No longer In Waiting: Pillow Queens

Image by Faolán Carey.

Pillow Queens have shouldered the upheaval of ‘unprecedented times’ head on.

Understandably rolling between “waves of terror and excitement” in the lead up to a mid-pandemic release day, the Irish 4 piece have made a cracking entrance with debut record In Waiting.

When COVID uprooted existing plans for the record, they decided to start their own label. As a result, it’s an album that is wholly and truly stamped by Pillow Queens — whether it be “tiny details” like the choice of font, or the pack and send of the records themselves.

Guitarist, bassist and co-vocalist Sarah Corcoran joined our Zoom call — complete with a perfectly set dressed background.

“The record player doesn’t work, it’s just for looks.”

As we’ve discussed, it’s a pretty weird time in the world. How did the record come together?

We had the record finished in January. We were due to go to SXSW in March, where we had meetings set up with record labels, international distribution and that kind of thing. So that was the plan, and then obviously the plan didn’t go ahead. We had a very short conversation where we considered delaying it… Then we decided to set up our own record label to release it ourselves so that we wouldn’t have to sit on it. It’s been a huge learning experience, because now we know how to run a record label, apparently.

We’ve had a great team on board helping us, it’s been really cool. We’ve spent all of the last few months deciding on artwork, which pressing plant we were going to use — all of these tiny details, we were able to sit and spend a lot of time on. Down to the font that’s used on the inner sleeve of the record… The four of us had a really big opinion into it.

We feel like we’ve really got our stamp on the record. We’ll always have this first record as something that we’ve got all of our four voices on, completely, across the board. Which is really, really lovely.

It’s pretty incredible — there are so many things you can DIY without the support of a record label. People who can come on board and do little bits and pieces. It’s almost like putting together your own musical puzzle?

It’s like being able to pick your perfect team. It’s like —’I want this person and this person,’ like picking for a school sports team. 

I’m so glad that you were able to turn the situation around. Do you think releasing totally DIY will be something you do again? 

I would love to, but I don’t know if we’d be able to keep it up. We’ve been really lucky — there’s a been a lot of pre-orders and that kind of thing, but it’s just been the four of us sitting in our practice space hand writing addresses and packaging records for the last three weeks, every single day. That side of things is really time consuming. We haven’t played music in weeks because we’ve just been putting records in envelopes. I don’t think it would make sense if we were—especially if we were a touring band. But even if we needed to write a new record, which we want to do as well, we probably wouldn’t have the time to keep doing it.

It’s been really fun and I think we’d love to do it again on a smaller scale. A small run of records or something would definitely be doable. In terms of doing another album, I don’t think we’d have the time to be able to do it.

The lyrics and message of the record tackle topics such as gentrification, capitalism and other inequities in the world. Why is it important for the band to weave these conversations into your music?

I think these are just the conversations that we’re having day to day anyway. They’re the themes that are important to us, they’re the things that we talk about with each other and the people who are close to us in our lives. They automatically weave into our lyrics. They feel like they’re important things to be singing about and writing about. 

I think if we were writing about things that we didn’t care about, or if there was any sense of inauthenticity about what we were doing we wouldn’t want to write about them. We wouldn’t have that same urge to. Whereas they feel like they’re pressing things that we’re thinking about so we want to put them in our songs. I don’t think at any point we sat down and said, ‘okay, we need to include these 5 things in our album. Make sure we hit the religious aspect, the queer aspect.’ They’re just things that we care about. Some of the songs are just plain love songs — we’re not hitting any politics or religious element. It’s just a song about lust. But it’s four queer women singing about lust, so automatically it’s political.

It sucks that it has to be that way, doesn’t it? It’s a love song! It doesn’t need to be inherently political, but I guess that’s still the society that we live in.

It kind of makes it cooler, anyway. If we were just writing love songs it’s be like ‘oh that’s kind of dorky’ whereas if we’re writing political songs that’s kind of cool. 

A debut album is pretty special for yourself and fans alike. When people listen to it, what do you want them to take away?

