Barry Egan finds Maria Walsh and Carole Nelson are still just as Zrazy after all these years...
You wouldn’t call U2 a heterosexual rock band. Don’t ask me why but it seems okay to call the rather brilliant Zrazy a lesbian jazz-electronica duo. Hot Press magazine dubbed vocalist Maria Walsh and saxophonist and pianist Carole Nelson ‘radical lesbian dance’ back in the day. Zrazy won the Hot Press/Music Critics Award for Best New Band in 1993 for their debut album, Give It All Up. It was an electrifying piece of polemic pop music, regardless of the sexuality of the two geniuses who made it.
Over two decades later, Maria and Carole are still as good as ever — still as outspoken — still Zrazy after all these years. (Their version of The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go for the Windmill Lane Sessions on Independent.ie will have Joe Strummer smiling sagely somewhere.)
I ask Zrazy how they look back on the Ireland of the early 1990s when they started...
“We’ve seen such massive change in this country since we first fired off the feminist I’m In Love With Mother Nature in 1992,” says Maria.
“With that song and the subsequent first album we were part of that liberal wave of artists and writers who were prepared to speak publicly about being gay or lesbian, about abortion, divorce and feminism. It was tough going then, as Youth Defence and the Catholic Right were well organised.”
“Our first video was banned by RTE as it featured a lesbian kiss. Now it’s almost de rigeur for a female artist to have a lesbian moment in a video,” says Carole.
“And one half of our record company refused to handle the album that had ‘6794700’, the abortion information phone number on it — whereas French TV filmed us performing it live on a moving escalator surrounded by shoppers in 1994!”
“So we had a lot to pitch ourselves against at home,” adds Maria. “Now the abortion debate is back with us and it seems that really good campaigning lessons have been learned from the Marriage Equality campaign. Tell your story. Keep it personal. Be honest and real with what is always a painful and difficult subject for everyone and people respond so much better than to sloganeering. Ireland is growing up slowly but surely.
“The Waking the Feminists campaign is a crucial eruption to the prevailing patriarchal system,” continues Carole. “Ireland alas still lags behind and has very traditional narrow gender roles.”
What hasn’t changed is the quality of Zrazy’s music. Their most recent album The Art of Happy Accidents is the result of a couple of years “of experimenting and enjoying ourselves in our project studio in Borris, Carlow. It’s our eclectic mix and love of music: soul, funk, jazz, pop. David Bowie would approve. Both he and Carole came from the same part of London; both were escaping suburbia,” says Maria.
I ask Maria what she was escaping from.
“Catholic convent Ireland.”
“A fan wrote in,” she adds “to say the album makes people cry and dance, groove and shimmy. That’s the best compliment.”
You can also catch the Windmill Lane Sessions on TG4. Zrazy play Dundalk’s Spirit Store, on February 11th; Waterford’s Garter Lane Theatre on February 20; and Wexford’s Arts Centre on April 9th.