Pillow Queens: “There’s definitely a bigger stage for women in music now”

Pillow Queens: “There’s definitely a bigger stage for women in music now”

By Tom Walsh

Jun 1, 2018 10:16

Pillow Queens are heading to Brighton for the fifth night of their tour when Cathy McGuinness’ phone buzzes. As the nondescript background of countryside and motorway flies by, she lets out a little yelp of joy causing the rest of the band to turn around. Two words sat next to the listing of their upcoming hometown show in Dublin - “sold out”.

“We all had a freakout in the van. I wasn’t expecting it at all,” McGuiness explains, still sporting a smile of disbelief. Before long, the band’s Twitter mentions are swamped with requests for spare tickets, their Facebook inboxes are filling up with friends asking whether they can nab a guestlist spot. Guitarist Sarah Corcoran was equalled overwhelmed: “We were all like, ‘wait, there’s more people that want to go?!’”.

It was the moment when Pillow Queens realised that this could be going somewhere and, naturally, it all began with a game of basketball. Blessed with an unusually sunny day in Dublin, Corcoran and future-bassist Pamela Connolly frantically scrolled through their phones to figure out whether anyone fancied a game of hoops.

“It was more of a ‘meet on the court, have a game and get shitfaced afterwards’,” Connolly laughs. Seeing the sunshine pierce the normally grey sky, the proposal peaked the interest of McGuinness and Rachel Lyons. A pulsating five minutes of exhausting basketball gives way to calls for the pub and as they chat over a mutual love of indie rock darlings Cloud Nothings and Yuck, a common consensus grows – “let’s form a band”.

In the space of 18 months, Pillow Queens have gone from a suggestion after a few pints to the new favourite band of BBC Radio 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq. Delighting audiences on both sides of the Irish Sea with their brand of uplifting indie rock delivered with an infectious energy and devastating lyrics, the accelerating upward trajectory has taken this fundamentally DIY band by surprise.

“People in the UK were coming up to us like ‘oh we heard you on Steve Lamacq, he thinks you’re great’ and were like ‘okay, I guess this is a big deal’,” Corcoran explains. “We then heard it on the radio for ourselves. We’re being played alongside bands we have loved for years. Then it hit home – this is huge”.

“[Lamacq] actually came to one of our shows in London,” Connolly adds. “Although none of us actually knew what he looked like because, you know, he’s a radio DJ. We were like 80 per cent sure it was him.”

Initially entering the indie conscious with 2016’s ‘Calm Girls’ EP, Pillow Queens instantly tapped into the frustrations of modern life, relationships and the state of the world. They tackle head-on the issues of gender and misogyny in a mould akin to contemporaries such as Cayetana and Camp Cope.

Their follow-up EP ‘State of The State’, released in early 2018, continues to explore these frustrations but packaged in uplifting songs. Corcoran explains that striking that balance is increasingly important when songwriting and is still amazed when something she penned strikes a note with an audience.

“I always think [the songs] are so specific to my life. They’re my personal experiences but if people do relate to them, that’s always cool,” adding that the whole process acts as her release valve. “I find it really cathartic to shout something that has been bugging you for a year into a microphone and then to have people sing it back at you is also really cool. [Songs] are more fun to play live when they’re upbeat and you can kind of forget about the sad, devastating lyrics that you’re singing.”

The introspective and heartfelt nature of their music has made Pillow Queens a hit within the DIY community which they hold so dear. The opening and accepting environment has allowed them to flourish at a time when opportunities afforded to female musicians has been placed under the spotlight. While there are still perceived obstacles for non-male fronted bands to prosper, Corcoran believes there is a changing in the tide. “There’s definitely a big space for women in music – and the arts, generally – at the moment. There’s a bigger stage then there was in the past. We’ve been very lucky in our experiences, I don’t know if it’s sheer luck or maybe it’s the type of gigs we play,” she explains.

Connolly, taking a sip of beer, interjects: “I think it’s the type of people that listen to our music, we attract a different type of person,” before laughing and adding “I think they would know we wouldn’t put up with something like heckling – we’d tell them to get the fuck out”.

While they don’t consider themselves to be the poster girls for like-minded bands to aspire to, they hope they can show female musicians what can be achieved. Connolly adds: “There’s definitely more of a female presence in music now. There’s a whole scene and it’s not unusual to see a band that’s entirely made up of girls, there are so many in Ireland now. If young people can see that then maybe it starts a domino effect because people are more comfortable with it. Maybe we could be seen as a reference point and then it’s a case of ‘well they can do it, why not us?’”

Pillow Queens are keen to promote these actions, as evidenced by their recent fundraising performance at Girls Rock – a voluntary group aimed at empowering young women and girls through music production and performance at the famous Whelan’s venue in Dublin. As their star continues to rise and the ‘sold out’ signs begin to appear at shows, it highlights a path new bands can tread.

“For younger people to see what we’re doing, that it is something we’re passionate about and we care about and have a good time doing it, I hope that it could be some kind of inspiration,” Corcoran adds.

From shooting a couple of hoops to being name-dropped on an international radio station to selling out hometown shows, the sunny days keep arriving for Pillow Queens. Breaking out in a beaming smile, Corcoran says: “It’s all very exciting.”

‘State of The State’ is available now from Specialist Subject Records.