Irish twin sisters Ellie and Louise Macnamara have been creative waves
in their homeland with their intense blend of traditional folk and more
current dance rhythms. Their band Heathers has been turning a lot of heads – remixer David Guetta wanted to work with them, filmmaker JJ Abrams hired
them to play his Oscar party and the Irish tourism board used their song
"Remember When" to anchor a high-profile advertising campaign.
Not bad for a couple of indie singer/musicians still in their twenties.
Heathers have just released their second album Kingdom in the US,
with the backing of Sony. Soon after Kingdom was released in the
States, we sat down with Ellie and Louise Macnamara to discuss their
band and their sophomore release.
What are your
earliest musical memories?
Ellie Macnamara: I remember taking long car journeys with our
parents and listening to Graceland [by Paul Simon] songs start to
finish. That is probably my earliest musical memory. Our parents
brought us up listening to the likes of Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen
and a lot of Irish traditional music. It’s funny, because I’m not very
good at remembering lyrics of songs. I generally hear kind of rhythms
and melodies. But all of those songs that we used to listen to when we
were kids, I know every single word of each song in my memory.
Louise Macnamara: I think also, we come from quite a musical
family, so our parents were always singing. We’d always have big family
gatherings. From a very young age, everyone would have to get up and
sing. There would probably a lot of alcohol involved. (laughs)
We’d all have to sing something. That is probably the roots of where
we started to sing I guess.
has such a diverse musical culture, how did that affect your own music?
The Kinks, and as we just said, we were brought up with lots of
different types of music. From a young age our parents really
encouraged us. We learned to play piano. We learned to play
instruments. We were surrounded by a lot of incredible traditional
Irish music, which I think was a massive influence to us. Also just
general incredible Irish bands such as U2, I think that’s definitely had
a big influence on us. Even nowadays, in Ireland there are so many
great Irish bands around the country. There’s a wonderful music scene
and music is such a big part of Irish culture. That has definitely had
an impact on us and has helped us to grow. It’s what inspired us to
When did you start to
perform together and how did you take the next step to actually song
writing and recording?
Louise Macnamara: We started to sing together at a very young age
as we said at family gatherings and stuff like that. We went to school
together for a bit. Then [we] separated and went to different schools,
because being twins and being seen as the same person a lot of the times
was difficult, so we moved schools. We were in the choir together at
school and I guess that’s where we started to learn harmonies and we
absolutely loved it. I guess around age 16, we started to go to a lot
of punk, DIY gigs around Dublin. Our brother was in a lot of bands and
a lot of our friends were in bands. We were going to gigs and we
thought to ourselves, maybe this is something we can do, too. We both
had been playing piano from a young age. We both sang. Then I picked
up the guitar and started to play around and write the songs. I went
into Ellie’s bedroom one day, since we lived in the same house and asked
her to put harmonies to a particular song, which ended up being one of
our first songs. We wrote a couple of songs. We put them up on MySpace
at the time, and got a good reaction. Started playing some shows. It
kind of took off from there. We started to get more serious as people
actually really liked our music. We started writing a lot more and
yeah, here we are now.
How do you work
writing together? Does one of you specialize on music and another on
lyrics, for instance, or do you just work together on the whole thing?
Louise Macnamara: It’s very much a collaborative process. I
would focus on the instrumental side. Kingdom, for example, our
latest album, that was just released here, was 80% percent written on
MIDI keyboards. Pianos or MIDI keyboards. All of the instruments are
on that, so I would have worked on that. Then the two of us would get
together on vocal melodies. Then a lot of the time, Ellie would focus
on lyrics. But again, we butcher it up sometimes and she’d work with
instruments and we’d both focus on lyrics. So, yeah, it is a very
did you come up with the bands’ name? Is it a reference to the movie?
Also, there is a metal band called The Heathers, has that ever caused
Ellie Macnamara: First of all, yes, we are named after the movie,
the 80s movie Heathers. It is one of our favorite films and when
we were going around to come up with a name for our band, we were like,
“What are we going to call ourselves?” We kept throwing around
different things but kept going, "No that name is absolutely terrible."
You had to call yourself something different. We saw the Heathers
DVD lying around and we were like, "That film’s cool, and we like it...
so lets do it." People seem to like it. And yes, we are aware that
there is a band called the Heathers. There’s been a couple of times
we’ve had emails or tweets from people saying “Oh, you’re playing in...”
I don’t know.
Louise Macnamara: Sydney...
Ellie Macnamara: “Sydney next week! We can’t wait!” We are
like, “No, sorry we are not in Sydney next week.” (They both laugh.)
"Remember When" from
your first album got a good amount of airplay. Do you remember the
first time you heard your music on the radio or TV or online? What was
that experience like?
Ellie Macnamara: I can’t actually remember the first time we
heard our music on the radio, but I do remember the first time that
“Remember When” was placed on the Tourism of Ireland advertisement. To
us it was huge! It was in cinemas, TV, radio, absolutely everywhere. I
remember sitting in the cinema with a group of my friends and suddenly
the ad comes on with our song. I was slowly sinking into the seat,
trying to be anonymous, but at the same time having a mini heart attack.
Like, “Oh my God. They’re playing... That’s my song. I wrote that
song. That’s my music.” My friends were like, “Ahhhh Ellie!” So that
was pretty cool. I can’t really remember the first time I heard us
playing on the radio, but I would think it was the same feeling of “this
is amazing” because this is what we always wanted to do.
