Concert Review

SXSW: Irish Band M(H)AOL on Political Advocacy and Songwriting

todayMay 14, 2023 32 1

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By Ashley Farnie

Assistant Music Director

Last year I spent my summer studying abroad in Cork, Ireland, as you know if you have kept up with my writing! Before embarking on the international journey, my professor recommended a post-punk show in Kinsale that I immediately requested coverage for. You can read about my first time seeing M(H)AOL perform here!


The band traveled to Austin this spring for South by Southwest and were lovely to allot for an interview after their performance at the festival’s Irish showcase. I have kept up with the band via email and social media since our meeting in July, but this was the first time I got to sit down with all 5 members and discuss the band and the music in-depth. M(H)AOL’s noisy, impassioned sound is powered by vocalist and songwriter Róisín Nic Ghearailt, drummer Constance (Connie) Keane, producer, guitarist, and keyboardist Jamie Hyland, bassist Zoë Greenway, and guitarist Sean Nolan.


Róisín (left) and Zoë (right) share microphone.
M(H)AOL performs SXSW 2023. | Ashley Farnie


Connie explained the significance of the band’s name which originates from “an Irish pirate queen, called Gráinne Mhaol; but in the Irish language when you put an “H” after an “M” it turns into a “W” sound, so that’s why the “H” is in brackets. When I was 21, I thought that was a very clever play on words.” M(H)AOL formed nearly 8 years ago with a brief intermission during their beginning stages. The band has established themselves as a progressive force within the Irish music scene and their travels to Austin for SXSW will surely introduce them to new audiences.


When I saw the band perform last summer I was awestruck by the unique elements throughout their performance. From Zoë’s use of a bow on her bass, to Sean’s backward-facing guitar playing, to Connie’s minimalistic drum set, I had so many questions saved up for my next personal encounter with M(H)AOL.


Zoë on black bass in black dress.
M(H)AOL performs SXSW 2023. | Ashley Farnie


Connie: “In terms of the instrumentation of the record…I started playing the drums when I was 9, I had my first drum lesson on my 9th birthday, and then by the time I turned 26 I wanted to push myself to be more creative with it. Drummers that I love, it’s a less is more approach, so I got rid of half my drum kit to push myself to think about the instrument and how to create new sounds with it maybe in a way that wasn’t initially intended. My drumming is influenced by electronic music; it’s not really influenced by punk drumming. Jamie records, produces, mixes, and masters all of the music, so a lot of the sounds musically are coming from initial ideas that Jamie would’ve had.”


Jamie: “It’s less going from ideas and more responding to Roisin, because she’ll lyrically set the tone and ask for a particular mood. Then it’s just a case between the rest of us going like ‘what if I make this noise and you make that noise. Does that kind of match the mood you’re looking for?’ It seems to work, so…”


Zoë: “There’s a lot of natural expression in orchestrating the songs. I don’t know if you guys notice, but “Bisexual Anxiety,” I play that different every time going off how Róisín is speaking and intonating certain sentences and words. I find that avenue so much fun, going through an expressive way rather than following a formula or a genre. It’s just see[ing] what comes out of a natural, present moment.”


Róisín: “For the songwriting process, I write everything in my notes app. Actually, the entirety of Attachment Styles was written in my notes app, and, because I’m not a musician but I am a writer, I think a lot about syntax… I think it’s very important to give yourself space to percolate and to marinate on things, but I think it’s also easier for me because I’m not trying to say, ‘this is C Minor to D Major,’ or ‘this is how many beats.’ I have certain things I want to talk about, kind of my main agendas. I really believe in my core that we are not all liberated until we are all liberated. All the permutations of the world, they all are linked.”


Róisín facing back of stage in pink floral babydoll dress.
M(H)AOL performs SXSW 2023. | Ashley Farnie


With a band name inspired by an Irish queen, a debut EP titled Gender Studies, and debut album exploring Attachment Styles, the presence of political advocacy and human rights is at the forefront of M(H)AOL’s musical philosophy; however, the limitations of the male-dominated music industry make this quite the feat.


As Jamie explains, “the fact that [M(H)AOL] is four women participating in a space that is heavily male dominated” should “act as a small little helve on the stone path on the way to equality. It’s hard to make yourself turn out to do it all the time because it’s hard to see the progress.”


Róisín expresses similar sentiments, agreeing that “a lot of our audience is men of a certain kind of genre… it doesn’t seem to have such a huge impact on them and even someone may come and see us, listen to what we’re saying, cheer when we say something political, but then they don’t make any concrete changes.”


Róisín smiling in pink floral babydoll dress.
M(H)AOL performs SXSW 2023. | Ashley Farnie


Although the band confronts these issues in their lyrics, there seems to be a disconnect between their audience and their message. The band discussed the positive growth of the Irish music scene as of late and Connie explained, “when we started, there were hardly any women in the Irish music scene, it felt very DIY/local. We weren’t on lineups with many women, there wasn’t much thought being put into that; but when we came back at the end of 2019, it did feel like there had been a bit of progress in those few years where we have ended up on lineups with women and more gender minorities.”


Róisín holds tambourine in pink floral babydoll dress.
M(H)AOL performs SXSW 2023. | Ashley Farnie


Despite the progression within the scene of a diversely gendered population of creatives, the industry itself remains male-dominated and exclusive.


Róisín: “On this lineup, and lots of lineups we’ve been on, it seems like there’s lots of women on it, and you go and most of the instrumentations are men that can make money off of making music. Because it’s so difficult to make money as a band now, it is very sanitized, and it feels difficult.”


Zoë: “I find that even sometimes in the reception of the music videos…there’s been so much thought, and experimentation, and pushing towards something new, and progressive, and that is ignored; like “Period Sex” was shadow-banned when it came out…it’s picking and choosing what you’re supporting and what you’re talking about, not embracing the full thing.”


Connie: “I find that music has influenced my politics massively, so all I can do is hope that what we’re doing is doing that for other people. But I think with what we’re doing, you have to have an inherent level of optimism. You can’t guarantee that it’s going to influence anybody, but the fact that we’re doing it is enough of a sign of hope that maybe it will do something, but it doesn’t…the thing with art is that you don’t actually know what its’ going to do. All you can do as an artist is put something out into the world. How people receive that is their own business. We can’t really comment beyond us making the thing and putting it out.”


Róisín in pink floral babydoll dress.
M(H)AOL performs SXSW 2023. | Ashley Farnie


M(H)AOL’s continual progress over eight years demonstrates their passion for equality within the music industry and for all. I am so grateful to have been introduced to this band last year. Every conversation I have had with the members has been intentional, compassionate, and authentic. Their musical talents and stellar characters are sure to continue their rise to post-punk power across the world.


Róisín in pink floral babydoll dress.
M(H)AOL performs SXSW 2023. | Ashley Farnie


Support M(H)AOL’s latest release and debut album, Attachment Styles, on streaming services and follow the band on socials to stay up to date!

Instagram: @mhaolmusic

Written by: Preethi Mangadu

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