DIVA meets the all Irish, all queer quartet bringing back 90s girl grunge
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGE BY FÁOLAN CAREY
I’m pretty sure we’ve all been jamming with our friends to our favourite song and convinced ourselves that it’s the best thing we’ve ever heard and we are meant to form a band right there and then.
But I don’t ever think that we’ll end up with an RTE Choice Music Prize nominated song, support slots for SOAK and IDLES and a debut album up our sleeves within a couple of years. Yet, that’s exactly what happened for the Irish DIY band Pillow Queens.
Pillow Queens formed in the autumn of 2016 and it’s been a whirlwind of releases and touring up until now, where they’re on the cusp of putting their debut album out into the world.
With indie rock tunes full of grungy guitars and gritty hooks, sang with a deliciously thick Irish accent, they’re exactly the kind of gals I want to be friends with. The band is made up of Sarah Corcoran (vocals, guitar, bass); Rachel Lyons (drums, vocals); Cathy McGuinness (lead guitar, vocals) and Pamela Connolly (vocals, guitar, bass).
In this new world of Zoom calls, it’s difficult to instantly appear inside someone’s home the first time you speak. But when I manage to get on a call with Rachel from Pillow Queens, it’s just like catching up with an old friend. Their passion for the band and the music they’re putting out is as palpable on a chat Zoom as it is in the YouTube videos of them performing on stage I watch before we speak.
With plenty of critics labelling them as “unapologetic” and “punk”, just one listen of their hits Gay Girls and Rats is enough to convince you otherwise. The reality is Pillow Queens don’t agree with this description, and they’re hesitant to fall under the punk umbrella.
Rachel explains to me on our Zoom chat: “I’d say, people label us as indie-rock. But in terms of our sound we would label ourselves as an amalgamation of all of our influences as teens that has become all jumbled up. There’s so many different influences there and I think there’s some that people don’t really realise or recognise until you properly listen. People label us as punk, but I don’t agree with that. There are elements to it and we would have grown up listening to punk, but there’s a range of different influences there.”
All of the music they’ve put out so far is distinctively their own. It’s simultaneously ragged and smooth, a mixture that not many bands are able to nail so seamlessly.
As for their lyrics, there are plenty of preconceived ideas that come to mind with Pillow Queens, four queer musicians hailing from Ireland with plenty to say about their experiences.
Speaking of their songs, Rachel explains: “A lot of them kind of draw on growing up in Ireland. There’s a lot of reference to the Catholic Church and growing up in that institution. Not necessarily in the institution itself because none of us are religious, but it’s kind of hard to escape it. There’s also social issues that play into it too, like growing up in Ireland in the recession and there being no jobs and nothing really being there for you.”
Even if their lyrics aren’t explicitly political, their music videos speak volumes. Gay Girls features little girls in First Communion dresses betting and ruining their white frocks, and Handsome Wife showcases the under appreciated and fleeting moments of life right now in a very much divided world.
Speaking of the Handsome Wife video, Rachel tells me: “That one didn’t take much thinking, we were obviously going to do something about touch because we’re all dying to hug each other. The director, Kate Dolan, also put plenty of queer people in it which we haven’t really hinted towards in our videos before.”
Their latest video, also directed by Kate Dolan, really brings the queer experience to the forefront of their music. It seems incredibly fitting that Pillow Queens have become such a liberating force within the industry in the same year that Northern Ireland legalised same-sex marriage and the beautifully tender video shines a light on intimacy and queer love. It’s the music video we all wish we had to watch and cherish as teens.
The band explains: “Holy Show is a song that relays the feeling of regret and insecurity about past words spoken and actions taken, even when they’re ultimately meaningless. The song tries to articulate the heavy burden of being the only person who is concerned about the minute details of how you present yourself to the world.”
Video director Kate Dolan continued: “Myself and the girls are all queer so when they asked me to direct something for Holy Show we all felt it was time that we made a video that had some positive queer representation. There are often depictions of queer women in the media that really upset me. We are often observed through a male gaze by male directors. They are often hyper sexualised. We wanted to create something that really captured the joyful intimacy between queer women through a female gaze.”
With a name like Pillow Queens, I was eager to confirm that the band name was a reference to the popular term within the queer community, and of course, I was right. “People either get it or they don’t. Some people are like ‘oh that’s a cool name, that’s cute’, and I’m like ‘you have no idea,’” says Rachel.
It’s been almost six months since the band have been able to get out and gig. They stayed clear of the livestream hype during lockdown as they were all quarantining separately, but that hasn’t stopped them from gaining recognition and growing massively during this time. They managed to have their song Gay Girls featured in Amazon Prime’s queer teen comedy Dating Amber, and were involved in Irish Women in Harmony’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams for Safe Ireland.
Pillow Queens are itching to get together and perform again and they’re desperate to take the album on the road as soon as they can. As a DIY band it’s already taken them longer than it usually would to get to this point, having to work around their producers availability and their own availability around work.
I ask Rachel what we can expect from the album and she tells me: “Without flattering ourselves I just think it’s a really good album and I think a lot of people will identify with it. I hope that it reaches a broader audience that will identify with it because there’s some really good songs on there, lyrically and musically. I think we’re all really proud of it and can’t wait for people to hear it. I think we’re all really impatient for this album to come out.”
As I add their latest single Holy Show to my playlists and press repeat on the songs they’ve already released during lockdown, I realise I’m just as impatient as the band themselves’ are for the album. We’re all In Waiting together for Pillow Queens’ highly anticipated debut, and after our chat I’m convinced the wait will be worth it.