Róisín Nic Ghearailt is standing at the end of the world, screaming. Surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Atlantic Coast near Kinsale in Ireland’s County Cork, the lead vocalist of M(h)aol is howling provocative lyrics down the camera lens (“I’m just the dumb bitch that left the party with you / I was asking for it”), while statistics detailing the grim reality of rape culture in the UK and Ireland flash across the screen. Towards the end of ‘Asking for It’, one of the best music videos of 2022, Ghearailt is raised back to her feet with the support of her female friends, the image superimposed by a series of links to counselling and support networks for women.
The video, which was directed by the Dublin band’s bassist Zoe Greenway, is the perfect encapsulation of M(h)aol, which is to say it draws strength from the depths of human rage, while also offering cathartic, healing release. The group’s sparky, DIY punk sound, spearheaded by scrappy guitars and unpolished vocals, has been forged from the lived experience of patriarchal oppression. Their message, however, as captured on debut album ‘Attachment Styles’ (released February 3 via TULLE Collective), is one of inclusivity and connection.
“We wanted to push forward a message of hope,” Greenway says to NME of the ‘Asking for It’ video. “[Róisín] expresses a lot of anger in it. It is rare to see a woman express such intense anger in such a natural, raw and human way like it is depicted here, and the statistics we included support and validate her feelings.”
Greenway adds: “A lot of the time, victims are shamed and silenced, but how can you argue with statistics? How can you argue with a real-life experience? They are not alone, the anger, sadness, pain and any other emotion they feel is valid, and there are people who will listen to them and help them.”
This act of seizing the negative forces in life and reconfiguring them into positive results is realised across ‘Attachment Styles’. The darkness of ‘Asking for It’ opens the record, before later tracks like ‘Femme’ explore the queer joy that arrives in the unexpected moment that one is recognised for being who they truly are. The fearlessly triumphant ‘Period Sex’, meanwhile, closes the album in style, a heavy-breathing paean that Ghearailt describes as “a really, really sexy song about having sex on your period”.
Ghearailt adds: “The broad strokes of talking about queerness and feminism are often about anger, devastation and hardship,” she says. “And they are really important to talk about too, but in lots of ways we have a glut of things that look at how hard it is to, say, be a woman, or be a queer person. There is not the same care or attention drawn to the moments of stillness or joy.”
For the band’s drummer Constance Keane, performing with M(h)aol has been an outlet to help her manage the challenges in her own life. “I feel incredibly lucky to have somewhere where I can make something productive out of negativity,” she says. “I have often thought in the last few years about how I don’t know how I would exist in the world if I didn’t have art as a thing to channel negativity into. I don’t think that music should necessarily be your therapy, but it is undeniable that having a space to do this is such a fantastic tool to have – it feels like we’re doing something that is worthwhile.”
Named after the 16th century Irish pirate queen Gráinne Mhaol, the band first formed in Dublin in 2014 when Keane had reached the end of her tether with the state of things as she saw it in the local music scene. “The plan was to try to make [a band] that I wished I could have gone to see,” they explain. “I was obviously massively influenced by third wave feminism and the riot grrrl movement. I had been playing drums in a few bands, and to me, it was really obvious how [the scene] could be made better, which was with more diversity and treating people with common decency and respect.
“I was [previously] interacting with a lot of lads who acted as if they were not only geniuses at their instruments,” she continues. “I just thought, ‘Well, you’ve been playing the same venue for the past five years, so I don’t know how much of a genius you are, to be honest.”
Keane’s indomitable drive led her to recruit Ghearailt and Greenway into the group, two friends from a culinary arts course at university, while bassist and producer Jamie Hyland and guitarist Sean Nolan later completed the current five-piece line-up. For their first year, the band existed exclusively in their rehearsal room in a basement, with foam glued to the walls in an effort to soundproof it and fairy lights draped from the ceiling to give the illusion of warmth. “Maybe punk music comes out of being fucking cold,” Keane quips today. The band eventually started playing live in 2015, but a year later, the five members found themselves split between Dublin, Belfast, London and New York – and M(h)aol was left on the back burner.
Eventually, Covid lockdowns would draw them all back to Ireland and work began on their debut EP, 2021’s ‘Gender Studies’. In the down time, Ghearailt’s Masters in Gender and International Relations and Greenway’s Masters in Cinematography had given the band a much deeper capacity to be able to express the richness of their ideas lyrically and visually. Hyland, meanwhile, had worked extensively producing and engineering records, including those by Gilla Band, who would go on to name their 2015 debut album ‘Holding Hands with Jamie’ after her.
Over the last twelve months, M(h)aol have seen their tireless graft begin to reap huge rewards, playing shows supporting US hardcore legends Shellac in Ireland last April before completing their first ever UK headline tour in the summer. A trip to Austin’s SXSW festival last spring saw them meet Phoebe Bridgers, who was later seen posing with one of the band’s trademark ‘Ghost A Post-Punk Boy Today’ tote bags, which have become a staple for fans within punk circles across the UK and Ireland.
‘Attachment Styles’ arrives at a time when this brand of homespun, socially conscious punk music is enjoying a new bloom, thanks to the likes of Big Joanie, Kneecap and Lambrini Girls. But what sets M(h)aol apart is their near-decade of friendship, and a fierce determination to change the parameters of the conversation around life in a patriarchal society. If M(h)aol are set to become a big deal, then we can’t say we haven’t been asking for it.
M(h)aol’s debut album ‘Attachment Styles’ will be released on February 3 via TULLE Collective
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