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SCANRA: coolgirl and Clara Tracey – In Conversation

In less than three weeks, the inaugural SCANRA: Samhain at the Cellar takes over the Workman’s Club cellar on Saturday, 4th November.

Presented in collaboration with Workmná, who are dedicated to showcasing female and non-binary artists, it’s set to be a wonderfully immersive night of music, myth and storytelling celebrating the Irish origins of Samhain through the voices and mediums of modern creators.

Among the several must-see acts on the bill are two of the island’s most singular artists, Lizzie Fitzpatrick aka coolgirl and Clara Tracey. In the spirit of all things Samhain, the pair sat down to delve deep into fears, superstitions and everything in between ahead of an unmissable evening in Dublin next month

Go here to buy tickets for SCANRA: Samhain at the Cellar


coolgirl: What’s your favourite Samhain memory?

Clara Tracey: It’s all a bit of a blur to be honest. I was reminiscing a bit with my siblings—I’m the eldest of four—and Emily was like, “Clara, surely we blocked it all out. It was just being like, forced into a bin bag with mascara painted on your cheeks.” That was generally what we had, or false faces, you know. Looking back on it, we could have been a bit more artistic with our outfits. I tended to be a witch, like.

coolgirl: Oh, yeah. You had to always go through the witch phase. 

Tracey: Yeah, witch in a bin bag. I loved it, like, and then my least favourite memory is probably the fuckers that would give you nuts, you know? Just monkey nuts. Just a plastic bag full of monkey nuts and maybe an orange. That was grim. We used to be raging when that happened.

coolgirl: There was always one person that you’d nearly tell each other, like, “Don’t go to that house.” Then you go to a house and they give you a full-size bar, like whoa, this is next level.

Tracey: Yeah. Where are you from, actually?

coolgirl: I’m originally from Dublin, but then I grew up in Wexford. I moved to Wexford when I was nine. So it changed for the worse, I thought when I was younger anyway, because in Dublin I was in an estate and there’s just hundreds of houses.

Tracey: I could hear the Dublin accent, but I was thinking, what is a country trick-or-treating childhood like?

coolgirl: When I was nine or so then we were doing the country trick-or-treating and my brother and sister, I think they did one. And then they were like, “We’re too old for it.” And so it was just me and my mam. My mam would drive me around to different houses. 

Tracey: Oh, no! Driving with your mam is just—

coolgirl: Driving with my mam! We’d be 10 minutes down the road—”There’s another house, go on in there.” Loads of people just wouldn’t answer or sometimes you’d get a farmer and he would be like, “Sit down now and tell me story. You have to tell me a story or a joke or sing a song.” I never had any songs and I just used do this fake Irish dancing. I did one class of Irish dancing, so I used to just used to hop up around and they’re like, “Go on.” You have to humiliate yourself a bit more in the country—well, in Wexford anyway.

Tracey: We had none of that. There was an older element in our park that were in for the tricks if you didn’t cooperate, so they tended to be really well prepared. The other thing that we did, I don’t know if you would have done this in Dublin, but being from the north we are—depends on what side you’re on—but everyone’s into bonfires when it comes to Halloween. And we were experts. There were the older lads that used to be like, honest to God from the second you went back to school, they were after every bit of scrap wood. I actually remember there was one year, it was before I did my eleven plus, which is like the transfer test for you to go to secondary school, and I was hospitalized for pneumonia. I actually nearly died. Got out of hospital after two weeks and I was warned that I had to stay inside for a fortnight and I got out the day before Halloween. I snuck out of the house and was scavenging for the bonfire. So you’ve had city Halloween, and then country, and ours is really town-y. But yeah, unfortunately then those older lads grew up and got a bit too old for it. And then that was the end, we never had massive bonfires after that. Someone built a house as well in the field, which was annoying.

coolgirl: I’m back in Dublin now, and there’s some good bonfires. And it’s funny seeing the lads—the lads are just doing good work now. I  see them just hauling all these pallets of wood. They’re just going out to do a good day’s job like.

Tracey: You’d be envious of them, like.

coolgirl: They had purpose.

Tracey: Yeah. We didn’t really do much of the bobbing for apples and stuff. 

coolgirl: I loved that. It was like waterboarding.

Tracey: Basically an excuse to drown your brother. Funnily enough because the brothers were not the best behaved, we weren’t allowed to do that really too much. We were barely allowed to do the conkers, which was also around the same time. That was class; we used to put them in the hot press in vinegar and stuff to make them extra hard.

coolgirl: Now, what’s your favourite horror movie?

Tracey: I’ll let you take the lead on this one, please, because it’s kind of embarrassing, but like Bambi did it for me. I just can’t. And I had to watch It when I was younger. I can’t watch any horror films.

coolgirl: It doesn’t have to be horror, but it is emotional. I just watched Talk to Me last night, that was really good. It’s a good talking to the dead movie. It was a little bit more adventure than horror, but I really like late 70s stuff or early 80s. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is up there because I love the music in it. I referenced it recently, as well, because there’s no music in it, it’s just sheet metal. It’s so intense, it’s so cool. I love it.

