Girls on Girls: The Lynch twins on sex and death
They say that it took them a while to come around to the idea of taking their clothes off, but Edele and Keavy Lynch are back and they're no longer those cute girls from B*witched. While their comeback as Barbarellas has been criticised, seeing them labelled as Primark Lady Gagas, the girls are in a good place now and Keavy has put her suicidal depression behind her. Barry Egan catches up with Shane Lynch's little sisters and he finds them all growed up. Photography by Kip Carroll
The cradle, Nabokov once wrote, rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.
Twins Edele and Keavy Lynch -- born December 15, 1979, in Dublin -- were to have very different opinions of existence once they emerged from that cradle. Keavy, in later years, would tend towards the darkness, towards the abyss of her own mind. And in that abyss, the pop star found, not abnormally, a deep and sometimes unendurable depression. So unendurable that, at times, she thought about ending her life.
It all seems so unlikely for the girl who, as part of Irish pop sensation B*witched, sang such winsome, wholesome, infectiously upbeat pop ditties as C'est La Vie and Blame It on the Weatherman. Depression seemed an alien concept to the grinning girl band, forever in blue jeans, whom People magazine said possessed a "giddy confection for the preteen at heart".
So it is jolting to hear Keavy say the actual words to me: "I prayed to God that I wouldn't wake up every morning."
"I think people knew I was very down, but I didn't tell anyone the extent of how I felt," she explains of the time just before B*witched split up suddenly in September 2002. "I was very good at putting on a face when I was around people. It was when I was at home, I just . . . I just didn't want to be here."
Today in Dublin, here in the penthouse of The Wright Venue in Swords, Keavy and her sister Edele are talking up their new band, Barbarellas.
As Barbarellas, as their own website says, "the twins have been carefully reconstructing their sound, chiselling and pruning their music so that it reflects who they truly are now. After four years of meticulous work and perfecting, the result is a sizzling hot metamorphosis of womanhood, with lyrical wisdom and an enriched sound that demonstrates a true coming of age from these once pop-tweens." All this and managed by ex-chairman of Sony, Paul Burger, no less.
The debut album, Night Mode, just about to be released, is full of sex and grinding and stuff about the Iraq war. It seems light years away from B*witched, one of the most successful Irish girl bands of all time. Rolling Stone magazine referred to B*witched as being "a cheerfully catchy summary of the state of the slumber party -- the sound of nice girls acting tough, all in the name of pop."
They were Ireland's natural heirs to the Spice Girls. But Kerrygold wouldn't have melted in their mouths. As Sinead O'Connor told B*witched through the pages of a Q magazine interview in 2000 in reference to their virginal, saccharine image: "We need a dirty Irish band. Take some more clothes off."
"We are taking Sinead's advice now," says Edele, who's rail-thin like her sister, and sporting a barely-there mini and thigh-high socks. "It just took us a while to come around to the idea of taking our clothes off."
"What we were wearing back then made sense," says Keavy. "What we are wearing now makes sense. But, back then, our fans were six years of age. And we were so young. We weren't virgins, but we pretty much were. We were young. We were innocent. What was the point in our six-year-old fans knowing we had sex? Our fans are older now, so we can say we like sex."
"Barbarellas for us," says Edele, "is about sexuality and femininity and having lived."
The first four singles from B*witched, which comprised the twins -- better known back then as Shane Lynch's kid sisters -- Sinead O'Carroll and Lindsay Armaou, went to number one in the UK. They went on to become huge across the world. Keavy can remember herself and her sister "walking down the beach in Australia in our bikinis with no make-up or anything on, and people going: 'Oh my God.' That's when we knew something was going on. Our management used to say: 'Don't step outside the door without denim, so people can associate with you.' And there we are on the beach with no clothes on, and they're like: 'It's B*witched'."
They weren't denim bikins, by any chance? "No," smiles Edele, "they weren't. But we knew then that we clearly didn't need the denim anymore."
What was clearer still, in hindsight, was that the girls of B*witched needed to work less. Touring America for six months, "months and months on end" says Edele, adding that she was in a relationship for three years, "and I'd say I saw him for about three months". Keavy dated, "one of our sound guys for a while, so I was probably the one who had the most normal relationship while we were in the band".
