Emboldened by faith in themselves and their sexuality, Pillow Queens are no longer lying ‘in waiting’, they have arrived.
Pillow Queens are happy to be out of the house. As we sit unpacking their dizzying ascent from fundraisers for neglected dogs to packed European stadia, Sarah Corcoran (Vocals, Guitar, Bass) and Rachel Lyons (Drums) are in agreement that it’s nice to be talking to somebody new for the first time in a few months. Frankly, the pleasure is mutual, as Corcoran and Lyons aren’t short on stories. That’s what happens when you spend the last four years taking every gig that comes your way, especially when the gigs keep getting bigger and bigger.
“We did the tour with Soak,” says Corcoran, just running through the flurry of activity that has followed the 2019 release of their EP State of the State, “as soon as we got off the tour we did every festival under the sun. After that, we did two dates with Two Door Cinema Club. The next day we flew to New York, came back – we all went to work for five days – then we flew to L.A. From L.A., we flew back to Dublin – slept for six hours – and then flew to Iceland. This is what life was like pre-pandemic. We were wrecked, but we were buzzin!”
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before they were jetsetters, Pillow Queens were would-be Globetrotters. “I was working in the Irish Film Institute, I’d finished my masters and I was trying to get a start as a filmmaker,” explains Corcoran. “I was working away and we had set up an all-girls basketball team. We were doing it in an attempt to be social without just going to pubs but we’d always end up in the pub anyway. On this one particular day, Pamela [Connolly – Vocals, Guitar, Bass], who is also in the band and set up the basketball team, invited Cathy, [McGuinness – Guitar]. Cathy was very competitive and I was like, “Who is this, stepping on my basketball game, I’m going to have to kill her. After that, we went for our usual drinks and got talking about music and Pamela said Cathy is a great guitarist and maybe we should jam.”
“She’d been trying to get Pamela to start a band for years,” adds Lyons.
“Years!” echos a wide-eyed Corcoran. “She just kept saying no to me,” she continues, “I’d heard her music and I loved her voice and I loved her songwriting so I was always like, let’s do this! Cathy, of course, was like ‘no I don’t play guitar anymore, I don’t want to do it.’ Pamela and I moved in together that summer and I kept pressuring her.”
“She doesn’t take well to pressure,” proffers Lyons in what is quickly being established as a characteristic, sage and direct interjection.
“No, she does not,” concurs Corcoran with a smile. “But, when Cathy came into the mix I think [Pamela] began to feel that this could actually be a workable thing. So, she persuaded Cathy to jam. From there we were like alright, we’ve got three gay women in a band, we need to get fourth. Of course, we thought, ‘Oh my god, Rachel can play drums!’
She hasn’t in years but she can!” jokes Lyons.
“I remember one of our first meetings,” Corcoran continues, “we had to be like, ‘Rachel, so do you think you’d like to be like in the band?’ and as soon as she said, ‘em, I think so yeah’, we were immediately like, ‘that’s great because we’ve our first gig booked in two weeks!’”
It makes sense that even the earliest conversations surrounding the band were focused on live performance, Pillow Queens have built an enviable cult off the back of their relentless gigging. “To me, that’s the best part of being in a band,” says Corcoran on the life of a touring band. “Releasing music is just a way to get it out there to people so they can experience it with you live. When people start singing songs back to you and stuff it’s like, cool now you’re in the band too. It really does feel that way. Like there is, dare I say it, a community. When you’ve got people singing words back to you that you wrote about sad things that happened in your heart and suddenly somebody else is sharing in that, it’s just so lovely.”
“You kind of disassociate from [the experiences] a little bit in those moments. I remember something I read where Grian from the Fontaines said how he could feel himself disassociating from the person on the first album and how that was difficult. I actually find it really rewarding; it’s like you’re getting over something. I’ve gone through this thing that meant so much to me that I wrote a song about it. Now I’m able to just get over it and share it with an audience like, fuck it, it’s your problem now.”
