M(h)aol: “the goal is to make people who have felt alienated or isolated feel like it’s okay”

M(h)aol – a feminist post-punk band pronounced ‘male’ – are a poignant hit of noise that amounts to one of the most interesting emerging bands of 2022. Deeply political, the five-piece, who manage to make things work despite being based in five different locations across the UK and Ireland, have been going since way back in 2014, but only recently started releasing a notable volume of music and gaining a significant public profile.

The brilliantly abrasive band launched debut EP ‘Gender Studies’ last year, and have an album on the way. They’re also touring, including a date at Whelan’s in early August. Vocalist Róisín Nic Ghearailt is a key part of the sound: a fiercely political vocalist who, in a live setting, is backed by some incredible use of the loud/ quiet dynamic that adds to the abrupt messaging. We catch up with Nic Gheatailt just as the band absorbs their growing stature.

“My goal with the live shows is to make people who have felt alienated or isolated feel like it’s okay,” Nic Ghearailt says. “I think what a lot of people miss [in our music] is that I always try to end the songs with something positive. My message might be that, yeah, you shout at me in the street, but that’s okay because I like this version of myself.”

“With ‘Asking For It’, the whole song is about victim blaming and rape culture and stuff like that, then at the end of the song I say ‘I’m not going to let this define my whole life’. I think because people are hearing a bit of shouting, they’re missing that every single song has a strong theme of hope.”

There certainly is a lot of shouting and aggression in M(h)aol’s music, and it’s wonderfully poignant and punchy. Nic Ghearailt’s lyrics are close to poetry, largely based on personal experience, and a visceral statement to the world. At her most abrupt, in tracks like ‘No One Ever Talks To Us’, she has the power to provoke thought and shock in a single turn of phrase. 

The band have even cultivated a sense of mystery, in particular through a track that’s less than a minute long, called ‘Kinder Bueno’, which is available only on the sold-out vinyl EP, and as such is difficult to hear, and has gathered a bit of a cult reputation around its live performances.

T’Pau: “It’s a little bit of fairy dust, a little bit of timing”

T’Pau were a huge deal in the world of 80s pop, with frontwoman Carol Decker and her spectacular vocals always standing out. The distinctive Decker worked with her then partner Ron Rogers, and produced massive singles like ‘China In Your Hand’, and ‘Heart and Soul’.

Still going strong today, Decker is on something of a nostalgia tour, but still writes music, too, despite the focus on live settings. She’s charismatic and easy-going, clearly at ease with her role in music today. In fact, when it comes to the process, she’s nothing short of joyous about it all.

“Maybe I might have been headlining back in the day, being frank,” Decker tells us, laughing about her appearance at Forever Young Festival this weekend. “But overall things are kind of similar, we’re all a little older and wiser. All my peers are still there with me, or most of them, but the chess pieces have moved on the board a little.”

“Some people get hits and some people get a longer career. Maybe it’s about having a faithful following instead of momentary adulation, I don’t know. Creative arts is a crapshoot,” she continues. “If you could make a formula for always having a top five hit, I’m sure we’d all do it, but it’s not possible. It’s a little bit of fairy dust, a little bit of timing, and a little bit of charisma, and it falls into place. You just have to enjoy it when it does.”

Danny G and the Major 7ths: “Recently, I’ve been trying to write songs that say something important”

Neo-soul – a kind of deeply expressive and varied version of traditional soul music – is a growing genre in Ireland and slowly finding both expression and quality, with acts like the poignant and lively Danny G and the Majors 7ths.

Channelling a real variety of music from around the globe, the band already have two full-length records behind them, and have been dubbed “one of the founding fathers of Irish neo-soul”, delivering swing, funk, and an effortless smoothness.

“I’m inspired by anything that grooves, really. Motown, Rn’B from the 2000s, music from Africa, South America,” Danny G tells us. “Lately I’ve been really into Salsa, latin stuff, Venezuelan music from the 70s. But when it comes to neo-soul, D’Angelo is probably my greatest living influence. I’ve been to see him a few times and his shows are funk gospel workouts. It’s like a religious experience.” 

