Skins and blisters
IN THE SPRING of 2007, Ellie and Louise Macnamara carried their friend who was ill with cancer up Killiney Hill in her wheelchair for her makeshift festival ‘Eclectic Picnic’. They followed the sound of music up steps lit with torches, although later they’d learn there was an easier way to get to the clearing in the woods they were looking for.
That night, around a fire with friends and glo sticks, saw the sisters’ first public performance together. They played three songs, and a friend held the fret board of Louise’s guitar throughout because she forgot a capo. Afterwards, a friend asked them to play his 18th-birthday party in Dublin’s Lower Deck two weeks later. They accepted the offer but in the meantime needed a name. Sitting on their bed in Louise’s bedroom one day, a Heathers DVD stuck out of the shelf. “Why don’t you just call yourselves ‘Heathers’?” their brother Martin said. “‘Ellie Louise’ sounds shite.”
IT’S THE SUMMER of 2012 and on an overcast Saturday afternoon, Louise and Ellie are on Newstalk with Síle Seoige. She welcomes them to the studio. “Thanks for having us,” they say in unison. The Macnamara twins, 22, say a lot of things in unison.
The Seoige interview is taking place the day before Heathers head to Áras an Uachtaráin to play one of the President’s garden parties. Even in the bloody Newstalk ad breaks, Remember When blares out over the Discover Ireland ad, a song that gave them the curious sort of fame that soundtracking a heavy-rotation ad campaign does. Their second album, Kingdom (the title refers to the search for a utopia of sorts) is in the can, an entirely different beast to the debut, recorded in London with Max Dingel, the engineer on The Killers’ Sam’s Town and Glasvegas’s debut, and the co-producer of White Lies’s two albums.
Here, Not There did well, but you couldn’t help but think it would have been a complete smash with a few quid chucked at it. Songs such as Honey Please?, Margie, Reading in the Dark and Fire Ants are sublime, even though the recordings never truly got them beyond sounding like demos. But the thing is, Ellie and Louise can do something that no amount of production can conjure. They can do something that surpasses an amazing image, or an army of stylists or a marketing budget the size of a Pacific island’s GDP. They can write songs.
Killer songs. David Guetta’s people and other people’s people have been picking up the phone enquiring about these two girls who’ve just written Forget Me Knots, the indie earworm of the summer. An electricity surrounds them when they play now, and not just because of the full band they’ve incorporated. There’s a feeling that these two young slow burners are about to set the place alight.
Electricity is something that eluded Heathers in those early days.
Gigs were done on spec in abandoned spaces, they worked with what they had. That inventive attitude was learned in a place down the coast from Killiney, Paddy’s Hall in Greystones. From first to third year, Ellie and Louise had a rough time in school at Rockford Manor. They were shy. They found it hard to make friends. Ellie says she wasn’t sure if she was happy. Louise says she didn’t fit in. The main source of solace was the school choir where they learned about harmonies. Louise moved school to New Park in Blackrock. When they started going to DIY gigs in Paddy’s Hall (a venue subsequently bulldozed to make way for apartments), things changed.
“These gigs in Paddy’s Hall completely changed our lives,” Ellie says. “It was kind of like ‘okay, this is what I’ve liked all along and this is now something for me to do and I enjoy it and I don’t feel like “what am I doing” or “who are these people I’m hanging out with”. And we made friends.”