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Monday 16 July 2018

'We don't sit down to write issue-based stuff, but it happens'

Wicklow trio Wyvern Lingo, who have been making music together since their early teens, tell our reporter why they are keen to get conversations started outside the Dublin bubble

From leftCowley, Duane and Barry. Photo: Gerry Mooney
From leftCowley, Duane and Barry. Photo: Gerry Mooney
John Meagher

John Meagher

On the day that Review meets rising Wicklow trio Wyvern Lingo, yet another actor has been accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour. This time, it's Aziz Ansari, star of the Netflix comedy series Master of None.

The deluge of names kick-started by allegations about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has made it difficult to keep up, but Karen Cowley, Saoirse Duane and Caoimhe Barry believe we'll be hearing a lot more about sexism in the music industry this year.

The friends - all of whom are in their mid-20s - have experienced their own #MeToo moment.

"We had a bad experience with someone who we were working with getting drunk and saying really, really lewd things," Barry says. "They were really horrendous things. And it wasn't good enough to make that argument 'Oh, he was drunk'.

"The three of us… we're strong, we're close friends. It's not easy for someone to get a moment alone to undermine that, but it can happen."

Cowley takes up the story. "We struck him off there and then and I've subsequently told lots of female musicians to stay well away from him. I think, historically, the music industry has been quite sexist. But we're lucky in that the people at our label [Rubyworks] and our manager are really great men that we really trust. They were disgusted when we told them about it and completely supported us."

And it wasn't the only time one of the three have had to deal with unwanted sexual advances. "There was another situation," Cowley says. "It was more subtle - but maybe that's even worse. It was a power-play dynamic… that line between someone trying to give you help or someone trying to take advantage."

She says it can be difficult to identify whether certain actions are friendly or inappropriate.

"The line between work and pleasure can be hard to detect sometimes," she says. "I mean, did that guy really need to touch my back like that? If it was a bigger record label, you might be worried about complaining about such things."

"I think if you get a bad vibe, there's usually something to have a bad vibe about," Barry adds. "We're lucky that it's an all-female band because if you were the sole woman in a band of guys, they might not understand what you've experienced." Wyvern Lingo have attracted plenty of attention for their commercially minded, but difficult to categorise music, over the past couple of years, and they're likely to become much more familiar once their self-titled debut album is released next week.

Several songs have earworm potential, and one of them, 'I Love You, Sadie', is already something of a Wyvern Lingo anthem, and there's an excellent version - not on the album - which features the talented Dublin rapper Jafaris.

"It's about me loving the feminine qualities in a man," Barry says, "and wishing he had the space in this society not to hide those aspects of himself."

Another, 'Out of My Hands', references one of the most pressing subjects of the year - the impending abortion referendum.

"It's something we've really tried to educate ourselves about," Cowley says, "especially in an environment where, with online culture, you can't take anything on face value. You've got to go and do your own research. After we did that, we made a decision that this is something we really support. We've done some blog stuff about it for different groups. But it's not something we take lightly."

It's a sentiment echoed by Barry. "We've thrashed it out. It's not an easy subject. There are some times when people are staunchly pro-Repeal and there are arguments that come out that make me feel a little uncomfortable, like the 'My Body, My Choice' thing. There's something about that that makes me feel, 'Relax there now'."

While both Barry and Cowley are very talkative, Duane - a year younger - seems a little quieter. But abortion rights is something that has exercised her, too. "My main concern with this is that when people talk about it, they're not including all demographics enough," she says. "There's too much focus on a small Dublin bubble and it's easy to think that just because social media seems to feel one way, that the whole country does, too."

"When we did the Repeal gig in the Olympia it was packed out and it was full of celebrities," Barry says. "When I [as a solo performer] did a Repeal gig back in December in Galway, it was upstairs in the Róisín Dubh and I think there might have been 80 people there. It's a sign of the fact that it's not a 'thing' around the country.

"I was talking to another musician there and she was saying 'Dublin thinks it's representing the entire country, but much of the rest of the country is not talking about Repeal the Eighth'. It's this bubble - people say 'the country is changing', but it's one section of the country. The whole point of the gig in Galway was to get people to talk about it - to get the conversation going."

Although certain Wyvern Lingo songs touch on social issues, the three insist that they come "organically". "We don't sit down to write issue-based stuff, but it happens," Cowley says. "Because if you decide, 'Today, I'm going to write a song about environmental destruction, or whatever', it's going to be a terrible song. It has to come from somewhere personal and with us, our best lyrics always come from somewhere sincere and personal, whether it's issue-based or it happens to be universal."

The three have made music together since their early teens and they attended the same school, Loreto Bray. Older siblings were in bands and their parents' record collections spanned much of the best music released in the 1960s and 1970s. "We had a really good grounding," Duane says. "And that mix of older stuff from Fleetwood Mac and the Beatles, and the music we were discovering in the 1990s and early 2000s really fired us up."

They started playing properly together in first year in school - buoyed by the drum kit Barry had bought with her "Confirmation money" - and it's probably fair to say that few 13-year-olds around the country bond over a Led Zeppelin biography they passed around. Now, all these years later, the three friends are looking at a future that involves a lot of time on the road, much of it abroad. "We're happiest when we're out touring," Barry says. "Hopefully the album takes off and we'll be gone for years."

Wyvern Lingo's self-titled debut album is released on Friday. Their Irish tour tickets off that night in the Button Factory, Dublin

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