“When I write, I try to sing the melodies to myself first,” he explains, “and if they’re interesting I’ll make some voice notes. I put the chords down afterwards on an acoustic guitar. I find if I do it the other way around, I get bogged down in trying to be too complicated musically. The vocal melody should be the most important thing so that’s the best place to start.”

“Recently, I’ve been trying to write songs that say something important. Not that love songs aren’t important too. But I feel like we’ve reached a point in our civilisation where we need to prioritise the survival of our planet, our species, and music can be an important tool in spreading that message.”

Recently, the band went down a beautiful rabbit hole of classic Irish tracks and funked them up, producing a record of the results.

“That was something close to my heart,” Danny says. “I’d been thinking about making Ceol for the Soul for years. There are so many beautiful Irish songs from all sorts of styles, be it folk, rock, trad. The tracklist sort of chose itself.” 

Will Young: “it’s quite fun to remember how ridiculous it was”

Twenty years after taking X Factor by storm, lecturing Simon Cowell on bullying, and heading off our TV screens as a bona fide superstar, Will Young has found an inner peace that sits well on him.

Embracing nostalgia and ploughing forward all at the same time, he’s seen his fanbase morph, found a calmness around fame, and seen his own taste and his music slowly converge.

“That moment where I had a go at Simon Cowell still stands out as a proud moment, as I stood up not just for myself, but for other people, which was my impetus going into it. I wanted to tell him that he was a bully because I was so appalled watching the rounds on TV, the way people were being treated. I just thought ‘you don’t scare me’. It’s easy to bully from a position of power. I’m still really proud of that.”

“It probably took me six or seven years to process the change, in total,” Young says of his personal circumstances following X Factor. “I’d done two albums, a film, a play, and various tours, and once I started therapy and went on a couple of courses I sort of put work in its place.”

“I didn’t ever really get involved with the fame thing, I was more interested in getting the music right. The days of being followed by paparazzi, I can’t even remember what that was like. It probably was stressful because it was quite scary. I used to ring up the police and say I’m being stalked, because I was. The police would come round and tell the person to go away.”

“My life’s so different now so it feels so alien. It’s quite fun to remember how ridiculous it was. I never really engaged with the magazines and stuff, I wasn’t interested in seeing what I looked like. I remember thinking nobody’s going to tell me something about me that I don’t already know, so why do I need to read it?”

Now that things have moved on, Young is back on the road, and enjoying a glance backwards.

“A huge amount of nostalgia was involved, and I really enjoyed it,” Young says of his recent Greatest Hits album. “It’s really fun to look back on things, I deliberately made it nostalgic as I think people like that.”

“I put the singles on the greatest hits record, really, after 20 years there are more than enough to put on there. A bonus version, which I’m really pleased with, involved digging around in my attic, finding old photos and Polaroids and things that I felt made it worthwhile. The bonus CD has old demos and acoustic versions that I did on a random radio station in Germany or something. Things like that make it really special, and that was really fun to do.”

Megan O’Neill: “walks and nature… that’s where my best ideas come from”

As she releases her second album ‘Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty’, Megan O’Neill is drawing on both the experience of a rural Leinster upbringing, and a different kind of life – periods living and working in Nashville, and London. She’s marked, widely, as a rising star of a gorgeous Irish folk scene.

Her new album, though, is the result of a revision of her sound.

“I wanted to branch into different sounds for a while,” she says, “and pre-covid I’d been probably a little bit scared to do so. I think during covid we all had this time to sit down and think about our lives, and I thought a lot about sonics, and where I want to go. One of the great things about songwriting is once you’ve got the bones of a song you can do a lot with the production, and that changes where it goes and how it’s perceived.”

“For me the bones of the song are still the same, the lyrics and the story are always the most important part. I need to be able to strip the song back and play it on acoustic guitar and piano, and then it goes from there.”

Part of that sound, in this case, comes from coming home.

“I lived in London and Nashville and I kind of convinced myself I was a city girl,” she says, “but the reality is I am definitely not. I like open space, and being able to go for walks and take time in nature, and that’s where my best ideas come,” she explains of her relocation to the heart of rural Ireland to focus on her music.

