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Waking up

Steph O’Sullivan, singer with alt-rock duo Greywind, told David Hennessy how the shocking suicide of their uncle inspired them to start the band, how getting the early backing of someone like Zane Lowe led to a major label bidding war and them losing their minds and that although they are a sibling duo they are not Liam and Noel Gallagher yet.

Killarney sibling duo Greywind have been tipped for the very top ever since the world got its first taste of their music back in 2017.

Zane Lowe described Greywind’s debut single Afterthoughts as, “A moment you won’t forget if you’re a fan of rock music.”

Kerrang! magazine describe their music as, “Poetic and graceful, yet musically powerful.”

Ireland’s industry bible Hot Press Magazine have said “Greywind are rapidly building up a reputation as one of the most compelling alternative rock acts in the country” while also saying of the frontwoman Steph O’Sullivan, “Steph combines the sneering magnetism of Tom DeLonge with the vocal power of Dolores O’Riordan.”

However, it was a heartbreaking family tragedy that finally pushed siblings Steph and Paul O’Sullivan into making music after many years of dreaming.

When their uncle committed suicide in 2010, they realised they had one life and should go for their dreams. It was their heartfelt Afterthoughts, about that loss, that brought them to prominence.

Steph told The Irish World: “That kind of woke us up because our dream was to be in a band for years and years and years.

“That happened and it kind of made us think, ‘Okay, life is short. You could be gone the next day’.

“It really woke us up so then we went and wrote Afterthoughts. That’s what that song is about. It’s about someone really regretting. It asks, Do you regret what you’ve done and looking back, would you do it again? Would you have done that if you had seen how much you were loved on earth?

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“I still think about that every time we write a song. It always relates back to that kind of pain.

“I’ve got messages from fans saying stuff like that song really helped them literally as they were thinking of doing something and it just blows my mind. It’s sad but I feel grateful in a way that if we can help anyone, one person even.

“When I always dreamed of being in a band I didn’t think of that side of it. We were more like, ‘Okay, we’ll just do it for ourselves’. And then the fact that you can help people with it is even a bigger dream.”

When Afterthoughts was picked up by Zane Lowe and Daniel P Carter on Radio 1, a deluge of industry interest followed as well as a bidding war with all the major record labels.

“That was insane. I genuinely think about it every day. If I’m having a down day I’ll think, ‘Wait, Zane Lowe likes me, it’s fine’.

“He was literally one of the first radio people to support us and that’s the one you kind of want as well.

“We grew up watching Gonzo on MTV and always watched him interviewing our favourite bands like My Chemical Romance and The Killers so to hear him say such nice things about mine and Paul’s first song was like a pinch me moment. I’m very grateful for that.”

The success came as a surprise to the brother and sister who really only recorded the track for themselves.

“Me and Paul wanted to be in a band for years and we could never find anyone else. Obviously living in Killarney, there’s not really a rock scene so we were like, ‘Okay, we can’t find a drummer, we can’t find a bassist’. Then Paul was like, ‘Okay, let’s just do it ourselves, we’ll go up to a studio in Belfast’.

“Our mum drove us up to the studio and we recorded a demo of Afterthoughts and I remember in the studio we were sitting on a couch and when he was playing it back we were like, ‘Oh my God, wait, this song sounds really good. Why is this good?’

“We kind of went in for ourselves and then we just put it online and then literally the next day we had major labels and managers emailing us. We were so confused. We were like, ‘What is happening?’

“Even Paul went to take one of the dogs for a walk and he was halfway down the road and he literally just had the lead. He came back in the door and was like, ‘I forgot the dog’. We were just in such shock at everything. We just lost our minds basically.”

It would just be a few short months later that Greywind would sell out St Pancras Church in London.

“It was literally our- I think 16th show- So we were still fairly new to live shows and stuff.

“We were like, ‘Okay, we’ll just put it on and see what we can sell’. I remember even our managers at the time were like, ‘Don’t expect to sell it out’.

“Yeah, we sold it out. We were in shock. I remember seeing people singing back songs. It was just surreal.

“Even now seeing people singing back, it still doesn’t make sense but I’m going along with it.”

And Afterthoughts was not the only track on their critically acclaimed debut album that mined a personal tragedy with their song The Lake being about the accidental drowning of someone they knew. What made that story even more heartbreaking was that a friend was there and trying to save the drowning victim but unable to prevent the tragedy.

