Band To Watch: Girl Band
Back when I was at Iceland Airwaves in November, I caught a few impressive up-and-coming artists in the mix between more established favorites and buzzy 2014 acts. Girl Band was one of them, and a particular moment of serendipity. After seeing the excellent young Icelandic band Fufanu, I was supposed to follow some British friends to another venue, which means I would’ve missed Girl Band entirely. Instead, I wound up meeting Jonas Verwijnen for the first time. Jonas manages Ballet School, whom I’d just written about for CMJ, and after chatting for a few minutes he convinced me I had to stick around for Girl Band. I think he said something like, “Trust me, this is one of the best sets you will see here.” And he was right. Girl Band’s set was a violent, nervy, wiry bit of madness; they came on at something like 1 in the morning and felt capable of burning down the venue. In the three months since I was in Iceland, it’s rarely been more than a day or two that goes by without their indelible “Lawman” (which we premiered last year) getting stuck in my head.
Girl Band is composed of singer Dara Kiely, drummer Adam Faulkner, guitarist Alan Duggan, and bassist Daniel Fox. Sans Faulkner, the guys have been playing together since they were teenagers — in a “bad Strokes ripoff” band called Harrows, at first. Now that they’re all 23 or 24, they’ve arrived at their own vital sound, the kind that seems to perplex everyone who’s written about them so far — they’ve been getting a good amount of hype in their home country of Ireland as well as elsewhere in Europe — and has them reaching for whatever influence or comparison they can make. All that really matters, though, is Girl Band writes songs that are unnerving and exhilarating at the same time. Rough Trade took notice, too, and the group’s debut is slated for release this fall. Hopefully, this will mean they’ll soon get to play in the U.S. for the first time — while they had Brooklyn shows booked for January, it all fell through due to visa problems.
While I was in Dublin for a few days in January, I got a chance to have lunch with Kiely and Faulkner. We went to a burrito place, of which there is a surprisingly prevalent amount in Dublin. Girl Band’s music can lean dark on the surface, but there’s also a vicious and at times random sense of humor to it. Faulkner and Kiely turned out to be warmer than perhaps either quality would suggest — far from brooding, everything with them is matter-of-fact jokes, the occasional wry self-deprecation. Afterwards, when Faulkner had to go back to work, I actually wound up hanging out with Kiely all afternoon — geeking out about Blur and LCD Soundsystem and Nick Cave, mostly. If all goes to plan, they’ll be passing through New York and some other American cities soon — if you get the chance to see one of their shows, you should.
Watch the video for “Lawman” and read the interview with them below.
STEREOGUM: How long have you been around as Girl Band?
FAULKNER: We’re three and a half years into it.
KIELY: Since July 2011. That was the first gig, we did it in a record shop, just around the corner. There was like 40 people. It was my first time singing and all my friends were there so I just tried to get as drunk as possible. Off two very light Corona beers [laughs]. There we were.
STEREOGUM: What did you guys sound like back then?
KIELY: It was all over the place. We had hardcore punk songs and really noisy stuff. It wasn’t like a sound, really, it was just ideas. We had a song that was quite slow and really quiet. Now we’ve got a song that’s quite cohesive, but it took a while.
STEREOGUM: Do you all still work day jobs?
FAULKNER: I kind of do a bit of everything whenever I can. At the moment, I’m in a clothes shop and then I work for my dad on and off, stuff like that. Alan works in a pie takeaway place. Daniel does studio time whenever someone is looking to do. He worked in the studio we’ve done all our recordings in, he interned there for two years. So he has the studio for cheap and he can go in with whoever’s able to move forward with that studio.
KIELY: I just graduated. It was like the day after I graduated we signed to Rough Trade.
STEREOGUM: How did Rough Trade come about?
KIELY: We heard that [Rough Trade founder] [Geoff] Travis was at a couple of our gigs, but he never really introduced himself. He just stood at the back or whatever. We played our last gig on one tour at a place in France. We got a call after the gig saying they wanted to sign us.
FAULKNER: They wanted to fly us over, have a chat. We’d played a show at Shacklewell Arms in London, which he had come to and was sold out. That was a good one for him to see us as at. Literally two weeks later they were like, “We’d like to meet you, we’re interested.”
KIELY: They were kind of the first ones to put an offer in as well, because a load of labels had been after us. It made sense. When I was 14 I was into the Strokes, when I was 15 I was into the Fall, and when I was 16 I was into the Smiths. They were big bands. It was nice to be associated with stuff like that. And even the new stuff is great, like Parquet Courts. [Parquet Courts’ Sunbathing Animal was released via Rough Trade in the UK — Ed.]
