There’s a definite feeling of intelligence and sensibility at play when you listen to Mayfield post-punk trio Pretty Happy, or see them live. At once noisy, artsy and even toying with whimsy in places, they share something in common with the best bands you can think of: a pack of noisemakers, figuring things out as they go along, and in the meantime, genuinely revelling in each other’s company.
But when the Covid-19 crisis came early last year, and stopped any momentum dead in its tracks for live music, the band were already working together remotely, as bassist/vocalist Arran Blake and drummer/vocalist Andy Killian were already spending time in London pursuing academia, while guitarist/vocalist Abbey Blake was keeping busy with the bones of a body of work in film.
It’s in the time they shared, and the ideas thrown back and forth inbetween, that they dug up their latest tranche of tunes, the first of which, the Pixies-echoing ‘Salami’, rolls out on the 19th. The band talks about how it came together, and how their usual stream-of-consciousness artistic process was interrupted by the wider world.
“It’s definitely heading toward the weirder direction we’ve wanted to go, we really went in on the ‘art-punk’ thing”, remarks Arran. “It’s an eerie song, more unsettling. Most of it was layering, playing with different sounds, all of us throwing vocals in. There’s a lot of space in it, but we’re trying for a ‘big sound’.”
“It’s the first time I’ve been confident enough to use my voice properly,” adds Abbey. “Aside from the usual roaring. I was still getting used to, I suppose, talking in the song, then had to make up for it in the chorus - that “dah-dah-dah!” in the song, I did it to make Andy laugh at first, but that’s most of our writing, trying to make each other laugh, and then it sticks.”
“Definitely with that song, we were writing it between other songs, and it just took thirty seconds to write,” laughs Andy. “We were writing different things we’d forget after one practice, but we decided, ‘ah grand, we’ve this song written’, and spent as much time discussing it being written as we did at our instruments.”
While a song from Cork about the apparent dangers of handling or otherwise dealing with American-style processed meats sounds like a demanding listen in and of itself, you can imagine trying to rhyme with ‘baloney’ with Hiberno-English. Luckily enough, inspiration was drawn from a fortuitously-named peer in Leeside - and singer-songwriter Elaine Malone now finds herself further immortalised.
“We went up to her and said, ‘is it alright?’”, says Arran. “The first time we played it was at Winthrop Avenue, and she was playing with us, with Laurie Shaw, and she was in the crowd as we were playing. It just fit the mood of the song - we were trying to rhyme the word ‘baloney’, and it just happened. She said it to us after - ‘my name’s Elaine Malone, not ‘Elaine Malone-y.’ But it’s necessary, and I think she accepts it.”
That spontaneity and knack for creative problem-solving has managed to last past the band members’ trajectories changing outside of music, and a resultant amount of time apart for college and work. After spending years together in each other’s company daily, it’s an adjustment, but they’ve managed to write new tunes and develop existing ideas where possible, using the run-up to mid-Covid gigging at the now-defunct Kino to rally them together.
“We’ve had ‘Salami’ for a while now,” says Abbey, “and there’s two tracks that are really new, “Sudocrem” and “Sea, Sea, Sea”. We only played them at the Kino. There was only us, because we couldn’t share a stage, so we went kind-of theatre-y, a mini-Pretty Happy play, with Arran acting out spoken-word things of ours. That was quite fun.”
“It was weird during Covid,” adds Arran, “because Abbey was here and we’d be away, figuring it out, sending tracks to each other, sending Andy an idea, or getting ideas from him. ‘Check out these chords, what do ye think of this?’ It’s strange, because when you’re composing together, you can do a riff and say, ‘nah, it’s not working’. You end up recording something in Logic, spending the night on it only for someone to go, ‘eh, not a huge fan’. It’s an interesting way of doing it.”
Keeping that creativity going in different ways was a project for Abbey, leading to filming and directing the video for ‘Sea, Sea, Sea’, another upcoming single. After showing at the online Spilt Milk Festival late last year, it was shortlisted for legendary London film house Pinewood Studios’ Lift Off festival this month, ample recognition for a first-time film-maker.
“It’s weird, I’ve been consistently busy. I finished Film in college very abruptly, I was supposed to go out and make a movie, which didn’t happen. It was weird to go from the stress of finishing college to having all this time, when Spilt Milk got onto us. ‘Can we use this song, have ye any videos?’ We have videos, but I just said, ‘will I just make one?’”
“So I got my girlfriend Ellie to get into the sea for me (laughs). She was made run into the sea in the middle of November. The plan was to ask my dad to do it, but I thought, ‘I’d better not do it to this old man, now.’ It was fun, just threw it out, and we’ll find out how it does with Lift Off this week. I love making visuals.”
Before the crisis’ extent became fully apparent to everyone, the trio took time out of their practice space to work together on a new venture - a Cork-based drama series called ‘Jag’, filmed in the city with adherence to social-distancing, to be distributed online. From screenplays to scoring, it’s been an immense process for the band’s members, tapping into their passion and experience in the visual medium.
“We have a creative shorthand in the band, and it translated over to film. It’s such a collaborative medium anyway, and it was crazy to have that dynamic for this web-series”, says Arran. “We’re involved in everything, from filming to post-production, and it was a challenge. We did ourselves no favours, from filming in the early pandemic, to getting in all these locations, then the pandemic hits… it was a lot, but we got filming wrapped within a week of going on lockdown.”
“It’s my dream, to be honest, composing music for film and TV,” adds Andy. “Anytime there was going to be music in a scene, it was preferred to have Cork music, and some scenes lended themselves more toward songs, but there’s moments inbetween where we just went with ambient, droning guitar, which was perfect for the feel of the series.”
2021 looks to be another busy year for the constituent parts of Pretty Happy, even with the uncertainty surrounding gigs for the foreseeable: between academia, art and scut-acting in a punk band, all three are taking matters as they come, and dealing with the reality of making art in a time of crisis accordingly.
“We’re looking forward to these new songs. It’s weird getting hype about the release without gigs. The other night, when ‘Salami’ came on 96fm, I’d nearly forgotten it was getting released. I felt like getting a pint, y’know, some sort of release, but we can’t go out. But we have these tunes to look forward to, we have ‘Jag’ to look forward to, there’s a lot”, muses Abbey.
“This year’s going to be interesting for us”, adds Arran. “Pushing songs as far as they can go. We’ve done all the creative work on these songs, now it’s time to put them out there and see if people catch onto them.”