Sexual Violence Centre Cork: “It’s About Talking About It”

This Valentine’s Day afternoon, dancers and volunteers for the Sexual Violence Centre at Camden Quay will gather at the Opera House for a special flashmob, as part of a worldwide event raising awareness of sexual violence, and the worldwide movement to break the stigma surrounding its victims. Mike McGrath-Bryan checks in with SVCC head Mary Crilly and flashmob leader Inma Pavon.

Valentine’s Day in Cork City will mean an extra-busy few days for shops, restaurants, florists, and by the time 1pm rolls around, the beginning of an influx of panic-buying significant others, descending upon Paul Street to get the last few bits in (or all of them in some cases!) ahead of the evening’s proceedings. The perfect time, then, for a flashmob to strike, and disrupt the routine. Thursday week will see the volunteers of Cork Sexual Violence Centre, accompanied by dancers from around the city, co-ordinate and dance to raise awareness not only of their own cause locally in the wake of movements like #MeToo, but of the realities that one billion women, out of three worldwide, will have been raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

The flashmob, kicking off at 1.15 on the day, is part of the One Billion Rising project, that sees similar displays of solidarity and expression happen around the world on Valentine’s Day. For Sexual Violence Centre Cork co-ordinator Mary Crilly, creation of awareness via the arts and community outreach is as important as fundraising, keeping the word out there after a busy holiday season of fundraising initiatives, like Cyprus Avenue’s ‘Undivided’ Christmas mega-gig. “For the people working in the centre, I think they feel an incredible buzz. Not just listened to, but that we matter. Sometimes when you’re working in a centre, especially when there are counsellors seeing people everyday, you’re not aware of what else is happening out there, so it’s encouraging to see that there are young people, listening, and that they want to raise awareness.”

‘V-Day’, the one-day campaign for One Billion Rising under which the flashmob falls, has been on the peripheries for the Sexual Violence Centre for a few years, in terms of its community outreach goals and collaborations with local artists. But in getting something like a flashmob together, creating a sense of urgency was also important. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and the 14th of February is very soon. If we started rehearsals in September or October, people might forget by February. January seems awfully late to try and do it, but we said we’d give it a go… We’re very aware that the majority of people will not come in for counselling. I think Irish people, in general, are very private. One in ten people (affected by sexual violence) will come in for counselling, and it’s about letting the world know that if this has happened to you, that we’re really sorry that it’s happened, and that you’re not on your own, and for the people supporting them: we’re here to help. It’s about talking about it.”

That process of community outreach has been important to many of the Centre’s drives for fundraising and awareness led them to look into the city’s vibrantly-busy dance community, whereupon they were introduced to locally-based contemporary dancer and tutor Inma Pavon, whose experience and passion for people made her a perfect fit for the project, according to Crilly. “We were really fortunate. One of the women here knew Inma, and she said ‘why don’t you contact her?’. I did, and she got back immediately, within a few hours. She said, ‘I dance, I do dancing, I teach, I know a lot of people, I’ll organise this part’, and she made it so much easier. It’s wonderful when you have someone like Inma, who wanted to help, but never knew how to help, looking after things, it’s wonderful, totally.”

Wanting to help, but not knowing how to help, can be a big obstacle for many ordinary people who might like to volunteer, not only for SVCC, but for charity in general. When asked how people can get involved, Crilly is open about what anyone can bring to the fray for a community group like theirs when they reach out. “People have organised community events in here, and for us, it was a way of getting people into the centre, who wouldn’t previously have been in, who might have wanted to, and felt safe coming in and leaving like that. People, when they want to volunteer, I hate them thinking that they have to have so many skills. It can be big, or small, or whatever they’re willing, or able to do. We do want new energy coming in, new people coming through, whatever they can do for us.”

Making her home in Cork after a lifetime of pursuing contemporary dance around the world from her native Spain, Pavon has, in recent years, harnessed the power of community across different media and artistic disciplines, to create a compelling body of work that goes from freeform dance classes to appearances in music videos for local artists like alternative folk singer Elaine Malone. Working on the flashmob, Pavon gets to bring her expertise in working with new people to the fray, and embark on rehearsals with people of different skill levels (and none). “Working on the flashmob has been absolutely incredible. Just the fact that I am a dancer, and a believer that dance helps to break chains, the flashmob is, in fact, a gift given to me to help me spread this message. I love working with new people, that’s the beauty with dance, that you meet new people all the time… It’s a place to make people feel good through the learning process, which can be at times more difficult. My task, I believe, is to help faciliate that process, and make it easier for everyone to pick up.”

