First Press: Getting to know M(h)aol

By in Features





First Press is a series where The Vinyl Factory chats with artists amidst the release of their debut album. Read on to meet the musicians who’ll be finding a home in your record collection very soon. 

For our second edition, Kelly Doherty speaks with Róisín Nic Ghearailt, Jamie Hyland and Zoe Greenway, three members of M(h)aol, an Irish feminist punk band that have just released their excellent debut album Attachment Styles. 

Tell me a little about the name M(h)aol. Am I right in thinking it’s an Irish folklore reference? 

Róisín: Connie [Keane, drums] came up with the band name when we formed in 2014. She shaved my head and she was like, no, you have to be in a ban and I was obviously completely on board. 

I am a Gaeilgeoir [an Irish language speaker], Connie studied journalism and Irish, and we were very interested in the Irish language and its cultural significance. Gráinne Mhaol was a touchstone and such a feminist icon, and it’s unusual to have a feminist icon that has endured for so long. 

We wanted to make reference to Irish language and culture, but it also has a double meaning–M(h)aol in Irish means bold. By putting the ‘h’ in brackets, it would be pronounced as male, which was funny, because our original lineup was all women. 

We were a band practising every single week for a year before we played any shows at all and we definitely had a lot of conversations about having a complicated name, but when we started playing, we knew it was the right fit.

The band’s earliest song online is a collaboration between M(h)aol and Dara Kiely [Gilla Band] in 2015. Could you talk me through the period of time when you weren’t active and how you came back together?

Róisín: Our lives just took different turns, so we put it on hold. I moved to New York and I remember someone saying, “are you in a band? That seems unlikely for you.”

We brought M(h)aol back when we were all back in Ireland just before COVID-19 hit. That Christmas was the first time in four years that we were in the country at the same time. We thought we’d play a one-off charity show and then we decided to reform. We went straight into COVID-19 then, and planning for the band gave us the chance to have a bit of excitement.

There was no pressure with what was going on in the world at the time and then in 2021 my dad was like, “you should do an EP”. At that point, we’d recorded “Laundries” and “Asking For It”, effectively three songs over 6 years, so it was quite daunting recording an EP. 

UK promoters suddenly asked if we were playing shows soon. We were like, “what is this? What is this scam? We’ve only released two songs”. In 2021, we kept upping the ante. The EP was originally going to be on mixtapes and then suddenly on vinyl. Then we were on tour and everything really gathered momentum.

Was that an overwhelming experience in the aftermath of COVID-19?

Róisín: It was strange, but it was awesome. It was strange coming over to the UK from Ireland because restrictions were more lackadaisical. We were supposed to do a tour that we ended up cancelling because of complications around COVID-19. We had a lot of conversations around that—what happens if one of us can’t play? How do we handle that? 

As performers, you really bounce off each other and the crowd in a live setting. How does that translate into the recording process when you’re faced with a silent room?

Jamie: The way the band actually works musically, there isn’t really an option but to record live. In the press release, there’s an emphasis on the fact that we tracked it live, but it’s less a decision and more just how it has to be. It’s also definitely not a quiet room, we’re always chatting and there’s always stuff going on in our environment. We’re just there doing it and recording is happening.

What was your goal when writing Attachment Styles?

Róisín: Initially, I thought we should call it Attachment Styles because I was really interested in attachment styles. I knew I wanted it to be in some form or another about dealing with the patriarchy within yourself.

For a while, I wanted it to be called Ghost A Post-Punk Boy and the manifesto would be to ghost the post-punk boy within. The voice of the patriarchy is not always someone outside of you. It’s often the voice in your head that tells you that you’re not good enough.

Phoebe Bridgers posing with M(h)aol’s Ghost A Post-Punk Boy merchandise

I knew that I really wanted to write a track about queerness and healing because that’s my modus operandi. I wanted to write a track that challenges queer culture as well because misogyny isn’t just Andrew Tate. It’s femme-phobia, it’s the reason trans femmes get a much harder time than trans masculine people. Why do we have so many of these expectations around anything to do with femininity?

For me, being queer is being problematic insofar as it is problematizing dominant narratives, whatever those dominant narratives may be in whatever culture you exist in. I knew I didn’t want to write about just men anymore.

I wanted to see what I could learn about myself and my community. I had basically written a bunch of stuff and had all this in my brain. I went to the rest of the band and was like “I have all these lyrics, I have a lot of gender theory”. 

For me, as a listener, your music provides catharsis. However, for you as performers, there’s a huge amount of vulnerability. Is that something you struggle with drawing boundaries around, given the gravity of some of your material?

Róisín: The somatic release of drama and stress through unified vocalisation is mentioned in The Body Keeps The Score. Being on stage together and feeling that sense of togetherness is really bearable. But sometimes the weight of the material does actually just sit on you a little more than other times. I also think we’ve probably had different experiences with it because some of us are more introverted.

I think what is difficult for me is you can’t control how an audience is going to read you. The only times I find it really truly dismaying is when an audience misinterprets what we’re doing here. Early in 2022, we had a really good conversation about how we make it so that there are more queer people and women and people of colour at our shows. What responsibility do we have as a band if it’s just men coming to our shows? We have control and power over it. 

Talk to me about your new single “Period Sex”. 

Róisín: We did a music video for “Period Sex” and no English publications would touch it. They won’t play it on the BBC. It’s crazy, there’s not even a swear word in it!

It’s not coming up on people’s feeds on Instagram because of its subject, so we’re hoping it gets playlisted for people to hear it. Out of all the songs that we’ve released, “Period Sex” is such a study in playfulness and joy and empowerment. With the accompanying video, I don’t understand how you can watch it and not just smile and feel invigorated. 

ZoeIf there were no periods, none of us would be here, so why is this so taboo? I wanted to make the video really playful with the sea creatures and stuff. It’s been framed in a really fun way.

Róisín: We live in such a sex-saturated world. Why wouldn’t you want a positive representation of it? We released it for a reason. 

You can buy Attachment Styles on black vinyl now. Check out the video for “Period Sex” below.