Julie Dawson is working on fresh demos for NewDad’s debut album in the house she shares with her bandmates, Áindle O’Beirn, Sean O’Dowd and Fiachra Parslow, when we catch her for a chat.
“We moved in together after the first lockdown because we weren’t able to practice. That was quite annoying. We had just started releasing music and wanted to keep that up so we moved in together before the second lockdown started. Then we were just in the house all the time making music.”
The fruits of this domestic union can be heard on NewDad’s second EP, ‘Banshee’, recorded over seven days in Belfast; more than double the time they spent on their first EP, ‘Waves’. “It was nice to have the time to really sit with it and get to produce a bit more because we didn’t get to do that last time.”
The extra studio time afforded the band the opportunity to stretch out from where ‘Waves’ left off; broadening the palette of synths and allowing a freedom to experiment that was outside their reach in their native Galway.
The band met in school where Julie, Fiachra and Áindle were in the same year and same music class. Sean, who was the year above, started out helping them record demos and filling in for their then keyboard player before “pretty naturally” becoming the band’s guitarist.
The songs on ‘Waves’, deeply personal and rooted in a time and place, were written after the band left school but refer back to that period. “I try to keep [lyrics] pretty ambiguous so people can take their own meaning from them,” Julie tells us. “You don’t want to be talking to everyone about the deep, dark meanings behind all your songs so you have a back-up story for what you wrote about.”
Given that certain songs on ‘Banshee’ evoke the misty disorientation of a waking dream, it’s no surprise to discover that sleep and dreaming are themes that preoccupy Julie’s lyrics. Is it the case then that these songs are more subconsciously shaped than their more autobiographical predecessors? “The songs are almost like the closest thing I have to a dream journal. I wake up and fall back asleep a lot – I always forget my dreams but I have crazy dreams every night.”
Whereas ‘Waves’ was written over the course of two years, ‘Banshee’ was written in the space of four months. These products of lockdown hold the weight of paralysis and claustrophobia experienced by many through such a strange period.
“I find writing happy lyrics, I guess, or not-sad lyrics really difficult. I was worried that I would come off as being kind of cringey or something … everyone was feeling so anxious for the past few months and that was what was inspiring me – that feeling of restlessness, y’know?”
‘Banshee’ is a more opaque and insular collection despite the effervescent veneer of a new pop-inflected direction. “The music we were listening to at the time influenced [the EP] and it became slightly poppier. Even the tracks we are writing now for the album are quite rocky … we don’t do any of it intentionally or set out to make a rock or a pop album or whatever. I suppose it’s just what we’re listening to at the time.”
While the band cite The Cure and Pixies as primary influences, Julie recalls Thin Lizzy as being a major catalyst growing up. “We would always play them in the house. The fact that they were Irish is just so cool. Them and T-Rex were what first started my love for rock.”
It’s a bit of a running joke that given the ’90s fount of their sound and the filiation of those overarching aforementioned indie-rock royalty references, the band have become beloved by dads.
“We have an older crowd at the minute because our listeners came from [BBC] 6 Music, really. There is definitely an older crowd at the shows. It’s been really great. I always say it feels like a nice stamp of approval when you have older people liking your music. The fact that it resonates with them and reminds them of stuff from their youth is very cool because that’s all our favourite kind of music.”
“The songs are almost like the closest thing I have to a dream journal."
The reach of that exposure over the airwaves has won them acclaim and assured them a foothold on a wider scale, “in Switzerland and random places. We are getting some good plays in different spots”, as Julie observes.
A recent stint at Pitchfork festival in Paris saw them share the same stage on the same night with Dublin songwriter Kynsy (one of our 2020 Plec Picks) but the big news recently was the announcement of an appearance at Texas’ SXSW festival this coming March along with a plethora of Irish acts.
Given their relatively new arrival to the live circuit, the band have no real preconceptions of what to expect. “It’s going to be mad; I can’t imagine. We will be in the States for Paddy’s Day so that will be a weird one.” That trip will see them work a New York-Texas-LA route; a far cry from those fledgling gigs upstairs in Seven Bar and the Róisín Dubh in Galway.
"...everyone was feeling so anxious for the past few months and that was what was inspiring me - that feeling of restlessness..."
Assuming everything goes to plan, the year ahead looks busy for a quartet whose vision stretches beyond laying down tracks. They take a hands-on approach to the physical side of things, designing the merch and shooting videos as well as collaborating on the visual side. Figuring that the DIY approach can sometimes prove tricky (“Music videos are kind of hard to do by yourself”), the visual accompaniment to the new EP’s lead single, Ladybird, a track inspired by the Greta Gerwig film of the same name, is the end result of many people’s endeavours.
Another avenue of exploration with intriguing potential is scoring soundtracks for film and television. “That’s the job I’ve always wanted to do”, Julie enthuses. “I just think it’s so cool. I love writing music. I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of writing lyrics but I just love writing instrumentals and stuff. It would be cool to score a little indie film but I’d also love to do a horror or something.”
Certain of the dusky evocations of ‘Banshee’ suggest this would be an effortless step but how then does such a reticent lyricist breathe life into the band’s creations? Julie elaborates on how NewDad tie it all together.
“We record all the music and then I bring a demo home. I’ll write the lyrics by myself then fit them in with the music. I never really just write without writing to something. I find that really difficult.”
And that’s where we leave her; alone at home making the difficult seem effortless, assembling the soon-to-be fully realised tracks for NewDad’s forthcoming debut album. Appropriate to the parallels of darkness and light inherent in their music, the conversation closes with a spectral paradox immured in our minds.
The sound of a banshee is traditionally a foretelling of quietus but in this case, it’s only the beginnings of what NewDad have to offer – more glorious noise.