What has music come to. ‘Despacito’ was top of the Irish Charts for roughly the past four months, and if anything was more indicative that the genuine craft of musicianship was under-appreciated in modern society, Luis Fonsi’s Biebz-riddled track is the terrifying embodiment. However, Dublin based trio Wyvern Lingo are fighting the good fight and thankfully, are winning. Comprising of Karen Cowley, Saoirse Duane and Caoimhe Barry the immensely talented group have come a noticeably long way since their initial EP ‘The Widow Knows’ in 2014.
Having grabbed attention with their early indie-folk, harmoniously blessed releases, Wyvern Lingo have very much evolved. Latest single ‘I Love You Sadie’ is the complete apotheosis of this metamorphosis, trading in the pianos and guitars for more of an R&B feel. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Karen Cowley spilled the beans on their new single and the band’s upcoming album, slated for a February release. “I think Sadie is what we would describe as the most poppy of all the singles, in a good way, we love the song and it just came out that way. The next track we’re going to release is not dissimilar but then quite different, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s got some electronic stuff but it probably has more of a band feel. It’s weird because it’s actually the newest song on the album, we wrote it in the studio so it’s definitely going to be a little bit different from the rest of our stuff but it goes with Sadie quite well”.
Wyvern Lingo truly thrust themselves to the fore of the scene in Ireland nearly three years ago, and in a worryingly frequent number of cases, bands falter and fumble to grow and generally avoid complacency following such a rapid ascent. Cowley and Co have managed to avoid such a fate and are now slipping into a far more comfortable groove. “I think the album is us finding ourselves a lot more clearly. Our last EP we’re really proud of, we loved and I think we were really getting into our stride. Marrying that kind of rock sound with electronic R&B it was all a bit mad. But now I think we’ve really figured out how we want songs to sound and how to harmonize all the different elements of what we do into a cohesive sound. Which I think hasn’t been easy because we’re three different songwriters and the album is very much a mix of all of our writing. It’s been a challenge, which is why it’s taken us longer than we thought but I feel that happens with everything but we’re really proud of it”.
Rather uniquely for a band, all three members are wonderfully adept songwriters in their own right. Three different songsters bringing three inherently different tools and approaches to the table could be a double-edged sword. “Basically, it kind of varies depending on the person. We all have different ways in which we’d lean towards in songwriting but it’s never strict. Generally I’d come up with lyrics and melody first, I’d be writing lyrics all the time and then melodies would come fairly quick. It would take me awhile to get from a lyric in my head to a full song. Whereas Saoirse would come with a produced track which has no lyrics yet, which is cool because we’re so different. When we write together it’s funny, that’s actually how our newest song came, I had versions of it and versions of these lyrics but it wasn’t going anywhere, then we started messing around with a track that she’d produced out of a really old rip of an ancient song of ours that we’d wrote when we were teenagers. So that was probably the most organic writing moment we’ve had in the past year. Caoimhe then play’s a bit of guitar so she’d write songs on that and we’d all flesh it out. It’s nice how it’s all very different but it works we complement each other’s weaknesses and strengths”.
With such a marked shift in sound, the writing process can only but evolve for Cowley, especially due to her own personal desire to constantly improve. “I feel like the writing process is always changing for me because I always feel like I haven’t cracked it yet. I don’t have a formula which I think is genius. I think it’s important for it to change because you have to keep developing what you do and get better and better at it. When you’re sticking to music theory and writing a song it can kind of get a bit samey, so you’ve got to break through it and keep writing in different ways. It’s a very good idea to challenge yourself writing on different instruments and writing different ways”
For myself, alongside many others, Wyvern Lingo first came to general attention whilst accompanying Andrew ‘Hozier’ Byrne on tour, a process which came about rather organically. “So, Andrew and I, he was in the year ahead of me in college, I did Music & English in Trinity and just when I started a mutual friend asked me to join a funk band so I said of course, always, and Andrew was the other singer! So we became really good friends. That funk band became our weekly gig, this guy called Max Zaska, played a bit in Cork with the band called Siucra, he’s a genius. He created this band in Dublin with a few people he liked and we used to sing with him for years and then we started doing stuff with Trinity Orchestra so we became really good friends. So when Andrew started taking off, he needed a band quickly because it was all happening so fast and I just hopped in to do a few backing vocals for him. I was going into final year in college and when I couldn’t make it Caoimhe would fill in, then he asked me to be on the album which was really sweet. It’s just genuine friendship. I actually met our manager from doing work with him. Long story short, he started taking off and we wanted to focus on ourselves and release an EP so we did that and he asked us back as a support band, doing backing vocals here and there and supporting on tours when we could. It was absolutely brilliant”
Despite the early success, there was still some concerns lingering within the band regarding the public reaction to their differing sound. “Since we’ve released the single it’s gone down really well but there’s a few people who are like ‘wow it’s really different’ but it doesn’t seem that different to us because we’ve been doing it so gradually, But in the public eye it’s very different, it’s important for us that our fans still enjoy it and find it relatable. Some people come out with an amazing first start and that’s their sound, but I think it took a bit longer for us and that’s okay”
Having headlined the Whelan’s Stage at this year’s Longitude Festival, the ladies will be making the trip down to Cork on September 16th for a show in Cyprus Avenue. Despite often serenading thousands of fans, Karen admits the intimacy of a smaller gig is still a far more fearsome prospect. “I think smaller gigs are just so nerve-wracking, you can hear a pin drop. I don’t think we’d have a preference but smaller gigs are definitely far more intimidating because you can see everybody’s face, which is just a little bit scary.” She laughs.
It’s hard not to notice the incredible absence of female, Irish musicians plying their trade throughout the country at the moment, and it’s not due to a lack of talent. Some of Ireland’s best musicians at the moment are, and always have been, women, but why is their presence not felt more heavily? I asked Karen what was it like being in an all-female group in what is unfortunately a male dominated industry. She replied saying “There’s certainly been moments where we’ve experienced what you’d call everyday sexism, I guess. Like being constantly compared to female bands that we’ve nothing in common with other than we’re female. Which happens all the time, it’s so funny you get called The Staves and HAIM and just musically we’re so different. People like putting people in a box, it is annoying but it’s not detrimental. Then other times we’ve had disappointingly sleazy encounters with people we’ve worked with, which we’re very lucky to say hasn’t happened often but certainly have happened and I wonder would it have happened to men who’d have worked with the same people, I doubt it. I do think we’re incredibly lucky because the team of men we work with are just amazing and absolutely would be disgusted at things like that. Any mention of us being uncomfortable with someone has just been shut down, we’re very lucky to work with very enlightened and good, outspoken men, both with our label and our management. It’s easier for us because we’re a group, I’m sure if I was a solo act I’d feel it a lot more. I think we’ve been very lucky but it definitely exists. It’s definitely something we care about, we’re always consciously trying to engage with feminist issues. ‘I Love You Sadie’ is actually about gender stereotypes and how redundant they are. It definitely feeds into our writing”.
“It has to start with kids, there’s this initiative called ‘Girls Rock Dublin’ which is a summer camp for young women between the ages of 18 to 24, I think they do a younger one too, and it’s to encourage Irish girls to play music with each other. All the teachers and mentors were girls. I don’t know why, and I’d love to know the proper science behind it, but when we were playing gigs when we were younger every other band would be exclusively male. It’s strange, we know lots of successful female musicians in Dublin both session players and artists but there definitely is a lack of women making it. We’ve all seen the festival bills with very poor female representation. I think the change has to start with education, like everything wrong with the world!” she adds with a chuckle.
Catch Wyvern Lingo in Cyprus Avenue, Sept 16th.