Bitch Falcon on grunge, perception and why the government need to support the arts
“Whatever it is, Bitch Falcon have it.”
The spot-fucking-on verdict from The Irish Times‘ Una Mullally having observed the Dublin trio in action at this year’s Electric Picnic spectacular. The most arresting and intriguing new voice in Irish music, Bitch Falcon are the most enjoyable punch to the face you’re ever likely to encounter.
We caught up with singer and guitarist Lizzie Fitzpatrick, bassist Naomi Macleod and drummer Nigel Kenny and got their thoughts on tags, perception, the need for government support for artists and why Red Enemy frontman Kev Letford is not to be trusted…
‘Grunge’ is the tag that keeps following Bitch Falcon around. Fair?
Nigel Kenny: I don’t hear it myself, personally. Especially with the new single. When I hear ‘grunge’, I think Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and Nirvana. There’s maybe a hint of Nirvana in us, but I just can’t hear it.
Lizzie Fitzpatrick: I think the guitar tone and the pace is a bit grunge-y.
Naomi Macleod: The vocals, as well. The screams. If you had to put a style on the screams, it would certainly be grunge. I don’t cringe when people compare us to that. I don’t feel it’s entirely accurate. I think it’s one of several little slices in the pie.
NK: What do you think?
I’d say it sounds ‘live’, really, but that’s probably an awful answer.
LF: I think there’s definitely influences of grunge, but we’re very much developing a sound. At the start it was very matter-of-fact bluesy rock. It’s changed a lot.
The band itself has changed in just a short time. How has it been transitioning to a three-piece?
LF: I think we took up different roles but we were happy to fill them. It was getting to a point where we writing stuff that was all very busy and we were finding it hard fitting all the different instrumentation in so it would work. When we went to a three-piece, I had to step up a bit and do a bit more tap dancing, but it’s ok. I think we’re managing.
NK: Her tap dancing is fuckin’ right up there with Jerry Lee Lewis.
NM: I’m doing a lot more knitting onstage. Nigel is playing a lot more tennis. It’s pretty well-delegated at this point. But no, I guess our approaches feel more direct now. There’s a little bit more room to manoeuvre in some senses, which works wonders when it comes to writing. We believe that three actually is the magic number.
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Are you living in the practice room?
LF: Oh, definitely. We’ve been having breakdowns, there’s been a bit of cabin fever…
NM: These people have seen me cry in the last few months way more than my mam ever has.
LF: They’ve seen me sulk so much but they don’t mind anymore. We’ve got to the stage where we can just be dicks to each other and move on.
NK: After an hour, it’s just; ‘Is everyone feeling ok? Do we need to have a chat about this?’
LF: ‘Do we need to go for a walk?’
NK: When you’ve got three people with their own ideas and they think that their idea is the best one, ultimately it comes down to an agreement that we come up with something that is best for the song but I think subconsciously we don’t pass the threshold of the door without resolving any disagreements. If you don’t do that, it’s coming back.
NM: Shit can fester, definitely. In terms of living in the room, it’s a funny one because we actually want to be but we’re so busy that we can’t. We’re constantly all chatting and trying to get things organised, all the back end of the band stuff, and we’re all working full time. We’d kill to be practicing and writing five nights a week and sleeping the other two.
LF: This being a full time job, that’s the dream.
NM: It’s nearly more stressful that we’re not living in the practice room full time. We just can’t yet. It’s inhuman at this point.
Nialler9 wrote a piece for The Irish Times highlighting that government funding for musicians is essentially non-existent. The attitude seems to be that music is a hobby and not a way to make a living.
NK: I was talking to Ciaran from Muzzle Music Rehearsal Studios about this very thing. He’s involved with this music exchange thing in Europe which deals with the Swedish element of it. This fucking blew my mind. They have bands that have their practice place funded. All they pay is a co-payment of €60 a month and that’s basically to give them a sense of responsibility. They pay for them to rehearse and play and be musicians and send them off on tours. Ciaran gives them gigs in Ireland – all their expenses are paid. The reason that they developed this system is really interesting. It’s a sociological standpoint versus an economic one. They wanted to just get people involved in doing something creative when the sun is down for 18 hours a day, to get people happy and to interact with each other.
