Published on October 5th, 2020 | by Stevie Lennox0
“Is There Ever NOT More To Say About the Institutional Oppression of Women?” – M(h)aol Release First Single in 5 Years
Having releasing one single (‘Clementine‘ – featuring guest vocals from none other than Dara Kiely) in 2015, laying out a pointed intersection feminist & animal welfare-centred manifesto across their raw, visceral 15-minute sets, fast becoming one of the most talked-about bands in Dublin – their bassist the titular Jamie on Girl Band’s debut album – before inexplicably withdrawing with the same unpredictable energy they rode in with, M(h)aol, are the stuff of punk legend.
As you well know, the intervening years in a post-referendum and post-Girl Band Irish landscape have seen a seismic transformation – with peak post-punk dude fecundity. Things were supposed to improve. Women were to experience something resembling equal representation on every level of society and art. M(h)aol’s job was done.
Instead, the five years since their emergence has seemingly directed the zeitgeist back at them, their abrasive, hypnotic vitality captured in return single ‘Laundries’, which we’re delighted to share with you today for the first time. Minus guitarist Sean Nolan, Stevie Lennox had a chat on their absence, return and the need for artists like M(h)aol, with singer Róisín Nic Ghearailt, bassists Jamie Hyland and Zoe Greenway, and drummer Constance Keane – currently based across Dublin, London and Bristol.
Listen to ‘Laundries’:
It’s been five years since your first and only single, ‘Clementine’. What have you each been up to in the time between?
C: It’s weird, releasing Clementine feels like both a month ago and 20 years ago. Since then I’ve been working on my solo project, Fears, and working in other aspects of the music industry, in management and at labels.
R: Jesus, that’s a big one. Musically, nothing. M(h)aol is 100% my only foray into music. It’s not something I would do of my own volition which is part of what makes being part of this project so special. It’s so removed from the activities that I get up to in my day to day. In terms of what I’ve been up to in my personal life, well, I just finished a MSc in Gender Studies and International Relations so just deep-diving into feminism.
J: There has been a lot of hiding in the shadows of studios for me. I managed to get out and play a few gigs for Gash Collective over that time but yeah, mostly hiding.
Z: I’m currently finishing up an MA in Cinematography in London, but before that I was working in film production in New York for a few years and living with Róisín. But having two members in a completely different timezone isn’t really conducive to a consistent band practice! It just seemed to make sense that we’d go on hiatus for a while until we’re all in the same country to start playing again.
Your new song concerns the Magdalene Laundries and their toxic role in the Irish theocracy. Like your live show, this song feels like a physical and emotional expulsion – did you feel you had something more to say?
R: We actually wrote the first draft of this song five years ago in what felt like a much more optimistic time. It was just after the Marriage Referendum and it really felt like things were changing for the better. Fast forward five years and we are looking at a radically different political landscape. The lyrics of the song have changed for me and are no longer strictly about the Magdalene Laundries, they seem more urgent now, almost a warning to ourselves not to forget our past.
Some of the lyrics are now related to what’s happening here with Direct Provision which I think stems from the same mindset whereby rather than create a society where the goal is that everyone can lead a life of dignity and respect people are sequestered off in an ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality. One of the verses I say “fallen in love with a new god’s spell” which for me means these kinds of neoliberal values that we’ve replaced the Catholic Church with.
Within neoliberalism there’s a promotion of a scarcity mindset that creates a culture where there is the impression that there are not enough resources for everyone. You can see that reflected in the housing crisis here, the resources are there, what’s holding the government back is the idea that they are not or the financial gain that comes from pretending they aren’t there. The Magdalene Laundries may seem like ancient history but we are seeing events playing out here that I think stem from a similar toxic belief and political system.
C: This release is coming out so soon after the 24th anniversary of the last Magdalene Laundry closing. That’s younger than every member of the band. I think Irish society likes to treat it as “old Ireland”, when really the same attitudes have just focused on different targets.
I also think there’s a serious need for women to be making music that sounds like we do, and the more the better. I started this band years ago from a real frustration about how I was treated as a woman in music. Sure, some small things have changed since then, but the fundamentals are still fucked. It’s now “cool” to call yourself a feminist. But now we have men openly calling themselves feminists, and then supporting abusers. We have men calling themselves feminists, but doing absolutely nothing to empower anyone that looks different to them. I personally want to challenge that. You’re calling yourself a feminist, but what does that actually mean? What are you doing in your privileged position as a white straight cis man in a successful band, to support and promote anyone that isn’t a carbon copy of yourself? Where is your safe space policy for your shows? You watched ‘The Punk Singer’ one time, but are you working with the numerous amazing organisations who work to make gigs safe for people who aren’t straight white cis men? This scene is lazy as hell and full of people who think they are challenging the status quo, while literally being the status quo.