“Nashville crept into my music for a while, and I suppose it still does in my approach to songwriting, my structure and my lyrics. I grew up obsessed with Americana and folk, country music, and so on. That’s why I wanted to be there in the first place. My style has grown a lot since then.”

“It gave me perspective on where I’m from. I grew up in a really tiny village and I couldn’t wait to get out and explore, and see what the world had to offer, but the more time I spent away, the more I missed being there. Even when I’m away, the minute the plane lands back at Dublin airport I breathe a little easier.”

Adore: “Sometimes, if we’re trying to figure out a song, we’ll play the half finished version and hope we can come up with something on the night”

Galway band Adore, a feisty garage-punk act growing from the ashes of former act GIF, are diving in the deep end this summer with a couple fo single releases that follow from their signing with local label Blowtorch.

Debut single ‘Postcards’, an experimental take inspired by the likes of Breeders and Sleeper, is followed by this month’s new release ‘Stay Free’.

I spoke to Lachlann about the band’s early days…

I understand while releases are fairly new, you’ve been gigging for some time. Can you tell me a bit about how you’ve progressed?

Well we started in the early part of last year and since then we’ve just been gigging as much as we can around the country in different places to new audiences. From that I think you get a good idea of what your sound is, it forces you to play to your strengths and puts you outside your comfort zone. Also you always want something new so it motivates you to write more.

Sometimes if we’re trying to figure out a song we’ll play the half finished version and hope we can come up with something on the night. So in terms of what we’ve learned in the last year I’d say we’ve gained a lot of resilience and we’re a lot more ourselves.

You recently signed to Blowtorch. How has that been?

Richard has been amazing. We couldn’t have asked for a better guy to work with for these two releases. He’s so on the ball, and kind and patient with us. Without him we’d have either nothing recorded or something bad recorded, and I think he maybe knew that and intercepted the possibility. We’re genuinely forever grateful, he’s the man of the match for us.

Can you tell me a bit about what to expect from your album?

Well, the album is but a dream at the minute, but we do have two singles coming out this summer that are being sold on vinyl at the end of the month. From that I’d say you can expect two songs, both in the realm of punk and pop with some garage in there, that the three of us love to pieces. They’re fun to play and they were even more fun to record and see them develop.

Do you find your live experience plays into producing a better record?

I’d say we do, it was the main reason we wanted to record them live. Also recording live is far more fun. Everyone has a better time, even though sometimes it feels like you’ll never get it right and you’ll just be there forever, but trust me it was fun.

If there’s a single song that best represents, you what would it be?

We’ve got a song called Supermum, it’s about not being taught that you can say no. Lara’s lyrics are genius, Naoise’s drums are crazy, I’m having a very hard time keeping up on bass, and it’s over in three minutes. Bish bash bosh back of the net

Drew Makes Noise: “everything I do seems to be quite the kitchen sink affair”

Sat somewhere between a DIY indie star and, by some accounts, The Beach Boys and Bruce Springsteen, Drew Makes Noise manages to produce a deeply personal, idiosyncratic take on quirky, personal pop, and a welcoming and at times memorably upbeat exploration of the realms of his own pysche.

In recent release ‘The Whole Tape Run’ he’s gone ‘semi-DIY’ bringing in producers to polish off his lockdown bedroom records that explore his own spirituality and look at life through the lense of him and his connections. Rarely producing two tracks that sit close to each other in terms of message or feel, his repetoire is a beautiful exploration, a journey without a destination. I spoke to Drew about that latest offering, below…

First of all, tell me about ‘Let The Whole Tape Run’

The title is a lyric from the song Hey. The sentiment is kind of “in the fullness of time” vibe and I felt it was appropriate for a few reasons. It was mostly written and recorded during the pandemic and mixed remotely by Math Bishop in LA. It’s a hybrid of bedroom production, with guitars and drums recorded at Start Together Belfast and Attica Donegal respectively. There’s no real “concept” per se other than it’s a spin round my own psyche and a document of my place and time in the world, both musically, personally, spiritually for want of a better word- told in stories that are partly about myself and partly about others and my connection to them.