The choreography of the piece has been agreed upon by project participants around the world, focusing on breaking the stigma of silence and shame surrounding sexual assault. For Pavon, who’s used to far more freedom of movement and concepts in her work, the differences are stark, but the validity of expressing a message and empowering others is important “Contemporary dance is a very ‘expanded’ dance technique, where lots of different styles come to be. Also, it depends a lot on the choreographer’s taste, to add something completely unique to their dance works. I like to think we love as many different dances as we love people: all dance is good if feels good for you… I love making my own dances, sometimes to no music, just allowing the movement to emerge from a sensation or visual stimulus. Music comes later sometimes, but it’s all to bring on a journey, along with the dance.”

Pavon’s work with various groups and new dancers in the community from her studio on Monahan Road have informed her approach to community outreach, so when it came time to muck in on the V-Day project on a local basis, she eagerly answered the call to do so. “I want to thank the Sexual Violence Centre for making this happen, and bringing the awareness of this issue to the people of Cork. This is a very important event, and its goal of raising awareness about sexual violence around the world is really necessary, still, in peoples’ lives.”

The Sexual Violence Centre continues to go from strength to strength, with more calls to action and ongoing projects, such as nightlife safety initiative ‘Ask for Angela’, taking place over the course of 2019. Equally as important, however, is the health and wellbeing of the people that keep the SVC running and serving an all-important purpose in the community. Last year saw Mary Crilly diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer, a horrible shock that refocused her personal efforts, but also provided a profound perspective on her work, as she rounds the corner to recovery. “I needed lots of surgery, I needed lots of chemotherapy, so it came as a huge shock. I was lucky enough that I got diagnosed and had chemo all through the summer. Last week, I had an operation to reverse the stoma, which was joining my bowel back together. It’s been a rough year, but I’m at the end of it, and I feel amazing. I feel lucky and privileged to have the people that have supported me, and that I’m at the stage, now, where I’m feeling ready to go again!”

The Sexual Violence Centre Cork flashmob, for the V-Day Project, happens at 1.15pm at Cork Opera House. For all the latest information, and to get involved, check ‘Sexual Violence Centre Cork’ across social media.

Shane Casey: “I’m Not the Finished Article”


The Celtic Tiger is now firmly in the rear-view of the national psyche, and is increasingly remembered as a strange time in Irish history. For former painter/decorator Shane Casey, it was a point of frustration, but also a rich seam of material for comedy-drama play ‘Wet Paint’. Mike McGrath-Bryan sits down with the Young Offenders star to find out more.


From the local buzz that has sprung up around the international success of Leeside slapstick series ‘The Young Offenders’, the real-life stories behind its leading actors and actresses are among the most compelling, with a cast of homegrown talent breaking an all-too pervasive glass ceiling in Irish entertainment and further afield. Thanks to the international reach the original film and spinoff TV show has attained via RTÉ/BBC co-production, and distribution deals with streaming titan Netflix, ‘The Young Offenders’ has become a bona-fide success story in Irish media, and alongside Channel 4’s ‘Derry Girls’, a cultural talking point not seen in Irish comedy since the height of Father Ted’s success in the mid-nineties. For those out of loop, one of the show’s profound pop-cultural sensations is one of its’ anti-heroes, Billy Murphy, portrayed by Northsider Shane Casey.

Though the success of Young Offenders has placed Casey in a national spotlight, he’s been fervently working away on stories of his own for over a decade. Informed by his time as a painter-decorator at the very crest of the construction-boom wave, ‘Wet Paint’ was written entirely by Casey, who also stars in its upcoming Patrick Talbot production at the Opera House next month. Sitting down upstairs in the venue’s Blue Angel bar, Casey is open about the process of bringing the story of an image-conscious boss and his workers to life. “To be honest with you, I didn’t know that that was what I was going to write about. I started writing a monologues, and ‘I was on the Late Late Show once’ was the opening line. This monologue spilled out of me one afternoon up in Sunday’s Well, I was living (there). I found it was a funny anecdotal story about the man who meets the future James Bond on the Late Late Show, and told his wife that he knows him, when in fact he doesn’t know him. He’s caught out with a lie on national television. I found that humourous, and off the back of that, then, I had the character Tony, who I thought was like a neighbour of mine, and that evolved into the painting and decorating ‘boss’, that was under pressure, buying the new car every year, the new kitchen unit, and so on, all of this nonsense that was going on during the Celtic Tiger, and that evolved into, to be honest, a semi-autobiographical piece on being an apprentice painter-decorator as the world was going mad, in 2005.”

