Name Your Queens |

7 mins

Name Your Queens

It’s been two years since I last interviewed Pillow Queens for GCN ahead of the release of their second studio album, Leave The Light On. A lot has happened in that time. The band has toured around the world, with debut shows in places like Greece, Spain, Wales (and even Roscommon). They’ve sold out headline gigs in cities including New York, and flew the Irish flag loud and proud in another standout performance on The Late Late Show with James Cordon. The full list of their accomplishments is too plentiful to include, but I’m sure you get the picture - they’ve been doing pretty damn good.

Now, they are back on home soil, and three of the four members sit across from me at a hotel bar in Dublin, ready to reflect on the time gone by and tease their next era, which comes with the release of their new record. Christened Name Your Sorrow in a nod to Eavan Boland’s ‘Atlantis—A Lost Sonnet’, it sees the group chart unexplored territory, offering an uninhibited look at their artistry and humanity.

As guitarist Cathy McGuinness explains, the album is “a journey” through “loss” and “the different stages of grief ”. Bassist Sarah Corcoran further described it as “very introspective,” while lead vocalist Pamela Connolly said it has a “rawness” that is lifted by intricate musical production. It’s an achingly beautiful break-up record, but for all the moments of despair, there are also moments of relief.

“It feels like a heavy album, but it also feels like a very cathartic album,” Pamela commented, adding that processing grief through music can serve as a distraction. “In ‘February 8th’, the first song, it goes through the motions at the beginning, and then the line ‘Let’s just play some rock and roll,’ [comes in] which is just like, release whatever energy you have - whether that means getting everything out or just using the playing of music as a distraction or something to get all of the nerves out of your hands.”

Delving deeper into the tracklist, the band discussed their favourites.

“I think mine is consistently ‘The Bar’s Closed’,” Cathy began. “It’s just really tender and beautiful—in the second verse, the harmonies—and then it goes into the chaotic outro of what, for me, wanted to sound almost like an ambulance or sirens and like an emergency kind of situation, and I just feel like you’ve got that whole spectrum—I love it.”

Sarah noted her current favourite as ‘Blew Up The World’. “It’s partially to do with the fact that I really enjoy playing it live,” she said. “But also the line, ‘I can’t call my mam at all. I told her there’s nothing wrong, I just need to fall asleep’ - every time I hear it, my heart just goes tight, breaks into a million pieces…I just think it’s a really sad and wonderful line.”

The closing track, ‘Notes On Worth’, is Pamela’s choice. “It does something as the last song that makes so much sense for the album,” she expressed. “It has this noise going through it that’s repetitive and going through the motions. Normally we end the album on big, noisy crescendos. This one is not that; this is kind of like ‘to be continued’. Like it hasn’t put a full stop on the album.

“This piece is about grief and heartbreak. It’s not saying that it’s over; it’s saying that it might continue for a while, but it’s not as intense as the previous songs that started the album.”

With the project centring some heavy themes, it’s safe to say that recording it was undoubtedly an emotional experience. A behind-the-scenes clip uploaded to TikTok shows drummer Rachel Lyons wiping away tears as Pamela sings the devastating line, “You’re not my life anymore”.

Reflecting on the process, Sarah said: “When we actually go into the studio, you get to hear isolated vocal takes…the music’s pulled right down so you can hear every note, and just hearing that rawness and hearing the emotion in Pamela’s vocals, and in everyone’s vocals really when recording, it’s like ‘Oh God, this is actually heartbreaking’.”

Cathy added: “I think everyone has ideas of how their drums or guitars or bass should sound, or their harmonies or whatever, so when you can properly execute that in the studio, the tone of it comes across way more… It’s real and emotional.”

“There’s a bass note in ‘The Bar’s Closed’ that I play that makes me cry and it’s literally just when I go to one note I’m like, ‘That’s so sad!’” Sarah echoed.

They recorded the album in a remote, female-owned studio in Northern Ireland, surrounded by nothing other than incredible scenery. While it may have been emotionally intense at times, the band was mindful to step away from the heaviness, whether it be to enjoy daily barbeques, play boardgames or watch the Women’s World Cup.

“It’s kind of nice not to be able to leave the world you’re in,” Cathy said. “It’s such a beautiful place and the studio’s amazing -Analogue Catalogue, it’s called.”

Pamela added: “We work well when we’re secluded. We’re focused on one thing and that’s making music.”

Name Your Sorrow was produced by Collin Pastore, who is also known for working with the likes of Lucy Dacus and boygenius. Pillow Queens described him as funny, clever, humble and, overall, “an absolute angel.”

Interestingly, Pillow Queens and boygenius mirror each other in their respective latest records. In ‘Heavy Pour’ on Name Your Sorrow, the Irish group repeats the line- “I’m not man enough, man enough,” while on the track ‘Not Strong Enough’, boygenius sing, “I don’t know why I am the way I am, not strong enough to be your man”.

A similar lyric features on ‘House That Sailed Away’ from Pillow Queens’ previous album, which pleads: “Show me how to be your man”. It’s fascinating to examine this recurring theme, and why it appears for both of these queer female rock groups.

“It’s an interesting idea, the idea of masculinity and queerness,” Sarah began. “What do you mean by ‘not enough’? Is it the idea of a strength that we associate with masculinity and being a man and manning up? When you feel weak, you kind of beat yourself up for not being a man even though that’s not what you’re striving for.”

Pamela similarly associated it with a feeling of being “too soft” - "Is my femininity inherently weak?” she questioned.

Sarah admitted that it’s something they have struggled with as a band, and being in a traditionally maledominated genre surely has an impact as well. However, music is queerer than ever, and Pamela noted that it’s an exciting time to be in the industry. “It’s almost unusual for a band to not be a little bit queer, or just to be all men. It’s such a nice place to be where you don’t feel like you are the outlier,” she said. “Suddenly, we’re not the tokens, and that’s a fantastic feeling…I feel excited because I feel not alone.”

Sarah similarly expressed: “It’s cool that people are looking at the music and not just that we’re women and not just that we’re queer women, it’s because there are other people doing it as well.”

While they may not be the only gays in the village, the group certainly stands out as an example of Irish excellence. As well as releasing their third album, they are also preparing to play their biggest show to date on July 13, taking over Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens which boasts a capacity of 4,000.

On what audiences can expect from the gig, Sarah joked: “Four scared girls.”

Meanwhile, Cathy said: “It’s going to be amazing, it’s going to be so good. We’re going to be mindful about the tracklisting - it’s gonna be a show.”

“We’re in the process of thinking it through and what exactly it’s going to be and how we can just give the best show of our lives really. We’re excited about it,” Pamela concluded.

The Iveagh Gardens concert comes a month after Pillow Queens tour the UK in June, with tickets for all gigs on sale now. Undoubtedly, the setlist will include hits from their new album.

If you haven’t already listened, I can only assume it’s because it’s too relatable and you’re not ready to face your feelings. For those prepared to dive in, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, so grab your tissues, keep your ex’s number blocked and let’s just play some rock and roll music.

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