How does the album compare to your previous work?

It’s similar in that everything I do seems to be quite the kitchen sink affair. I just enjoy mixing up sounds and styles that are disparate. It’s different in that, while the scatterbrained vibe is still from previous singles – perhaps lyrically it enters a much more contemplative arena. They are philosophical meanderings incorporating themes of anger, confusion, lost youth, paranoia. Ya know all that light stuff, and ya know it was a weird time. Musically too it his an angry point with ‘Something To Kill’ and even quite a sad song called ‘Flame’. But my hope is that even in some of those depths that I can still be playful enough for it to be eh – fun?

Is ‘Lemonade’ a fairly good example of what to expect?

Hmmm. There are definitely a few tracks that have a mix of shimmery synths and guitars but I think to quite different effect. I’m fairly sure that no 2 songs are quite like the other but I think it all gels weirdly. I was a big Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness fan in my teens and so I’ve always believed that an audience doesn’t need everything to be in the same lane for a record, as long as there’s some kinda through line.

Your videos are obviously something you put a lot of effort into. Where do the ideas come from?

I find it very odd that I went down the video making rabbit hole. It really came from not wanting to fork out for someone, and we’d done vids with other people in my old band and I never really enjoyed the finished product. I thought at least if I do it and I don’t like it – that’s on me. I always settle on a rough idea with my cameraman friend Deci, we throw a ball to each other and brainstorm in his back yard, and then I take the idea away and lose myself in it. We started the vid for ‘Satellite’ – which was a load of action men figures going to space – and I got totally lost in it and spent 4 months on it, making mini sets and stuff. My house was coming down with spaceship cockpits and the like. Then the pandemic came and I filled my time doing more of that – it was seriously cool escapism. Another place ideas come from is me literally just learning editing and vfx software and in that process of messing with stuff – ideas form.

YourCuzMarcus: “a lot of people feel like they would have a better life elsewhere”

A beat-inspired artist with a DIY ethos and strong connections in the Irish hip-hop scene, YourCuzMarcus has a growing live following and captures a gritty, memorable side of Dublin in the video to his latest single ‘Homecoming’. He’s returning to the live scene after a period of absence by playing The Soundhouse this week, and I caught up with him ahead of the show…

Hi Marcus, thanks for your time! ‘Homecoming’ is about Ireland’s recent history with emigration. How do you view that situation and what made you write about it?

I think it’s something that’s become normalised in Irish culture. There are very few affordable places to rent on the market and a lot of people feel like they would have a better life elsewhere. I have friends who have left Ireland and never come back, which is sad but understandable. I think it’s important to note the good things about Ireland too. It’s a great hub for creativity for example. If we can figure out a more inclusive housing policy I think it could become a great place for young people. 

The music video is, I understand, something you put together yourself. What were your aims when you did that?

It’s something I always wanted to try. I have a camcorder at home so I just started filming one day. I didn’t really have a concept for the video or any notion of how it might turn out. I ended up really liking the finished product so I decided to release it as the music video. It shows the Dublin that I know and love so I think it’s quite fitting.

Hip-hop inspired music has really taken off in Ireland in recent years. Is it a more welcoming scene, do you think, than it used to be?

Yes, absolutely! This is something I’m passionate about. Although I’m not a rapper, I do take a lot of influence from Hip hop and I know a lot of guys involved with the scene here in Dublin. It’s in a really healthy place. It’s created space for hip hop artists to break through into mainstream Irish culture and beyond. There are so many avenues people can take too. We’re seeing a lot of the guys involved becoming managers, journalists, producers, videographers, promoters…the list goes on. Irish hip hop is a great scene to be involved with at the moment.

Do you feel your sound has moved on since you released the likes of ‘Obey’?

I think it has. I feel like my earlier music had a very polished indie sound. As I’ve grown as an artist I’ve begun to take a more hands on approach to the production side of things. This has resulted in a sound that’s more lofi and a bit grittier. I really enjoy it and it means I can work on songs at home, programming drums and playing around with different synths.