FAULKNER: Sub Pop made an offer.
KIELY: I don’t know, but I think we would’ve been the first Irish band on Sub Pop. It just came in quite late, and Rough Trade wanted the deal. We’re happy.
STEREOGUM: You’ve just been playing gigs around Europe so far, right?
FAULKNER: We did fifteen different countries [in 2014], and we didn’t leave Europe. Think we’re doing pretty well.
STEREOGUM: Have you started recording the debut album yet?
FAULKNER: In April.
KIELY: October is the rough [release] date.
STEREOGUM: Are you still writing for it or is that part done?
FAULKNER: There’s two or three that aren’t finished.
STEREOGUM: Are all the songs you played at the KEXP set in Iceland intended for the record?
KIELY: No, I think maybe one of them might be on it. The rest of them have kinda been released already.
STEREOGUM: Are you working with a producer?
KIELY: We’re going to produce ourselves. We have full creative control. It’s a bit dangerous for the album, I suppose. We could’ve just turned around and made a piss take.
STEREOGUM: It seems like you’ve had a steady but slow process arriving at the sound you have now.
FAULKNER: We’re slow writers. Every now and again we fire out 70% of a new song in a day. Most of the time it takes a week to two weeks to reach the halfway point, and then we’ll spend ages honing it.
KIELY: It’s kind of why we do short, punky songs.
FAULKNER: Otherwise you go mad. “We’ve been working on this song for nine weeks.”
STEREOGUM: Alan told me you all have an equal share in the songwriting. What’s the process like?
FAULKNER: Of late, it’s been noodling around as the four, or maybe somebody’s heard something in a song and they say, “Oh, that’s kinda cool, can we try something like that?” For instance, a new song that we haven’t even played live yet, we decided to write something in 5/4 with a bit of a swing. Alan was like, “Oh, I was thinking something like this,” puts on a song, and it’s that kind of drumbeat. So we figure out our version of that drumbeat and fit everything else around it. Where otherwise it might just be, “Oh, we’ve got a bassline” and make the drums and guitar line to fit that, or whatever way works out. Alan’s really good at hearing all the instruments in his head and going, “Oh, that’s not how I thought it was going to be, can we try this?” Daniel’s really good at the method and figuring out the key. He’s got more music theory in him than the rest of us. For me, I’m sitting there, I’m trying to gauge what they’re doing and vibe off that, because the drums can be a make or break in how the song feels. If the three of us are talking about something specific with the guitar and bass and drums, then Dara will chip in.
KIELY: We never fight or anything, it’s always just endless talking and going [mimics noisy guitar line]. “Oh, maybe go [mimics slightly different noisy guitar line].” [laughs] That song in 5/4 is “River Man” by Nick Drake.
STEREOGUM: That’s just going to confound people more now when they talk about the influences on Girl Band. Now Nick Drake is in the mix.
FAULKNER: Most of the bands we get compared to we don’t really listen to. For ages, for like a whole year, we got compared to Mclusky, and none of us ever listened to it. And then we all did and were just like, “Nah, don’t like it.”
STEREOGUM: What were some of the other egregious comparisons, in your opinion? Or, what were some of the ones you agreed with?
FAULKNER: There was a reference to Birthday Party, which would be an influence on some parts but then totally not on other parts. That was over a year ago.
KIELY: Me and Alan were doing an interview before and we were asked what we’re listening to and I said Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker. And they laughed and didn’t put it in, like “Yeah, sure.” [laughs]
STEREOGUM: Has that been an aggravating element of coming up?
FAULKNER: It was at the start. We kept getting called grunge.
FAULKNER: Neo-grunge! And “post-goth.” People were just putting hyphens in, making genres that don’t really exist. So that was really irritating at the start. I’m sure the stuff sounded kinda like the more grungey side of, say, Blur. Or a bit of the Nirvana thing. We kept getting compared to Bleach-era Nirvana, which is collectively our least favorite Nirvana album.
KIELY: That was the only one that really annoyed me though.
FAULKNER: That one irked us for a while. But after [Girl Band’s 2012 EP] France 98 it was a long time before anything came out. Then “Lawman” came out, so since “Lawman” came out that’s all kinda slipped away and people are going for noise guitar, dance, techno, random stuff like that. I think noise/post-punk has been a settling point. Which I’m pretty OK with. Because post-punk doesn’t really have a sound you can put your finger on.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, it’s a vast concept. So, on the note of that dance combination. You guys started getting into electronic music at some point and it influenced a kind of rhythmic focus?
