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Flying solo, in her own words
After a decade with folk-punk female foursome Mongoose, West Cork singer-songwriter Molly O'Mahony has released a debut solo album charting a course through her twenties with diary-style intimacy.
Ballydehob native Molly O’Mahony studied English and Music at University College Dublin, living in Portobello in the titular House of David of her first solo album, before forming Mongoose with Ailbhe Dunne, Muireann Ní Cheannabháin and Cara Dunne. The folk-punk act recorded two albums, released in 2015 and 2019. Also an actor, Molly has most recently appeared in The Boy Who Never Was at Dublin Theatre Festival.
She released her debut solo album, The House of David, on November 10.
On The House of David, or just….David’s house
“When you change the words around it sounds a lot less lofty, but David’s house is where I lived for a lot of the years I lived in Dublin. It was a really important place because it allowed me to live in the city for reasonable rent which allowed me to be an artist there; I’m not sure how I would have swung it but for David, who is an old family friend who put me up and also my sister for a time. I wanted to honour the place by naming the album that, but also many of the stories and relationships in the album began under that roof.”
“The biblical thing was very intentional. I liked that as a title, because the drama of your twenties makes everything seem so big.”
“The songs are drawn from my life consecutively, so tracks two and three go back seven or eight years. I suppose I was piecing together an arc through my twenties. Lots of the songs were in their raw form, from years ago, and I finished and honed a lot of them over lockdown.”
On leaving her twenties
“I’m 31 now, thank God. I actually feel younger now than I did when I was 23. I think I placed so much expectation on myself in my twenties. I always felt like I was too old; when I was 22, I remember going, ‘oh God, I’m so old to be doing this now.’ And I look back and I was like a child. I’ve lost that now.”
“I’m not chained to these milestones you feel like you’re meant to be hitting at different ages. I feel like I’ve cast that off, which is very refreshing. I didn’t have an existential crisis after college; I actually had a really beautiful time, but from my mid-twenties onwards, a lot of my shit started catching up on me and I struggled a lot with feeling very dark until my late twenties, until I started going to therapy.”
“I started with a counsellor of some kind when I was 28. Since then, I have gotten into Gestalt psychotherapy and I did a really intensive personal development course through it. It’s very holistic and body-lead and it’s been a big revelation.”
On retreating to Ballydehob in 2020
“I had been doing a course in Kinsale College before Covid, so maybe I was gravitating back towards West Cork. Then lockdown happened and my relationship broke up all at the same time, so it was a perfect storm.”
“I ended up back at home in Ballydehob with all my siblings. I’m one of five and it was literally the first time we’d all been living in the same place since adulthood. I had it in my head for a few years that I wanted to do a solo project and lockdown provided the circumstances and time. And the resources in the form of my siblings, to play music with and bounce ideas off. It was a godsend in terms of re-orienting my path.”
Molly with siblings Fiachra and Matilda playing under lockdown in June 2020:
Recording the album
“We recorded Remember To Be Brave over Christmas 2020, in one of these small gaps where people were allowed to gather for ten minutes. We couldn’t get a studio so we recorded in The Loft in Ballydehob. I didn’t give them much to go on, but it came together really quickly and the arrangement was exactly what I needed it to be and the alchemy between the group was really sweet.”
“So I just took that exact gang of people and we recorded the album in the summer of 2021. It came together super quick, over five days, in Black Mountain Studio in Dundalk, and banged it out with a day and a half’s rehearsal beforehand.
On crowd-funding the album
“What a win-win. It raised the money, but it also totally got the community in on the project and then everyone is invested in it as well. It’s been amazing to feel like the album has been made with the people in my community and they really want it to happen.”
On flying solo
“In Mongoose, I wrote the majority of the songs. It started to feel kind of dishonest, not claiming the stories as my own. I could never talk about them as my own; we could talk about the musicality and arrangements, because that was a four-way street. But in terms of claiming the stories, and the way I write is a personal act for me, it started to feel quite strange that I couldn’t talk about the stories of the songs as my own. I needed the creative power over my work, over the decisions on how the stories were presented.”
