Siblings Abbey and Arann Blake, as well as their long-term friend Andy Killian, are Cork’s newest art-punk jewel -Pretty Happy. They shared with Joe Drennan how they aren’t so worried about the archaic limitations of music theory, and instead, prioritise the audience’s experience at their live performances.
Photos by Brian Teeling.
I got the chance to speak to Pretty Happy at Cork city’s historic Triskel Arts Centre, where they’re preparing to create an audio-visual piece that explores the lineage of Cork after its punk-era through the venues of its past as part of their Write Record Perform residency.
Each member brings a personal talent so that when all three are joined together, it creates a unique sound and atmosphere on stage. Abbey Blake brings the visual expertise, applying her extensive knowledge from her background in Film Studies to the band’s repertoire of short films and music videos. She even plays the lead in the music video for ‘Salami’, which features a combination of nods to classic French film alongside visual effects of gyrating pigs, that together, just works.
From engineering on construction sites in the UK to engineering sound on stage, Andy Killian is the main composer of the trio. He is described by Arann as “the most defined and logical musician,” utilising his engineering, mathematical brain, and a fascination of music to give Pretty Happy its distinctive accent. He has a major appreciation for avant-garde composition, and for bands like the Pixies. He learned how to play the drums by programming the sounds from an electronic kit, but he has conquered the skill since then, and was accepted into the Berklee College of Music in Spain to do a master’s degree in Film Scoring but turned it down for the band.
Arann Blake values the thespian aspect of the trio’s productions, bringing theatre into their on-stage performances. This admiration for theatre comes from Arann’s knowledge of screenwriting and love of dramatic monologues from writers such as Samuel Beckett. This appreciation for drama leads the band to act out mini plays at gigs and even in the short films that they make. Because for them, it’s all about the audience’s experience.
Arann: “We care so much about the audience. We’re having fun, we want other people to have fun. That’s the whole point of it. We want people to enjoy it and feel safe.”
They aren’t afraid to humour their audience, and they take a lot of inspiration for songs from inside jokes and funny things that happen to them. A prime example of this is their song about Solpadol, motivated by Abbey falling through a sunlight in her roof at home during lockdown. It was a scary experience at the time, as she had spent nearly six weeks in bed after falling nearly 20 feet but looks back at it in a humorous light. Abbey: “My fat ass saved me. “My mam would be like ‘How’re you feeling today? Do you want a Solpadol?’ And it was just stuck in my head after that.”
The band have been aiming to replicate the on-stage experience in the studio with the songs that they record. It’s a hard task to achieve, but they believe they’ve finally accomplished it with the new songs that they have coming out this summer.
By far the most interesting thing about this band is their stream-of-consciousness writing style. The three lock themselves in a shed out the back of their house, that they describe as “a hotbox of shit smell,” and just try to make each other laugh. If a particular riff works, they add to it, and a song is made. They don’t go in with any agenda, they just write about whatever they come up with on the day. Sometimes, they take note of funny phrases from their group, or one-liners that come from the colourful characters of Cork city.
In their song ‘Salami’, Auntie Marie is an example of the Cork environment making a feature in their music. Abbey: “I was just imagining myself in Dunne’s Stores in Ballyvolane on the north side, and how you’d always bump into Auntie Marie.”
Their style moves away from the formulaic method of writing music, and instead, ushers in a more humorous and exciting angle. Rather than hitting notes or stringing together perfect chords, this band tries to imagine how they can make the listener feel with the music that they make. This is something that they admire in American rock band the Pixies.
Andy: “For them, it’s not about singing a note, it’s about imagining someone feeling a certain way and it’s just chaotic and weird.”
This unconventional manner of songwriting employed by the band could be described as an echo chamber in the most positive sense, where they only write songs that makes themselves laugh, and they aren’t pressured by the outside environment to write songs for success or notoriety. It’s probably the most organic way of creating art that I’ve ever come across, and their enjoyment in writing songs with one another carries over to their live performances.
Despite the band not having any explicit agenda when it comes to composing a song, Abbey noted that her experience as a queer woman inherently alters the nature of the songs that she has a hand in making. Even though the boys Arann and Andy don’t exclusively identify as queer, they relate to the experience. It’s also important to note that it’s not done sympathetically, but empathetically, no virtue signalling involved. Although they’re writing in this streamof-consciousness style, the band are looking at what they’re writing about through the lens of the queer experience, rather than plainly writing about queer issues.
They mentioned that this most likely comes from their love of other queer bands, not purely because they feature LGBTQ+ artists, but because these musicians typically share the same lack of regard for the rules that they themselves do. They also noted that they understand the way in which the industry treats these artists differently, and how they also experience this sometimes too. Abbey took the lead on this issue, detailing her frustration at the expectations on queer female artists.
Abbey: “They’d expect me to be a sexy front woman, I hate that. I want to go out on stage and be manky. I want to spit all over the gaff and make big ugly faces. I’m not here to look pretty, we’re here to make art.”
Moving on from the negative aspects of their ventures, I decided to finish the interview by asking the band what is next for them. They have some singles coming out in the summer and are excited to play at All Together Now in July. They are also supporting Gilla Band’s gigs in the next few weeks. But for now, the band are focused on their audio-visual piece for the Write Record Perform residency, beginning in July.
I’m glad to have gotten to meet them before their impending catapult to fame makes them impossible to reach. Pretty Happy: ones to watch.