Wednesday 15 July 2020

Sisterix - Interview

They're only three singles into their life as Sisterix but Ornait and Siomha have already made their mark in their native Ireland with hard-hitting songs that pull no punches - whether it be about the oppressive nature of church-dominated society or the way women are viewed within that. With an EP due in September and a video for new single Family released today, we caught up with Ornait to find out more about the band, their inspirations and the groundswell of new female Irish talent and the challenges they're facing to break through.

Hi Ornait.  Could you introduce Sisterix please?

Hi we are Ornait and Siomha Hennessy. We’re sisters from Dublin who have grown up playing music and fighting with each other. A terrible mix.
You come from a traditional music playing family yet the sound of Sisterix is very different.  Was there a pressure to continue to make the same kind of music or were you given free reign?

We didn’t really feel pressure to play a particular type of music as our parents weren’t stage parents in the least and our uncles were more focused on their own kids so we did our own thing. A lot of our musical development happened independently I guess.

That being said, the music we were raised with and immersed in growing up was mostly traditional and classical. We both still sing sean-nós songs, and remain very connected with folk and Irish music. It’s not one or the other.

You ended up singing a traditional song acapella on stage in front of 5,000 people at an Idles show last year in Dublin - how did that happen?

We will never live that down. We had gotten separated from each other in the moshpit as you do and I suspected siomha might be dead. At the end of the gig the lead singer asked for someone to come up and sing a song, but said the song had to be in Irish.

Then I spotted Siomha stomping up on the stage, alive and kicking! She called "where’s my sister?" into the mic and I found myself hoisted onto the stage. Siomha started singing the rebel song ‘oró sé do bheatha bhaile' and that’s how we found ourselves leading the 5,000 strong crowd in an Irish song! It was mad but good craic!

Who were your musical inspirations growing up and how have they influenced your sound now?

It's difficult to trace ones influences as it is more of an unconscious thing. As a teenager I listened to artists such as Fleetwood Mac, The Velvet Underground, Little Dragon and was inspired by artists like Stevie Nicks, Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple and Joanna Newsom as songwriters. I also loved sean nós songs from the Irish tradition and was inspired by them in terms of their melodic richness. I think the sean nós and folk music is a strong influence also and sort of bleeds into our singing unconsciously.
How does your songwriting process work - does one of you come up with an idea and you work on it together or do you individually come up with full songs - and how do you decide who sings which parts of the song?

So far we have mostly written songs separately and then we sometimes edit them together. We’re each other’s litmus tests for songs. Perhaps in the future we will write more together but we have tended to be quite insular in our writing process up to now. It would be interesting to mix it up a bit though and see what happens.

Usually she who writes the song sings it and the other does backing vocals.

Your new single The Family has just been released.  Could you tell us a little about the story behind the song and its cover, which I believe features your mother?
The song describes a family that appears on the outside like the ‘perfect’ family, charming, friendly, ideal. But behind ‘closed curtains’, all is not how it seems.

Anyone with any knowledge of Irish society over the last 100 years will recognise the convert oppression evoked in the song.

The church/ state brutal obsession with preserving the nuclear family unit came at enormous cost to everybody, but particularly women and children, and it filtered down into all aspects of culture and family life, the consequences of which we are still dealing with today.

The song focuses on an individual family, but it also extends as a metaphor for an Irish state that continues to perpetrate covert abuse in the form of Direct Provision, the appalling housing crisis (which disproportionately affects women and children), as well as the mistreatment of women by the state (in countless ways), all whilst pulling on the green jersey and paying lip service to historical revolutionary events like the 1916 Rising. It’s ironic in the extreme.
It's your third single in five months - following on from Another Reason To Hate You and Asking For Trouble.  Was it always the intention to release things so close together as part of a plan or has the lockdown and the pandemic meant you've had to change your plans?

Well we had a bunch of songs recorded and wanted to put them out as singles. The lockdown didn’t really change the timeline all that much, but it did mean we had to make the videos ourselves for the most part which was a new challenge for sure, and nearly broke us! But definitely a new muscle to exercise!
There was talk a few months back of an EP - is that still in the pipeline?

Yes. We are releasing the full EP in September. Watch this space!
As sisters, it's been much easier for you to get together during the pandemic.  Has it been a fruitful time for you in terms of writing and recording?

It definitely has been easier which was fortunate.  As mentioned, we’ve had to be very creative with making music videos for the single releases and we’ve both been writing here and there too. But to be honest, there’s so much back-end work involved in releasing an EP, so a lot of our energy has been taken up with the admin and the organising of that. We are definitely eager to get back in the studio as soon as possible, as we have a bunch of songs we want to record. 

The lyrics to Asking For Trouble were crystal clear - dealing with the way women have to act differently when they go out in public to men for their own safety and men thinking they have to play the hero - what kind of response has such a direct song had?

The response has been positive. If anyone has taken umbridge at the lyrics, I have yet to hear from them. It's just a song about the lived experience of being a woman in this society, so if it offends anyone then they are clearly part of the problem.

I’ve had people say that it is nice to have that sentiment captured in a song, as it definitely is an ever present issue that permeates the lives of women everywhere
There's been a lot of hype in the past twelve - eighteen months or so about Irish bands in the UK and that there's a scene growing in Dublin. Is that something that you feel you've been part of or not - and if not, has that been by choice?

There definitely does seem to be a lot of great bands around at the moment which is exciting. The whole idea of a ‘scene’ tends to bring us out in an allergic rash, we’ve always felt a bit like outsiders. In fairness though, we’ve never really released music till now so who knows in a few months we might have morphed into right little scenesters!

A lot of that focus in the UK has been on male artists, and the press we've read seems to suggest it's been similar in Ireland, but we've heard some fabulous female artists in the last few months - yourselves, Ailbhe Reddy, Bri, Amy Naessens, His Father's Voice that we've covered alone.Is the scene changing and can you recommend more artists that we and our readers should check out?

Yes, there are so many great female artists but this is not reflected in the media. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a pretty damning report published by Linda Coogan Byrne and Aine Tyrrell, which found that out of the top 20 Irish artists being played on Irish radio, female artists account for only 7%. 

It’s pretty infuriating stuff, and is certainly not for lack of female artists making great music. It really illustrates the lack of concrete support for female artists here, as well as why so many leave Ireland to find success. Sisterix may well end up having to do the same.

Some great female Irish talents include Wyvern Lingo, Mongoose, Denise Chaila, Aoife Nessa Frances, Sibeal, Fehdah, to name a few.  

If you had to describe Sisterix to someone who had never heard of you before, where would you start?

Oh that’s a tough one. I’d tell them to listen to our music because words can’t describe! But in failing that they could ask my dad for one of his many glowing reviews. He described our last single as a “doleful dirge that no one will listen to!”  A great hypeman for us!  

Sisterix are on Facebook and Twitter.

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