J: Is there ever NOT more to say about the institutional oppression of women?
You played your fundraising reunion show at Christmas. What triggered your decision to play again, and can you tell us how that came together?
R: Ok! So memory is subjective but how I remember it was, I was in Bristol (where I lived before lockdown) and was showing my housemates the video for Clementine and was saying to them “you know I will never play again” and then literally texted Connie and was like “SHOULD WE PLAY AGAIN?!?” and it snowballed from there. Also, Christmas 2019 was the first time in like three years where the whole band was in the same country at the same time so the signs felt auspicious. The fundraising element of it, I think as an all-white group who truly believes in intersectionality you need to look at what you are doing as a band to recognise your privilege and do what you can for other causes. MASI is an incredible organisation who are doing necessary and vital work.
C: I really missed playing together. I was in work, messaging Róisín last October and we were like “would it be absolutely insane to book a show at Christmas, given that we haven’t practiced in like three years?”. Jamie organised the show, and it made total sense for us to use it as a chance to raise funds for MASI. We all lived in different cities – London, Bristol, and Dublin – so we could only fit in one practice before the show. Then I got the flu, so the one practice before the show ended up being a few hours before the show itself with me zoning out in the corner. Full transparency – I remember very little from that evening, but I remember it felt amazing to be together again.
J: It was the first time, as far as I know, that we were all going to be in the same place for a long time. I think Connie never really gave up on M(h)aol being a thing so I think it was her who put the feelers out again to see if we all wanted to do something together.
C: Generally speaking, I don’t know when to give up.
Z: It was really nice because it feels like there’s so much more of a purpose to play when you’re fundraising, especially around the holidays.
Did you make the decision to start writing together again before or after your return gig?
R: Definitely after, for me there was the fear that things wouldn’t flow or that the last three years had changed everything.
C: Yeah I totally agree with this, I had essentially zero concept how that first time back together was going to go and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
J: We hadn’t actually written a song since some time in 2016. Myself, Connie and Seán went into the studio I was working out of at the time and hashed out a couple of songs. I still have demos of them floating around old harddrives… “risk taker” and something about “feminist” branded items from unethical, fast-fashion stores.
C: Oh yeah, ‘risk taker’ is about when you’re on your period and you’re having a shower and you didn’t bring a new pad/tampon/menstrual cup into the bathroom with you and you have to do that little run from the bathroom to your bedroom without blood flowing down your leg and onto the carpet.
How was it when you got back in the room together again? Did things flow?
R: Oh my god absolutely like M(h)aol is a much more enjoyable project for me now. I can’t speak for my bandmates but I am coming to it from a much better place mental health wise and confidence wise. I’m much happier to play around and add nuance to the lyrics that I just wouldn’t necessarily have done before and generally just have the belief that we have something worthwhile to say. I think it’s growing up, you go out into the world and experience things that strengthen your convictions. Everything matters, I know the music I listen to has influenced my political beliefs so much. It all means something and to have the chance to come together with people I really care about and respect is (not to be cringe here) just such an honour. The session where we recorded Laundries was by far my favourite one we’ve had. It felt like magic.
C: I still can’t believe how quickly we got back into the swing of things. There was a bit of sitting listening to old recordings on our phones to try to remember how to play our songs, but somehow it all came together pretty swiftly. It was the first time I had sat at a drum kit in a few years, so I was feeling slightly anxious about having to perform live around three hours later, and I feel so lucky that it was with such an encouraging group of people.
J: I feel like it’s really telling about the band that as soon as we were in a room together again, it could easily have still been a few months since we last did it and, honestly, the experience took me out of a potentially heavy depressive swing. Do I remember that before I joined, there was a bit of a meme that rehearsals were semi therapy sessions?
Z: It was definitely Sean’s new fashion belt that brought some magic back to the rehearsals.
Going into the longer-term future – do you have plans to perform live?
R: I mean absolutely yes! But like that all depends on how this pandemic plays out.
C: Yep, working on some shows for 2021. Both Ireland and the UK ideally. We had shows lined up in London and Bristol for Spring 2020, which obviously did not happen, so it would be great to get to play those cities.
J: Personally I want to get to Scotland (cos I love it) and Belfast again (cos I love it).
Will you be celebrating the release with anything online?
R: Connie is hosting a celebratory Dublin Digital Radio show which you should all tune in to from 6-7pm on the 6th October. She’ll be showcasing our astoundingly different music tastes and generally being the hilarious and incredible woman she is.