Your new CD
Kingdom came out yesterday. How does it feel to get new music out
Louise Macnamara: It feels amazing. Absolutely amazing. We’re
really excited they’re putting it out here in the States and people can
hear it. It’s fantastic. We worked really hard on this record and it
means a lot to us. So it’s really nice to finally get it out there and
for people to hear it.
I haven’t heard the
entire album yet, but the songs I was able to listen to on your
Soundcloud were interesting in their mixture of folk and dance beats.
What is it about that juxtaposition which you find intriguing?
Ellie Macnamara: To be honest, our first album that we wrote,
which is called Here, Not There, was a completely acoustic
album. Myself and Louise, it probably spoke the same to us. Then when
we were writing Kingdom, our second album, I think it was maybe
four years later. We were older. We’d been listening to different
types of music. We didn’t want to go with just the folk feel to it. We
wanted it to be more intimate and to challenge ourselves. That’s what
happened. Kingdom came out of that. We’d been influenced by
lots of 90’s bands’ music at the time, along with a lot of other
different types of music. Kingdom is just what came out of
that. At the same time, we wanted to keep a little bit of what the
original Heathers was. We wanted to keep a little bit of that rawer
folk influence. A little bit of the blend. Our musical taste and our
music writing is changing from time to time, so who knows what will
happen with the next album. It might be completely different. I don’t
know. We’ll see. Definitely it was a mixture of what our first album
was and then a progression to what we’ve came to be. A little bit of
the first album and a lot of the new. It’s very different.
Guetta wrote a song to record with you. How did that connection come
Louise Macnamara: Yes, that was funny. I think it was last
summer, and we were contacted out of the blue by his people. They had
heard "Forget Me Knot," which is the first single on Kingdom.
They had seen the video for it actually, on a blog, and really loved
it. [They] contacted us and asked if we would be interested in writing
with him. So, that was absolutely crazy! We never would have
expected that in our wildest dreams, but it was pretty cool. It was
just something completely different. We listened so many different
types of music, including more expansive dance music. It was great to
be able to again challenge ourselves and try something different.
Writing music for other people is another part of what we do. We also
signed a deal with Universal Music Publishing. So that’s part of our
musical tasks, I guess, to write for other people. It’s really
interesting. It’s an ongoing process. We’re constantly back and forth
and writing loads of music.
The album was
recorded as an indie, but it’s getting distribution through RED/Sony.
How is it different working as an indie compared to having label
Ellie Macnamara: It’s great that... obviously with Sony our music
is probably reaching so many more people then it would have if we were
completely independent. I think at the same time, we’ve made conscious
decisions to work with people that give [us] the same creative freedom
that we want. We also still are in control of our music and that is
very important to us. But it’s wonderful that our music is reaching
people that we never thought it would. We’re going to tour the new
album here in the States. It’s what we always wanted to do. It’s
different, but at the same time we are still in control.
The music business is
in such weird shape these days. Labels are trying to figure out how to
deal with downloading, streaming and piracy. Radio listenership is down
and thus it is not as important to breaking a band. You don’t sell
albums the same way you used to. How does a young band go about finding
Ellie Macnamara: I think that is so true. It is getting very
difficult nowadays since people don’t buy music anymore. So it’s very
tricky getting your things out there. At the same time with the
internet it’s actually opened the door because anyone can record a song.
Anyone can release a song now. You hear of so many YouTube sensations
that have just blown up and become worldwide sensations.
Louise Macnamara: Nowadays you can record a whole album in your
bedroom and it sounds nearly just as good – or as good – as going into a
massive recording studio. Then you put it up on the internet yourself
and get it out there. It’s fantastic. I think at the same time,
there’s something to say for going around the country, playing small
gigs, playing to as many people as you can. That’s what we did. We got
into the States a couple of years ago. We’ve done that in Ireland. If
you’re willing to put the work in to it, hopefully you will reap the
recently played at SXSW. What was that scene like?
Louise Macnamara: That was amazing. It’s something we’ve always
wanted to do. A lot of our friends in bands from Dublin have come over
and played. This year we were releasing Kingdom over here, it
felt like the right year for us to do it. It was really great. It was
absolutely crazy. We played a couple of shows and we did a lot of
sessions. It was brilliant. It was really, really good. We really
You also recently
played at JJ Abrams’ Oscars pre-party. What was that experience like?
Ellie Macnamara: It was absolutely crazy. We played that
probably this time last year maybe even earlier. JJ Abrams had an event
in Bad Robot [his production company] and his pre-Oscar party. Steven
Spielberg happened to be there as well. They watched us play and we got
to meet the two of them. It was just incredible. We had grown up
watching Lost and ET and loads of Steven Spielberg movies.
So, yeah, it was great!
How long are you
going to be in the States? Are you going to be doing more touring
around here or are you feeling at all homesick and ready to get back?
Louise Macnamara: I don’t think homesick. I love it over here.
We are in New York for the rest of this week. We’re doing a lot of
promo around the album. We have a show tonight at Pianos and tomorrow
at Arlene’s Grocery in New York. Then we’re heading over to LA on
Saturday, we’re playing a show at The Mint on the 17th. [We’re] doing a
lot of promo over there as well. Then back to Dublin for a bit, but the
plan is to be over here really the next month. We're barnyarding shows
and festivals through the summer and throughout the autumn time. We
really can’t wait to just get on the road and tour.
CHECK OUT HEATHERS VIDEO FOR THEIR NEW SINGLE "FORGET
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