Constance Keane is a force to be reckoned with.
Alongside being drummer for punk band M(h)aol, making her own music under Fears and managing Laura Groves, Keane is also about to launch the collective and management label TULLE. TULLE is specifically for women and non-binary musicians which, in a heavily male-dominated industry, has the potential to be a community and an alternative to what are all-too-often objectifying and patronising patterns of behaviour and power structures. Keane isn’t doing this alone; with her are Emily Kendrick (XL Records), Melika Mills and Hannah Partington (Young Turks), each bringing with them significant insight and experience. Ahead of launching TULLE, I got to talk to Keane about her vision for the label and her own experiences within music.
University Express. How are you feeling about launching TULLE?
Constance Keane: Overwhelmed, but excited! I can’t wait to be talking to people about it in a concrete way. There are so many different elements to a label, and with the type of label that we’re doing it’s more of a collective surrounding the label itself. So the label is a part of it but it expands beyond that. I think when you’re starting anything like that you just have so many connections to make before you’re even able to say that you’re doing something. So I’ve really just been building those connections, dealing with legal things and just doing all of that background stuff, which I find really exciting. But it is at the point now where I’m just like “I wanna do the fun bit,” you know? It’s been a huge amount of work but absolutely worth it so far.
UE. Where did the idea for TULLE come from?
CK: I was putting together my own album and I really wanted to release it on a label that was owned and run by majority women. But it was in the process of making this record and not being able to find the home that I wanted for it that I was basically like, ‘Maybe I should give this a go’. There’s this really inspirational woman called Katie O’Neill who works at Domino [Recording Company]. She was recording some of the vocals for my album. We spent days in the studio talking about what I should be doing with the album, and she asked me if I would ever start a record label. And I was like ‘I don’t really have enough connections for that, I would need more money for that, etcetera’ and she was just like ‘Nah I think you should just do it though’. So we got the tube from Brixton to Northeast London after one of those sessions and I was like ‘Maybe I will just do this!’
UE: Where did the name TULLE come from?
CK: The reason I thought TULLE was so appropriate for the label and the collective is because tulle is a fabric but it’s made up of all of these tiny little connections. When all of these connections come together, they form something really big. It looks like it’s a soft, delicate fabric from faraway, but when you’re actually up close to it it’s quite robust and it can withstand things. This network of stuff that is in a way reclaiming femininity, celebrating it, not defining what it had to be and at the core of it something really strong that you don’t wanna mess with!
UE: How have your own experiences within the music scene affected your ways of finding community?
CK: I’ve been engaging with feminism since I was a teenager. I started playing the drums when I was 9 and basically since then I’ve had a lot of strange conversations with people about why I’m playing the drums. I keep getting asked why I don’t play a more ‘feminine’ instrument and I’m being met with discrimination based on my gender. It was this relentless, insidious thing that went on for as long as we were playing shows, whether that was telling us everything that we were doing wrong with how we were presenting ourselves or telling me exactly what I was doing wrong.
For me, experiencing all of that really put it into my head how important it was that if I could in any way make a difference in making a ‘not-straight-white-cis-man’ feel welcome in a scene then that’s absolutely what I should be doing. I see there as being no excuse for being a bystander when it comes to stuff in music at this point. I’m basically trying to build a life where I have such a supportive network around me that we can make whatever we’re doing as inclusive as possible.
UE: How do you envision the future of the Irish music scene?
CK: I feel very confident and optimistic about the fact that there are now so many women involved in the Irish music scene that it can’t go back to what it was before. If it tries to, well we’ll just make a parallel scene! A scene where we don’t have to deal with lads playing guitars because that’s boring. There’s so much power behind women and non-binary people making music in Ireland that I just think it’s waiting to explode once we’re able to have a live scene again. Everybody knows what’s up. We trade stories. And naturally these bonds start forming. It’s quite empowering and it gives me so much energy to have conversations with people who have empathy and who understand the experiences.
It can be really exhausting working on things when you’re trying to make something that the system wasn’t already built for. But to have these conversations and these gatherings, to me it really shows a want for a scene outside of your own bedroom.