Wyvern Lingo’s whirlwind 2016 winds down with an Irish tour, stopping at Cyprus Avenue on the 27th. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with vocalist and pianist Karen Cowley.
They’re one of the group of names in independent Irish music threatening to bother the mainstream in a major fashion, but having built up a solid fanbase across the country off their own back, Wyvern Lingo aren’t exactly an industry confection, having independently released their first handful of extended-players and toured exhaustively. Ahead of playing Cyprus Avenue on the 27th, vocalist and pianist Karen Cowley recalls the band’s beginning and their common influences. “We became friends just before we started secondary school – our similar tastes in music are definitely what drew us together. We started playing together and performing at school concerts and as many underage gigs as we could. When we got into college we got playing on the Dublin scene and started taking the band a lot more seriously.”
The Widow Knows, the band’s debut extended-player, was the result of this early resolve, and saw the band solidify and settle on a vision, entering the studio properly for the first time and beginning to build their current sound. “We did this EP while we were all still in college/working. We played lots of gigs, some of which were soul destroying cover gigs, to fund it, and worked on it in bits and pieces over a few months. It was our first real attempt at trying to create, record and put together a professional release. While we have developed a lot sound-wise since, we are really proud of the The Widow Knows EP. Luckily, it got a good bit of attention at the time and was instrumental in helping us get to where we are now. Our manager came on board just after we released it, and within 8 months we got a record deal.”
Second extended-player Letter to Willow was released by Irish independent label Rubyworks, a notable label on its own merits but also an eminent development stable for major-label talent, most notably chart-topper Hozier. Karen explains the changes that occurred in the creative process for the band along the way. “After we recorded The Widow Knows, we had started to experiment a lot more with our live show. I started playing a bass synth, Caoimhe started playing with a sampler, and Saoirse got more into playing electric guitar, so we’ve definitely started using more electronic sounds, and pushing the limits of how big we can get our sound with just three people. We realised that The Widow Knows EP was only the beginning of our capabilities, and didn’t truly reflect the sort of band that we wanted to be. Our influences are rooted heavily in ’90s R’n’B as well as classic rock, so we wanted to find a way that reflected that, while also sounding original and cohesive.”
This year saw the official digital release of a live session at Dublin’s Lamplight studio. Sessions are seldom the focus of standalone releases anymore, save for archival compilations, but Karen outlines the importance of such a release to the band. “Playing live is our favourite part of being in a band. It’s the pay-off for all the behind the scenes work. We were doing a lot of demoing at the time out of Lamplight studio – a great studio in Dublin that we also did a lot of The Widow Knows in- and wanted to share with our fans some of the stuff we’d been working on.”
Rubyworks’ involvement in the Irish music scene has been no small news. Since its foundation in 2001, it’s been an upstanding independent label, but also a management powerhouse. The worldwide success of Hozier was but one of the company’s longterm projects, among them in recent years Rodrigo y Gabriela, Ryan Sheridan, The Minutes and Otherkin. What’s life like as an artist within that stable of artists? “You hear horror stories about big labels being controlling and pressuring artists- Rubyworks are the complete opposite. They have been an absolute pleasure to work with and have been extremely encouraging. They have given us the space and time to grow before pushing out any hasty releases. They are a very genuine and talented group and we’re delighted to be on their roster.”
Former Rubyworks artists (via imprint Model Citizen) Fight Like Apes, and former Richter Collective members Enemies have both called it a day lately, over the rigours of life in a band, mentioning sustainability among other factors for their decisions. Karen, knocking on wood, is cautiously optimistic about her band’s situation. “It’s really sad, they are great Irish bands and it seems such a shame that this is the end of the road for them. Unfortunately, it is the reality – Ireland is simply too small to sustain bands who are playing original music. Streaming has axed record sales so much, that bands like us have never known real profit from our the actual sale of our music. Gigs are the only way to sustain bands, and even then, it would be very hard to last more than five years full time if you do not break an international market. We are very aware of what can happen and are constantly striving to make what we do something we can live on as well. S’not easy, but sure we don’t intend on breaking up anytime soon!”
As mentioning at the outset of the article, the band play Cyprus Avenue on the 27th, as part of a year-end tour that caps off the busiest year for the band so far. Karen relays her enthusiasm for heading to play Leeside, and recounts a memorable experience in West Cork. “We absolutely love playing Cork. The audiences in Cork have always been amazing to us, and are really dedicated fans. We played Clonakilty Guitar fest and totally fell in love with the place – within minutes the sound engineer of deBarras had the local surf instructor in offering to take us out surfing the next morning and we sang songs all with some amazing local musicians at a lock in after the gig. In short, Cork people are mad sound and we can’t get enough.”
The band winds down shortly after for the holiday season, but their gaze is already trained on the new year and beyond, with festivals and their debut long-player on the way. “We’re starting the year at Eurosonic festival in the Netherlands which is really exciting. It will be our first gig there and we’re heading over with some other amazing Irish bands. In February we are going into studio to work out on our first album which we are MEGA excited for. After that? Probably back to Cork”, winks Karen.