Features - Interviews

A Different Beast: An Interview with Elaine Malone

Elaine Malone’s debut album roars “Fuck you, thank you” into the abyss. Words by Mike Ryan. Photo by Celeste Burdon

Residents have long believed that there’s something intangibly special about the country’s second city, and the same holds true for its musicians. Cork has produced a plethora of transcendent acts in recent years, across the entire musical palette, including Fixity, the Altered Hours, Trá Pháidín and Pretty Happy to name just a few; the Cork music scene is a many-headed beast. The most recent of which has now reared its head in the form of Elaine Malone’s first full-length album, Pyrrhic.

The Limerick native moved to Cork when she was seventeen, and since then has been a constant across the musical landscape of the city. Previously lending her talents to bands like Land Crabs and the now defunct HEX, as well as releases under the moniker Mantua, it’s been a long apprenticeship, but one that has borne sweet fruit. Where other artists paint their songs with the broad strokes of a single genre, Malone chooses to craft intricate, multi-dimensional soundscapes that often defy categorisation.

“Somebody said the sound was like ’60s psych and ‘90s shoegaze blended together,” she says. “I get called a singer-songwriter a lot, but I’ve never considered myself a singer-songwriter. I feel like for a lot of women that can be a kind of infantilising and disparaging thing that women tend to get called a lot. I try to be a musician. I don’t know if I would class myself as anything other than somebody who tries to make music”.

We’re chatting over a pint of Murphy’s in Fionnbarra Bar on Cork’s Douglas Street. It wouldn’t be at all unusual to walk into Fionnbarra’s on any sunny evening and see all of the bands previously listed, Elaine’s band included, sitting around the same table. “There’s been so much incredible music coming out of Cork for years,” says Malone. “I think it’s the lack of competitiveness. Everybody is multi-talented, so we get to play with each other and support each other in other ways as well. It’s been like that for years. There’s space for everyone.”

When it came to building her sound ahead of the new album, she had no shortage of experienced hands to help her craft a captivating and affecting piece of art. Her band is rammed full of workhorses from the Cork DIY scene: Ruairi Dale on bass, Jimmy Christie on drums, and Sam Clague on guitar. The end result is a highly polished debut that is littered with musical references to Sonic Youth, Lee Hazelwood, and Velvet Underground, all the while gripping tightly onto a sonic atmosphere that is entirely original. Album opener ‘Open Season’ is a textbook example of a band totally in sync as they switch in and out of time signatures while building on the foundational musical intricacies of the track.

“My rule is ‘If I can’t have a panic attack with somebody, then I can’t be in a band with them’. Some of the songs on the new album go back to before Land, my first EP. Over the course of a few years, they evolved. It took a lot of playing them live and coming to terms with them in a live setting. The finished album was very much a collaborative effort with Sam, Ruairi and Jimmy (Clague, Dale and Christie). They’re so brilliant, and their ideas are very much ingrained in this record.”

The finished product is still very much an Elaine Malone album, however. The haunting melodies and ethereal yet often vicious lyrics, drenched in reverb, are the hallmarks of a sound that she has been steadily developing for years. Even on a track like ‘Moontread’, which features some of the album’s most heavily distorted guitar and bass, her voice wails above the cacophony of noise and cuts through the fuzz with surgical precision. On the threateningly dark song ‘The Hunger’, she gets to channel her inner demons with chanting refrains reminiscent of her work under the moniker Mantua. The varied, skilful vocal performances throughout the album convey a sense of confidence in her abilities. It’s a confidence that can only come from an immense level of patience with the artistic process.

“Releasing an album is a slow process,” she says. “The pandemic slowed everything down, but I don’t really believe in rushing things out anyway. I don’t believe that because you didn’t start playing guitar when you were eight, or you weren’t doing ballet since you were four, that means you can never make art. I believe it’s accessible to everybody. The only difference is persistence.”

The persistence is paying off. The band supported Lankum in Vicar Street and has just had one of their songs featured on Lankum’s compilation CD for UNCUT Magazine. They’re also going to be busy over the coming months as they support Protomartyr on their Irish tour in November. Malone doesn’t seem phased by the increasingly intense schedule though. In fact, she’s simultaneously working on new music with Irish/Portuguese outfit Pôt-Pot, having joined the band on vocals and harmonium earlier this year. Throughout our conversation, it’s apparent that in all contexts she is happiest when she is making music and releasing it into the wild.

“I alternate between ‘fuck you, take it or leave it’ and ‘thank you so much’. It’s always an immense privilege when somebody buys my music or messages me about it, or turns up for a show. Having one person feel anything when you put yourself outward is the biggest reward. It’s a bargain that you make with people when they come to see you, and you just hope that they feel. It’s a big ask to be releasing music, and to expect people to give you money for it. So I’m just grateful to be able to perform live and to record music. I feel so fucking lucky.” Mike Ryan

Pyrrhic by Elaine Malone is out now via Pizza Pizza Records