A recent slot supporting their long-time mate Hozier has put trio, Wyvern Lingo on the map. Jane Casey meets three women inspired by the heights their old friend has hit.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Wyvern Lingo, made up of Karen Cowley, Saoirse Duane and Caoimhe Barry, are a ‘new band’. Despite being on the younger side of 25, the three friends have almost a decade of experience, performing with other established acts in the Irish music scene. “We are finally dedicating every second of every day to Wyvern Lingo,” Karen tells me when we meet up after a mid-week rehearsal for a forthcoming Irish tour – their first time as headliners.
“We’ve all been in other bands, but none of us have never been in another band where everyone is equal and there’s no lead.” The women’s musical relationship goes back to their pre-teen days in Bray, Co.Wicklow, a span that’s given them a long time to develop their signature sound. “The vocals are very informed by commercial ’90s R’n’B, like Lauryn Hill or D’Angelo,” Karen explains. “I have my bass synth, so now we are a lot more electro too, which I think we might have been scared of before.” Drummer Caoimhe adds that she’s been listening to a lot of hip-hop beats for inspiration.
While on paper their style seems like a mish-mash of genres, it makes perfect sense when married with each of their unique and equally strong voices and clever, poetic lyrics. Call it luck, fate or serendipity, it’s a wonder how these impressively talented musicians all happened meet and become friends in their childhood. “We’re best friends,” says Karen. “I mean, whenever we have a rare day off, the next day we have so much to tell each other.”
Two thirds of the band, Karen and Caoimhe, have served as backing vocalists to Grammy nominee Hozier for his UK and European tours, and on TV appearances. Their final performance, before moving on from “The Hozier Band”, was on The Graham Norton Show in January. “Caoimhe and I would be gone for two or three days at a time with Hozier,” says Karen. “We would really miss Saoirse. We are really lucky, I mean… it is rare that… You know…” As she trails off, clearly exhausted from the current hectic schedule, Caoimhe interjects. “Karen, choose a sentence and use it,” as she pulls her friend’s hand away from her mouth to stop her biting her nails.
“What I am trying to say is that we could all go off and do something on our own, but that is much less interesting,” says Karen. “You guys would be nothing without me, anyway,” jokes Caoimhe, to which both Saoirse and Karen give a unanimous, “Fuck you!” All three laugh.
While the two provided the perfect accompaniment to Hozier, it’s very clear from Wyvern Lingo’s growing success that being 20 feet from stardom just doesn’t suit them and that they are more interested in being artists in their own right. “Once, when we were doing promo with Hozier, we were on a private jet to Milan to do The Italian X Factor,” says Caoimhe. “For the whole flight I was cutting out paper snowflakes for a stop-motion video I was making for the Wyvern Lingo song Snow.”
Despite being grateful for the white-hot spotlight that being associated with an act like Hozier has put on them, it’s clear that they are not riding the coattails of his fame – but are merely inspired. “Whatever we owe to him for tweeting about us and sending more fans our way, what we really owe him is that he showed us that glimpse of what a career could be like,” says Karen, who features on the duet In A Week from his eponymous platinum-selling debut.
“People are paying attention to little old Ireland again,” adds guitarist, Saoirse. “We’ve all known Andrew [Hozier-Byrne] for years, and seeing him be as successful as he is has kind of given us a kick up the arse. It shows us that it’s possible.”
Even though their talent and drive is undeniable and their quiet confidence refreshing, being young women in a male-dominated industry has meant that even at this early stage in their career, they have already faced their fair share of sexism from the media. “We were in an interview recently and the journalist asked, ‘So, which one of you is the bossy one?’ trying to assign us personalities just because we are girls,” says Saoirse. “Recently we did another interview for a ‘top bands of 2015’ style feature,” adds Karen. “The journalist felt the need to mention that we ‘arranged the songs all by ourselves’ and how it was a ‘credit to our musicianship as well as vocal ability’. Of course we arranged them ourselves. They never mentioned that for the other ten predominantly male bands who were featured, because it’s a given. The saddest thing about that article was that the writer was a woman.”
Perhaps because they’re so closely knit, Wyvern Lingo remain undaunted, and they’re not afraid to talk about big ambitions. “I want to be one of those bands that have songs that last generations, like Summertime“, says Saoirse. “I want us to be timeless.”
Karen nods in agreement. “Yeah,” she says, “I want to be like Fleetwood Mac. I want us to be still gigging when we’re 65.”
Wyvern Lingo play Whelans, Dublin on June 5 – Tickets available online.
‘The Widow Knows’ EP is out now
This interview features in GCN Issue 303 – March 2015
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