What I’ve been saying is I want them to have the same experience with albums that I’ve had growing up. Especially the physical record. I want people to buy the record. Because it had all of us in it, down to the images that we’ve used.

When I bought— probably CD’s more than records, I’d open them up and go through every lyric. I’d even go through the thank you’s, even though I didn’t know any of these people, but I still wanted to read about it. To have that full engagement with the album. I want people to do that. Because you can dip in and out, but I think it works so much better as a full record. I really hope people do that. I also hope some people want to start a band after listening to the record. That’d be cool.

Would it be safe to say that the actual, tangible copy of the record is really important to you?

It’s really important because of the engagement we want people to have with the record as a whole. It’s also really important to us because we’ve setup our own record label. We can only fund the album if people buy the album. That’s not going to happen through streaming. Obviously we want people to discover the band through streaming — I listen to Spotify and Apple Music all the time, so I know that’s how people consume music. But if they do support the band or want to support the band, definitely buying the record from a shop or ourselves is the best way to do it. Because that’s how we’re going to be able to pay for the records being pressed. Which was expensive. 

Australia is pretty far away from Ireland! What sparked the decision to pursue a fanbase here?

When we first started working with our manager James Byrne — who has become one of our best friends, he said ”write down a list of goals of what you want to achieve as a band.’ We’ve never done that. We were thinking of the band seriously but we didn’t have ‘goals’ in sight. We didn’t know what we wanted, really. Then, we were talking, ‘where would we really like to tour?’ 

Australia. 

So that was top of the goals list. That became number one. We realised there’s no point in touring there if nobody knows who we are, so we’re going to need to try and show people who we are. We’ve been really lucky that Australia is responding super well to us and the record. I think there’s a world already existing in Australia that we could be a part of, hopefully, at one point. Female rock in Australia at the moment is huge — at least that’s my perception of things. Much bigger than it is over here, or the UK. It just seems to be really championed, which is amazing to see. We’ve been getting a hint of that as well, which is really cool. As soon as we can tour, we’re working to Australia.

I think my first engagement with Australian music was maybe Courtney Barnett? From there it just exploded. There’s incredible bands. My sister got me a birthday message from Haley Mary (The Jezebels) on the weekend. I was sitting in my living room with the TV on, then suddenly this video of Hayley Mary came on screen — “g’day Sarah, happy birthday!” I was like, what! This is crazy. This is how much I love Australian music, my sister even knows. 

What are some other Australian acts you’re into?

We’re completely obsessed with Julia Jacklin. We always mention her in all of our writing sessions. We recently wrote a song and I said to Pamela that it Julia Jacklin vibes, and she’s like ‘yeah I think I need to start listening to anything else, I think I’m just copying her at this stage.’

Angie McMahon is amazing, we met Stella Donnelly at Liverpool Sound City last year and she’s incredible. Middle Kids as well. There’s tonnes, there’s a lot of good stuff coming out of Australia.

One thing that stands out about your songs, is that they tell all aspects of queer stories. Yes, there’s the fair share of heartbreak and struggle, but it never overshadows the beautiful everyday experiences. Has that always been a conscious songwriting choice?

Yeah, telling the joyous side of things is really important to us. That’s our experience of things. We didn’t want it to be all gloom and doom around queerness. Because it’s not. Every love story has heartbreak around it — that’s life, really.

We wanted to tell it from a human perspective. Our experience of queerness is great. It’s a celebration, community and support. Yeah, there’s been incredible protest and struggle that has gone before us, which has really paved the way. I think we acknowledge that as well, but for the most part our everyday is full of joy. We celebrate our queerness in that.

I think media and marketing perspectives are so quick to fixate on the bad things. I think it’s so valuable and necessary to see bands and public figures being like “I’m queer, I’m cool. Everything is great,” you know? It’s an important message to send.

I think for so long there was a fixation on the ‘coming out’ narrative as well. Growing up there was this pressure on people to come out.

It’s sort of funny that we would never have to do that — there’s never been a thing of ‘are Pillow Queens…queer?’ We’ve just claimed it automatically, we never even had to say it. We just exist and people know it to be the case.

In Waiting, the debut record from Pillow Queens is out now.