‘Wet Paint’ is a curio, in that it deals directly with the Celtic Tiger’s largesse and ‘notions’ by openly lampooning them, doing so not only as a personal nostalgia piece, but addressing the national episode, a time when the country, by and large, was arguably getting carried away with itself. Irresponsible investments, an over-emphasis on entrepreneurship, and a steady flow of cheap credit championed by banks and politicians alike created an atmosphere where anything seemed possible. For young people, however, soon to be the first victims of the precipitous bust of 2008 and the reviled austerity measures that followed, that fantasy was rarely the case, and Casey’s bile was aimed directly at the obstacles the boom-years mentality placed directly in his path. “It was just a frustration for me, at that point. I’d left the painting and decorating (a few years prior) and then when the 2005 (City of Culture) scenario rolled around I’d just finished college, I thought, ‘oh, this is going to be good for me, lots of plays and lots of theatre, vibrant things happening in my city’, and I just felt completely excluded from it. It was opera-singing up at the barracks, foreign plays coming in, which is all well and good, I love theatre, but I felt it was elitist, and that was the frustration that was coming through me in the play. I wanted to write a play that my Mam and Dad, and that my friends, who are builders, painters and decorators, and the theatre-going public could sit down and watch, and go ‘oh, he’s trying to say something, here’, y’know? I know that sounds kind of heightened, or convoluted, but it’s frustration, really, with… jambons, and silly, stupid carry-on.”

This time around, Casey and crew are working with former Everyman Palace director Patrick Talbot to get the Opera House production of ‘Wet Paint’ over the line, but Casey is quick to sing the praises of former directors that have worked with him on the play’s prior productions at the Granary Theatre, and the Everyman itself, drawing from the rich seam of theatrical talent that the city possesses in spades. “The play was directed by a woman called Evelyn Quinlan, who was one of the first Theatre students from UCC, she would have been involved with Julie Kelleher and people like that. She became a friend over the years, and I wanted a female input on the play originally, and she would have been a guiding light for the original production, and a director when we put it on in the Granary, and transferred it to the Everyman, then, a year later. Pat happened to be the guy that was running the theatre at that stage, and then when Pat came to me last year and said ‘would you take it out again?’, I was thinking it would be more relevant again, that there’s distance between now and 2005. I had another look, and thought, yeah, ‘maybe this does have something to say’, because now there is a nostalgia buzz, and I even talk about ‘Reeling in the Years’ in the play, Turners’ Cross and Cork City, all the stuff that was going on at the time. Pat has always been very encouraging to me in theatre, and encouraging me to write more, always.”

With the property bubble having long since burst, the fallout of the bailout and bank guarantee having taken a heavy toll on the Irish public over the course of the last decade-plus, and the prospect of a so-called economic recovery being touted by the Irish establishment, the temptation to ask Casey if any of the well to-do crowd have taken umbrage with the play and its mirroring of notions in certain parts of Irish society is frankly overwhelming for your writer. “I live close to inner-city Dublin, and I do workshops in schools. I know that kids are suffering because of the austerity cuts, like. We’re all suffering. The nurses are on strike. There’s kids who are homeless in Cork city. There is a bit of a recovery, but for who? That’s why I’m doing my workshops, ‘cause I know what it’s like to feel like sh*t about myself as a teenager, The Young Offenders has opened the door for me to do this, and put this play on again, and I’m proud and really excited to be working on it.”

In pursuing the opportunity given to him to revisit ‘Wet Paint’, Casey reached into his recent acting past to cast his two collaborators for the new production. Having moved to Dublin right before ‘The Young Offenders’ to pursue his craft in a busier atmosphere, the right people were literally falling in around him as he was revisiting the script. “The first time I met Tommy (Harris) was across the road (from the Opera House), when we were filming the prison scenes. I was beating this guy for an afternoon, and he turned out to be a friend, and now he’s in a play that I wrote, it’s amazing… I was in Dublin, went into a coffee shop that I had never been in before, and I took out the script. I hate taking out scripts in coffee shops, because I feel like a bit of a w*nker. The next thing, Tommy walks in the door, and I think ‘brilliant!’. Michael Sands is also a friend of mine, and he’s probably played more than anyone else at this stage. He’s been in dozens of pantos here, and in the Everyman, and I’m really excited to be doing it with him.”

