It used to be that love stories began at a disco or some other such gathering of like-minded people, but when your first date involves a random attack in Dublin city centre it takes a particular mindset to look at the assaulted person in the face (bloodied as it is) and want to have a second turn. Life, however, has a way of working out, and so it has for Kieran McGuinness (the mugged) and Emily Aylmer (the helper). Now married, and with the requirements of three children (ages eight, five, two) to tend to, McGuinness and Aylmer each have a background in music. The former has been a member of the highly rated band Delorentos since 2005; the latter is a past member of (among other groups) the Republic of Loose. In other words, music is in their respective DNA. Even in their full-time jobs, it seeps out — when he isn’t in Delorentos mode, McGuinness works as a Music Development Officer with Music Generation (as well as presenting the Guestlist show on Radio Nova every Sunday), while Aylmer teaches Music and English at Secondary school level.
Whatever is written about their relationship, then, is subliminal and therefore not something the listener would knowingly pick up on
They first met, recalls Aylmer, more than 15 years ago when Delorentos and Republic of Loose were two of many Irish bands ducking and diving around the festival circuit. Random attacks on her then-boyfriend notwithstanding, even before they married, she says, “we would have been talking about writing songs together.” Sporadic though these writing sessions were, it seems interruptions were never far off, especially with the increasing success of Delorentos and the arrival of hungry little mouths to feed. Of course, the pandemic changed everything: gigs disappeared, and schools shut up shop. “All of a sudden we had the time.” When Covid arrived, adds McGuinness, he had “this energy for writing songs, which would potentially have gone to Delorentos but didn’t, and it seemed like a good idea to work on them with Emily. It all happened quite naturally, and it wasn’t in any way a career step. In fact, it was the opposite, we were just playing songs to each other and seeing what we thought of them.”
When the attention spans of their offspring are engaged, or when they’re asleep, the duo (the name of Driven Snow was chosen for numerous reasons, some of which have a personal slant) have been hard at it writing the kind of songs that could easily be taken into the bosom of daytime radio play. You might expect songs written by a married couple to bristle with the dynamics of their relationship, but says Aylmer, “they’re definitely not autobiographical.” McGuinness doesn’t necessarily accept this. “They’re not not autobiographical, but it’s important to say that we’re not a married couple writing about what it’s like being married to each other.”
Whatever is written about their relationship, then, is subliminal and therefore not something the listener would knowingly pick up on. Aylmer agrees. “I haven’t been writing any of the lyrics, but I think Kieran’s writing, especially in the past five or six years, has been about the difficulty of life as you get older and the decisions you have to make. Our big challenges now are the usual things you have to face when you’re in your 40s.”
McGuinness and Aylmer know how lucky they are: they are not in their teens or 20s or 30s scurrying around for scraps of validation. They have each come through periods of searching for the Holy Grail of commercial success and have (their respective groups aside) walked away if not empty-handed then perhaps frustrated if not disillusioned. Like many other songwriters and musicians of their generation, they have contentedly resigned themselves to stop chasing the so-called dream and live in the real world instead.
Their work method hinges on their respective recognised skill sets. Aylmer says that although she teaches English and Music, she feels “uncomfortable writing lyrics, whereas Kieran is a great lyricist, let alone having a brilliant ability to write and craft melodies. I could sing any song and wouldn’t have a clue what the lyrics are about. Of course, the lyrics are always very important, but the melodies are what feed my connection with the song. Kieran would come up with the kernel of an idea, and then I’d chip in with some harmonies and choruses. I suppose I’ve been working as a backing vocalist for so long that I’m almost more comfortable coming into songs at certain points, adding to it, and then withdrawing.”
We’ll do the songs that sound good and the gigs that make sense, and we’ll try to make it all connected
“Emily is a great sounding board, advising here and guiding there,” notes McGuinness. “It isn’t just me walking in and saying here’s a song — it’s starting to become a lot more naturally collaborative.” It has arrived at the point, he continues, where each new song fulfils itself. “It has been interesting to figure out what we sound like. People will compare it to Delorentos, but that could be because of my voice.” Aylmer says she has no comparison, and it’s a good point. Of the two songs currently available on streaming platforms (Trying, Sunlight) and two we have heard in demo format (Flickers of You, Hard as Love, both as yet unreleased), the music’s distinctiveness drowns out most obvious reference points.
It isn’t about any of that, anyway, contends Aylmer. At the age of 43, with three children and a full-time job, being able to make music with her partner is, she says, cathartic in the sense that they have been waiting some time for it to happen. “We lead really busy lives, and we’re very lucky to have both our sets of parents, so I feel ridiculously lucky and perhaps a little bit foolish trying to pursue this because while we have the time it still feels like a bit of an indulgence.” And yet, she implies with the self-awareness of someone whose time is eaten into by rugrats, it’s crucial to have a modicum of self-indulgence when you’re parents because you could end up in your mid-50s crushed by regrets more than what you didn’t do. “So I think it’s really important for us to do this, I’m grateful for it, and also there’s no pressure on us at all. In other words, if and when we release songs, people will either take notice or they won’t.”
In the early stages of Driven Snow, McGuinness admits, it became obvious that imposing rules or structures weren’t going to work. No ambitious boxes needed to be ticked, he states. “If a song works, then we’ll write another one. If something isn’t working, then we won’t do it. We’ll do the songs that sound good and the gigs that make sense, and we’ll try to make it all connected.”
Driven Snow’s latest single, Trying, is released via FIFA Records, and available on streaming services
Top 3 Musically Entwined Married Couples
Buddy and Julie Miller: Although they usually release separate records, the Millers have teamed up a few times. The first was their self-titled 2001 album, which features songs mostly written by Julie, one co-write, and a few cover versions. The record nabbed Album of the Year at the Americana Music Association awards. The second was 2009′s Written in Chalk, but their third, 2019′s Breakdown on 20th Ave. South, topped everything, with Rolling Stone describing it as “a testament to faith and forgiveness as it is a pulsating chronicle of a marriage beset by physical and emotional challenges.”
Win Butler and Régine Chassagne: In the powerhouse unit that is Arcade Fire, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne reign supreme. They first met in Montreal at an opening for an art exhibition at which Chassagne was singing jazz standards. She impressed Butler enough to be asked to join his then-unknown band. Their first date was at the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and from there the self-possessed dynamics haven’t stopped. Of love, Chassagne has said, “the beauty is in the commitment.”
John Lennon and Yoko Ono: A certified case of dividing the critics and confusing the public, three avant-garde albums from pop music’s most famous couple were released between 1968-1969 — Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins, Unfinished Music No 2: Life with the Lions, and Wedding Album. Reactions to the albums ranged from Rolling Stone’s unambiguous “utter bullshit” to Record Mirror’s droll description of the recordings as “a fine example of how two young people can amuse themselves without television.”