Irish independent five-piece, girlfriend., chat to Limerick Voice reporter, Conon MacLeod, about all things Irish music and their recent debut album, To Be Quiet.
North Dublin five-piece, girlfriend., recently made their rapturous return to the Irish independent music scene with the release of their debut album – To Be Quiet. An album chock full of crushing lows, ecstatic highs, and a distinct sound flowing effortlessly between the propensities of shoegaze, noise-rock, pop and straight-to-the -point punk, such a clearly well thought out and delivered piece has many asking one question: what took them so long?
Formed in 2015, girlfriend. have been a consistent factor in the Irish independent music scene since releasing their debut EP, 3AM rituals. Consistent to a point, however, after a fairly prolific start to their career, girlfriend. took a break in 2019 to write with the intention of getting the train back on the tracks in 2020.
2020, as everyone knows, was not the best time to be a creative, or a band, for that matter, meaning their return became an impossibility until last year – with their debut album bubbling away in the background.
Covid was not the only factor disrupting girlfriend.’s career. From tenancy issues to the typical old fashioned Irish brand of chronic bad luck, girlfriend.’s Hana Lamari spoke to Limerick Voice just before the release of To Be Quiet to get a better idea of what’s in store for girlfriend.
The band’s debut album has been in the works since before the pandemic, with some of the album’s songs written since 2018. However, the road to the album’s Halloween 2023 release was paved with broken bones, dodgy landlords, and financial troubles that halted girlfriend.’s progress.
Despite this, unlike many bands at the time, girlfriend. were fortunately in a very good position during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We were very luck at the time that Covid hit because we all lived in the same house,” Hana said. “We also lived about a twenty-minute walk away from the rehearsal space we were using at the time. Luckily we could still use the space because it was just us in there – this scauldy building in an industrial estate that didn’t even have a toilet. We paid a monthly rent so we could stay there seven or eight hours a day just writing and demoing.”
They used their time very productively with many of the songs on their debut collection conceptualised in that scauldy, toiletless warehouse. You can almost hear the space’s influence on the record in it’s colder, more sparse moments.
Being in such close proximity to each other was also a great tool for keeping girlfriend. motivated throughout this time. “In a way it was almost good for us because we were all locked in together with nothing else to do,” Lamari commented. “So we were like ‘Right, we’ve been talking about this album, lets actually kick this into second gear.'”
Things were looking up for girlfriend. at the time; they were getting consistent writing and practice time and were on the verge of fully realising their first LP.
This is where things took a turn in fortune for the band.
“We were gearing up to do an Arts Council grant application because we really were passionate, and we really believed in the music and the songs we were writing,” the band member revealed. “We wanted to give what we thought was the appropriate love and attention it deserves. We didn’t want to just do a bad, cheap recording and release it – we wanted to record with a certain person in a certain place, but it cost so much money that we just didn’t have. And in the middle of putting together our grant application, our drummer broke her leg. That halted everything.”
With the band’s drummer, Lahela Jones, now unable to play, the band took another brief hiatus and became Lahela’s “in house carers” during this time.
As if their drummer disaster wasn’t enough – tragedy struck once again for the band. “At the start of 2021 we were illegally evicted from the house we were living in together,” Lamari added. “I lost my job and we all had to move back to our parents’ houses, so suddenly we’re all spread around the country. Our drummer’s leg was just about healed and we had loads of these songs that we’d written and demoed. We had all of these great intentions, but everything was just coming at us. There was so much in our way stopping us from doing it.”
In retrospect, it’s almost a miracle that the band didn’t cease to exist at this point, but Hana made sure to affirm the band’s determination and close friendship. If it wasn’t already obvious due to their living together, girlfriend., as a band, would not exist without the group friendship that anchors the project.
“Friendship is so important to us; the band is nothing without it,” Hana smiled. “I’ve known our drummer Lahela since I was five years old, we went to the same primary and secondary school. Our guitarist Sophie, I’ve known for eight years. We would just die for each other and that’s what keeps the band together, it’s the love we have for each other. Being in the band is just an excuse to hangout.”
Their incredible misfortune between eviction and subsequent isolation from each other dogpiled the group in miserable fortune.
Yet again, this did not stop the group from pursuing the project – instead it seemingly emboldened them.
“It was a tough experience because before when we all lived together we could just play music whenever we wanted but now we were so isolated from each other,” Hana commented. “It started to get at me that we weren’t releasing any music, so I phoned the lads and was like, ‘We have so many songs, we can’t give up on it.’ Eventually we pulled it together though even getting us all in the same place at the same time was quite difficult.”
So, come 2022, Arts Council grant secured, years of terrible luck behind them, and a body of work that had been festering, growing, and evolving since 2018, the band finally got to recording To Be Quiet. An album that could easily become a prominent feature in year end best albums articles in the Irish music press.
So, how did Hana feel about the time the album took to come out?
“It’s sometimes a good thing to sit on an album or sit on songs for years. There’s a quote from Danny Brown that says your song may be good now, but will it age well? Will it stil sound good in a year or two? So, I think that’s definitely something we had in our heads. Now I just wanna record things on our phones and release it as quickly as possible. Obviously that’s not realistic, but I wouldn’t ever spend so long on a body of music again. It was just the cards we were dealt.”
To Be Quiet is the culmination of a bands refusal to quit. Despite the tribulations the band have endured since 2019, girlfriend. have been able to release a now lauded album, while also packing out venues in Limerick and Dublin. From speaking with Hana, its clear the band has become more motivated then ever, with their second album apparently already written and ready to be recorded.
If girlfriend.’s determination over the past few years has said anything, there’s not an awful lot we can do to stop them taking over the Irish music scene.
Listen to To Be Quiet below.