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“Are we really back here again?” The Return of girlfriend.

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Following a three-year hiatus, Hana Lamari and Lahela Jones of Dublin DIY heroes girlfriend. discuss their return to the scene, Ireland’s ever-changing music community and the secret to longevity

Words by Jack Rudden
Photos by Gemma Bovenizer

In a country as small as Ireland, independent music is an intimate and sometimes volatile affair. Artists, promoters and venues are cobbled together or torn asunder with remarkable speed and comparable tenacity. Only the most dedicated can survive atop these ever-shifting subcultural tectonic plates. Those that are willing to fight tooth and nail, reinvent and lay themselves bare are capable of enduring the elements on this quare little island. girlfriend. are a fine example of such endurance. Following an extended hiatus from performing live and their first release in almost three years, the North Dublin group are back displaying the full prowess of their DIY ethos and the love that drives it forward.

“We were never gone,” says singer Hana Lamari. “Always together actually, most of the time. Hanging out, playing, being silly, surviving and then all living together eventually.” 

The group, which formed in Balbriggan back in 2015, decided to step away from performing live in 2019 to focus on writing and recording with the hopes of returning in 2020.

“For obvious reasons, that was not feasible,” notes drummer Lahela Jones. “We were still writing and rehearsing almost weekly. It’s hard to write and keep on top of things when you’re gigging a lot.”

In recent months the band have reemerged with a string of headline shows, sporting a five-piece live outfit comprising the four core members – Lamari, Jones, Sophie Dunne, Eilis Mahon – and experimental multi-instrumentalist Robyn Avery. On returning to performing live Jones says: “It’s daunting and scary but at the same time it feels good. It’s been nice to meet all the new bands on the scene and catch up with old friends.” Lamari, meanwhile, describes the experience as nothing short of “life-affirming”. 

It’s quite a leap of faith for any group to step out of the spotlight for a substantial stretch: things move fast in local scenes and change can be forced upon or instigated within small communities with breakneck speed. However, the group is willing to roll with the punches and embrace the changeable landscape they’ve returned to.

“It’s changed because we’ve changed so much and grown so much,” says Lamari. “We’ve sadly lost a lot of spaces and venues in the area of Dublin and North Dublin which has created even more obstacles to playing music.” Despite this dismal and all-too-familiar picture of independent creators being pushed further to the fringes of culture, the singer isn’t coy when it comes to singing the praises of her contemporaries.

sophie-4 (1)Sophie Dunne

Buí from Belfast, I Dreamed I Dream from Cork, His Father’s Voice and The Low Field from Limerick are all class,” says Lamari. “Burnt Out are my favorite Irish band. We all listen to and love so much Irish music, and a fair amount of it is made by our mates which is also class. I think we should all be paying more attention to people doing and making shit on fuck all money, working the holes off themselves. People who do everything themselves and just grind to make it happen for the pure love of it. People who simply don’t have the money to pay for stuff. People who make fuck all from it but keep doing it anyways, because they’d go ‘coo-coo-ca-ca’ in the mind if they didn’t.”

On top of their return to performing live, girlfriend. have recently dropped their first two singles in nearly three years, ‘Trust’ and ‘Repent’. Released in December, the latter further explores esoteric and complex interpersonal themes that have permeated the group’s work since their 2016 debut EP, 3AM Rituals. Lamari’s stance regarding the song’s meaning appears to be reflective of the band’s all-consuming strive for community and freedom of expression.

“I like the songs to be free, to grow and evolve with us and the listeners,” she says. “Like, the personal meaning of it has and will change for me. I like for people to be able to have their own interpretations of it without any influence from what I’ve said about it.”

This attitude of allowing – and encouraging – fans to project themselves onto the band’s work is powerful. girlfriend. are not only a band, but a space of respite for anyone that may need it. For a group to create this space effectively they must be strong amongst themselves and trusting of each other. So, eight years down the line, what’s the secret?

“An unyielding love for each other,” says Jones with a laugh. “And lovely, true, deep friendship.” “And communication,” adds Lamari. “Being brave enough to be really vulnerable with each other, I think. Having a real sense of affection, fondness and protection for each other. We said it from the very beginning when we were seventeen: the main thing with this band is friendship – the beauty of that.”

“It’s wild to think we’ve actually been around for that long though,” remarks Jones pensively. “In some ways it feels like we’re only getting started. ‘Repent’ is only the beginning.”

It’s not just dedication to the craft that has lent girlfriend. their steadfast longevity, but a dedication to each other. It is this uncompromising love that has allowed the band to return to a scene which has welcomed them home with open arms. They’re not resting on their laurels though and have alluded to “so much more coming down the line, including a single release around the time of publication if all goes well.” girlfriend. lives, and with them lives proof of grassroots communities surviving against the odds. Jack Rudden