Interview: A Conversation with Wyvern Lingo

Wyvern Lingo are a wonderful, innovative trio from Ireland – one of the finest talents from a nation that is producing more than its fair share of stunning musicians. Karen Cowley (vocals/piano), Saoirse Duane (guitar) and Caoimhe Barry (vocals/percussion) are gearing up to unleash their debut album, Wyvern Lingo.

I spoke to Karen about the inspirations and stories that went into the album; whether they are excited about its upcoming release; what gigs they have coming up and which artists compelled them and have gone into their own music.

It has been wonderful discovering more about Wyvern Lingo’s world and how they will progress from here. They are determined to get their music to the world and, with their album out on 23rd February, there is every likelihood they will be among this year’s most-talked-about bands.

Hi guys. How are you? It seems like you have a busy time ahead of you! Do you think you’ll get a moment to rest soon enough or do you like being kept active and busy?

Hi, Sam. We are good – really excited for the album to come out. It is getting really busy right now – it’s a bit mad – but, yes, we like being busy. At the moment, we’re splitting our time between rehearsals and promo. Tour starts on 23rd February and it’s a full six weeks of gigs which, for us, is the payoff. We can’t wait to get on the road! We had a nice break before Christmas, though… So we’re ready for it.

How did Wyvern Lingo come together? What was it about each other that meant you were destined to record together?

We met when we were all about eleven. At the time, we were all separately getting into music like Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, so we immediately had common ground. We also could all sing and harmonise and played respective instruments: I played the piano and had started playing bass, Saoirse played the guitar and Caoimhe was about to buy a drum kit with her Confirmation money.

Our older siblings all happened to play music as well (sometimes together) so when we met, all we wanted to do was be in a band. We would play music all the time and obsess over bands and songs together.

Your eponymous album is out on 23rd February. Can you reveal the sort of themes and ideas that inspired the songs? Is there a single theme/narrative that defines the album, would you say?

All three of us write so it’s hard to nail down the album with one theme. But, what is common throughout is the songs come from a place of sincerity. We’re really close and sometimes spend half of our rehearsal time talking about something we’ve read or something that bothers/fascinates us. The album is a collection of our experiences, both personal and shared. Everything from relationships of different kinds to conversations we’ve had to social commentaries. The album is a snapshot of how we see the world.

Is there a song from the album you each have a fond attachment to?

Ooooooo, that’s a tough one. For me, it would probably be ‘Tell Him’. Caoimhe would sayWhen I Can (Rubbish)’ and Saoirse says ‘Out of My Hands’. I’d give you reasons but it might be more fun to listen and see for yourself.

How do the tracks come together? Do you all write together in the same room – or do various parts of the songs form over time?

It happens differently for each of us. Most of the time, one of us will come to the group with the bones of a song or an idea. For me, it’s usually lyrics and melody first and then we build an arrangement together. The album has a mix of differently written songs. For example, ‘Out of My Hands’ was a song we completely ripped apart and re-wrote together in the studio, using bits of a really, really old song that I wrote when I was seventeen.

Your music does not really sound like anything out there! Are there any musicians that influence your songwriting? Which artists did you each grow up with?

That’s the best compliment we could get, thank you!

I think we first started to appreciate songwriting around the time we met when we were listening to our parents’ collections from the 1960s, so the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Thin Lizzy, Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac really inspired our songwriting. For me, personally, I’d say Carole King, Paul Simon, Jeff Buckley, Queen and Nina Simone would be my biggest old-school influences. At the same time, though, the music on the radio when we were small was bangin’ 90s and noughties R&B. Alicia Keys’ Songs in A Minor was the first album I ever bought – Destiny’s Child’s Survivor the second. R&B really influences our sound and our vocals.

More recently, I’m influenced by artists like Solange.

I know you have received physical copies of your album and are signing them for pre-order requests. What was your reaction when you saw those boxes of CDs arrive?! Is it exciting knowing it is all done and dusted?

Awww. We cannot explain how good it felt. We’ve been working on the album for the last year but really we’ve poured the last three years into it. To finally have it in our hands was an amazing feeling. It’s a scary place to be, too, right before all that work goes out into the world.

It seems like you are all involved with the visual side of your music. Did you get a say in the album cover and its design? Do you think there is a close link between art and music?

Very much so. Caoimhe actually did the artwork for the album and most of what you see online is her work. She went to art college for a few years and her skills are such an asset to what we do. She also works projections into our live shows. We put a lot of thought and work into the visual side of the music. Social media makes it easier for us to control that presentation of ourselves and our music in a way that we are proud of.

You are playing Dublin’s The Academy on 28th September and you are at Tower Records on release day. How important is Dublin and its people, not only to your music and creativity, but your passion for performance?

Irish crowds are renowned for having an amazing energy. We’re actually from Bray, Co. Wicklow, but Dublin is where we grew as a band, playing on the live scene and festival circuit as much as we could. There is so much going on in Dublin creatively, and the calibre of musicians is so high for such a tiny population. We cut our teeth performing in Dublin and have had some of our best shows there… So the place and people is very important to us. Our album launch (on 23rd Feb) has sold out over a month in advance, which is an incredible feeling. Ireland, as a whole, is an amazing country to tour – we’re playing eleven Irish shows around the country and, sometimes, the tiniest villages in a westerly corner of the country can provide a hugely energetic crowd.

I know you are playing in London soon. What can you tell us about that gig? Are you excited about it?

We love playing in London. It’s always such a great buzz. Our gig at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen will be our last after a string of dates all over the UK.

Will there be more gigs after that? How do the spring/summer months look at the moment?

Yes. After that, we head to Germany and the Netherlands. Then we’ll be back to the UK for The Great Escape in May which will be our first festival of the year.

It seems, after all the gigs and album preparation, you will need a bit of a rest! How do you unwind when you are not performing?

I try to exercise as much as possible, especially outdoors, and cook. You really miss cooking when you’re on the road; it’s very difficult to stay healthy. I try and see friends and go to other events and get involved in things completely outside the music industry to regain a bit of perspective. We all have constant travel bugs and love getting away for a few days. Before Christmas, we had a bit of downtime, so Caoimhe went to Galway for a few days, I went volunteering in Calais and Saoirse went to Cuba.

We came back feeling brand new and ready for 2018.

There are artists that will look at what you are doing and want to follow in your footsteps. Is there any advice or words you would give to them at all?

We would tell other bands to spend a lot of time writing and experimenting with their sound – ideally before you release anything. We’d also say gig as much as possible and become the best performer you can be (though, that can be difficult to do without having released any music). Practise as much as you can; become completely confident with your voice/instrument. Use social media for what you can promotion-wise – but don’t get too caught up in it…You’ll never be satisfied. To be honest, we could dish out all of this advice but there’s no right way of doing it. You just have to work as hard as you can and go with your gut. Your gut is your most important adviser…