Alt-Pop act Soda Blonde emerge from the ashes of Little Green Cars with an air of twenty-something sophistication and ambition. Lead singer Faye O’Rourke takes to the mic to tell us more.
Musically speaking, there’ve been numerous break-ups that continue to rouse emotions as raw as the day they occurred. No one knows that enduring pain better than fans of Take That or Spice Girls. In 2019, on the day Dublin-based indie rock outfit Little Green Cars announced their disbandment, the shock and subsequent outpour of support from their fanbase dominated social media. Over their decade-long tenure, the group reached a point in their career most bands in Ireland could only dream of arriving at; two critically adored records, endless praise from press, countless shows under their belt and, crucially, a devoted following.
Barely two months passed when Faye O’Rourke unveiled Soda Blonde, a new project featuring several members of her former band. Much attention and acclaim surrounded their debut gig in Dublin’s Hogan’s and the ensuing pop-centric singles. The excitement from critics and audiences alike, coupled with the rapid rate at which Soda Blonde’s trajectory was accelerating, was incredible to behold. The only thing able to put a pin in their progress was a pandemic. Eighteen months on, the four-piece – completed by Dylan Lynch on drums, guitarist Adam O’Regan and bassist Donagh Seaver-O’Leary – are back on course to become one of Ireland’s biggest acts. A title they’ll surely claim on the back of their highly anticipated debut, Small Talk. Its release will see them touring again, eventually opening for Sinéad O’Connor in the Iveagh Gardens in July 2022.
The supposed swiftness of the group’s renaissance was surprising to all, except the individuals involved. Having experienced so much with her first band and, on the surface, appearing to jump straight into something new, you’d wonder whether they’d had sufficient time to grieve such a formative period both personally and professionally. Over Zoom, on a clear June evening, Soda Blonde vocalist and lyricist Faye O’Rourke openly described the daunting prospect of completing that chapter and facing a blank page with her bandmates.
“[The break-up of Little Green Cars] was something we’d been aware of for a while. There was a period when we finished where reality hit and the ground fell beneath me – the guys, too – because we had always been in a band. It was a huge part of our identities since we were kids. When you start a new band, you’re proving yourself all over again. That was something I wasn’t totally aware of. All I knew was that I wanted to keep making music. And it wasn’t a case of ‘Oh, we’re going to reform under a different name with the same people.’ We all thought about what we were going to do after Little Green Cars. We were probably going to go in different directions but we came back together, which is a really beautiful thing about Soda Blonde,” she reflects.
“But, we weren’t kids anymore,” O’Rourke continues about that time in limbo. “We were in our mid-twenties, and there was that moment of looking at yourself in the mirror and going, ‘God, I’ve no degree. I don’t have assets or fundamental things that, not to be too clinical about it, my peers or people in similar circles have. And, starting again was a huge undertaking,” she reveals earnestly.
That realisation of growing older and assessing the lessons learned through youth anchors the themes explored in their sharp debut. First listens of the twelve songs naturally lead the listener to comb through lyrics to find clues or cryptic messages about the demise of Little Green Cars. However, no vitriol or bitterness smears the subject matter or metaphors, throughout. Instead, familiar vulnerabilities and insecurities intrinsic with the twenty-something pursuit of identity pervades. Here, O’Rourke is adept at taking specificity and making it universal in her songwriting. Take the line, “It takes everything to begin again,” from the vibrant Abba-like opening track, Tiny Darkness, or a longing for validation via song titles like Love Me World.
Forging a shared experience with listeners is important to O’Rourke. “My writing process is that I sit down with an instrument – a guitar or the piano – and not approach it with an agenda of wanting to write a certain kind of song,” she explains. “I sit there until I have a moment where my subconscious informs the first key part of the song. It’s always been the lyric or emotion informing the piece of music. You want people to insert themselves in your music and lyrics. I know it’s probably something people say a lot, but it’s true. The deeper you go, you’ll arrive at the most universal feeling. That’s why people like certain songs, books or films; they can see themselves in it.”
On an album that explicitly details such insecurities, it’s remarkable to consider that someone like O’Rourke, who has accomplished so much in her career, sought external confirmation of her worth. “I’ve always struggled with self-confidence, that’s been a real issue for me in the past,” she says. “[When launching Soda Blonde] I felt like I had to manufacture confidence via a persona so that I could eventually manifest it into being. I wasn’t used to standing in the centre of a stage and talking to an audience or people asking me as many questions,” she laughs warmly.
One such device in the early days of Soda Blonde came in the unlikely guise of a sparkly dress. “We made a music video for Terrible Hands and I wore a lounge-singer sparkly dress. It was a great device because it was so self-aware.” That initial image of a peroxide-blonde O’Rourke exuding glamour from a bygone era became a recurring visual motif for the band. Since the beginning, Soda Blonde’s visuals – from single artwork to music videos – have been pristinely executed. Stylised domestic scenes, generally of a fractious nature, have been the chosen visual representation for their uplifting arrangements. “I’m a massive fan of Gregory Crewdson’s photography. He has a really produced way of portraying mundane and microcosmic American suburbs. You get a glimpse into a person’s life and the tragedy behind it. That’s always really appealed to me. I’ve always loved the idea of domestic situations. Again, they’re really universal and there’s just something in the mundanity and the sadness that really excites me. All of the subtleties.”
Incorporating mundane scenes in her songwriting, it feels only right to pair that narrative-arc with an overriding pop sensibility. “Pop has had such an evolution,” she says. “When you think about other genres, they tend to stay within the same soundscape. Whereas pop music is really diverse in that sense. That’s why pop seems fitting for what we’re doing now, it feels like the right place to set the music to.” Within that sonic realm, the band shifts seamlessly between arms-in-the-air exuberance to wistful balladry. All the while, an air of sophistication and ambition permeates. One of the benefits of being in a band with the same people since the age of sixteen is the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently. “Growing up with people you develop a shorthand when you’re in the studio. You can get your ideas across quicker because you don’t need to explain and go through certain things to prove your point. You can say two words and the other person will know exactly what you mean.”
However, mastering the art of communication in the studio doesn’t mean the arrangements, or the opportunities that follow, come easy. Aside from talent, discernment and attention to detail in all they do are huge factors behind Soda Blonde’s success. Many of Small Talk’s songs had been in the works for a handful of years before finally finding a home on this LP. Instead of spitting an album out soon after their formation, O’Rourke appreciates the value of time. The breathing space enforced by the pandemic allowed O’Rourke and her bandmates more time to fully develop the material, ensuring they had the strongest introduction possible to present to audiences when they share the album with the world. “It gave us an opportunity to write more and revisit stuff. Despite the fact we’ve made records together before, Small Talk is a debut. To me, debut records hold a lot of weight; every part of my being is woven into those songs. It’s hard to sign off on something like that. I’m glad we had that extra time with the record because we arrived at the perfect place for [the songs] in the end.”
Words: Zara Hedderman
Photo: Ste Murray
Small Talk is out now via Velveteen Records