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Pillow talk

Pillow Queens told David Hennessy about their new album, supporting Phoebe Bridgers and gaining (but not quite keeping) Jodie Comer as a fan.

Dublin four piece indie rock band Pillow Queens released their third album, Name Your Sorrow recently

This marks their third album following 2020’s In Waiting and 2022’s Leave The Light On which were both nominated for Irish Album of the Year.

Established in 2016, Pillow Queens is made up of Sarah Corcoran and Pamela Connolly who share lead vocal and swap between guitar and bass, Cathy McGuinness on lead guitar and Rachel Lyons on drums.

All four are queer women and the band’s timeline runs parallel to huge social and cultural change in Ireland.

Queerness and Irish identity have often been themes of their music.

They have also often used Catholic symbolism and metaphor as they all share the experience of growing up gay in an Ireland that was so gripped by a religion that condemned their very nature.

Taking its name from the late poet Eavan Boland, Name Your Sorrow is a more exposed record than they’ve made previously.

There are definite links to the last two albums but Name Your Sorrow feels like a triumphant step in another direction.

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Sarah Corcoran told The Irish World: “It’s nice to be releasing our third album. This feels like our strongest one yet so we’re not feeling as nervous as we have past release dates.”

Cathy adds: “Quietly confident.”

Sarah agrees: “Quietly confident, yeah. I think it’s a good record and I’m excited for people to share in that thinking.”

Well people have already been sharing in it. Singles like Suffer, Gone, Like A Lesson and the latest one, Heavy Pour have been well received and the early reviews for the album are very good..

“Well, we’re only sharing the good stuff. Just censorship, ya know? It’s the way forward,” Sarah jokes.

“No, so far it’s been really positive. I think hopefully it’s going to stay that way.”

Rachel says: “Anything less than four and we’ll be upset.”

Sarah: “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. We have pretty high standards, but so far no it’s been solid 4s to 5s out of 5s. It’s pretty solid.”

It doesn’t take long to realise that this album is in a completely different place to your previous work..

Cathy says: “Definitely, yeah. Even production wise, it’s a little bit different.

“I think that it’s different from the previous records just because for me anyway ithere’s no changes that I would make.

“I am 100 per cent happy with it and we kind of did everything on our own timeline and I just feel like we can really stand over this one. We can stand over the past albums as well but I feel like particularly if a bad review comes in I’ll be like, ‘Well, I think you’re wrong’.”

Sarah: “Yeah, I think we weren’t afraid to explore new ideas and new ways of production and new ways of writing on this record just because it is album three, so we felt comfortable and solid in where we were at as a band so we explored new avenues and we didn’t limit ourselves in terms of what we  could and couldn’t replicate live. We just decided we would learn how to do it for the stage and we have and that’s been fun as well.

“Yeah, definitely feels like growth.

“I definitely feel like I learned a lot from doing this record.”

Pamela: “Yeah, we allowed the songs to mature in their own time and as the girls said, we didn’t put too much pressure on ourselves but we gave ourselves time.

“We would go into our rehearsal space every day and make sure that we were just kicking along at songs.

“We didn’t say we needed to leave and have a song but we’d regiment ourselves and that just felt like we were letting the songs themselves build and grow more naturally so it felt like there was room to manoeuvre in that way.”

Rachel continues: “And we weren’t trying to write a song to sound like anything, the songs are just themselves so what you’re getting is just not a premeditated song that follows a formula or subscribes to any kind of idea. They’re just themselves.”

Is the album heartbroken? I certainly felt that feeling running through a lot of it..

“Yeah, definitely,” Sarah says. “I’m glad that you picked up on it.

“We felt that it was a fairly universal theme that people could relate to.

“There’s probably no one who has gotten away with not experiencing heartbreak and it’s an inspiring theme when it comes to songwriting definitely.

“You feel that punch in the heart, you sometimes want to write a song.”

Pamela continues: “I think there’s a lot of nuances when it comes to that kind of theme. You can say, ‘Oh yeah, they’re all heartbreak’, but I do feel that there’s a lot more nuance to it and there’s a lot of nuance to the soundscape and what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to convey.”

Cathy: “I think we’re trying to capture a moment after a heartbreak, whether it’s love or a loss and the journey one takes after that. For me it’s kind of like stages of grief and there’s moments of despair and anguish and moments of hope, moments of growth so there’s kind of just sprinkles of everything.

