“No, but I have watched Colin Farrell’s sex tape four times in the last week.”
That’s the cheery response you receive from Girl Band frontman Dara Kiely upon enquiring if he watched the much-maligned second season of True Detective. It is, as the great Stewart Lee might say, a bold opening conversational gambit.
“I’ve been going on about it for a while”, notes Kiely a short time later once we’ve settled down across a table atop a makeshift bus for a pint. “We were asked in an interview the other day; ‘If you could be teleported anywhere, where would it be?’ and I said that. It was a French interview and she didn’t really understand so I had to graphically act out the motions. It was a very tiring day and I just panicked.”
On a gloriously sunny evening in Dublin, Kiely and bassist Daniel Fox (Colin Farrell sex tape status: hasn’t seen it) are in buoyant mood, the former texting a running-slightly-late latter off my phone and throwing an ‘x’ in at the end for good measure. When Fox arrives with apologies and observes that he’s a touch flush with sweat, the following exchange occurs:
Kiely: You look hot though. Get it? Get the joke?
Fox: I did, yeah. Rock on.
Kiely: Right on.
They high five as Fox saunters off in the direction of the bar. “He’s my biggest fan”, Kiely smiles. “I make up jokes. What did the penguin say to the zebra? ‘White black ‘atcha’. I submitted it to Penguin. The bars, like. Technically I’m published by Penguin. It’s on the website but we’re going to see if we can get it onto the bar itself. That’s the lunchbox dream.”
As it happens, Kiely’s favourite joke is ‘The Aristocrats’, which he’s often dared by his bandmates to unleash if and when technical difficulties arise whilst onstage. “I sang Shania Twain last time, ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’. It completely died. Nobody responded.”
Audience apathy at a Girl Band show, you’d imagine, would be in rare supply.
“It always seems to get some sort of reaction. Some people hate it and they’ll tell you. They want to tell you that they don’t like it. Some people who come, come again. There’s always something going on. We supported Delorentos in The Button Factory in Dublin about three years ago and it was sold out, the biggest thing we did at that time. I finished talking and someone said; ‘Shut the fuck up, this is shit!’. I was like, ‘Alright, well, you’re gonna hate this one…’. As long as we like it, it’s fine. We’re used to playing to no-one. I don’t care.”
Kiely’s other favourite joke comes from the aforementioned Stewart Lee, namely his superb takedown of Mark Watson’s gormless cider ads from a few years ago. “He’s a massive influence”, nods Kiely who pays tribute to that joke’s punchline on ‘The Last Riddler’, an 82-second candid blur of his battle with the mental state that would ultimately shape his band’s debut proper. Much like Lee, Holding Hands With Jamie delights in sidestepping convention. At times, it’s downright impenetrable. Given its subject matter, the maelstrom makes perfect sense.
That said, it’s not without levity. Kiely has a knack for acerbic asides and biting character assassination - ”He starts every sentence with; ‘I know I’m not a racist, but…’” from breakout calling card ‘Lawman’ remains a wonderful smart-aleck spit of venom - and manages to pepper these nine songs with odd twists on every-day minutiae, affixing a rictus grin to the mundane, precision be damned. The record’s sharpest, most brilliant stab; ’Pears For Lunch’ (original, take-the-piss title: ‘I’m a Sexy Wife by Dara Kiely’) is as ‘clean’ as it gets and even then things are pretty murky. Ownership should never come easy, after all.
“That was an interesting one”, begins Kiely before asking if I’ve read about his “psychotic episode” that made headlines in NME. “The whole album documents all of that. I couldn’t write anything because I was so depressed. My mam took time off work for about six months and tried to get me back to normal. I’m fine now, but she told me to write something every day. I couldn’t write anything. It became such a horrible block. So I wrote this thing and it became really personal; ‘I look crap with my top off’, and that kind of thing. I showed Al [Duggan, guitarist] first and he laughed and I was like, ‘Awh, shit…’ but then it clicked and I thought, ‘That’s kinda funny’.
“The whole thing is about being depressed at home and not doing anything and struggling with broken relationships and such but it’s kinda also that every song has a tone and I was chipping away at notebooks full of phrases so every sentence has a connotation back to something that would trigger something so when I play it live I can apply that. It’s kind of vague. When I play it live I can think of something now and tune into that and perform it in such a way that isn’t just, ‘I hate you mom’, or whatever.”
“It’s like a comic book, in a way”, offers Fox, referring to the tracks on the album that act both as interludes and quick parachutes into Kiely’s then-fractured headspace - ‘In Plastic’, ‘The Last Riddler’ and ‘Texting an Alien’. “You get these three windows”. Dara compares it to the previously-released blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fist fight ‘The Cha Cha Cha’. “Because they’re short. Because it’s hardcore and sad. I went into the doctor’s office when I was at an acute state and I thought I was my own god. My doctor, a very nice dude… I walked in with my sister and he was like, ‘Dara, do you want to take a seat?’. [adopts regal, defiant tone] ‘I think I’ll stand!’. So he’s saying all the stuff and I go, ‘Can I ask you a quick question? Just a quick question? What’s your favourite band?’, and he goes, ‘Oh, ABBA’, so I said, ‘Perfect!’, and I wrote down ’The Winner Takes It All’ and I gave it to him and said, ‘Think about it’. The meltdown came after that. That’s just a short reference, really.”
