“It really makes such a difference to have a tangible copy of your work. My dad thinks it’s really cool!”
Pillow Queens are an infectiously fun group to spend an evening with. Whether it’s exchanging embarrassing first concert stories (Westlife in The Point), sharing anecdotes of tumbling down a narrow stairway whilst carrying an amp during their first U.K. tour (documented in a series of vlogs) and brainstorming future merchandise options (foam fingers and pillow cases), the charisma and playful interplay between Cathy, Pamela, Rachel and Sarah is evident. Their friendship and mutual appreciation of each other’s musical talents has undoubtedly attributed to the immediacy of Pillow Queens’ success.
Following the release of their debut EP Calm Girls at the start of last year, the band played to a wide range of audiences at Whelan’s Ones To Watch, Electric Picnic and Other Voices. Their pop-punk sound is full of exuberance and promise. Before they embark on another period of constant gigging, writing and recording the band took a moment to reflect on the thirteen months of their existence and what happens next.
Pillow Queens is still relatively young, you’ve been together for almost a year now. However, in those twelve months you released your debut EP Calm Girls, toured the UK and played at two of the biggest events in the Irish musical calendar; Electric Picnic and Other Voices. You’re just about to release your latest single, Favourite this month. How does it feel to have accomplished so much so early on in Pillow Queens’ trajectory?
Cathy: It’s a very surreal feeling. We were only having this conversation the other day, actually, that if someone had said to me a little over a year ago that I would be playing Electric Picnic and Other Voices, I would have just laughed it off in disbelief. Now that it’s actually happening and plans for this year are taking shape it’s really overwhelming and crazy to comprehend all of these opportunities that are coming our way, especially when we take a minute to think about everything that has happened since we began. It’s unbelievable.
I was thinking about how big your early gigs have been to date, your inaugural performance as Pillow Queens was in The Bello Bar to a maximum capacity crowd. By forgoing the typical empty venue shows, a recurring aspect in almost every bands beginning, was there an added pressure whilst ironing out any teething issues and finding your performative style which smaller crowds tend to be more forgiving?
Pam: Oh, we make many mistakes when we’re doing live shows, anyway! We were all in bands separately before, so we were used to being on stage to a certain degree. I suppose there has been more pressure on us with this band because we’ve received a lot more opportunities and press attention than we did with our respective former bands, especially at this point. It’s a good kind of pressure though, because it’s making us really focused on what we’re doing and then that transforms into excitement. It’s such an amazing feeling to know that there’ll be people at our gigs. We just try to take one gig at a time and not take it on board if we do make mistakes and harbour any annoyances to the next show.
Sarah: We also haven’t really had a lot of time to reflect on some of the past gigs we’ve played because it has happened so quickly. When we decided to play our first gig together we had said amongst ourselves that we didn’t want to be the first band on that night. We were immediately very confident with our songs so we wanted to just get them to as many people as possible and as quickly as we could. It’s all been go since then.
Towards the end of last year you supported Pussy Riot in The Button Factory. They obviously have a massive profile and are extremely forthright musicians and activists. Were you nervous about opening for their Dublin show?
Cathy: That was one of the gigs from last year that I was most nervous for. We had been really busy in the lead up to the gig so the gravity of the situation didn’t actually hit me until the day.
Pam: Yeah, I was also probably the most nervous I’ve felt for that gig. It only struck me while I watched Alien She and walked around the venue before our set and saw just how packed it was and I recognised so many faces in the crowd; people I knew and then people I was familiar with. That was a little nerve wracking. The band were so nice, though. We didn’t get to talk to them too much before the show because they were incredibly busy talking to press and then getting ready for the show but they did give us some wine which was very nice!
You mentioned that you played in various bands prior to forming Pillow Queens. How did the four of you come together?
Sarah: Pamela and I were living together last year and during that time I was constantly harassing her to be in a band with me because she’s an incredible musician and lyricist. She was reluctant initially because she had put the guitar down for a while around that time. Eventually, after a lot of persistence on my part, we wrote some demos together and then Cathy agreed to come on board after she listened to the demos. We were so happy when Cathy joined because she is amazing at shredding! When we were getting ready to record the demos we realised that we needed a really good drummer and that’s when Rachel came to our rescue.
How long had you been writing the songs for the Calm Girls EP which came out at the end of 2016?
Sarah: Not that long, at all. The songs came about very naturally and quickly.
Pam: I had been writing songs since the beginning of the summer of 2016, even before we had officially started the band, until about October of that year. In those few months I had penned about three or four songs. It had been a few years since I had written a song on the guitar so when I picked it up all of the pent up emotions spilled out of me. I think that was what attributed to those songs coming to life so fast. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to write at such a pace this time around. Sarah had a few songs that were at their final stages of development, which fit nicely with what I had written.
Sarah: I had been in a band for a few years and I had some material that I had written and worked on but they just never felt right for that band. I carried those tracks with me for a while and I was looking for the right combination of people to share them with. Of course, they’ve changed a lot over time from when I conceived the lyrics in my bedroom to playing them with the band in practice sessions. It’s nice for those songs to have a home now.
You’re releasing your single, ‘Favourite’ this month which will feature on your forthcoming second EP due this March. How was it working on that in comparison to the first EP and following on from a hectic touring schedule?
Sarah: We were really excited to work on new material because of how everything instantly snowballed in our first year together as a band. We thought that it would be a good thing to record again soon after our mini U.K. tour because of how well our music had been received. There’s a label in the U.K. which have been really helpful to us. They’re going to put the single out on vinyl which is amazing and we’ll be playing some gigs to launch that. It’s really exciting, I just can’t wait for our music to actually be on a 12” single. It really makes such a difference to have a tangible copy of your work. My dad thinks it’s really cool!
You made a music video for ‘Rats’ is packed with lots of a slightly satirical and politically charged visuals hinting at some of the core issues that are an integral part of our social discourse at the moment, focusing on The Eighth Amendment and the LGBTQ community. Are you conscious of using your platform as a band to promote and educate people with your music about certain aspects in our society?
Sarah: I think it’s just generally very important to each of us, as individuals, to be aware of what is going on around us and I think then that that naturally translates into the songs. I don’t necessarily think that our lyrics are particularly political. I suppose our EP which is coming out in March is called The State of The State, that in itself proffers a social commentary. We don’t explicitly intend to champion one social issue, sometimes it just happens. When you’re making music you’re immediately put in a politicised position, especially when it’s four girls in one band. That is immediately seen as a statement, whether we want it to be or not. We don’t go out of our way though to be political.
I can only assume that 2018 is going to be equally, if not a lot busier than last year for Pillow Queens?
Cathy: I think for this year will be touring our EP extensively, we’re really excited to play that and to play in places that we haven’t yet and really cover the Irish touring circuit and do loads of festivals. We’re going to be part of the First Fortnight Festival this year. We’re playing in one of the Therapy Sessions shows curated by Delorentos on the 12th of January. We’re also heading down to Cork for the Quarter Block Party Festival on February 2nd. After that, we’re going to be touring around Ireland and the U.K. throughout March and April, so it’s definitely going to be very busy!
Naturally, we’d love to make an album. We just need to work on the songs, it’s just a matter of finding time to write. That was one thing with being so busy last year, we were touring and playing a lot which ate into any spare time to focus on the next phase plus we all have day jobs. But we do definitely want to make a record to have come out as soon as we can!
Their single Favourite is released on January 9 with a forthcoming EP The State of the State on March 9. Pillow Queens play Therapy Sessions Dublin as part of First Fortnight Festival in the Workmans Club on January 12.
Words: Zara Hedderman
Photo: Paul Gerrard