“Acrobats Stab Orcas / Do Geese see God? / Party Booby Trap” Dara Kiely sings over echoing guitar riffs recorded backwards on ‘Aibohphobia’, midway through Girl Band’s new record, The Talkies. If you didn’t know, aibohphobia means a fear of palindromes (and is in itself a palindrome). Naturally, Dara sings the whole song in palindromes, which must have taken a while…
“Well, I actually went to palindromes.com so it didn’t take that long…” he smiles. “It’s kind of cheating really.”
The band, sat in a sun drenched beer garden near the offices of their label Rough Trade, reassure him. “It’s research, really,” says Adam, the drummer. “A bit of homework.”
Four years on from their debut, Holding Hands With Jamie, it’s been a long road to this record’s release. Back in May 2017, the band suddenly cancelled their tour dates citing “health reasons” (they’ve made no secret of Dara’s mental health issues) and all went quiet. It was questioned whether they’d return. Now they’re back, though they’re understandably keen to avoid focusing on those issues.
“It’s just nice to have music out and be a band again,” Alan, the guitarist, says. “Though you’re always a little unsure if people will still care.”
He shouldn’t worry – The Talkies is a record that’s hard to ignore. A brutal, brilliant record – both a darkly visceral, experimental rock album and one that locks into intense, dissonant grooves. Repeated listens reveal more sonic details – it’s a complex, fascinating record that obliterates you each time you hear it. “The first one was very much ‘OK cool, we’ve got this many songs, that sounds like an album’”, says Alan. “But with this one we wanted to stitch the songs together – that was something that was new for us.”
Inspiration came from a rather surprising source: Marvin Gaye. “I really love What’s Going On,” acknowledges Alan. “The way the tracks bleed into each other and the fact that it’s got a very obvious start and end point – I wanted to mirror something like that.”
So the record begins and ends with the sound of Dara breathing, and motifs are repeated across the album. “We wanted the same sounds to pop up again and again, though obviously our record is nothing like What’s Going On… in many, many respects,” adds Daniel, the band’s producer and bass player, with knowing understatement.
It was recorded in Ballintubbert House, a historic home outside of Dublin dating back to 1540. “The house is insane,” says Alan. “It’s a wedding venue so everyone was able to have their own en suite bedroom.” And this strange, surreal environment influenced the recording. The band even created an ‘audio representation’ of it on the sprawling ‘Prefab Castle’. “We did field recordings around the house. There’s a huge fountain in the grounds. So we recorded that. And the fridge. And all of the doors.”
They also had two sets of drums – one upstairs and one in the cellar – and experimented with different sounds. “We were like ‘Let’s pile up a load of cymbals and see how that sounds’,” says Adam. “One of Adam’s nicknames is Buckaroo cause we’re always saying ‘Can you try to hit that stack and this one as well’ to hear what it sounds like,” laughs Alan.
“It’s just nice to have music out and be a band again…Though you’re always a little unsure if people will still care.”
Over the top of this combustible, unsettling din are Dara’s obtuse, often hilarious lyrics. “It’s too late For Ricki Lake” he sings on ‘Shoulderblades’ while ‘Couch Combover’ features the lines “Called The Teacher Mammy / Gave Birth to a Fax Machine”. Humour has always been key to his storytelling. “Eddie Izzard’s humour had a huge influence on me growing up and later I got into Stewart Lee and Armando Iannucci’s writing,” he says. “Some words together sound silly and if I am shouting them, I’ll get a kick out of the weird side of it.” He describes his writing process as “stream of consciousness at first… I’ll gradually make sense of some words and the more we play, the more the meaning will get clearer to me”.
He admits to being understandably apprehensive about playing again. “We started practising a few days ago and I was a bit nervous beforehand, but then it was muscle memory and everything was fine. It’s really enjoyable playing again because we haven’t played stuff like ‘Lawman’ in ages.”
There’s a palpable sense of excitement about playing live together again, after such a long time away. This time they’ll play fewer shows (so it doesn’t feel “like a slog,” says Alan). They’re also hoping for dancing. “There’s something really gratifying about seeing a crowd dancing together,” says Daniel. “Also I don’t like mosh pits when I go to gigs – I’m like 5 foot 6 so it’s really annoying…”
Photo by Richard Gilligan.