Naked Lungs: Dublin post-punks who refuse to be scared of change

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’ll see opening the bill for your favourite act. With shows at Dublin's iconic Whelan's – and a collaboration with Gilla Band's Daniel Fox – under their belt, the group arrive with a debut EP full of intent

Over a cliff-high wave of droning guitars and tight, metronomic rhythms, a new voice arrives, armed with an attention-grabbing mantra: “Why do people change? It’s a phobia!”

It is the raging climax of the breakthrough single by Dublin quartet Naked Lungs and it should serve as a warning: this band is here and they demand to be heard. ‘Why Do People Change?’, set to be included on their debut EP (June 10), is a juggernaut driven in equal parts by swagger and legitimate angst, and by all accounts there is more where that came from.

“This EP, it’s us saying, ‘here’s where we are’. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the tracks we have released: it’s loud and it’s in your face,” bassist Ryan Mortell tells NME with a cheeky grin from his Dublin apartment.

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It is no surprise that Naked Lungs should already have hit such a rich vein of intensity, given that among the musical passions the four men share are apocalyptic industrial hip-hoppers Death Grips and the doomwave of The Haxan Cloak, specifically his soundtrack for the bewitched 2019 folk horror film Midsommar. “That soundtrack has these really pretty strings and then these real dissonant noises,” explains guitarist Andrew Connaughton. “I was trying to write things to emulate that for our sound – anything with a lot of tension and resolution.”

Connaughton, Mortell and singer Tom Brady grew up together in County Wicklow, co-founding a post-punk band by the name of Felonies as teenagers, shortly before relocating to the Irish capital. Weeks before the world shut down, Felonies happened to decide to call it a day, but the trio were set on continuing their fledgling music careers and despite the chances of playing having disappeared, they immediately set about on a search for a drummer. Matt Pyper, the last name on their list of candidates, knocked them out with his “machine-like” rhythms and the band settled on their line-up in July 2020.

The new band were able to take advantage of living close to each other and they began writing songs during their lockdown walks. It would be another eighteen months before they were able to take to the stage for the first time. “By the time we actually started playing live,” says Mortell, “We had well and truly written these songs and it was the finished product. So we hit the ground running in that sense. We put months and years into this live show.”

The first two shows both took place at Dublin’s legendary Whelan’s bar at the end of last year, one supporting Cork’s The Love Buzz (“deadly”) and the other supporting Belfast’s Enola Gay (“savage”), the latter of whom Naked Lungs recently returned the favour to by putting them up in their Brighton accommodation for The Great Escape. Their first venture into a recording studio also saw them connect with one of modern Irish music’s most pivotal figures.

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“Daniel Fox from Gilla Band [formerly known as Girl Band] produced our first session, which was obviously a dream,” says Mortell. “He’s your idol and all of a sudden, you’re up close and personal and you’re trying to be cool and you’re trying not to say, ‘I love you!’ It was wild.” Fox’s instincts to lean into non-traditional song structures and embrace the distorted end of the sonic spectrum, it turned out, chimed with the band’s own desires and the collaboration was an instant success.

Anyone with even a passing interest in this brand of guitar music cannot help but have noticed that Ireland is punching well about its weight just now, with the runaway success of Fontaines D.C. making room for artists like Just Mustard, Cherym and Sinead O Brien to follow on their heels.

“It’s all the lead in the pipes, we’re all suffering with advanced lead poisoning and it’s making us all make some mental stuff,” jokes Mortell. “There’s a lot to be said for the influence [Fontaines] had, in terms of bringing a load of attention to Ireland, but the bands were always there. It’s just as well they did post-punk – if they were doing another U2 sort of thing, we’d be hard done by.”

If the name Naked Lungs seems to convey some of the menace of their music, then the fact that it is taken from the Latin name for sea slugs, animals the band admire because you can chop off their bodies and grow new ones, hardly lightens the mood. As far as the phobia that lies behind the reason that people do or do not change, as the breakout single bellows out, the band have their own thoughts on the matter.

“There are a few different ways of looking at it,” says Brady. “One is people have an inability to change and they worry that they will upset people if they grow. The other is people try to cling onto the present and not look to the future, because that’s a scary thing.” And with that, the band immediately launch into enthusiastic chatter about their plans for their debut album, not a trace of fear in sight.

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