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Blonde ambition

Soda Blonde told David Hennessy about their forthcoming album Small Talk, the conflict between feminism and Catholic guilt and leaving Little Green Cars behind.

When the popular Irish band Little Green Cars announced they were disbanding in 2019, their many fans were surprised and disappointed.

But it wasn’t long before guitarist and vocalist Faye O’Rourke returned with the new incarnation Soda Blonde, a band that maintained all but one of her old bandmates.

Stevie Appleby is the only member of Little Green Cars who is not in Soda Blonde.

Now Faye and her bandmates Adam O’Regan, Dylan Lynch and Donagh Seaver O’Leary are set to release their first album and, all things going well, tour it around the UK and Ireland in the coming months.

Having been ready to release their first album when the crisis and lockdown initially hit, Faye told The Irish World how eager they are to get on the road: “If they don’t let us in the venues, we’ll be outside them on the street,” she laughs.

“Even seeing those dates shifted my mood a good bit. I think this particular lockdown there’s a bit of despair in the air this time but I think you’ve just got to take it as it comes.”

Guitarist Adam O’Regan adds: “This time last year lockdown had just begun and it feels like it’s been a lifetime. We’ve done everything you can do to squeeze the fun and the joy out of this kind of experience but God, it’s f**king old. It is old now and we are ready to get back to life.

“It’s funny. We wrote, recorded and released an EP during the lockdown so the amount of music that we actually have now at our disposal is almost two albums worth of music that we haven’t really played live before.

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“We had a little bit of an experience where we played in Vicar Street, which is one of our favourite venues, and we did a live stream for them. They were commemorating their venue and invited a lot of their staple acts to play and we got up on the stage and it just felt so good to be on that stage and I think we were all from that moment just like, ‘Okay, gotta get through this and to the light at the end of the tunnel’. We’ve gotta just keep chasing that light.”

Soda Blonde released their first single in June 2019, Swimming Through the Night, followed by their debut EP, Terrible Hands, in November. Had it not been for the pandemic they may have then released their debut album but they filled the gap with the EP, Isolation Content.

Their debut album and its lead single, which has just been released, are both called Small Talk. And like the title hints at, the band want to dispense with idle chatter and get to the point of dealing with important themes.

Faye says: “It’s kind of a way of confronting things that I’ve done in a confessional sense. I am a deeply flawed human being and to be able to express that and to be able to put that out into the ether there is a catharsis there. It means I can move on. I feel like I’m letting go of things and I can move forward now with releasing this record. It’s a huge deal.”

Adam adds: “Often our motto when we’re making things together is, ‘The time for half measures is over’. So we just want to paint with broad strokes. The idea to me of giving up small talk, just eradicating the noise, getting to the root of the thing, speaking from the heart, just being real- It feels like something that I think people are craving more and more of these days more than ever. Where do you find your truth these days? It’s so hard to navigate.”

It was the abortion referendum of 2018 that inspired the final track on the album Choices.

Faye says: “With feminism on one shoulder and trans-generational Catholic guilt on the other, it’s hard to find your way as an Irish woman.

“I definitely went through a period where I had this this reawakening, a feminist awakening and it was a really empowering thing but I also think women of my generation where we came from and what our teenage years were like still inform us now.

“I grew up desperate for a man’s validation and I can’t just eradicate that from who I am now. Even though I know that’s something that’s maybe not healthy and it’s influenced things for the worse and it’s caused so many problems, it’s still a part of me that I don’t want to have to despise, I want to accept. It’s kind of like that balance of being aware of all of these things and striving for progression but also not trying to completely destroy who I am.

“Catholic guilt is a thing. It’s just inherently in us. It’s a term that everybody uses but we do associate sex and shame and that’s such a massive problem and I know so many people that are affected by that. And it’s just a loop because if sex and shame are linked together then you can’t have one without the other.

“Even if we are leaving it (Ireland’s Catholic tradition) behind it’s something that people still want to go back to. We’re kind of fascinated by our own trauma like the famine and all the abuses of the church and obviously we have stuff that is ongoing like all the mother and baby home stuff.