Taking the play, a three-man piece with limited props, from the ‘round’ of the Granary and the smaller stage of the Everyman, to the generous proportions of the Opera House’s boards, would present anyone else with the question of how best to fill that space, and make the most of the historic venue’s facilities. For Casey, however, that negative space around his show’s characters presents an opportunity to maximise its visual impact and complement his story, allowing audiences to fill the spaces themselves. “That’s probably saying more for their isolation as characters, to be honest with you. We’re still on the outside, looking in on them. It was probably more ‘under the microscope’ as an actor, in the Granary and the Everyman because they were up our noses. There’s a moment in the show where, without giving too much away, where ‘the wall’ is very much broken. People didn’t realise we were acting within the scene, they thought the play was falling apart. We can make it maybe a little bit bigger. I’m glad that we did it in a small venue, and now we have it here, and we’re looking at taking it on tour later in the year, see how it does in other houses. We’re doing Skibbereen as well, I’m excited about that!”

When he isn’t working on his stagecraft, Casey has used his influence and the wide reach his acting has garnered him to advocate for awareness of mental health and stress among teenagers, following on from parental testimonies on ‘The Young Offenders’’ inherent inter-generational appeal. In his mind, opening up the conversation about the world around our young people, and the pressures that have always gone hand-in-hand with adolescence, is the first step. Casey draws from his own experiences prior to entering the performing arts, and has come away from his school workshops on the matter with some profound experiences and perspectives. “We’re opening up the floor to them, to have a conversation, suggesting things that they could do. It’s an experience-based workshop, based on the mistakes I’ve made in my life and the life I’ve led so far, what I need to do to be productive and happy within myself. That’s the most important thing. It’s very easy for kids to feel like sh*t about themselves, I know what it’s like to go home and sit on my phone for four hours, thinking everyone else’s life is perfect. I’m going in and being honest them, ‘cause I’m not the finished article at all. They think that when you’re an adult, everything’s over and you have everything made, they don’t realise you have problems and troubles. We need to sit down and talk about their problems and troubles as well. We had a lovely moment the other day, I asked a group, ‘how many people have somebody they can turn to if they really need help?’, and nobody put their hands up, and that was worrying. But we turned the tables on them and asked, ‘if somebody needs help, would yoy help them?’, and they all put their hands up. We’ve a lovely saying at the workshops, ‘don’t go the butcher for a haircut’. A lot of them get confused at the very start, but it’s about going to the right person for help at the right time.”

It must be an odd reverse-engineering of those experiences with mental health, then, to pour everything into portraying Billy Murphy, the Young Offenders’ eternal menace, rival and eventual anti-hero. Initially portrayed as protagonists Conor and Jock’s near-psychotic local bully, pursuing the pair over comeuppance received at the end of the original film, Murphy slowly becomes a sympathetic figure as the subsequent TV show progresses. He’s shown to be profoundly out of his depth when holding bus-goers hostage in the series’ infamous finale, and is ultimately shown as the product of parental neglect, mental ill-health and the wider social issues affecting inner-city areas and their infrastructure. With the responsibility that comes with such a large platform, Casey’s approach, similar to his other work, is to create a blank canvas for others to project their experiences onto. “Everything was there on the page from Peter (Foott, Young Offenders director). It’s well-documented at this stage that he lets us do a bit of improvisation, but Peter knows me for years, and what I can contribute as an actor. The character was there, and we knew there was more to him than the stereotypical guy that punches somebody. I very much wanted to have a struggle within the guy that if he does punch someone, that he goes ‘oh, tell your mam I was asking for her’, afterwards. I thought that was an interesting angle. Any time I ever saw a lad get into trouble, especially in relation to violence, he was kind-of beating himself up, more than anybody else, afterwards. I don’t think anyone goes out, punches someone and feels great about it. I think there is a sinister side to him as well, where he does take a little bit of enjoyment out of it, but there’s a pinch of salt to it.”