If you were to do it here, it would have to be from an economic standpoint. If you had the same thing in Ireland, the same investment from the Arts Council in something like that, we have an industry at the moment that doesn’t have any investment in it and it’s still, to a degree, successful. You have exports that actually spread the message of Ireland and Irish culture. If you had something like that, it would be off the fucking chain. At the moment, though, Arts Council funding goes to two areas, predominantly; classical music and traditional music. If we were to put out a single version of one of our songs in Irish tomorrow, we could probably get €1500 to press and release it. I would have no doubt that if we were to apply for it, we’d get it. There’s no value on what we do and what most of the bands in Dublin and Ireland are doing. There’s only value on it if it’s Irish or if it’s classical.
So unless you’re a ‘heritage’ act, forget it.
NK: If they brought in some of the recommendations outlined in the Deloitte report and it wasn’t just ‘jobs for the boys’ but was done properly, it would change things within the course of 12 to 24 months. We would actually have a viable economy within the music industry. It would be incredible.
NM: And a viable industry, as well.
It’s amazing how often you meet someone who dismisses the notion that being a musician is hard work.
LF: Definitely. I’m a nurse and in work people are always saying, ‘Oh you should be doing these courses and looking at your career’, and you tell them that you’re focusing on the band and it’s dismissed. They don’t see it as serious, whatsoever. They think you just want to do it to be a rock and roll star and there’s no in-between. I don’t want to be going around doing coke all night, I just want to do music. That’s it.
NM: Sex, drugs and rock and roll isn’t the name of the game here. Playing music and that being a living is.
LF: Everyone does it for the same reason. There’s nothing like playing music live.
NK: Pay your rent, eat your food, pay your studio rent and be able to stay in a room for 10 hours a day making music and then get that to be able to pay for you to go around the world and play and spread it around the place. That’s it.
You look at a band like Dillinger Escape Plan and the energy of their live show. There’s no way they could come off stage and get fucked up and travel to another city and do it all again every night of the tour.
NK: They wake up and do 45 minutes of cardio and then move on to weights! Then they have a really healthy lunch and a nap.
LF: We were only just discussing this. If we ever go on a long tour it’s got to be about dedication; waking each other up in the morning, go for a run, do some strength work, have a nice lunch!
I wouldn’t necessarily call Bitch Falcon a ‘niche’ act but while you do get radio play from the more progressive DJs, we’re probably unlikely to hear you on more safe outputs. How do you find the relationship between Irish radio and Irish musicians in 2015?
NK: It’s kind of the same as how it was over the past 10 years. It’s independent radio stations that are pushing Irish. The main ones aren’t as much. There’s a bit of it, but the quota for Irish acts is made up of the bigger names; The Coronas, Hozier, U2, etc. That counts as Irish radio play, legitimately. It’s the same as it was when Phantom was around; the most Irish bands that are being pushed are being pushed by independent radio. It hasn’t changed. The only thing now is that you more options. You have podcasts and Internet radio and a lot of people pushing Irish, just not necessarily on the main airwaves.
How has it been playing with the likes of Fucked Up and Torche?
NM: [<[very, very excited]h, Torche!!
NK: If I could just go back there… that was the best craic that I can’t remember. I think we finished up at about six or seven in the morning.
LF: The drummer had to wake me up.
NM: There was an all-night singalong, 30 people in a tiny living room screaming along until seven in the morning.
What kind of songs are we talking here?
NM: Everything. A lot of ‘80s stuff. Every power ballad ever.
LF: I had my disco nap and then Rick [S[Smith, Torche sticksman]oke me up and The Human League was playing. ‘Right, I’m up now’.
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This wasn’t while touring with Red Enemy, no? Kev wasn’t there to inflict his Carly Rae Jepsen love on everyone?