“It takes a step and then it takes two steps back sometimes.

“It’s like peaks and troughs. It’s trying to take snapshot of a journey after a loss for me, but I think the biggest thing for this record for me is that I would love people for it to be theirs so people sit with it and have their own meanings and relate to it how they will, doesn’t have to be about heartbreak or loss.

“However you relate to it is right.”

Name Your Sorrow has been described as Pillow Queens ‘shackles off’. It didn’t appear that you were shackled with previous releases but does it feel like that?

Pamela: “I don’t know if we’d say that.

“No, I think it was maybe in a review or something.

“I don’t think we shackled ourselves by any means on any of our previous records.

“I think maybe what they’re trying to say is it’s us more confident, baring our souls a little bit more but even saying that, it’s not like we weren’t overly emotional on our previous records as well.

“No shackles but if that’s the way they want to call it, then so be it.

“If it sounds freeing then that’s fine by me.”

Where did the album title come from?

Sarah says: “It’s inspired by a line in a poem by Eavan Boland, Atantis- A Lost Sonnet.

“I always get the actual line wrong but it’s, ‘They gave their sorrow a name and they drowned it’.

“It’s just this idea of once you can kind of pinpoint what it is, you can focus on it for as long as you need to and then it’s in the past and you can kind of grow from it and move on from it. At least that’s what I take from it.”

Cathy: “The poem is like the demise of a relationship and it’s likened to like a city. I think everyone has their own city. Everyone has their own Atlantis.

“Everyone has their own love or their own story and so you name your sorrow, you drown it.”

Sarah: “That particular poem that we named the record after came to us after the fact. It was kind of when we were looking for an album title and we were all looking for inspiration and then we came across this poem and it resonated with all of us.

“We all kind of felt like, ‘This poem encapsulates our record’.

“It’s kind of being explained to us a little bit by a poet who’s no longer with us.”

Pamela: “There’s also Love II which is a song on the record which is also named after one of her poems which like after we were all reading that we were like, ‘Yeah, this feels like it makes a lot of sense’.

“It was a strange one, it’s a feeling we get a lot when we write music where it’s kind of after the fact. It could be months or even years later that you’re like, ‘Maybe that’s what that’s about’ even though you made it but you look at it through a different lens or you’ve let things ferment for a while and then you can grasp the meaning of certain things that you’ve said in the past.

“So when we came across that poem, we felt like it really encapsulated the message or vibe or how we felt about the album in a way that we couldn’t properly articulate ourselves and here it was right in front of us so it was kind of luck really.”

Sarah: “think we had nothing to compare it to because it was our first album.”

Cathy: “I think probably now I realise that we might have missed out on the live stuff but I think at the time we were maybe a little bit oblivious.”

Such a feature of your early work was your religious references so prominent in songs like Holy Show.

Am I missing them or are they absent from this album?

“We lost our faith,” Sarah jokes. “We were excommunicated after the last two albums.”

Pamela says: “Theres is one biblical reference in one of the songs. There’s a reference to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Gone but that’s pretty much the only one.”

Sarah adds: “There’s a line, I tried to talk to God as well.”

Pamela: “It might happen again. I guess maybe a lot of the Biblical or God references were kind of used in order to convey something, maybe we wanted to use it as a metaphor for something.

“This album we tried to be a bit more straightforward for the most part and less working with metaphors in order to convey emotions and even just being like, ‘This is exactly it’.

Sarah says: “I think growing up in Catholic Ireland, that was our introduction to storytelling anyway.

“It was like we learned through bible stories without even realising that’s what it was.

“You’d be referencing The Prodigal Son not knowing that it was from The Bible, just thinking that it was a reference people knew about one good child and one bad child.”

I wondered about the lyric, ‘I’m not man enough’ in the song, Heavy Pour.

What were you saying there?

Pamela says: “I guess it’s trying to convey an insecurity and I guess maybe in a way obviously there’s a little bit of, I don’t know if I can use this word, cock envy there.

“That’s not necessarily what the intention is but it is just trying to convey a real insecurity that’s probably in one’s head, rather than coming from any outside sources.”

Sarah adds: “The patriarchy’s real and those kinds of insecurities are bound to emerge and there’s still inequality across the board between men and any other gender.