Tracey: Does Chernobyl kind of count as horror? I could just about watch it. But yeah I should probably listen to horror movie soundtracks—it’s a real cultural gulf in my knowledge. I’m just gonna nod hearing your references and things, but I definitely won’t have seen it. Anything with gore or ghosts or like remote horror. Psychological thriller, though—I can do Hitchcock. If it’s not violent and really horrific, I can just about cope. You know the one with the clown? It, I think it’s called. I was at a sleepover with friends who were older than me when I was like seven, and they might have been eight or nine, and they put it on. And I’ll never forget it. The parents thought it was really cool that we were watching it, or cute or something, I don’t know, and they went outside and basically beat down the window halfway through It as if it wasn’t already bad enough with the blood coming up the sink. So yeah, I just remember leaving and feeling so uncool. And like I tried to find some space in their house where I could just be safe and hide, but I felt like the parents were against us too. A real nightmare! And that was genuinely the nail in the coffin then. After Bambi there was It, and I’ve never gotten over it.

coolgirl: I’m the youngest in the family, so I’ve always watched stuff that wasn’t appropriate for me. When The Blair Witch Project came out, my brother and sister were watching that with their friends and they thought it was funny, and I was terrified. I was so scared of witches. Witches are probably the scariest thing for me. And then that links in with the recent film The Witch. It’s brilliant, because it taps into what’s drilled into you in Mass and in school about religion, about the devil and stuff. I was scared of the devil as a child, and it brought that back for me a bit because it’s about these early English settlers in America, and the inside of the plantation is blessed, so the devil can’t get you inside. But they’re cast out, and so it’s a no man’s land and they’re so ignorant. They don’t really know anything else. But then the devil is after them and it’s whispering in your ear. It’s one of the films that actually scared me recently. It was terrifying.

Tracey: Okay, another one for my “must never watch” list.

coolgirl: It was actually terrifying because it was about Christian fears.

Tracey: I could watch The Witches—remember, by Roald Dahl?

coolgirl: That was brilliant, yeah.

Tracey: That was scary! Like they had their squared feet.

coolgirl: Anjelica Huston is amazing in it.

Tracey: It’s interesting though because whenever I just sit down to jam at the piano, often my sister would say to me, “I don’t know what is wrong with you, you just sound demented.” It can be kind of twisted and minor and dark. Very, very dark things come out of me sometimes, and I feel like they would be maybe even suitable for a horror movie, but I just could never see myself being able to score the likes of it because I couldn’t cope, unless I was blindfolded. 

coolgirl: I’m obviously attracted to the dissonance in music. I love that kind of dark vibe. I think if you’re gonna listen to any soundtracks for horror, I would recommend Under the Skin. Have you listened to that?

Tracey: No, no.

coolgirl: It’s by a person called Mica Levi. And the music is absolutely really, really beautiful and ethereal, but really dark as well.

Tracey: Okay, Mica Levi. I must check that out. Thank you so much, this is actually really beneficial for me, too. My original plan was like, “I’ll just let Lizzie talk and then I’ll learn them all.” But like, I just thought it would be too embarrassing if I was just nodding and not saying anything. On heart, like, in general, would you be okay with fake blood and stuff like that?

coolgirl: I’m a nurse in an operating theatre, so I see blood and guts all day. 

Tracey: That is the most hardcore thing any musician has ever said to me I think… In the operating room where you are, is it planned operations or A&E or—?

coolgirl: It’s a major hospital—James—so like, you’ll get traumas, like stabbings and shootings and you know… But most of the big traumas go to the Mater, so a lot of it is cancer. It’s all cancer kind of stuff. 

Tracey: And like would you ever have to stitch them up? 

coolgirl: No, I’m one of the nurses, so I help with anesthetics, so just assisting. Being ready for any emergencies if they crash, I’m helping out, getting blood.

Tracey: Okay, so just real blood for you.

coolgirl: Yeah, fake blood just doesn’t look real to me. When I see blood I’m just like, “Put it in the fridge!” Because if you leave it outside longer than an hour and a half you have to throw it out, and we don’t have enough blood in this country.

Tracey: I’m the same! My special subject is cheese. My job is selling Cashel Blue cheese, and I’m literally the exact same, like, “Put it in the fridge!”

coolgirl: Keep the blood and cheese in the fridge!

Tracey: It’s grand like if you take cheese out of the fridge a nice half an hour before you consume it and stuff, make it come up to room temperature, but after that you know—I’ve had a few friends that have gotten into some dodgy, kind of horrific situations with leaving cheese out. A fly gets in there and you’re eating cheese the next day and there’s worms in it. Yeah, put it in the fridge. The one professional trick that we both have up our sleeves, who knew? But yeah, the music making for you must be real relaxing, because I often think a lot of musicians find it sometimes a bit intense and stressful, especially if you’re trying to focus all of your energies on that, but I think maybe if you have a job that’s life and actual death… Katie from Just Mustard once said to me, because we were down in Galway, at the Roisin Dubh, and we were talking about, like how stressed out you can get before a gig or something, and she just cut in and was like, “You know, we’re not doctors. No one is literally going to die.” And I will never forget that, because I used to be really, really bad with the old stage fright, and it’s definitely helped me. I feel like you’re kind of living that. So would you find music more therapeutic and relaxed?

coolgirl: I guess. All performance and everything is just fun.I still get stage fright before I go on. As soon as I’m on, I’m fine. But I still get the nerves. Yeah, it’s not life and death, but then it’s your ego death, you know, so that’s big as well. 