They performed in America alongside 'N Sync and Britney Spears. The Dublin girls truly knew they had reached superstardom when they were recreated as singing dolls by Yaboom Toys. When they were interviewed by US teen magazines they said cutesy-wutesy things about pretzels being what they liked most about America. Keavy: "They are so much better over here!"
Keavy would look at the press interviews she gave and wonder who she was. "Is that who I am? I drink milk? I don't drink beer?" When the band lost their record deal in late 2002 -- "We were basically on holidays in America and waiting to see where the video location was going to be -- South Africa or London. They rang and said we were dropped," says Edele.
Keavy must have felt like she had drunk poison. "I couldn't handle it," she says. "It was all snatched away from us. We didn't see it coming." Nor did she quite see the depression that would engulf her. "I didn't understand what I was going through," she says.
Edele: "You had a rough time towards the end of the band. Do you remember?"
Keavy: "I did have to take some time off from the band. That's where it started. I just freaked out."
Edele: "We did the Late Late without you, didn't we?"
"Then," Keavy says, "I suppose trying to find myself, I had a relationship and that ended quite badly." She doesn't want to say with whom. "Then I tried to set up a business, and that ended badly, too. Just loads of things built up. When I left the band I should have got help for that. Then, when other things happened," she continues, "and it was all too much to happen."
I ask Edele when she first realised that her sister needed help. "I knew she was struggling for quite a while, but I didn't realise how intense it was," she says. One specific night in London, they were in the cab on the way home after a night out, during which Keavy had downed two bottles of wine. "She freaked out in the club and we left and got in the cab. She couldn't even be in the cab. The space with everyone in it was too much. So she actually asked the guy to pull over, and she stepped out on to the street and pretty much started shouting at the top of her voice. That was when I thought, 'this is a real problem', and that she needed to go and see someone. That was six years ago."
But, prior to that, Edele had noticed on occasion that her sister was exhibiting signs of considerable stress. One time, when B*witched were in Switzerland doing some promo: "She called me on the phone in the hotel and just broke down. I instantly knew. I got on the phone to management and said: 'Keavy's taking a few weeks off.' They were like: 'You can't. We've Top Of The Pops booked.' That was her starting to struggle with . . . not depression . . . but who she was."
Did that hasten the end of the band? "Not at all," Keavy says, "that was actually before the second album."
So it would still be a while before the real extent of Keavy's problems became apparent. "When I was relaxed we were naturally happy and bubbly, but it got to a point where all the attention was too much."
Was it difficult to be so up and teen-friendly joyful all the time on the outside when on the inside you were losing your sanity? "I didn't feel pressurised to be like that -- to be bubbly," Keavy adds. "I think when I took those few weeks off and I came back I was nervous. I was wondering was I ready to come back. I couldn't take the attention 18 hours a day. I was angry even at compliments. 'You look great.' 'What do you mean I look great? Leave me alone!' I was pretty bad. But," she adds, "I'm OK now."
She was far from OK once upon a time, though. Hers is one of pop's cautionary tales. It was when the band finally split that the darkness really descended. Keavy's life started to come apart at its denim seams. "It was just so hard to get used to normal life. I don't think I knew who I was before I went into B*witched," she says. "Then I was so busy working I didn't figure out who I was without the band. So, when the band ended, I just didn't know who I was. I got totally lost."
It wasn't always thus. "Growing up," says Keavy of her sister, "we were best friends." "They usually split up twins to make them go separate ways and develop but Mam and Dad said to the school they didn't want that," Edele says, referring to Belgrove Junior Girls School in Clontarf and then Grange Community College in Donaghmede.
There is a sweet empathy between the two. Edele is almost motherly. She encourages Keavy to eat her food. She rubs Keavy's leg when Keavy talks about her dark times. She soothes her when she seems upset at a bad time remembered, or the like. Keavy talks about how the pain of losing the band forced her into a turbulence that caused her to crash. She over-identified with the Keavy persona in B*witched.
The hardest thing to get used to, explains Edele, was that, in the band, they always had a schedule: the pampered stars of B*witched knew where "we were going to be, and what we were going to do; people thought for us, because we were so busy that someone else would decide what you were going to have for dinner, and just hand it to you. So, when it ended, the hardest thing was that you had your own time and your own thoughts."
