‘I think the powers that be in Dublin don’t value the culture of nightlife’

Wyvern Lingo on the pluses of working in Berlin and Ireland’s chance to change

For a brief time in December, things felt almost normal again for the members of Wyvern Lingo.

"We had a nice busy December. We did a music merch market and we did Ruby Sessions, so it felt almost normal for a second. It was a lovely little period of, 'Ah, things are almost back to normal,' and then it just came crashing down," Karen Cowley explains over a Skype call alongside her bandmates Caoimhe Barry and Saoirse Duane.

The band have been a mainstay of the Irish music scene since their debut EP, The Widow Knows, came out in 2014, alongside their collaborations with artists such as Zaska and Hozier. Their prominence was further solidified by their Choice Music Prize-nominated self-titled debut album, in 2018, and subsequent Ireland and Britain tour.

Their new album, Awake You Lie, is set for release on February 26th. After the debut dropped, the band retreated to a house in rural Cavan courtesy of the Irish rapper Kojaque's mother.

We had done so much in the Irish scene. With the second album so much of it is about leaving, so much of the theme is about being unsettled or a little bit restless

“We started to work in that mad heatwave of 2018. We were stranded at this house out in Cavan. We got a lift up there with all our gear... We were there having all gone to different parts of the world,” says Barry.

Those early days up in Cavan helped lay the foundation of the album which work continued on as the band toured.

“We’ve just done, like, pockets of writing over the last two years,” adds Cowley.

For the recording sessions, it was destination Germany. But why Berlin? Why bother going abroad in the first place?

“I think we needed an adventure,” says Cowley.

Barry adds: "The album is very much about wanting change and feeling stuck in this late-20s panic and our personal story rounds off with recording in Berlin and starting the next chapter."

“We wanted a change. We had done so much in the Irish scene. With the second album so much of it is about leaving, so much of the theme is about being unsettled or a little bit restless. Going to Berlin was a really exciting end to that writing story. I think the energy that we captured there is definitely the leading feeling of the album.”

The band spent a winter hunkered down in JRS Studios. While the fresh sights and sounds helped stir the creative energies of the group, there were other factors the city offered which helped the process compared with Dublin.

“It’s much more affordable for artists,” Barry explains. “There’s so much vibrancy and sense of fun but it’s also very functional.

“I think the powers that be in Dublin don’t value the culture of nightlife. There are so many scenes flourishing even not within music, but in art and DJ and graffiti scenes. All of these things are trying to flourish in spite of Dublin wanting to quite simply knock down the Bernard Shaws and put up hotels.

“It has to be said that there has been support for artists this year... It’s so frustrating, because to the tourists we present ourselves as the country of poets and writers, but that doesn’t in real-time actually get nurtured.”

“People don’t seem to understand how the arts can function as an industry,” says Cowley.

The difference on the streets of both cities is noticeable.

“In Berlin there’s so many initiatives that help the arts thrive. Every empty space in Berlin is being used for something artistic. Empty space is what we’re going to have a lot of after this pandemic, and it would be a great opportunity for Dublin to reclaim that space.”

“I really hope that after the pandemic that people wake up to the arts a bit more and see how much it was missed,” adds Duane.

The band took the chance to rent out a boat moored on one of the city’s waterways which has been kitted out as a rehearsal space. It’s hard to imagine something like that being allowed to set up on the Grand Canal.

The group’s local rehearsal space in Bray was forced to close last year, so Barry has been left without the use of a proper drum kit within her 5km radius under Level 5 restrictions.

"If we were in Berlin, Caoimhe would be able to play drums," says Cowley. "There's way more rehearsal rooms that are still functioning, so this is a perfect example. Our rehearsal room in Bray closed down a year ago, and there's nowhere [else] in the Bray/Wicklow area... We just all have to dig our heels in and stay put." Chalk another point up for Berlin.

For the Wyvern crew, lockdown was something of a relief.

“When the first lockdown kicked in I definitely had a feeling of relief,” Barry explains. “I felt like we weren’t ready to go back into the studio, there were some decisions we hadn’t properly made.”

The multi-instrumentalists now had the chance to go over the recordings they already had and fine-tune the production in their bedrooms to create an album they would be proud of and that they could “stand by until we’re 80”, as Cowley puts it.

It’s apparent from speaking to them that the trio are wholeheartedly dedicated to their craft and lockdown became an unexpected chance to help achieve perfection with it. A sliver of a silver lining in a grey Covid cloud.

'The album is so much about uncertainty and comfort and restlessness and all that stands more strongly now'

Once things began to open up again last summer, they went back to Berlin to put the finishing touches on tracks and rehearse on their boat, working and recording right up to last September.

Even with the advantages of working from home, they still wanted to get back in the studio as soon as possible.

“I think that there’s a magic in the studio. You feel like you’re going to this magic workplace with a lot of history in the walls that you don’t get when you’re sitting at your laptop. It can lose all meaning,” says Barry.

“For us to get that live band sound it’s better for us to go to a studio where we can play together and record together. A lot of people are doing a lot of home recording right now, which is great, but I don’t think studios will ever go out of fashion,” adds Duane.

Crawley confirms the group consensus: "Especially this album, this is a lot more live, rocky vibes than what we did on the first... What we want to achieve with this [album] was that feeling of us playing live which has kind of become our identity in the last two of three years. I think we would always need that studio experience... It's that old-school kind of vibe that gets us inspired and excited."

The band has also had to find different ways to promote their new music and to stay connected with their fans during the pandemic.

“It’s been a lot of Zoom calls and online stuff which is quite time-consuming,” says Cowley. “Not being able to physically promote it is very difficult.”

“With our first album we did so much pop-up stuff which was so much fun. There’s a lovely crowd mentality when you have that and you’ve an album coming out. You forget how important it is to be directly speaking to your fans.”

Online “everything seems very quick”, says Duane. “As soon as you release something it’s like ‘Okay, what’s next?’ because no one is doing anything. Everyone is at home and moving on from it quickly. I don’t think we’ve figured it out yet. I don’t think anyone has, really. We’re kind of just going with the wave of it and doing what we can.”

“At least we do have social media and you can still have some sort of relationship with your fans,” Barry says. The writing of the songs predates the pandemic but the album’s themes coincidentally ring true even louder in its midst.

“The album is so much about uncertainty and comfort and restlessness and all that stands more strongly now... We’ve been trying to not let the pandemic consume us that much or change how we think... I don’t think it’s seeped into the music,” Cowley explains.

Covid-induced uncertainty remains as much a problem for them as any other artist. Touring is on the cards when it’s safe to do so and tentative conversations with booking agents have been taking place. The group are optimistic that they’ll be back on stage in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, there’s an album launch livestream to look forward to on February 25th, and the record itself. It’s obvious from speaking to them that they’re a group completely in sync with each other creatively, something which will undoubtedly see Wyvern Lingo remaining at the peak of Irish talent for years to come.

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