“Femininity is equated with weakness and vulnerability and those are ‘bad things’.”

Ireland’s LGBT community were euphoric after a historic referendum legalised same sex marriage in 2015. In 2018 Ireland voted to legalise abortion.

Sadly Pillow Queens point out there is a lack of services for the latter and a back slide on the former.

Sarah: “Even recent research into access to abortions for women, the access is still not there. We’re fighting for free safe legal abortions and it’s still not available for people.”

Cathy says: “Ireland looks very progressive on paper but trans healthcare, adoption for gay couples…”

Rachel disagrees: “On paper visually it looks good but it’s actually on paper where the issue is. It’s the legislation around certain things that is a barrier.”

Sarah: “There’s so much red tape around everything. It’s too complicated to access so many things or waiting lists are too long. Access to services is shit.”

Cathy: “I mean obviously the conversation is alive now so that’s a positive but there’s a lot of groundwork that needs to be done.”

Do you feel accepted as queer in Ireland or do you still encounter homophobia?

Sarah says: “There’s definitely homophobia. I think people are afraid of anything different and I think it comes from fear and ignorance and that’s still around in abundance unfortunately. We hear of hate crimes against queer people, trans people all the time. It doesn’t feel like a safe place to be in. It did for a few years after the referendum. It felt really nice and welcoming and then the reality of it was that the homophobes had just stayed quiet for a while.”

Rachel adds: “And add to that the rise of the far right as well in Ireland, it’s just getting worse.”

You joined forces with other acts for the charity single that became known as Irish Women in Harmony’s Dreams.

It was also making a statement about the gender disparity on Irish radio.

I was wondering all these years later and after making that statement, have things changed on that front?

Sarah says: “Not at all.

“It was funny because after Irish Women in Harmony- because there was like 50 women on one song- They were able to play that one song and say, ‘Look how many women we’ve played’.

“On the radio especially it just meant that they got away with it for longer.

“No, there hasn’t been.”

Pamela says: “I think it’s a shame more so for radio. The Irish music scene is absolutely thriving, it’s spilling over into other countries and it’s something that is so important and it’s hopping right now and radio is kind of…”

Sarah offers: “Oblivious.”

Pamela continues: “Oblivious to it or not wanting to get involved in this renaissance of music that’s happening right now.

“It’s a shame for them because I think it kind of de-legitimises their place in the Irish music industry.

“I think the Irish radio would just be so refreshing if they even tried a little bit to get involved in what’s happening in Ireland right now.”

You play Iveagh Gardens for your biggest Irish show to date this summer…

Sarah says: “Absolutely. Yeah, biggest show, biggest headline show that we’ve done and a massive bucket list for us. I don’t think we’d even anticipated ever playing Iveagh Gardens when we started the band.”

On that note what have been highlights of what you have been able to do, the stages you have played up to now?

Sarah: “The one that comes to mind for me was when we opened for Phoebe Bridgers in Barrowlands in Glasgow.

“It was incredible because her fanbase is so receptive to her support act so everybody was really quiet and got there really early and watched every single note that we played and then bought merch afterwards.

“Then we were invited onstage with Phoebe Bridgers to sing a song as well at the end so that was life changing, it was very cool.”

Did  you get to hang with Phoebe afterwards, was she nice?

“Not really,” Sarah says making the band laugh as it sounded for a moment like she was saying Phoebe was not nice while she was really answering the first of those questions.

“Not as in she wasn’t nice. It was still the tail end of COVID so we were opposite sides of the building in terms of dressing rooms and that kind of thing. But we hung out a bit after the show and we got selfies and she was really cool.

“We met her at SXSW a few months beforehand, and just asked her if we could play with her and she was like, ‘Yeah, why not?’

“That’s how it happened.”

You have been a guest on James Corden’s The Late Late Show twice and he is quite the fan. Do you have any other celebrity fans?

Sarah says: “There’s one I’m thinking of, Rachel is thinking of the same thing.

“Jodie Comer followed us on Instagram, but she’s since unfollowed us.

“I don’t know what we did wrong.

“But Jodie if you’re reading, we love you and we really want your fandom back.”

Sarah: “It was an invite, hopefully she is just annoyed by our social media presence and does not actually hate us.”

Name Your Sorrow is out now.

The single Heavy Pour is also out now. 

Pillow Queens tour the UK in June.

For more information, click here.

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