FAULKNER: Before I joined the band, the lads had all started getting into krautrock. There’s a very easy transition from listening to the likes of Can for eras and eras and eras, because it’s so repetitive, and then going and listening to minimal techno. You’re literally just changing the instruments, the ethos is the same. Just sitting in that groove for ages. That was an easy kind of transition to make — when I came in with the lads, I was already myself starting to listen to more [electronic]. I think the Chemical Brothers were the first big hurdle to get over, and then after that I just went straight into the seriously dirty, heavy techno. Or Plastikman, who does an eight minute song and it’s just a kick drum, and then he brings in the snare drum for sixty seconds and then takes it back out and that’s it. [laughs] That kind of stuff. That creeped in a lot, and it’s creeped into the music in a big way. If you’re listening from a production point of view, electronic music — because everything’s segmented and it’s bleeps and bloops and stuff like this — when you put on a pair of good headphones and listen to stuff like that, sonically it can be way more interesting than any guitar music you’ve ever heard because they’re able to position things and EQ it and stuff like that. I think it’s had a very positive effect on the band.
STEREOGUM: On the other hand from the minimalism, did you guys start thinking about the build and release element of dance music at all? I was thinking about how, in a song like “Lawman,” there’s this propulsive beat and it crashes out into these big noise flares, and it comes back and Dara’s screaming more and it’s this generally intensified ending.
FAULKNER: Building tension is definitely a thing to do, but the release of that tension isn’t always to go for a really big thing. We might build tension with something that’s really awkward to get used to, so it kind of puts you on edge, and then we’ll settle into a groove that’s not louder or more full-on or anything, it’s just steadier and easier to catch. That’d be something we’ve definitely caught onto. But we’re also very mindful of repeating what we’ve done in a song structurally.
STEREOGUM: The stuff you’re planning for the record, is it going to carry over the idea of these very rhythmic, noisy songs you’ve released?
FAULKNER: If you’re to, say, take the last three singles: “The Cha Cha Cha” with its b-side and “De Bom Bom” with its b-side, if you were to turn that into an EP, that’s kind of…that’s not accurate at all, but if you take bits of all that and then go inside one of our heads for an hour when we’re jamming, then you’d have an idea of what it’s going to sound like. Ultimately, though, we don’t really know yet. We know what the songs are like, but how it flows…
STEREOGUM: I know this is another thing people ask you about all the time: the name Girl Band. Have people been giving you shit for this?
KIELY: It’s really weird, some people think it’s the best name ever and some people hate it. It suits the music, in that way. If you look at that KEXP thing, the YouTube comments are incredibly mixed. [The criticism isn’t] to our faces as much, but my mum is like “What’re you doing?” Alan told his nephew he was calling the band that, and he’s six or something, and he said, “That’s stupid, it should be called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Monsters.” [laughs] That’s always a good alternative.
STEREOGUM: Was the thought process behind a reference to ’60s girl groups?
KIELY: It was Alan’s nickname for like, a day, and he hated it. We thought it was funny because he didn’t really like it.
FAULKNER: It stuck because Dara and Alan were at a club and turned around and asked a totally random girl, never seen her before, “What do you think of the name Girl Band for a band?” She said, “That’s stupid, you should go with something like the Wombats.” The lads just turned around and went, “Girl Band it is.” [laughs]
STEREOGUM: You write all the words, right Dara?
STEREOGUM: Were you a writer growing up?
KIELY: The stuff you listen to at home…16 with the Smiths, and then Control about Joy Division comes out, all while you’re doing English poetry at school, it’s kinda like “Oh, I’m a dark poet.” I’ve kinda been writing stuff for ages. I was writing stuff with Alan for our singer in the last band. I enjoy doing it. I got a lot of pleasure from dicking around with words and not really making it that serious. I think if it was really direct, like “I hate you, fuck you,” all this kind of stuff, it would kind of diminish the instrument. I think there’s a lot of humor in the band as well. I’ll collect phrases forever and then stick them together and form nonsensical sense. [laughs] In hindsight, I know what it means. Those words sort of trigger certain things.
FAULKNER: I think your lyrics are hilarious some of the time. Other times, being the drummer and surrounded by everything, I just don’t know what Dara’s singing half the time and then we go and play live and it turns out he screams “Nutella!” for thirty seconds in one of the songs.
STEREOGUM: I know it’s been over a long period of time, but it seems like Girl Band has been steadily hyped by various European media outlets since early 2013 or so. Have you felt that it’s been a ton of attention all along, or does it feel more like a steady increase?
