“Because we were away and not active in a public sense, it just removed any sense of outside pressure”
“And there’s the shit,” announces Ruth the photographer, almost proudly, pointing out of the window to a huge pool of open sewage water that we drive past, arriving ever closer to the beach-cum-industrial site of Poolbeg Quay for Girl Band’s photo shoot. “Is this the first place you thought of when you heard our music?” asks the band’s producer and bassist Daniel Fox with joking incredulity as we glide past the overflowing and incredibly pungent river of excrement.
As Girl Band stand around somewhat awkwardly in front of the open water, crumbling walls and storage containers, they realise it’s been a while since their last photo shoot and they’re a little rusty. In fact, it’s been a while since their last anything. Their last album – ferocious debut Holding Hands With Jamie – was released in 2015 and both their last gig and photo shoot were back in 2017.
It’s been a fragmented few years for the band. They were forced to cancel several shows due to health reasons, and given the openness with which singer Dara Kiely had previously spoken about his ongoing issues with mental health it left some wondering if the proper return of the band will ever happen. The band’s debut, and ensuing interviews, spoke candidly about the difficult period Kiely had been through: when we spoke in 2015 for issue 71 of Loud And Quiet he told me how he went from “pure highs to crippling lows”, staying up for a week straight, spending months in hospital, living in a tent for a while and even undergoing a temporary delusional state in which he thought he was God. The lyrics on the album were a direct reflection of this too: “Well, you’re not God mate and your mother’s scared,” he expelled on ‘The Last Riddler’. And on ‘Pears For Lunch’ he screeched: “Spend my time watching Top Gear with my trousers down. Covered in Sudocrem and talking to myself.”
Back in 2015, it still felt like a relatively new and refreshing thing for a band to be so open and honest about mental health difficulties; for years the four men in a guitar band unit was not synonymous with emotional maturity, honesty and expressing vulnerability. In the following years a shift has continued and it’s been a continual focal point of discussion in and around the industry. Several years down the line it’s reached a stage where PR people frequently use it as pitching angle: the term ‘breaking the stigma’ has been rolled out with such regularity it’s almost lost meaning and we’ve now entered a territory where the same banks who for years have been hammering struggling people with fines and charges for going a few quid over their overdraft are now taking out television adverts telling us how much they care about our mental health and well being. The conversation and narrative around mental health has exploded since Girl Band last spoke about it, yet for them the conversation has already ended, at least publicly. “It’s well known that we had to take time off for health reasons before making this new album,” the band say via a joint statement. “However, we don’t want the focus surrounding the new album to be defined by this. As a result we won’t be talking about it generally in interviews. We are looking to the future as a group and individually we’re all doing what we can to support those with mental health issues in our community.”