On stepping into the spotlight
“I am an introvert, but I also have a really big need for validation and showing off in my personality. The position of front-woman is actually where I feel most comfortable and where I need to be. Which is a hard thing to claim, actually. The way Mongoose went, we started as a band that played my songs and then it morphed and changed beautifully, but it had got to the point where I felt like I couldn’t be in power within it. I needed to feel what it was like to be in a band and a real democratic space and a real four-way exchange of ideas and musicality, and then I needed to do the other. These are my songs, so it feels great to be front and centre. It’s where I feel I need to be for this project.”
.On Mongoose being an all-female band ten years ago
“I look back on those early years when we were playing and there was us, and Wyvern Lingo. It was non-stop: we were the token girl-act on bills, forever playing these little well-intentioned female-only gigs trying to sort of raise voices for women.”
“We did have to fight our battles. We were forever being mistaken for girlfriends of bands. we used to travel around in a Nissan Micra with our double bass on the roof; we’d be up to our chins with gear in this Micra. We showed up at the entrance to a festival once, couldn’t have been more laden down with musical instruments, and yer man on the gate was like, ‘artists, is it?’ We were literally a tin can full of instruments but it was still questioned because we were women with instruments. ‘Artists, is it?’ became a bit of a catch-phrase. We say it to each other to this day.”
On Mongoose’s “indefinite hiatus”
“All of us would probably be reluctant to say we’ll never do anything again. We reformed for a couple of shows over the summer, which was an interesting experience. It was fun, but it was also a reminder of all the reasons it was healthy for us to take a break.”
“There’s an amazing, buzzing aliveness when all of us get in a room together and start making stuff, but there’s also a certain tension. It’s intense. That energy is very valuable and we’re all aware that we don’t want to say that the ship has sailed. But we’re all working on our own projects at the moment.”
On the response to the album so far
“As a completely independent artist with minimal help, I think I’ve done the most that I can to get it out there and that feels satisfying, like I’ve given it my very best shot to get it to people’s ears. We played our first show in Galway last week and we had our Dublin show in the Workman’s and it was so lovely, so what I’m buzzing on now is playing it live. It feels so fun and the kind of energy that was there when we made the thing is back and it’s being received really, really well live. Which is really cool.”
On the West Cork welcome
“I was very much a Dublin musician and really had no following at all in Cork; Mongoose couldn’t fill a venue in Cork city. So coming home and really integrating into the Levis’ community in Ballydehob, and Joe and Caroline being so supportive of me making the records, I feel I can truthfully claim I’m a West Cork musician now. Before lockdown, I don’t think I could have said that. I was a Dub, really.”
“I really need the countryside, so that’s a priority at the moment, to find a balance between rural and city living. I am based in West Cork now, but I was just up in David’s house; it’s wonderful to have a base in Dublin to go to. It’s good for my soul to be mostly in West Cork, but my partner is in Ennistymon, so I’m in Co Clare a good bit too. Something will have to give eventually, but for now, I’m buzzing between those three places: Dublin, Clare and here.”
On the future
“Now, I’m daunted by the idea of what to do next. My entire creative focus was on getting this done, on closing this chapter and establishing myself as a solo creative.”
“I think I’ve let go of a very narrow view of what success as a musician looks like. I’ve never been all that attracted to playing stadia. I’ve always looked to people like Wallis Bird: she has a fairly modest but devoted following all over Europe. She can easily strike up a tour of 40 dates around Europe and Ireland and people will show up to see her. She’s always doing new things and pushing herself creatively. Something like that would be amazing.”
“But I’ve also just finished up being in a play at Dublin Theatre Festival and I’ve always had a toe in the theatre world too and it really reminded me how much I love it. It was a devised play, very collaborative. I love being in a room with people and doing mad stuff and coming up with something interesting. I’ve been fighting the sensible voice in my brain that goes, ‘ok you’re doing this, but what are you going to do to make loads of money?’ for the past decade, and I think maybe I’ve let go of that and am open to creative opportunities.”
Molly O’Mahony’s Cork album launch for The House of David in Coughlan’s as part of Quiet Lights Festival on Thursday, November 24 is sold out. For more Quiet Lights go here. Molly’s hometown launch in Levis’ Corner House, Ballydehob is Saturday, November 26. Tickets here.
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