This coming summer will see the show’s second series enter filming around the city. While the details of the show’s next steps are of course under tight wraps, it’s evident that between the upcoming shoots and ‘Wet Paint’s continued run around Cork county, Casey has enough happening to keep him busy in the coming year. “It’s going to go again, that’s all I know. The kids and teenagers I meet are crying out for another series. The more we can get done, the better. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll get the one-percent of people coming up to me (saying so), but it’s like, ‘ye’re not the demographic’, like. Peter has assembled a brilliant team of people on cast and crew. Somebody put the headline that there’s a ‘love-in’ between all of us, and I’ll stand by that, I’m very fond of everyone I work with on that show.”

On a parting note, Casey makes time before he heads to a production meeting for an anecdote on the real strength of ‘The Young Offenders’ wide-ranging appeal. “A prominent person in this city, a television person, told me that they would sit down every Thursday night with their son and watch the show, and it would become a real bonding moment for them. It was really nice, as a family to do that. I thought that was really nice. The therapeutic quality the show has. Sitting down to watch one episode and being able to switch off, from their phones and the pressure they’re put under at school. I’m very happy to be involved in a show like that, and at the very least – kids are having a laugh.”

‘Wet Paint’ runs at Cork Opera House, at 8pm nightly from Wednesday March 20th to Saturday 23rd, with a special matinee show at 3pm on the Saturday. Tickets €21-27 are available from the venue’s box office, and corkoperahouse.com.

God is an Astronaut: “Everything Felt as Natural as It Could”

With ninth album ‘Epitaph’, Glen of the Downs post-rockers God is an Astronaut have prepared their most sonically and thematically heavy record yet. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks to co-founder Niels Kinsella ahead of their gig at Cyprus Avenue on February 8th.

Traversing the world, and creating a vast palate of sounds in and around the post-rock genre’s outer limits, Co. Wicklow five-piece God is an Astronaut have seen and done possibly everything there is for them to see and do, enduring nearly everything a band could have thrown at them at a turbulent time for independent music. And yet, for all of their accomplishments and a rich body of work, when it came time to face down a profound personal tragedy, the band took shelter, pride and comfort in creating a transformative, wildly cathartic and heartbroken piece of music. In doing so, they’ve arguably emerged with an album that’s redefined them as a creative entity, and bears the hallmark of the kind of soul-searching only that grief can inspire in someone.

New album ‘Epitaph’ released in April of last year via Napalm Records, a new label for the band after years of alternating between UK indies and self-releases. Niels Kinsella, one half of the brother duo at the heart of the band, is careful to discuss the inspiration behind a crushing yet vital musical proposition.We are very happy with the album, even though it was a very difficult for us to write. It was written in memory of our seven-year-old cousin, whose life was tragically taken just over two years ago. Working with Napalm Records has been positive, they’ve been very supportive and respectful of our identity.”

Tapping into the groundswell of emotion and experience that bereavement evokes, the band took a turn for the sonically and thematically heavy, wrenching out of themselves a heavy, at times guttural take on the band’s traditional play with sounds. Oddly enough, then, the record is rooted in the most bare-bones idea preparation one imagines a band like God is an Astronaut engaging in. The songs themselves were written all in the immediate aftermath and were essential for us to try and come to terms with this extremely traumatic event, words could not express our feelings but the music could. All of the songs are about the different aspects of the tragedy so naturally this is by far the darkest and most personal record we have ever written. The songs were mainly written on a Piano, it offers a larger combination of notes than a guitar and helped capture the exact emotions.”

For the first time in the band’s long and storied run, they were joined in studio by a creative ‘third-person’ in a non-production role, with Rob Murphy and Conor Drinane of Dublin electronic duo Xenon Field taking part in songwriting and improvisation, to provide another perspective. “They helped us a lot in post-production, and really understood what we were making. They wanted the style to further reflect the subject matter by making the sounds more broken/imperfect. For example, they put the sounds through various tape devices with bad tracking, the notes warbling in and out tune helped it feel more haunted. Using lots of tape saturation made it feel more stressed. We used lots of experimental plugins like Unfiltered Audio SpecOps, and lots of analogue outboard like the Niio Iotine Core, Mutronics Mutator and Snazzy FX Tracer City.”