As arresting as Corcoran’s descriptions of her relationship with the band’s listenership are, it’s just as striking when she and Lyons speak on particulars of the atmosphere within the band. The pair mention in passing that even from their first practices, they wanted Pillow Queens to be a more serious proposition than the members’ various teenage musical endeavours. I wonder what serious meant to them in that moment and if it means the same thing now? “It’s structured, it’s like another job. You leave your job to go to your other job which just happens to be way more fun. I think we’ve always felt like that,” says Lyons.
“Yeah,” nods Corcoran, “and if ever somebody was slacking it was never like ‘fuck them’. It was like, I wonder if there is something going on? Because everyone always wanted to do it. So, if ever there was an issue, then there was obviously something else going on personally and that was something we could chat about or whatever. Going into the band, there was always this shared intention of taking it seriously.”
Did this concerted notion to think of Pillow Queens as a real band, so to speak, make the immediate and impassioned response to their output a little less surprising in their own minds?
“You have to keep in mind, at the end of the day, we are still women so we’re never going to do very well,” laughs Corcoran. “We pat ourselves on the back the whole time. We clap ourselves,” elaborates Lyons before Corcoran continues, “We applaud at the end of practice because if we don’t, who will? I think that’s what has gotten us as far as we’re gone because we’re like, y’know what, if you don’t like it, we do.”
Thankfully, the people love it! But, with attention, comes exhausting discussion. As gay women writing love songs, it comes as little surprise that their songs routinely cover gay relationships. “We’re unapologetic! Unapologetically Gay!” proclaims Corcoran as she Lyons laugh over the strange situation they’ve found themselves in, where their every move is deemed fearless, brazen and, again, unapologetic by some (certainly well meaning) commentator or another.
“I think it is honestly people being like ‘fuckin’ fairplay to them’ but to us it reads as, what would we apologise for? We’re not getting up on stage and scissoring, y’know. It’s not all ‘we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.’ We’re just getting up and singing like anyone else would but because we’re four gay women it’s suddenly fearless and unapologetically this or that. We played with Pussy Riot and they’re really up against it over there, y’know? We’re kind of ok – we have equal marriage – if somebody shouts dyke at me on the street, so what? And Jesus, I’m not saying there aren’t people up against it in Ireland today! Obviously homophobia is still out there and that stuff hurts people but we’re in a very privileged position. Definitely in the scenes that we play in, everyone is very open. We’ve never had anyone be like ‘Gay!?’ If anything, it’s like ‘Ugh, women,’” Corcoran says with something between a laugh and a sigh. “Actually, I guess the queer thing plays in our favour with those people. They’re like “Oh you’re not like a WOMAN woman… It would 100% be harder for four straight women.”
“They have to prove themselves more,” adds Lyons with a sense of resignation befitting the bleakness of the topic. Lyons continues, “It’s funny, I was talking to my mam and she loves this band and she loves that I’m in this band but she’s my mam and she worries about how we’ll be perceived and why does it all have to be so gay? She turned to my sister one day and said, ‘Do you think they’d do as well if they weren’t gay?’ And [my sister] said, ‘I think they do well because they are gay.’”
“I get where you’re coming from,” says Corcoran, continuing Lyons’ thought, “Ailbhe [Reddy, a wonderful musician in her own right] messaged me the other day and said, ‘How many times do you think the word queer is going to be used throughout your campaign?’ And yeah, probably ten thousand. It’s a gimmick [from a PR perspective] at this stage. We’re conscious of it but we’re optimistic that the work does speak for itself and that’s kind of what we’re more hopeful of. I’ve said this before, but I’d have loved to have had a band of FOUR queer women writing and performing songs when I was teenager. We have song called Gay Girls and we’re a band a called Pillow Queens and we’re on the national broadcaster. We’ve got RTE DJs saying, ‘Coming up is Pillow Queens with Handsome Wife,’ and we’re like, ‘This is the queerest thing I’ve ever heard in my life, it’s so cool!’”
In Waiting will be released on September 25 via Pillow Queens Records
Words: Danny Wilson
Feature Photo: Faolán Carey
In-text image: Paul Gerrard