“There’s still so much that we have to iron out but there is definitely a really exciting youth movement. I find all that really inspiring because I think people are less afraid to say how they feel. I was terrified to say what I felt even through my 20s. In my late 20s now I still question myself and I’m still self-conscious but I think people are finding their voice and it’s a really beautiful thing.

“I did write a song about the abortion referendum. That was something that was important because it galvinised the youth movement. I never had an interest really in politics before then because I was middle classs and it didn’t affect me, I could get through my life easily enough without giving a sh*t about politics and that was the first time I felt really passionate about something that wasn’t affecting me, could affect me in the future.

“We really need to galvinise over other things now. We have other things in this country that desperately need sorting like we need to sort out our f**king housing crisis.”

Adam explains: “I think part of the reason why we always gravitate towards each other and are so close is because we don’t see the world in black and white terms, never have been that way.

“The world right now it feels so much like it’s left or it’s right or it’s this or it’s that. Everyone’s being beaten into these labels, these boxes and you have to take a side. If you’re not on this side, you’re on the other side and things are complicated and I feel like it’s just kind of trying to navigate through that.”

Formed in Dublin while they were still at school, Little Green Cars came to the attention of major UK labels through their self-released early EPs. From there, the hype around them just grew and grew.

Their 2013 debut album Absolute Zero went to number one in the Irish album charts from which they built a big following in America, performing Harper Lee on The Jimmy Fallon Show on one US trip.

They would go on to follow this with the album Ephemera in 2016.

Although Soda Blonde is a new project, how new does it feel when the four of them have such great experience of playing together already?

Faye answers: “Personally for me it feels like a completely new thing because I kind of feel it’s not a third album that I’ve made, it’s the album that I’ve always wanted to make. I think we all feel similarly about how proud we are of this record but in terms of the writing it’s got all of me in here and I can’t say that about any other album that I’ve released.”

Adam adds: “It’s tricky because obviously we’re four of the five people that were in a band together but it’s like you often see directors that work with ensemble cast and they’ll make different movies and this is just like a different movie for us.”

Faye agrees: “Good way of putting it.”

Adam says: “I personally think we made two albums with Little Green Cars. We had plenty more we could have said with that project. We have plenty more we still want to say. I think for all of us success is defined by essentially the ability to be able to do this, to be able to reach an audience and do this as our careers and do it as long as we can. I think we want to reach greater, further, wider, sing to more people, be on better stages. What sensibly minded well-intentioned artist doesn’t want that career?”

Bass player Donagh adds: “It probably harks back to what we were talking about earlier about that kind of generational Irishness of the Catholic shame and stuff. Sometimes there’s a sense that ambition and sincerity are dirty words where we just don’t think so. We are ambitious and we’re really sincere about what we do. We’re sincere about our art, we’re sincere about all the different facets of it and we take pride in that.”

Adam continues: “We were writing a lot of music at the end of our last band and we wrote and wrote and wrote and it started to define itself as being something that was just categorically a different thing and we all felt that this is a new project.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘Should we keep the name? should we not keep the name?’ It’s not that. We’re not the band formerly known as… We’re Soda Blonde and it’s a different thing. It feels new. It feels like our first album. It feels like we’re starting all over again and we feel all those feeling of, ‘Oh my God, how do we do this?’ It’s all that same stuff and it’s exciting and it’s scary and it’s wonderful.”

Little Green Cars seemed to burst onto the scene around 2012 when they were being tipped for greatness before their debut album had even landed.

Faye says that she and the band did not feel as ready as they were being made out to be: “I think I did find it difficult because, being young, I was very unconfident.

“I think we were kind of in a situation where there was people around us telling us that we were great. Then I was very afraid of finding out I wasn’t very good. There was a certain amount of ego that was built up for me because of what was being written about us or what was being told to us. Then I don’t know if I ever felt like I had the confidence to go with that so it was kind of difficult to have a big ego and no confidence.”