Edele even remembers 10 years ago going to Superquinn for the first time after the break-up. "I was mortified because I was such an amateur. I didn't know what I wanted on the shelves or anything. We had never done that. We moved out of home and straight into a band where people fed us. It was bizarre. We had a tour manager for everything."
"I don't suffer from depression now," Keavy says. "It was that one time, but it lasted for way too many years. I should have got help." How long did it last for? "I would have said stretching for about four years." Edele: "It was 2006 that you got help. B*witched ended in 2002."
Keavy: "Four years. I should have got help straight away, but it is so taboo over this side of the world. Americans use it [therapy] like the dentist. They are right to do that. By the time I had gotten help, by the time I went to see a counsellor, I was like: 'You are not going to be able to help me, but I'll try.' I really didn't think she would help me. Six months later, I was like: 'Wow.' And six months was a short period of time for the length of time I struggled. Six months was how long it took for me to start wanting to be here again."
Where did you want to be?
"I just wanted to be dead."
There is a pause. Her eyes dart around the room. It is an uncomfortable pause. "I just didn't want to live any more," Keavy continues. "I just couldn't handle it any more. I was that low."
One of Keavy's first sessions with the therapist who saved her life was before Edele's wedding. Indeed, that first session on the couch was, Keavy remembers, "just about me getting through the wedding without breaking down. I was so lost in my mind and I had put this massive pressure on myself. I thought Edele's wedding going perfectly was all on my head. Obviously, no one made me feel that way. It was just what I thought." Keavy characterises what happened to her by saying, simply: "I lost control of my own mind."
"That's what happens to most people [with depression]. I'd say that there are more people than not who need help that don't get it. This is why I don't mind talking about it, because I should have got help years and years before I did. I wasted so much time being down and heartbroken and not wanting to live. I should have got help."
Did your romantic relationships improve after the therapy? "I improved," she answers. "So everything around me improved. I still haven't found one that's one to keep yet. Hence I'm single. I'm still making the wrong choices. It didn't help me there," she chortles.
Keavy and Edele are philosophical, if not pragmatic, about the criticism that Barbarellas has had already. Phrases such as "Dean Gaffney in drag", "Primark Lady Gaga", and worse, have been levelled bitchily -- and unfairly -- at the two girls. "You have to be thick-skinned," says Keavy, who is, I'd imagine, possibly the least thick-skinned girl in the world. "When you have lovers, you will also have haters."
"To be honest," says Edele, "we expected it this time around. We are not naive in thinking that the public are going to take us straight on board and go: 'They were in B*witched. I'm OK with what they're doing now.' They have to get it out of their system, possibly. In their heads, we have just left the Teletubbies green field, and now we are dressed like this." "Like this" means provocatively, in a futuristic, sexual, Lady Gaga-ish manner. "It is going to take a while to shake it off, the B*witched thing," Edele says. This procedure of shaking off the old image of them as virginal, milk-drinking ingenues should occur quicker than expected once the great Irish public get to the track on the new Barbarellas album called Play Dirty, which is about using sex games to get what you want out of men.
They both say they get more Kylie comparisons than Lady Gaga ones. They take it as a compliment being compared musically to the Antipodean queen of hi-energy disco. In their wigs, they look a bit like Pris, the pyscho-babe Daryl Hannah played in Blade Runner. With north Dublin accents.
They finish each other's sentences. They share each other's food. They are alike in so many ways. They are not just in a pop group together. They shared a womb, for Christ's sake. There's an unbreakable bond between them.
When Edele fell and split her head open as a young child, and was in the operating theatre getting 22 stitches in the middle of her forehead, Keavy was outside feeling her pain. "I was screaming with a headache," says Keavy. "There it is," Edele says, pulling back the fringe of her bobbed black wig, to show me the scar, "slap back in the middle of my forehead. It is not a uni-brow. It's my scar!"
And when Edele became pregnant with Ceol in 2007 (who is three and a half now), Keavy got her cravings -- ostensibly for lamb shanks. "I don't even eat red meat," protests Keavy. "I never have. Then suddenly I fell in love, randomly, with lamb shanks."
