Feminist punks M(h)aol: “It’s really tough, but you can heal”

Comfort in noise

Despite the band’s members being dispersed across Dublin, Cork, Bristol, London and Belfast, the complex way that M(h)aol (pronounced ‘male’) approach punk has a unifying quality, their feminist politics and psychological subject matter feeling universally relatable. With 2021’s EP Gender Studies providing a quality introduction, M(h)aol’s debut record, Attachment Styles (named after the psychological term for the ways in which people form and maintain their personal relationships), sees the band grow further into their sound. It has been just short of a decade in the making – the band formed in Dublin in 2014, with lyricist and vocalist Róisín Nic Ghearailt largely influencing what the band address in their work, having completed a master’s degree in, you guessed it, Gender Studies.

“Róisín writes all the lyrics, and there’s a story running through the new album that’s partly personal and partly political, pushing forward things that we should talk about,” the band’s bassist and creative director Zoë Greenway explains. “She has that knowledge and can identify gaps in what needs to be talked about or what people aren’t talking about.

“We were talking about attachment styles,” she continues, turning to the album name, “and [how] it’s a really good thing to bring into people’s minds… how your brain is functioning and behaving, the relationships that it’s forming with people, and being aware of childhood trauma informing your adult behaviour… you have to be very honest with yourself.”

“Addressing any of those things is a lot of work,” fellow bassist and producer for the band Jamie Hyland adds. “I remember ages ago doing one of those online ‘What’s my attachment style?’ quizzes, and ‘anxious avoidant’, that was me! Shortly after making the album, there was this small running joke, like let’s all sit around and do our attachment styles…”

M(h)aol’s sonics lend themselves to their intense lyrics, with some undeniably weird moments crunching through their framework of punk, noise rock and electronica. “Trying to reinforce the impact we want the lyrics to have is maybe why it’s so noisy,” says Jamie. However, she says that there are intentional moments on the album that lean away from the aggressive noise. ‘Cowboy Honey’, for instance, is a gentle folk track featuring samples of an old piano soundboard that the band found outside their rehearsal studios. They call it the ‘horror piano’, and are repressing fits of giggles explaining its genesis; it does really sound like it was ripped from a textbook Halloween film soundtrack.

The quirks that charge the band’s creations can be traced in part to their innate rejection of the status quo; instead of being influenced by specific bands and artists, Jamie states their influences are more unconventional, like the sounds of overhead planes or the brakes on a bin lorry. Zoë feels the same. “We got told to make a playlist of things that are inspiring us. When I was trying to think of what I want this to sound like, I couldn’t really think of anything, because I wanted it to be an expression.”

So M(h)aol is more of a broadly-defined art project than a specifically music-focused project? Zoë and Jamie agree in unison. Zoë’s master’s in cinematography, for example, adds another expressive layer, which the band apply to their music videos. 

“They basically just let me do whatever I want,” she laughs. “I would be working in film if I wasn’t in the band. I studied film theory as well, so I’m just very conscious of how to present things visually. I’ll always try and subvert a vision, where I’ll just be creating different worlds for the songs to live in.”

One of M(h)aol’s most striking creations is the video for the guttural, cathartic punk track ‘Asking For It’, in which Róisín rages against rape culture on a windy coastline with waves crashing in the distance. “The song was based on a letter from a survivor, but it was actually filled with a lot of victim blaming,” explains Jamie. “When we recorded it, Róisín shifted the narrative to be more about healing.”

The video took them two months to make because they wanted its very personal message to be conveyed sensitively, taking potential triggers into consideration, with statistics on sexual assault appearing in the film between the powerful shots of Róisín. 

“I got a lot of messages saying that it was cathartic, really helpful and a beautiful presentation,” Zoë says. “There was an anger being expressed that is not usually allowed to be expressed in situations like that. There’s a lot of silence around that subject matter, so having Róisín shouting about it in the video and showing so much emotion was really powerful. It was based on how she sings it live and it makes me emotional every time she plays it, because she’s my friend and she sings so powerfully and I wanted to match that. Seeing that energy is like a protest. The message of it was, ‘What if you were locked inside your thoughts [and] something traumatic has happened to you?’ It’s really tough, but there is a way that you can heal and break through that trauma if you are gentle with yourself and take the time to listen to yourself.”

Attachment Styles began to come together in April 2022, with writing and recording taking place in a small recording studio in Dublin. 

“It was a very short period of time from conception to the recorded, finished songs – mixed and mastered,” Jamie explains. “It was really interesting because when going in to record we did the EP in the same kind of way, where we went in for two days to record the five songs. Because I understand how music tends to be made I was very aware of the fact that to go into a studio with no songs written and to expect to have fully written, recorded and produced songs sounds like a big ask, but it worked out fine. I was sceptical about doing it again for an entire album, because with an album it should be a bit more cohesive and a bit more like you’re trying to make a statement – you don’t really want any of that statement to be weak. I was quite nervous going in to try and put this whole thing together, because there was nothing really to put together. But we went in and took the instruments and went, ‘Is this the album?’ and by the end of May we were like, ‘Oh yeah that was the album, thank god!’” she laughs.

Since they first began releasing music, M(h)aol have done so via TULLE, a record label started by their drummer Connie Keane. “Connie started TULLE because she had been working with a bunch of different record labels and she was seeing how the music business was run and all the ways that she didn’t like how it was being run,” says Jamie. “She would rather not have to engage with any of that, so she started her own record label. I know a lot of people that have become friends with their label heads and their team, but this is literally ‘our friend is our label head’, so in that regard it’s amazing. Personally and professionally, she has our best interests at heart. It is a little fun having the driving business force be part of the creative force, because creativity should not be tied to capitalist ideas, but it is definitely beneficial. Existing in capitalist society is a bit of a double-edged sword.” It’s a good thing, then, that M(h)aol have built themselves an armour thick enough to stand up to it.

Photography by Becca Geden