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The Tripe + Drisheen Interview
"If you don't retaliate, you acquiesce," says musician Elaine Malone ahead of her album launch in the Green Room in Cork Opera House for Sounds from a Safe Harbour.
Pádraig O’Connor: Hi Elaine, you’ve a new album being released this week called ‘Pyrrhic’. Why did you choose this as the title?
The idea of a pyrrhic victory was something that resonated with me for months. I often have an absurd amount of tabs open to remind myself of things and that word was resounding in my head as a perfectly succinct way of saying it. It's defined as a victory that comes at a greater cost than its spoils. I misspell it almost every time so it's probably a bad album title!
Did the making of this album come at a greater cost than its spoils?
It's not out yet. We'll see!
There has been a notable change in your sound from your earlier songs to your current work. What do you think has been the biggest influence in this marked progression?
I think each thing I've produced has been a reflection of my limitations at that time. My first EP was a set of shyly made folk songs because that was what I had access to in 2018. I didn't dare play with others for a long time. As soon as I could work with others and particularly with my band now (Sam Clague, Ruairí Dale and James Christie) it became so much freer and I could verbalise my intentions better. Playing with them has been the greatest influence. Age too. Feels like everything now sits between a world of shoegaze and Marty Robbins.
What influence, if any, has living in Cork as a city had on your musical development?
Cork has always had an incredibly rich music scene, especially with the calibre of bands like The Bonk, Fixity and The Altered Hours. I never miss the chance to see them live, as it’s hugely reinvigorating. Plugd has always been a focal point for exciting new work and a great environment for challenging art.
I can't help but be inspired by the skill and talent around this town. Sam Clague has been a major influence in every capacity, particularly his new band Crying Loser and seeing Niamh Dalton's new project Ana Palindrome is filling me with excitement for what she's creating.
On two of the songs currently available from the new album, there seems to be an exploration of power dynamics in relationships. The playful, if willingly submissive I’ll Eat Out of Your Hand, whereas on My Baby’s Dead, a more dominant character emerges, almost saying if he comes home late, I’ll kill him. Is this something you were consciously aware of when writing the lyrics?
Songs can be based in fact or fantasy and all things are stories. My Baby's Dead was written as a genre song. Inverting the murder ballad and the tone of violence of songs like He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss) by The Crystals. There are a million ways that love is expressed and experienced. Sometimes it's inhabiting characters through song and in others it's incredibly direct and honest. I generally don't write with an intention in mind but allow the subconscious to drop things out of the ether.
Do you feel less exposed singing less personal songs?
You're in a vulnerable position when you perform regardless of its subject matter. Everything is open to interpretation.
How important is imagery to you? Obviously you’re a musician first and foremost, but inevitably you need to promote yourself visually also and you’ve worked with a lot of different artists/directors on your music videos. There are a couple of recurring images such as you being enveloped or emerging and other interesting symbols, even religious ones in the video for Moontread. Do you come up with the ideas for these pieces on your own or is it a collaborative process?
Imagery is very important to me and having made art in different forms over the years there are certain themes I return to. Using symbols embellishes the artistic world you inhabit and as a lapsed Catholic, I find it interesting to use that imagery and still find tremendous beauty in the Virgin Mary or the saints. The aesthetic of stained glass and shrouds and crosses and there being a violence so intrinsic to it.
Seeing a crucified half-naked Jesus on the wall of mass every Sunday sticks with you when you're a small child. I find using the Virgin Mary is a reframing of the familiar effigies of suffering and conflicting notions of feminine subservience and perfection. I'm fortunate with the people I have collaborated with on videos like Zoe Greenway and Laurie Shaw, that the process is very communal and borne out of mutual excitement. Their skills and creativity are so inspiring and it feels like a shared world.
Sinéad O’ Connor passed away recently, who you admired a great deal. When Sinéad was young, she railed against the power of the church and the ongoing wars being waged across the world. What, if anything, would a young musician today rail against and do you think musicians should aim to do anything more, other than make music?
I am heavily indebted to her influence. If you don't retaliate, you acquiesce. All art is inherently political whether it's overtly stated or not. Artists have a responsibility to reflect the world they inhabit but it takes a lot of strength for someone to speak as she did and for some their work is their declaration. There is so much to fight for, in particular for trans rights and the safety of refugees. Thankfully, the younger generation are incredibly well-informed and active.
Finally, what can people expect on the night of the launch? Will you be playing the new album in its entirety? Why did you choose to launch it at Sounds for a Safe Harbour?
I'm excited to share it with the people I care about and for Nudy Boy to support. Nudy Boy Nature is the project of James Christie who plays drums in my band and he writes excellent tunes. It feels like standing at the bar of a saloon when you're watching it. I'm really looking forward to what Sounds From a Safe Harbour brings to the city and to play among some incredible artists this year. Mary (Hickson) and co. have done a beautiful job of curating it.
Time, date, place: 10pm, Saturday, September 9, SFSH X Seanie Buttons Presents in association with Foggy Notions, Elaine Malone + Nudy Boy Nature live in The Green Room, Cork Opera House. Tickets and more information here. Sounds from a Safe Harbour runs at various venues across Cork city from September 7-10.
Pádraig O’Connor is a playwright.