Edele also has a nine-month-old baby boy, Harley. This time, says Keavy, "I got her hot flushes. I got more of her mood swings for no reason. I got hormonal." She felt irrationally ill on food that Edele didn't like during her term. Edele was sceptical at first. One night at a restaurant she decided to test Keavy out. Keavy ordered white fish. During her pregnancy with Harley, Edele had felt very sick eating white fish. Keavy at first said that the fish was delicious -- "the most delicious fish I'd ever had," says Keavy -- then suddenly, says Edele, "Keavy became nauseous."
Do you feel your sister's pain when she's down? "Oh God," Edele says, "when she's down, I'm down. Absolutely. Now, I didn't get depressed -- I met Michael, and I was very lucky. I think he saved me from hitting rock bottom," she says referring to her husband, personal trainer Michael Barrett. They got married on August 9, 2006, at St Flannan's Church in Kinnity, Co Offaly.
"We were set up on a blind date," says Edele. "I didn't even want to go, then I instantly fell in love. That was in 2005. We were engaged a year and three months later. It was a big, massive whirlwind."
Keavy, on the other hand, looks like a woman who has opened herself to heartbreak all her life. You imagine it is her pattern. She has just split up with a boyfriend. She says she went out with him before and got back with him eight months ago, but now it is over for good. She is "totally hurt" over the break-up this time around. It was "a rekindled flame". They went out over eight years ago. She thought that fate brought them back together for a reason. "And it didn't. It was his decision, not mine. It was not meant to be. I usually have a policy of not going backwards and I did. But I definitely wouldn't go back a third time."
I suggest, consolingly, that maybe the single life is her destiny. "I have never had a one-night stand," she admits. "I couldn't do a one-night stand. I just couldn't."
But you sing about sex a lot on the new album. "I like sex, absolutely. But sex when you're comfortable. I don't think I could do it with a stranger that I'm not comfortable with. I'll never say never. I'm single now and you never know."
I ask Keavy who was the love of her life. "I'd love to say I had one. I'd be still with him if I did. It is a bit sad."
Edele lives in Howth with the hubby and the two kids. Keavy lives in London not far from her big brother. After B*witched split, they went their separate ways. "I wrote my own album and joined a writing team called Xenomania," says Edele, who co-wrote Some Kind of Miracle for Girls Aloud and Situation's Heavy for the Sugababes. Then Keavy wrote a musical.
"It's called Guilty," Keavy explains, "I've never done anything with it. It's still in a drawer. Hopefully some day I'll be brave enough to do something with it. I kind of went through a really depressing time for a long time."
Keavy's musical is about a girl who dreams of being on stage, but she has an alcoholic father whom she has to support. So she becomes a pole dancer. "That's it in a nutshell! We don't have an alcoholic father."
"So we were doing our separate things and I got married in 2006," adds Edele, "and we were spending an awful lot of time with each other while I was organising the wedding, and then I realised: 'What are we doing running away from each other and trying to be so far apart?' Myself and Keavy, we had never known ourselves without each other anyway. So, when we stepped away from each other when the band ended, we missed each other. We started when we were 17, and we were thrust into the limelight when we were about 18."
After Edele's wedding, the twins decided from there they would do something together. It took a few years, effectively, to get their heads around what exactly they wanted to do: then Barbarellas was born.
"So we have been doing that for about three years now, playing live and trying to find our songs through the audience," says Edele. "The reaction from the crowds gave us more confidence to do it because we realised they were fine without the other two girls," Keavy says referring to Sinead and Lindsay.
"Nobody missed them," Edele claims.
"We were like, 'Good'," adds Keavy. "That's what we wanted to know before we put our heart and soul into it, that people would be OK with it, and they were. I think if we could have come out three years ago we gladly would have, but we just weren't going to rush back."
"But," Edele and Keavy say in unison, "We needed the right songs first. And we think we've found them on our new album."
You can't blame them for the desire to be able to do what they did when they were young, or the need, perhaps, for people to still want them to do it. Let's hope Edele and Keavy have the insouciance and dash to carry it off. I ask Keavy whether she is frightened that, by going back into the music business with Barbarellas after nine years away, she might somehow invite the demons of depression to return into her life. The pop diva shakes her head and says, emphatically, "Not at all. I'm in a much better place now."
C'est la vie.
Barbarellas' single 'Night Mode' will be out on April 11 and the album 'Night Mode' will follow on April 18
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