Pillow Queens: ‘Love is a multifaceted word that isn’t conveyed in just four little letters’

In an exclusive interview, Pamela Connolly shares insights into Pillow Queens' songwriting process, cultural influences, and their forthcoming UK and US tours.

Pillow Queens(2)

Dublin-based all-female indie rock band Pillow Queens have captured hearts worldwide with their evocative lyrics, harmonious melodies, and powerful performances. Formed in 2016, the band comprises co-lead vocalists Pamela Connolly and Sarah Corcoran, lead guitarist Cathy McGuinness, and drummer Rachel Lyons.

Known for exploring Irish identity and queerness, Pillow Queens have made a significant impact on the music scene with their raw and honest approach to songwriting. Their debut album, In Waiting (2020), was met with critical acclaim, followed by Leave the Light On in 2022, which solidified their reputation as one of Ireland’s most compelling new bands.

As they prepare to release their third album, Name Your Sorrow (pre-save here), and embark on an extensive tour, we sat down with Pamela Connolly to discuss the band’s journey, influences, and what fans can expect from their latest work.

Pamela shares insights into the band’s origins, their unique sound that brings together indie rock with traditional Irish folk, and how their music dances between themes of religion, love, and identity. With a busy year ahead, including a UK tour, their biggest headline show in Dublin, and a trip to America, Pillow Queens are set to continue their rise in the music world.

Interview with Pamela Connolly of Pillow Queens

Pillow Queens photo by Martyna Bannister

whynow: Hello Pamela! Thanks for joining us. You’ve all been together as a group for quite some time now. What’s the Pillow Queens origin story?

Pamela: We’ve been together for about eight years. We weren’t one group of friends originally; we all came together through mutuals. It had gotten to the point where we’d all been in separate bands in our teens and then got to our twenties before getting to the point where if it wasn’t working, you’d have to go the normal route of growing up, going through life ‘how it’s supposed to be’.

But Sarah really encouraged the idea of us all forming a band together. I had been out of a guitar-based band for some time and didn’t feel confident playing. But after that first rehearsal, it felt really natural – it was obviously not very good! – but it felt like there was something there.

whynow: Were the bands you were in before unisex or mixed?

Pamela: Myself and Cathy had been the only girls in the bands we were in, but Rachel was in an all-girl lesbian rock band, which was a rarity. So it’s definitely not Rachel’s first rodeo. It’s something I hadn’t experienced and wanted to try out, and it just happened that we’re all queer as well. Some people say it might’ve been hard to get together, and it wasn’t easy, but our social sphere is made up mostly of queer women.

whynow: Ireland being a traditionally very Catholic country, how do you explore the intersection of that religiosity with your queerness?

Pamela: In the past, we’ve leaned heavily, both visually and lyrically, into Catholicism and religious sentiment. None of us are religious, but we were brought up in a Catholic country and are culturally Catholic, even Rachel, who’s Church of Ireland.

We grew up in a place where all of these traditions were the norm. You went to a Catholic school, you took Communion, and you made your confirmation. You learned about Christ. We were very lucky, though, as at the time, it had the last bit of hold on Ireland. Maybe it already had loosened up a lot, but certain norms were intrinsically there, just in the air and the water.

There are things that I have no memory of being taught but just knew on a subconscious level, such as being gay. I’d never been taught in school or by my parents that being gay was bad, but I had it in my head somehow. The same is true of the idea of the family and what that looks like; hearing about someone’s parents separating was a huge deal. It was all very pushed to term and forbidden to discuss.

However, when it comes to songwriting, the cultural aspects and linguistics in the tone of Catholicism made themselves into music positively. When they get in there, they’re used to describing something completely different to the church and how it’s had its hold on our lives.

whynow: Now, let’s talk about those other themes. There are obvious folk elements in your music, and a few people I’ve spoken to have confirmed they can really hear a shoegaze influence there. Other than the religiosity of Ireland, which I suppose is difficult to decouple, what cultural influences are there that are important to Pillow Queens?

Pamela: We do really care about the tones of old Irish folk and trad music. We don’t necessarily always do that instrumentally outside of experimenting but when it comes to vocal harmony, we really lean on that tradition. We love the somberness and the yearning that comes from Irish music, and we try to weave that through, whatever the genre.

We’re working with our little indie rock situation but we like to take those past influences of traditional music where it makes most sense.

READ MORE: The Klittens: ‘We’re a democratic band. We vote on everything and have internal surveys!’

whynow: Lyrically, what are the things that drive Pillow Queens’ songwriting and appear most?

Pamela: Honestly, and I know it’s a cliché, but the easiest thing to write about in the world is love and all the things that come with it. It’s more about heartbreak and wanting. We have very few songs about basking in the glow of love. I know that I don’t care to write when that happens because I just want to enjoy the good times. When the bad times come, you sit down and use songwriting as a form of therapy – the cheapest form of therapy!

The simple word ‘love’ doesn’t cover the intricacies, layers, and different types of love experienced in different situations. It’s a multifaceted word that isn’t conveyed in just four little letters.

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whynow: Is it possible for very strict and traditional Catholics to enjoy your music and lyrical content even if they might disagree with you on theology or politics?

Pamela: When it comes to our music, we make a lot of biblical and religious references, and our intention was never to do it in a tongue-in-cheek way or one that would offend. Now, that’s not to say it hasn’t offended people. We have terribly offended people. But it was never our intention. It was something to use that perhaps we’d have never usually because we’ve removed ourselves so much from that theology and left that idea very much in the past. We look at it and think: how can we use this knowledge that now feels useless to us?

READ MORE: Homeshake on his ‘dark’ new album: ‘People started asking if I was okay, but growing up drinking behind dumpsters didn’t seem sad to me’

whynow: What are your influences outside of music?

Pamela: I do really love film. The Black Narcissus is beautiful but also quite problematic. There’s this one very pious nun and another is her polar opposite: a woman driven crazy by desire that she’s trying to curb, which eventually becomes almost like a demon.

Another film I’ve seen many times is The Passion of Joan of Arc, which is visually stunning. When I was trying to use as many religious references as possible, it was really good to watch films like that. The story of someone so adamant in their belief and eventually being killed for it conveys human pain and grief so well.

Regarding literature, we were struggling with coming up with a name for the album. We knew it was all one complete body of work, coming as one chunk, and then a friend of ours came to us with a poem by an Irish poet called Eavan Boland called Atlantis.

We read it, and all knew using it as the album’s name made so much sense. It’s about recalling a relationship, using it as a metaphor for a lost city. It was almost like we had all read it before reading the album. There’s a line in it: “…they gave their / sorrow a name / and drowned it.”

whynow: That’s extraordinary. Now, to sew it up and look ahead – somewhat prosaically after that! – what’s on the horizon for Pillow Queens?

Pamela: The next big thing is our UK tour in June, starting on the 5th. After that, we’re doing our biggest headline show we’ve ever done in Ivy Gardens, Dublin, on 13th July. The night before, we’ll be supporting Snow Patrol. Then we’re off to America in September, haven’t announced the dates just yet, but it’ll be really fun. Then continuing on touring for the rest of the year, doing some unannounced festivals.

Keep up to date with the best in UK music by following us on Instagram: @whynowworld and on Twitter/X: @whynowworld

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