Working as a unit between four of them, and including the contributions of former members and guest musicians, Xenon Field ensured the Brothers Kinsella’s trademark sonic interplay would be evident. The group set out to ensure that everything felt as natural as it could throughout production. “We also introduced a doom-laden guitar sound in sections, tuned to drop A, but with a twist. I put an Earthquaker Rainbow pedal on my guitar which warbles the tuning in and out of tune, that combination really captured the dread and ugliness that some of music was conveying. We also used live amps on this record, as amp simulation equipment didn’t quite fit the style. It had to have a raw flavour. Jimmy Scanlon, who owns Jimi’s Music Store, helped me out by supplying lots of vintage amps, and also played on our record. We used ribbon mics to keep the sound warm. The drums were mic’d with a pair of Ribbon Coles 4038, which is something we never used before. It gives the drums a dark sound that the music craved for. It was also the first time we did analog mastering, we wanted something more vintage and authentic.”

There are a wide variety of topics & themes at play in the record, coming under the main theme of grief and catharsis; including imagery of mythology and natural beauty. Arrangement and ideas aside – how was it to focus on dealing with such an overwhelming, universally relatable sadness into a body of work?In one way it was therapeutic for us, but in another it was overwhelming having to relive those feelings over and over again as we worked on the record throughout, at times it even became oppressive. It was important to have some positivity and hope on the album to balance it out.”

The band has recently pressed its entire back catalogue back onto vinyl, on sale now at various tour stops. Kinsella outlines the process of getting the band’s catalogue together after an extended mastering process, and how it was to view an extended body of work in the rear-view mirror, at least in terms of a set of physical pieces.We had remastered our entire discography back in 2012, with Tim Young at Metropolis Mastering Studios in London, so it made it quite manageable to revisit the masters, as they were all on file, and cut them to vinyl. It was very gratifying, and even nostalgic, looking at our entire body of work at the same time. When we laid out all the vinyl on the table so many memories came back to us.”

The vinyl revival is an ideal opportunity to supplement live and merchandise income, but has yet to make up ground for loss of artist revenues as streaming overtakes both CD and now download as the prime digital format. While catalogue reissues and streaming revenues have gone a way to addressing the shortfall from the possible death of ‘owned’ formats, as is the case for many artists, the solution hasn’t quite arrived yet for the band, who also find themselves facing the challenge of changing habits that streaming has caused among casual consumers. “Ultimately streaming hasn’t really helped, if anything it’s lessened our revenue. Fans who have bought our records in the past are now content to just sign up to a streaming service, and the artist revenue from that is significantly less. You can also see trends of listeners just listening to specific playlists, for example ‘ambient music’, where the artist identity isn’t even that important, the listeners are only interested in one specific style to suit their mood, and do not want be subjected to a mixed variety. So that, in my opinion, kills the concept of an album where there is a journey. For us, it’s fifty percent live shows and merchandising, and the other fifty percent is releasing new music, which is a big change in the last ten years, where the revenue was seventy percent releasing new music and thirty percent live shows and merchandising.”

Before heading to Bucharest in May to support the Cure, and ahead of touring the US later in the year, the band returns to Cyprus Avenue on Friday February 8th as part of its coming run of Irish dates, for the first time since the venue completed its expansion late last year. Kinsella collects his thoughts on the old venue, a regular stop of theirs, and anticipates changes.I haven’t seen the changes in person yet, but I am pleased that Cyprus Avenue has finally been expanded. It was difficult in the past to fit on stage, and we had to leave some production out. I think from an audience perspective, it was hard to see a band clearly.”

God is an Astronaut play at The New Cyprus Avenue on Caroline Street, on Friday February 8th. Tickets onsale now from cyprusavenue.ie.

Hilary Woods: “I Do Vibe Off Being Thrown In at the Deep End”

Songwriter and artist Hilary Woods has established a fiercely DIY identity, nestled somewhere between shoegaze and electronica. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the former JJ72 bassist about the process behind her debut solo album, and performing it live at the Triskel Christchurch.

Since returning to artistic practice full-time across songwriting, scoring and theatre, Dubliner Hilary Woods has taken a long and sometimes inward-looking path to establishing and asserting her identity as a solo artist. Across a pair of stunning extended-players, the latter of which, ‘Heartbox’, was crowdfunded to completion, Woods’ own influences and ruminations on the human condition are far removed from her contributions on bass to the sunny, accessible alt-rock of 2000s Irish indie cruiserweights JJ72. Taking control of her artistic destiny, Woods’ solo output has long since outweighed her former project’s, thematically and musically, with an emphasis on tone and texture comparable to contemporaries like Grouper and Marissa Nadler.

