Wise Beyond Their Years - an interview with rising Limerick act whenyoung
The indie-pop outfit on their DIY approach, modern anxieties and Dolores O'Riordan.
You could fill the pages of a long, probably not terribly interesting book about the word 'punk' and what it definitely, indisputably translates to.
For some, a genre of music. For others, an ever-evolving form of social commentary. And for others still, a way of life.
For Limerick/Clare outfit whenyoung, the definition falls somewhere in the middle, offering a fair enough representation of their ethos.
Formerly known as Sisters, the band - who currently call London their home - are in relaxed mood when JOE comes calling to a Dublin hotel on release day for major label debut EP, Given Up.
They're not long back from a tour in support of The Vaccines. At the end of this month, they'll grace the hallowed halls of St. James' Church at Other Voices in Dingle.
As reflected by the new four-track effort, whenyoung - comprised of frontwoman and bassist Aoife Young, guitarist Niall Burns and drummer Andrew Flood - skirt the edges of pop and indie.
Live shows are where a more raucous element comes in. Charged with a spirit worthy of their lowercase name, whenyoung feel like a group in a hurry, one both rebelling against and inviting in the wider world.
As for the whole punk thing, they pride themselves on a DIY approach, whether making their own vivid merchandise or citing the likes of Blondie and Pixies, two acts that make of a good fist of colouring both inside and out the lines, as influences.
"Just doing what we want to do is a kind of punk mentality too," says Burns.
"We’ve never tried to do anything else, we’ve never been influenced by people telling us what kind of song we ‘should’ write. 'Punk' is a difficult word. I think it's just doing what you want to do.
"It’s not about a mohawk," the guitarist continues.
"If that’s what people consider punk music - wearing tartan and walking around Camden - then we’re not a punk band. But if it’s the mentality of bands like The Clash, then I guess we are."
Stage dress code often sees the donning of bright jumpsuits (think Slipknot, only less masks and more defined colours), inspired by Flood's visit to a charity shop where some boiler suits stood out.
"We started painting them with a logo and thought we’d sell them as merch," notes Power.
"It became a thing and we kept wearing them and then the colour scheme was that we wanted a particular scheme for our artwork which we brought into the band itself - the primary colours."
"We’re a three-piece band, there’s three primary colours," nods Flood. "It worked."
"Just a very simple way of expressing that," adds Power.
"I don’t think we even thought about image so much, it was more like, ‘This looks good, this looks like something out of a Jean-Luc Godard film, let’s go with that’ and it varied a bit."
Clip via WhenyoungbandVEVO
The Given Up EP does what any good short burst should do for an act in the ascendency; offer a showcase of what they're capable while laying down jigsaw pieces of an identity.
If the elastic band snap delivery of its very first line - "It's your world and you create it" - brings a late Limerick icon to mind, a later purpose-built honour represents a symbolic passing of the torch.
Giving up one of four tracks to a cover of The Cranberries' 'Dreams' might suggest a cynical move to some, but there's sincerity and sense in its inclusion.
"We definitely thought that some people might not react well to it," admits Power.
"We sent it to Noel Hogan [Cranberries guitarist] and he liked it, so then we felt that we had the blessing to release it.
"We thought, ‘Who cares what other people think?' It’s a tribute for him and his band and what they mean to us."
Despite that hint of a familiar Limerick twang, Power isn't setting out to be a soundalike.
"I guess maybe it is the accent," she considers.
"We’ve grown up loving The Cranberries as lots of Irish people have. I love how she sings in her own accent, but she has a very distinct voice that I will never have."
As noted, influences for the band stretch far and wide. The standout song on Given Up also searches a vast expanse, in its own intimate way. Closing track 'Sleeper' presents something quite raw; a look at something natural and healthy that can nonetheless cause unique distress.
"It’s that feeling of wanting to disappear," says Power.
"Sometimes, the best way to disappear is to try and go to sleep but sometimes you can’t - that feeling when you wake up in the morning and you’re like, ‘Oh god, that again’ and you have a moment of clarity and everything comes back.
"It’s about using sleep as escape, that desire to fall asleep, the thought that it would make everything disappear, but it’s not that easy. Maybe not everyone can relate to it, but we do try and write lyrics that hopefully people can benefit from."
Clip via WhenyoungbandVEVO
Anxiety is commonplace enough in 2018, or at least it can feel that way. Social media is something any modern entertainment act 'needs' to not just use, but capitalise on.
It can be a double-edged sword, not least for a rising outfit like whenyoung. Public interactions have been mostly positive and friendly thus far, but Power is still somewhat wary.
As the focal point, she notes that she's "really careful, even in the way that I dress" which offers its own sobering reflection on work that still needs to be done.
"Totally, yeah. And that’s weak, in a way, but that’s my way of protecting myself. It’s just there. It’s something in your mind."
Power hasn't been the subject of too much in the way of below-the-line anguish, but her path can be frustratingly uneven.
"Sometimes you meet people and you think, ‘Why am I being treated differently than the guys?’," she remarks.
"I’m so used to us all treating each other equally and all of our team around us treat us the same. Sometimes you meet people and they make you feel uncomfortable, and that’s horrible."
Online interaction offers its own era-centric struggles. This generation is, by and large, patient zero in terms of establishing, displaying and ignoring etiquette.
"It’s weird when everyone has a voice and something to say," says Power. "Everyone has an opinion."
"It’s a strange time," agrees Burns.
"There’s no mystery left, unless you really, really try and attain that. You think back on the '70s and '80s and people like David Bowie. It would have been so weird to see into his life, see what he’s having for breakfast and so on.
"I know that example is such a cliché and everyone always says it, but that’s just weird to me. I used to love the mystery of not knowing. People seemed otherworldly."
True enough. And as he points out, Twitter is unlikely to solve any major argument any time soon. What we do know is that this trio are smart, hungry and boast a voice worth hearing.
That's good enough to cut through the noise for now.
Given Up is out now on Universal Music Ireland. whenyoung play St. James' Church, Dingle on Friday 30 November as part of Other Voices 2018.