FAULKNER: It’s been a steady climb in the sense that we haven’t felt the trajectory has suddenly gone way up. When “Lawman” came out, we put it out like the 12th of January so it was like, “Best track of the year!” That was quite distorting. Our way of gauging was the press we were getting, the shows we were playing, and then how quickly stuff was selling. Up until “De Bom Bom,” we never did more than 300 copies of each release. “The Cha Cha Cha,” we only did 100, because I had to make 100 boxes of wood and that was a trying time. [laughs] [“The Cha Cha Cha” was released on Flexi Discs housed in numbered boxes built by Adam — Ed.] So stupid. Initially, the first single, that took the best part of a year to totally sell out, as did France 98. And “Lawman” went in a couple weeks, and “De Bom Bom” went in five days, ten days. And then we allocated 150 to bring on tour or whatever it was. We had to take it down, because we wouldn’t have had any at the shows. Between that and how more reputable the press has gotten over the time. We did do a PR campaign for France 98, “Lawman,” and “De Bom Bom,” and it was the same people every time and you can see the reaction grow. France 98, very little came of it. We did a weeklong UK tour and in Manchester we played to one person. But we played in Manchester for the first time since [in 2014], and there was 90 people in. So we did 90 times better.
STEREOGUM: Do you feel overwhelmed by the progression? Or is it encouraging?
KIELY: It’s been really kind of steady, though. Everything’s been nice, and in steps.
FAULKNER: When things have happened, it’s felt right.
KIELY: It felt right to sign to the label, it felt right to sign a publishing deal. It felt good to take on our US booking agent now…it just feels like it’s steadily progressing. We haven’t had the chance to be overwhelmed. Small things happen on a daily basis and build.
FAULKNER: The weird thing is, “Lawman” came out and we did a pretty extensive European tour off “Lawman” for five weeks. While we were away on the “Lawman” tour in late January, February, on the road people’s reactions to the shows and people’s reactions to “Lawman” over those weeks…by the time we finished that tour we had a five week tour set up for the summer that we had no idea was coming. That was a big “Holy shit, what is going?” kind of thing. Why are people reacting this way to the music, and that sort of stuff. That was a “Fuck, it’s really picked up” kind of moment. But then it was such a long time before we went away, by the time we were going away it was like, “No, actually, this makes sense. We feel ready. We feel stable with ourselves.” We didn’t fight once, and we spent five weeks in a small van. Everybody’s good at giving space, or knowing when I need some space so they fuck off on their own for a while. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: Was there ever any pressure to get a record out after “Lawman,” for 2014?
KIELY: Nah, we were working with our friend and he really just kept us at bay. It was good to do “The Cha Cha Cha,” because it just diffused everything in a great way.
FAULKNER: “What are your expectations after ‘Lawman?'” “Oh, it’s gotta be better.” Twenty-five second song, alright.
KIELY: Pitchfork wouldn’t review it apparently. They said, “This is not a song.” [laughs]
STEREOGUM: How’re you feeling going into the record?
KIELY: I feel good about it. I’m kind of a little freaked out about finishing lyrics and stuff.
FAULKNER: You were a bit more nervous when you still had college on the plate.
KIELY: Yeah, I graduated early. I think we’ll like it. That’s the main thing. Our whole view of the band has always been, if you’re a fan of the band what would you want to see the band do? We haven’t really lost that. It’ll be four weeks in the studio.
STEREOGUM: What’re your hopes for once the record’s out?
FAULKNER: Spend half the year on the road, really. [laughs]
KIELY: Never have to get a real job. Play as many countries as we can. Myself and Dan have a 50 euro bet on who can visit every country before you die. I just want to travel. I’m looking forward to the second record already. I just want to keep going and focus on the longevity of it.
STEREOGUM: Are you the kinds of guys who want to be playing in a band your whole lives?
FAULKNER: When you form your first band when you’re 14 or 15 years old, whatever age you might be, your hopes and dreams at that point are, “We’re going to put out an EP and we’re going to get hooked up with somebody and we’re going to go with that.” And as that begins to not happen, the “Oh, we’ve been a band for a year and done nothing,” “We’ve been a band for two years and done nothing,” that band falls apart and your second band is like, “OK, I’m going into this thing, but I’m also aware that there’s every chance that it won’t happen.” You don’t hear about the hundred million failed bands that are formed every year in the world. Going into it and working shitty jobs that are just a means to an end…it worked out kinda fine for a while, and then things picked up and it was like, “Alright, I get to go on tour.” It was just, “Right, what’s happening here?” kind of thing, and then you turn around two years later, sign a record deal, sign a publishing deal. We’ve toured most of Europe already, and it’s like, “I guess this is happening.” That hopeful wish you had when you were 19 has turned into a realistic thing. “Shit, it’s happening to me.”
KIELY: Adam was originally supposed to get a tattoo after every tour. Instead, he’s going to get our faces as Mt. Rushmore.