Debut full-length ‘Colt’, released last summer via New York indie institution Sacred Bones, saw Woods tie together numerous strands of thought regarding internal monologues, and their effects on perception and mental health. Touring continues for the record this year, but Woods is now living with it as a piece on its own merits, reflective of the circumstances surrounding its creation, but now left open to listener interpretation. “I think my feelings on it change as I gain distance from it. I made the record at a vulnerable time; it’s a personal, intimate record with a DIY heart. I’m not sure an LP is ever ‘finished’, but it’s living its own life now that it’s out.”

The record is indeed weighty throughout, with themes of catharsis in artistic process and making sense of everyday malaise being most prevalent. No surprise, then, to hear that the record is as much a confessional, informed by emotion and experience, as it is a concept piece. “For me, the making of this record arose out of a necessity to address inner currents, and confide them to tape. I never arrived at a concept as such, it was more of a case of the songs imbibing variations of a similar feeling. It has an emotional weight to it, for sure. The record grew and took shape from a long period of time writing and recording at home.”

Woods worked with Corkman James Kelly to produce the album, one of Irish music’s more distinct creative entities, via black-metal outfit Altar of Plagues and solo electronic project WIFE. The process of finishing the album, and working with Kelly on realising what Woods had in mind for the record, was imbued with a mutual understanding of artistic endgoals and frames of reference. “I followed my instinct, and asked James would he like to come on board largely from listening to his Stoic EP, which is a gem of a record. He was very supportive of my aesthetic vision, and we both valued keeping the innate character of my initial recorded takes. I love heavy music, where he was coming from, he has exquisite taste and he understood the core of my record from the get-go and what it needed, which was important to me. Trust played a huge role, it was a gift to work with him.”

As mentioned, ‘Colt’ released physically and digitally via Sacred Bones Records, an independent label out of Brooklyn, New York. A seemingly far-flung journey for Woods’ music to go on, it makes all the sense in the world with a brief perusal of the label’s roster, a who’s who of influential independent artists from around the world in the last two decades. Ahead of putting together her sophomore solo long-player for the label this year, the working relationship has been a harmonious one. “In many ways, I was careful with ‘Colt’, I only wanted to release it out into the world if it was in a way that honoured the enormity of the work that was poured into it. With Sacred Bones I feel at home; we were on the same page artistically from the outset, and they give me the leeway to work in whichever way feels natural. Their faith in me, and my project, means a great deal.”

Work on the record aside, Woods also spent 2017 working in the realms of theatre and film scoring. The former involved building a theatrical piece from the ground up around sound design for the Dublin Fringe Festival as its ‘Wild Card’ artist that year, and in the latter case, creating the new scores to a season of Weimar German films for the Irish Film Institute. “It was the summertime when I delved into those side projects, which presented themselves randomly out of the blue. So I said yes to both, as I felt they were opportunities for me grow as an artist, and to exhale and catch my breath from the intensity of making my record at home. Both undertakings were light in comparison to making ‘Colt’. Making a piece of theatre from sound design was a lot of fun. It was eye-opening to take a peek into another art form, the division of labour in theatre is still something I’m reflecting on, and hearing actors inject my written words and ideas with life, and riff and move and improvise to a sonic palette, was just so new to me, and exciting. Composing and performing solo a live film score was absolutely nerve-racking, but I do vibe off being thrown in at the deep end.”

Woods kicks off her year, ahead of US touring for the record, by playing an intimate show at the Triskel’s Christchurch on Saturday February 9th for Quarter Block Party. The historic surroundings of that part of the building ought to complement live performances of Woods’ perfectly, a challenge she seems to anticipate. “I felt very flattered to be asked to play Quarter Block Party. It’ll be my first time playing in Cork with ‘Colt’. It is a special and rare thing to play an artful, thoughtfully curated festival, that is experimental, and values cross-genre creativity in a wider sense. My pal Juno Cheetal, playing as Flowers At Night, is also opening the show, and the venue too is atmospheric and sits on a Medieval burial site. Perfect.”

Hilary Woods plays Triskel Christchurch on Saturday February 9th. Doors open at 11pm, with individual tickets going for €15 from uTicket.ie. The show is also part of the festival’s ticket bundle deals, with a headliner event and two other gigs going for €25, or two headliners and four other gigs going for €50.