“It was one of my friend’s cousins and he ended up drowning. They were out on a summer’s day and his friend couldn’t get to him in time so we wrote the song from that friend’s point of view. How do you even cope with that?

“I know it’s dark but I feel like when there’s so much music about normal, generic stuff I think it’s nice to tap into the darker kind of subjects because I feel like it will help people.

“Someone could listen to that and relate to that in their own way and feel a bit of therapy.

“I’ve had messages from people who have said other songs have helped them in their darkest times and that’s more than we could ever- We didn’t start this band for that but if we can help people in any way that makes my life complete.”

Greywind this week return with the new single, Am I Asleep? Reminiscent of Paramore for its infectiousness, the track is accompanied by a cinematic video.

However, Steph is less keen to reveal what this track is about for fear of ‘ruining’ it.

“Usually when we write songs we love having the listener have their own thoughts on what it is about because even me and Paul have different meanings for the song.

“For me it’s more of a mental health aspect and Paul has his own reasonings for lyrics and stuff.

“I like being vague because I feel like you shouldn’t really tell people what to feel. That’s my favourite way to listen to music. If I’m listening to a song and I imagine my own thoughts.

“I’ve had so many songs ruined for me when I find out what it’s about because then I’m like, ‘Oh wait, my way was wrong’.

“Some people will see Afterthoughts in a different way. Some people will think it’s a love song, ‘I left you with roses grown in hell’. That’s what I love, just that it has multiple meanings.”

Steph and her brother took inspiration from the world of celluloid for their video that has a definite movie feel.

“With the yellow suit, I was watching Kill Bill. Uma Thurman: Powerful woman in all yellow. I thought, ‘How can I do that in my own way? I wouldn’t want to rip it off. How do I make that my own?’

“I love fashion and make-up and stuff so I’ve planned that yellow suit for years.

“I knew I wanted a yellow suit. I wanted the colour. I wanted it to be pop culture-looking.

“We love the Tarantino movies, all the classic noirs. Then stuff like Marilyn Monroe, old Hollywood, that’s the aesthetic I love and Paul loves.

“Then those blockbuster movies with the epic soundtracks. That’s what we wanted as the sound progresses. It builds and builds and the tension so we wanted it to be our own movie but you could also hear it in a movie.”

With the song recorded early last year, Steph and Paul were lucky enough to be able to film the video in London just before another lockdown forced further delays.

“We were lucky. There was a little window in between the lockdowns that we were able to get to London for a couple of days and it was all Covid safe with masks and stuff on the set.

“It was a two man team, it was a small little crew.

“It was weird though. We were lucky that it was so quiet around so it suited us for the video.

“It was nice in that sense and it was sad going over and there was just no one on the streets.”

London was actually where it all started for Steph and Paul doing some growing up in Edgware before he family moved back to Kerry while they were children.

“I love London. Me and Paul were actually born in London. Our parents are from Killarney so we moved back when I was like eight years old so that’s why my accent’s a bit weird.

“We went to school there and then my parents decided, ‘Okay, yeah, we want to move back home’. We moved back and were forced to learn Irish and didn’t understand anything.

“I kept saying the word ‘wicked’ all the time as well. Everyone was like, ‘What is she saying?’ I don’t say that anymore. Even saying soccer now, it was football in England.

“I felt like I was just on holiday for a while and then it was like, ‘Oh wait, I’m actually here’. But I love it. I love the scenery. Even with our first album, you can see the inspiration with the artwork like mountains, lakes, all that I love. Even though I do love cities.”

With three years between them, Steph and Paul have always had similar interests that help them work well together in a band.

“We’re lucky. We’ve always liked the same music and movies so we get along really well. We’re not Liam and Noel Gallagher yet so it’s good. Come back in a few years. Album five, I’ll just cause some drama.”

Do they have any more siblings besides each other? “No, that’s it. If there was more, they would probably be in the band,” she laughs.

So is there a new album to follow on the heels of the new single? “There might be. We have a lot up our sleeve. We have a lot of songs. We have a lot of fun stuff.

“We love being mysterious. We love the element of surprise so we’re going to have a lot of fun more stuff. I’m not going to tell you though,” she laughs.

It could be an EP, could be singles, could be an album

Am I Asleep? is out now.

For more information, click here.

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