LF: The Red Enemy lads are the best. They played ‘Party Hard’ at Knockanstockan. We lost out minds.
NK: We knew they had something planned, involving keys, but they wouldn’t tell us. I was trying to figure it out. When it came on, I went crazy.
NM: The crowd, in general, for their set was enthused but there were probably an awful lot of people who hadn’t attended live gigs of tech metal so the pit was just the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen. For such a peaceful little festival there was definitely some bursts of anger vented in that space. In a pleasant way! I was at the back watching this chaos ensuring and then ‘Party Hard’ got played and the entire place just lost their shit.
Apparently Kev got a violent electric shock two songs into their Workman’s headliner when you played support to them in July.
NM: To his leg, yeah. You couldn’t tell at all.
NK: He was limping around for the rest of the night. He was fucked. You know what? Maybe he did it just to get out of the loud-out? That could have been it.
NK: Because he was like, ‘Ah lads, I’ll have to leave ye to it!’. ‘Don’t worry about it, Kev, no worries…’
NM: ‘You know that sort of pain where you just can’t lift an amp?’
Listen, if you want to call out Red Enemy, this is the place to do it.
NK: Lefty made the whole thing up, definitely.
LF: He’s a lazy shite.
NK: As soon as he got confirmation that the van was full, he was up doing jumping jacks.
NM: He was doing yoga.
LF: You know what you can print? ‘Kev Lefty is shite in a bucket. Shite in a bucket!’.
Sorry, Kev. On a totally different and much more serious note… I feel like a bit of dickhead even highlighting Bitch Falcon as a ‘predominantly female band’ but we recently ran a piece that went viral satirising the difference in media perception between male and female musicians. Is that something that the band has experienced in any way?
LF: We get it a little. It’s down to us to set it on the right track and place the focus on the music.
NM: We don’t play up to it at all. That was a real conscious thing.
LF: Any descriptions we have had along those lines has been something like, ‘Oh, I haven’t heard a girl make this much noise’. It hasn’t been sexual at all, fortunately. It kind of dumbs us down a bit, saying, ‘Oh, how can women make this noise?’. We can absolutely make this noise. Any woman can.
NK: No-one has said that, though?
NM: Not in those exact words, but that outlook and mindset.
LF: Comments online, too.
NM: It’s fair to say that it’s been entirely pleasantly-intended but I would agree with Lizzie that it can dumb it down a little bit sometimes. It’s not even enough be a major irritant. You’re just like, ‘Ah, right, ok…’.
LF: Is it wrong of us to expect someone not to bring it up? Because it is a thing. It is a male-dominated industry but it’s not our problem. We’re not necessarily pioneering for women. If people take us as an example? Brilliant. But it’s not our point to do that. I think it’s fine to make that observation because it’s a bit hyper-sensitive of us to be like, ‘Oh you can’t say that because I’m a girl’. That’s stupid, as well.
NM: It’s not on our mind at all in terms of the workings of the band. When we’re writing music, when Lizzie is writing lyrics, it doesn’t come into play whatsoever. It’s just about writing music and not about the fact that we’re girls. Personally, coming from a background as a sound engineer, I have definitely experienced it more as a sound engineer than as a musician. And again, it’s the same pleasantly-intended, ‘Aren’t you great to be doing that?’ attitude. I think if you set out with it simply not being on your mind and it simply not being an issue then you’re not leaving much room for it to become an issue.
LF: I’d always be afraid to take it as compliment but maybe some people are impressed that females are making this kind of music because you don’t see it that often. You don’t. That’s great, but we’re not doing anything that new. It’s a bit of both, really, but it’s not been an issue. We haven’t come across any problems.
Bitch Falcon support The Hot Sprockets in The Workman’s Club, Dublin on September 9 before playing Hangar as part of the Hard Working Class Heroes festival on October 2. Further dates are up on their Facebook page or you can follow them on Twitter @Bitchfalcon for more updates.