Tracey: Don’t even go there! 

coolgirl: But yeah, I guess you can kind of weigh up things a bit more, but then I feel like I get a bit less patient with things that don’t matter. Like marketing and stuff, I can’t deal with it.

Tracey: I think you really, really do need something to take the edge off that because it can suck you in so hard. I hadn’t released any music in my life really ever, bar one single, until I did the album last year. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I was going along and we just released four singles. So it was four single campaigns, then a focus track and the album—and the amount of flipping marketing and PR that went into last year was just like, oh my god… I had this awful perfectionist thing, so I didn’t do [campaigns], and then suddenly you’re thrown in. And then I finally got over to visit my friend who lives in Tokyo who’d been asking me to come visit for 10 years, and I went to visit him in March. And he taught me how to meditate and how to find some kind of Japanese enlightenment. And it’s been amazing. Since then, I really don’t have the same patience for Twitter and the like…

coolgirl: I used to view posts and be like, edit this, edit that, and now I’m like, fuck it, it’s fine.

Tracey: Yeah. Or even what I’ve done is post the bare minimum. I don’t have anything coming out. They can all just wait. Everyone will be fine. And on a fundamental level, I really do think that our engagement with social media is ruining everyone’s life. So like, the fact that you have to engage that like goes against my principles. 

coolgirl: I think it goes against a lot of musicians’ principles.

Tracey: Yeah! So anyway, there you go, go to Japan and get into the operating theatre and marketing yourself becomes a bit less of a nightmare. 

coolgirl: So now for the last question: What are you scared of? 

Tracey: Well, I think we’ve established that I’m scared. What am I not scared of?

coolgirl: Is there anything not on a human level, something above human level or something like that? Is there anything paranormal or something that you’re scared of?

Tracey: That really fascinates me. I have been in situations where I’ve been around people who really engage on that frequency and I find that so fascinating. There was one time I was on the Aran Islands and the temperature in the room changed and there was some weird massive thing going on in the pipes and like, we had to put our heads out the window. There was definitely some kind of visitation that went on there. And funnily enough, that doesn’t scare me. I find that almost comforting, and I’m very intrigued by the paranormal on that level. I like to think about believing in the universe, and even the multiverse and past lives. The older I get, the more time I actually have for it, but when I was young I had very little time for fantasy, even Narnia and stuff. I don’t know why. I really loved reading real life stories. My parents are probably a bit like that. I think when you meet people that are paranormally inclined or sometimes they have really wrinkly hands, it’s almost like they have lived several lives. You come across people and they’re very mystical. Yeah, I actually love all that. What about you?

coolgirl: I think I’ll never be able to get rid of the fear of the devil. I’m not a practicing Catholic, but it’s still ingrained in me a little bit. There’s still a bit of fear there, just of some evil force that can influence you a bit. It’s not a day-to-day thing, but I feel it’s probably the more sensitive topic that could make me scared, like I was when I watched The Witch. It’s the only film that I’ve ever been scared of.

Tracey: It’s actually really not that okay to tell the small children that we had to go to confession. Yeah, actually that thing with the devil—even like Monty Python and some things that really satirise the divine. I have an issue with that as well. I think it’s the soft center of the child you never really fully get past. You shed many skins as you go through life, but that inner center is very impressionable. But yeah, I understand that now. I also have a grandmother that’s still alive that would say that even things like doing yoga is the devil and Harry Potter is the devil. 

coolgirl: The devil is doing a lot. He has a lot of hobbies… I also have a fear of aliens. 

Tracey: I’m very into outer space and quantum physics and black holes, all that now, like massively my cup of tea. I like to believe that aliens might be benevolent and just think that we’re thick. It could really go either way. 

coolgirl: It turns into something that’s really interesting, because they could be in a different dimension. Different dimensional beings that we wouldn’t recognize. We don’t have the senses to recognize them, and maybe they’re here already.

Tracey: I think part of the reason that I really love aliens was how they were portrayed in Arrival. How beautiful and mysterious they were in that… Maybe I’m a bit of an idealist as well when it comes to it. But apart from that, I’m the jumpiest person ever. My Tinder bio used to be “shrieks when startled.” I asked my housemates, “What is something unique to me?” You never know what to say those things, and Justin was like, “Well, you do shriek.” I jump out of my skin. 

coolgirl: You’ll be terrified the whole way through the gig. 

Tracey: I’m not going to lie, it has crossed my mind.