Girl Band's Daniel Fox on Holding Hands With Jamie
Dublin’s Girl Band are not a girl band. Nor are they a rock band, or even a neo-grunge band. So what exactly fires the foursome’s fearless cacophony of clamour and bedlam? The Skinny meets guitarist Daniel Fox to ask the question
Girl Band are a band steeped in dichotomies. Firstly, nominative determinism does not apply to these four Dublin males whom, after a series of justly lauded EPs (peaking with their magnificent, marauding ‘cover’ of Blawan’s Why They Hide Bodies Under My Bed), have re-emerged with their debut album on Rough Trade, Holding Hands With Jamie (more of this enigmatic title later). Secondly, the band plumb decidedly old depths of hardcore degradation.
Guitarist – and album engineer Daniel Fox – is extremely keen to eschew any mindless journo types (ahem) attaching any ‘rock’ tropes to the band’s sound but as much as he insists that they are not channeling the decomposing, self-abasing spirits of Rembrandt Pussyhorse-era Butthole Surfers or the narcoleptic fuzz of early 90s grunge, the band appear to exist within some timeframe hither the two, mired in mania-inducing sonic frequencies and infantile squalls masquerading as vocals. Furthermore, it’s even more disconcerting to speak with Fox, when he reveals himself to be an incredibly genial and pleasant interviewee, a stark contrast to the feral unpredictability unleashed on record.
Holding Hands With Jamie is an album in a constant state of consternation and distress. It’s a mire of discursive madness; albeit deliberate rather than entirely imprudent. “It’s still pretty naturalistic in terms of production,” reflects Fox, “but we’ve still put a lot of effort into making the album sound really good without it appearing to be ‘big’ and ‘huge’ – just focusing more on what we sound like in a live setting.”
"There were a lot of Nirvana comparisons. I can maybe see this in retrospect" – Daniel Fox
Ah – the live setting. Girl Band are, frankly, incredible live, permanently on the cusp of total whiteout and euphoric degradation. “But it’s not completely like our live show,” insists Fox. “All the songs, bar maybe two, were played live a lot already but it’s not completely rigid. On the album, we’re more capturing the energy and exploring the depth of what we do. On stage, you’re at the mercy of the room you’re in.”
Yet behind all the loose talk of experimentation and sheer sonic devilment, Girl Band possess a quality arguably lacking in many of their, shall we say, more self-conscious peers: an absurdist, utterly Irish sense of humour. The nine tracks on Holding Hands With Jamie are replete with incomprehensible lyrics and screams and, most significantly, baffling song titles. The standout track is entitled Fucking Butter. Elsewhere, Pears For Lunch sounds like a vintage desktop PC struggling to boot up before collapsing in a heap of its own obsolescence. And album closer The Witch Doctor is in a constant race with itself, singer Dara Kiely not seemingly bothered to maintain pace with the cyclical guitar noises, instead preferring to chant in concussed fashion while an inelegant chaos rages around his increasingly enfeebled groans.
At its very best, Holding Hands With Jamie sounds like a hoard of acid-munchers on a rollercoaster. But no Brian Eno style Oblique Strategies were used in its construction; the band are living and breathing autoschediastics. “A lot of stuff comes from offhand remarks,” Fox explains, ”or just from us joking around and things seeming to end up in the lyrics. Fucking Butter was a throwaway comment about biscuits, or something. Dara can be kind of cryptic with his words – definitely, all the goofy food references are his."
It’s tempting to interpret the cacophonous howls of Girl Band as a riposte to the disastrous political climate from which they emerged; the band are young enough to have been born as Ireland transformed from Europe’s most underdeveloped economy into the Celtic Tiger beast of the late 1990s, before collapsing amid a series of horrific fiscal infidelities. However, Fox is slow to ascribe any significant political undercurrents to the band’s activities. “Well, Ireland can have a small-town syndrome of people releasing things there and then just playing Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast and then doing it all over again. That’s cool if you want to do it but it’s not what we want to do. Population-wise, it’s a pretty small place. Even if you play the different smaller towns in the country, you get to know everyone really quickly. And I don’t just wanna play for my mates every couple of weeks.”
Was there any specific local scene or bands whom Girl Band aligned themselves with? “We all came from pretty diverse groups ourselves but there was a band called Turning Down Sex whom we were really into: a noisy, math rock sort of band.”
There’s that dirty word again – ‘rock’. Fox is at pains to point out the fact that Girl Band are not a rock band, certainly not an ersatz 90s rock band. “When we put out the first EP,” he says, “there were a lot of Nirvana comparisons. I can maybe see this in retrospect but I don’t think it sounds like it's from that era. We like bands from the 90s but I don’t think it’s as ‘rock’ as those bands were.”
So, Daniel, this is your chance to set the record straight! What would be a more accurate description of where you guys are coming from? Surely Girl Band don’t exist in a hermetically-sealed vacuum? “Ah, I don’t know”, he laughs. “It’s kind of hard to define yourself. I actually don’t think we’re too concerned with setting the record straight about our sound because I don’t think we know exactly what we’re doing. It’s a pretty diverse range of influences. It’s not concrete. It’s very much the four of us in the room hashing it out. We jam it out a bit and start arranging and essentially write our own parts. But the record has been done a while and it’s nice listening back to it again after a few months – especially as I’m no longer listening to it from an engineering point of view. I just listen to it now as a bunch of songs.”
Finally, we leave the vital question until the very end. Who is Jamie and – more importantly – who is he holding hands with? Fox is quite candid in his answer. “Jamie worked on all our records and he was in school with me and Dara. Holding Hands With Jamie was a joke title for my would-be solo balladeer album because there’s been this long rumour that me and Jamie are in love with each other. And it’s kinda half true…"