from it. With ‘Shoulderblades’, any idea before it was always kind-of narrative based, but we wanted to do something more abstract. So he came back with a few ideas, and showed us Una Doherty’s dancing. Once we saw that, we just thought, ‘she’s incredible’. If she was up for it, it would have been a no-brainer. The only thing we wanted was the colour scheme, blue and red, to fit the album. The rest was up to him, and it was his idea, we just got it back and said ‘yeah, class’.”
Rough Trade have also been immensely supportive of Irish bands over the years, most recently Girl Band themselves, trad-nua trailblazers Lankum and folk troubadours Ye Vagabonds. Duggan gets into what they have been like to work with on The Talkies, and what it’s like to be part of a label with the long-term credibility/goodwill that Rough Trade has made and maintained for decades.
“It’s amazing to be part of. Great people that work at and care about the music first and foremost. The records they’ve put out over the years have been incredibly influential on all of us at every stage of our lives. Being 15 or 16, with the Smiths, then being older and going through eras of its discography has informed us. They’re supportive of everything we want to do, so it’s just really easy, there’s no pressure on us, and they just have good ideas on how to go about releasing.”
Girl Band come back to Cork on Saturday, March 7, to play Cyprus Avenue, but it’s far from their first rodeo here: the band’s excursion to the short-lived ‘new’ Pavilion a few years back for Southern Hospitality Board comes directly to mind as a standout moment for the band in the city.
Duggan collects his thoughts on heading to Cork.
“Can’t wait. That Pav gig was amazing for us, because we played the Pav a few times, but to go and do it ourselves, and for it to be sold out, was a really fun time. Cork has always been really good for us, it’s felt like an obvious first step for some shows outside of Dublin.”
Girl Band plays Cyprus Avenue on Caroline Street, on Saturday, March 7. Tickets €28 available now from cyprusavenue.ie and The Old Oak’s front bar.