Irish Trio whenyoung Brings Back '80s Indie Pop

By Biju Belinky on May 8, 2019

Not every budding rock band gets invited to share a stage with the likes of Patti Smith and Nick Cave without having a full album out, but then again, Irish trio whenyoung are far from being like every other band around.

Hailing originally from the small city of Limerick in Ireland, vocalist/bassist Aoife Power, guitarist Niall Burns and drummer Andrew Flood are long-time friends, first brought together by a love of rock music and cheap vodka, spending their days like any good group of teens who felt like outsiders: listening to songs and telling each other they should start a band.

Still, it wasn’t until a few years later, when the trio all moved first to Dublin and then to London in search of something bigger, that they decided to make their dream group actually happen. They started playing the odd gig here and there under the name Sisters, and then from 2016 onwards, Power, Burns and Flood began performing under the moniker whenyoung: the band name inspired by the title of a song by '80s Irish band Whipping Boy, a unanimous favourite of the group.

When it comes to genre, whenyoung self-defines as “pop with a punk ethos,” their sound flirting with '80s pop music and lyrics talking about loneliness, performance and politics. In their debut EP, Given Up, Power's melodic voice shifts track-to-track between a soft caress and the sonic embodiment of a fight between friends outside a club at 3 a.m.

As well as keeping true to their signature sound, the band uniquely does not shy away from naming their musical references. Given Up features a passionate cover of The Cranberries' "Dreams," while their invitation to perform at icon Shane MacGowan's 60th birthday party was extended after the band e-mailed him a link to their cover of "Fairytale of New York."

With a debut EP out and an array of tours under its belt, the band is preparing for its first American performances and the release of its first full-length album, Reasons to Dream, in May. Ahead of what promises to be a busy 2019, PRØHBTD spoke to Flood about being Irish in the London music scene, his dream tour lineup and the importance of performing live in the digital age.

You are from Ireland but started the band in the London scene. How connected do you feel to the Irish music scene and your national identity?

When we started out in London, we very much felt like we were three foreigners in a big city. Over time, playing gigs and meeting other bands and artists, we felt more like a part of the [London] community. Still, I guess the longer you’re away from somewhere, the more you think about it. After a while we got to a point where we were listening back to old albums that we knew from our town and songs that we had learnt when we were younger and thinking, “Oh god, maybe this has subconsciously influenced my music and the way I live.” It’s this unusual duality that I think every immigrant has, this recent affiliation with the place you live in, but a longing for the place you’re from, and those two things end up forming who you are, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Do you think distance makes the heart grow fonder?

I think it does to an extent, though it doesn’t blind you. You still go back to where you’re from and realize that “maybe I still don’t want to move back here,” but the idea [of it] is a fond idea, and the memories are fond. We consider ourselves an Irish band, obviously, but we live in London and are heavily influenced by the music scene there and how it has shaped us.

In “The Collector” you talk about loneliness, in “The Actor” you talk about performing for other people. Where does the inspiration to write about these subjects come from?

The songs we write are always personal, and the message is always a strong one we believe in. We’re not just writing words for the sake of putting words to a melody. It’s a collection of things [that inspire us]: youth, growing up, living away from home and friends, dealing with how you feel about modern society. These may be darker topics than your average song might have, but we always try to include an element of hope with that darkness. A lot of our songs are quite upbeat, so it’s a nice juxtaposition. The lyrics may be dark and thought-provoking, but the melody is uplifting and hopeful.

Have you found personal antidotes to those modern-life afflictions?

I think having a creative output is the single most important antidote. Being able to voice your feelings in creative ways for us means music is probably the most important thing.

What would you say are the aspects of politics that you are most involved with in the U.K. at the moment?

Obviously, Brexit going on, which is the most crazy, idiotic, stupid thing. As Irish people living in the U.K., that affects us on two sides. I just hope there’s a second referendum, and it is overturned.

During the summer in Ireland, we also had a vote to give women the choice on abortion, Repeal the 8th, of which we were all very supportive and vocal about. In the history books, when you look at 2018, that’s always going to be such a landmark day for Ireland because it is a small country, which has been under the repression of the Catholic Church. It was a very big step to change for Ireland.

About your cover of “Dreams” by The Cranberries, why did you choose to cover that song in particular?

The Cranberries are from the same place we’re from in Ireland, so when we were growing up loving music, they were always like the stars in the sky that we looked to as role models. We thought, “Oh my god, if they can do it, and they’re from this small place in Ireland, then maybe we can do it.” They were a band that we always admired. Then Dolores O’Riordan passed away at the start of 2018, and we just decided we’d do a cover of one of their songs. We played it live a couple of times, and people seemed to like it so we recorded it and then sent it to the guitarist from The Cranberries. He really liked it, so we just thought we’d release it on our EP. It made sense since it’s a reference point for us for where we’re from.

You guys have a lot of anecdotes regarding famous people. What would you say was the most surreal moment you’ve experienced so far?

Looking back on it, we had quite a few of those in 2018. The craziest one was probably when we did the Shane MacGowan gig in January for his 60th birthday. The list of performers was insane, and we were by far the least-known performers on the bill. The night before the gig we were with our manager, and she said we’re going to get some dinner, and we thought it was just going to be a few people we didn’t know, but when we got there, it was [Primal Scream's] Bobby Gillespie, Nick Cave, [the Sex Pistols'] Glen Matlock and [The Libertines'] Carl Barat sitting at a small table in the restaurant. I ended up getting quite drunk out of nervousness and knocked my chair in front of Nick Cave.

We’ve had some really big moments this year that we would’ve never imagined. We got to play with Patti Smith and Nick Cave in Ireland, which was a dream come true. Plus, all the support tours we’ve gone on this year were just crazy.

Talking about festivals, what would be your dream festival lineup to watch? Dead or alive.

These bands would all have to be in their prime. Top of the bill would probably have to be The Clash. The Ramones finished way too young, so they’d have to be there. Blondie, proper young Blondie. I’m being really obvious, aren’t I? Imagine seeing The Beatles all together. That would be insane. Imagine seeing Elvis or Roy Orbison! Yeah. That’s probably enough.

For someone who’s starting a band just now, what would be your advice?

I think if you truly believe in it, just do it. Worst case scenario, you’ll spend a couple of years playing, and you’ll still have learnt so much from it, so you won’t be wasting time. Do what you believe in and don’t listen to people who are giving you advice on what you should do with your life.

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