We back up a bit. What was that about thinking you were your own god?
“I had a rough break-up and I took it well”, he deadpans. “I basically just got elated.”
“It was kind of building up over about two months to this one week of extreme happiness”, explains Fox before Kiely lays it all out.
“It was August, the Bank Holiday weekend. I was working in Friction PR and I got really buzzed about the idea of working in the music industry because I always thought my life would be a very ‘Tim from The Office’ kind of thing, just miserable and doing something I don’t like but Liza [Geddes, Friction boss] was so nice so I was quite buzzed about that but my personal life was going to shit. Then we wrote a couple of tracks that were a bit different, like ‘Lawman’ and I was thinking, ‘Oh this is going to be really fun’ and it all got a bit too much and I couldn’t really handle it and just erupted into elation. I had this thing, this ‘You are your own god, you are your own master’, this extreme idea. It was amazing. It was the most amazing feeling I have ever had. It felt like a godlike experience. I thought I could control the weather. Everything. I lived out in a tent for a while…”
So, you became the Irish Kanye West?
“Essentially, yeah, in suburban Dublin. DEEZY. It just got too much. I spent a couple of months in a day hospital, going in and out. There’s still a massive stigma about mental health. When we did the NME interview, Al sent me a message saying, ‘Do you want to share this?’, because it was like, ”THE PSYCHOTIC EPISODE” but I was grand with it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it and if you talk about it more you’re less likely to go off because you don’t feel like a weirdo. If that didn’t happen, I would be in a horrible place right now. I needed to break down. I really got so close to all my friends and my family. People come up to me after gigs, quietly, and want to talk about this kind of thing and it’s really nice. I welcome it. It’s a massive stigma and it shouldn’t be. I had an idea for pop-up counselling around Dublin, these stalls… I get a lot of ideas, but I’m quite a flaky prick.”
“You should be able to have a regular conversation like this in a bar and bring up whatever you’re feeling and not think that people will feel awkward about it”, adds Fox. “The record is really a summation of what happened afterwards and Dara getting better. For us, essentially, it was like, ‘Okay, this is happening’ and we just pulled together. In a way it brought me, Al and Adam [Faulkner, drummer] together, we had to deal with the reality of it. But it was more of a group of friends in general, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, how are we going to deal with this?’, it was like, ‘This is one of your mates…’”.
At this point, the pair fall into a rhythmic back and forth.
- ‘The Cha Cha Cha’
Kiely: They were amazing. They’d come to my house and I’d have different types of drinks for them. ‘Look at all this shit I’ve got!’.
Fox: ‘Do you want to come out of the tent, Dara?’
Kiely: ‘No!’. I scared the shit out of them. I remember going to Daniel’s house when I was proper flying and the paper, remember the newspaper?
Fox: That was at the end of The Week of Being Awake.
Kiely: It was a particularly weird newspaper article with THE WORLD IS NOW! as the headline and I was like, ‘Check it out, man!’.
Fox: He kept trying to give his iPod to people. ‘Take it, it’s grand, it’s fine…’
Kiely: I went to the dole office with Daniel and was going up to people going, ‘I can help you dude, I can you help you do anything you want, man!’. I gave my number out to a lot of people. No-one rang me.
It almost feels like a sketch routine, such is the dynamic on display, but there’s conviction here and a sincerity that feels refreshing. What do they make of anyone reading this and dismissing it as telling stories to sell an album?
“That’s their own opinion”, shrugs Kiely. “It’s true. I didn’t go mad for publicity reasons, you know? But I’m willing to!”
Fox joins in. “We had a conversation where we felt it was totally important to say it. People are going to ask about the lyrics and you might as well be honest about them. If someone is cynical enough to think otherwise, we know we’re being honest.”
That ‘fuck it, why not?’ attitude extended to recording methods as Kiely stripped away literally everything in a bid to nail the album’s jittery opening assault, ’Umbongo’.
“It was myself, Daniel and Jamie [Hyland, the engineer honoured via the album’s title and cover art thumbprints] in the studio and we were sitting down, I had done a take and we were all like, ‘Yeah, that was grand…’. I think we had gone to the pub earlier and we were proper jet-lagged. I’m not a naked guy… but it just kind of freed up everything. I had the lights off, running around naked, and then Daniel…”
“I did a tambourine overdub with my cock out. Fully clothed with my cock out. I had to level things out.”
Holding Hands With Jamie is released on September 25 via Rough Trade Records.