Adam interjects: “I think the word you’re looking for is a bit of a headf**k.”

Faye agrees: “Yes, it was a bit of a headf**k.”

Drummer Dylan adds: “I don’t know any person who has lived through 17 to 24 and not had their head completely f**ked. When you throw in touring around America it’s a mad time.”

Adam says: “There was a moment of hype and then I don’t think it really felt like we reached a stratosphere at any point. Relatively speaking we definitely experienced a lot of success but I don’t think it ever felt like we had a moment where it was like, ‘Woah, f**k, we’re being chased down the street by paparazzi’ or anything like that. We signed our record deal when I think we were 19 or 20, we made our album and then we were on the road for whatever it was six, seven years.”

Faye says: “We were sleeping in vans. We weren’t doing it in a big, glamorous way. It was tough going. It was a different state every day. It was nine hours in a van. You had to really love what you were doing to do it.”

Dylan says: “From the outside perspective when a band gets success, it always seems like it happens quickly but we were working for two years straight on that music before we were signed. I think we’ve always brought that level of detail to everything that we do including this record. It’s always been working so hard on the tunes.”

Faye says: “I remember doing interviews and I just wanted to say what I thought was the right thing to say or what was going to make the person like me. I had loads to say, I just didn’t think there was anything about me that was interesting. I actually have this awful flashback memory.

“We were doing an interview and I used this word that I thought meant one thing but it meant another. I used the word lucrative because I had just read it in a book and I meant, ‘It’s been a profitable time for us’, not like money-wise. I said, ‘It’s been very lucrative for us’,” she says adopting a comedy D4 accent to poke fun at herself. “And it’s actually haunted me to this day and I remember Donagh afterwards saying, ‘Faye you do not know what that word means’.”

Little Green Cars

The Irish World tells Faye she should be haunted by something much worse: “I am, that’s the only thing I can say. The only thing I can talk about. There’s loads.”

Faye has spoken before about feeling ‘lost’ when Little Green Cars broke up and these feelings were shared by her bandmates.

Faye said: “Being in a band for ten years you do feel like your fate’s tied to other people’s and that can be a wonderful but very scary thing. You feel that any decision you want to make is going to affect other people and having gone through that already and making the decision to re-emerge and plunge ourselves back in: That’s a big decision. It’s a big decision as well when you’re older and you’re in your mid 20s and there’s certain bullsh*tty things that you think you need to tick off the list in terms of what other people your age are doing so it was all that kind of awareness.

“We were aware of what we were taking on which was again scary and wonderful.”

Donagh reflects: “It’s always easier to look back on labelled moments of time than it is when you’re in it. I certainly might have made the mistake of aligning my identity with it. It was the strangest time to do something. We were in it from 17 until 24 and the people that went into it and the people who came out were so different to each other and when it’s you and you’re part of it it feels so real and when it ended there was definitely a sense of, ‘Well now what?'”

Dylan adds: “It ended and I think we were all fine with that. I think if you’ve been involved with something since you were 17, it’s always going to feel a bit crazy when something that long ends. It reached a conclusion and I think we’ve moved on as people and I’m really proud of it and that’s it.”

Adam said: “I think there was a minute where you’re kind of wondering ‘What does this mean for all of us as individuals?’ Obviously we were very young at the start of that band and none of us went to university. Our university was the road in a lot of ways. We travelled around the world together, we grew up together, had all these first experiences together and so when it ended there’s a moment where you’re wondering, ‘Where do we go from here?’ But I think it became clear very quickly- I can speak on behalf of everyone that there’s nothing else we wanted to do than make music. Any feelings of fear were quickly snapped by just intention.”

Faye adds: “I don’t think any of us would be doing anything else because we physically don’t have the skills because we didn’t go to college but it’s what we’re meant to do.”

The single Small Talk is out now. The album Small Talk is out 9 July.

Soda Blonde play Broadcast in Glasgow on 21 September, YES in Manchester on 22 September and Sebright Arms in London on 23 September.

For more information, click here.

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