OTwo Interviews: Banríon

Image Credit: Anna Heisterkamp

Video shoots, performing, and a makeshift recording studio in Connemara: Ellen Duggan speaks with Roisin Hackett of Banríon

I have known Banríon frontwoman, Roisin Hackett, since the tender age of 12. When attempting to produce my (severely lacking) music on Ableton, Roisin was the only person I would send any .wav files to. When she would play the guitar and sing Lana del Ray in music class with a humble composure, I would unite my hands together to make a little love heart shape- beaming it directly at her. 

When my friend and I moved in together 3 months ago, into a house on a road approximately 4 minutes away from Roisin’s, I dreamt of her arriving at our door at 11 am, a coffee in her hand for me, dressed in a pastel blue shellsuit tracksuit, looking like Tony Soprano making a break out of his compound to do some light community service. And that is exactly what happened for her arrival at our garden for this quick interview (socially distanced of course).

On the topic of dreaming things into reality, the concept of manifestation is no stranger to Roisin. In an interview with Cailean Coffey, posted on SoundCloud shortly following the release of Banríon’s first EP, Roisin spoke about the gift of an electric guitar for her twentieth birthday and the subsequent days and nights she spent dreaming of playing and recording with others as one big, beautiful machine. 

Five months after the release of their EP Airport Dads, Banríon, the big, beautiful, machine-like group consisting of Roisin, John Harding, Michael Nagle and van Rahkmanin - friends who found each other as students of Trinity, each hungry to make music - are scattered around our locked-down Country. This can easily be seen in a way that may feel unconducive to further recording, but it is propitious to creative reflection.

Much music has been attributed to the liminal space of the ‘Airport’, but little to its paternal figures. Despite common queries, Roisin insists the title is not addressing Brian Eno, Sully or Michael O’Leary, but speaks to many band members' familial connections to airport occupations. 

This common generational link, a fact that is sat upon and augmented with the title- seems to utilise the same muscles of introspecting that are employed directly in Banríon’s single 'Yesterday’s Papers' from the EP. 

They are not interested in providing themselves or listeners with answers concerning the past, or its connection to today, but are interested in presenting the link between the two and beautifying it sonically, for our ears. As she sings in 'Yesterday's Papers': "I wanna know about yesterday,// I wanna live, slightly, out of date."

I spoke with Roisin, in order to meet her in this space of reflection, and give consideration to all that Banríon has achieved in 2020.

Could you speak a little bit about your and your bandmates’ musical background and how you all magically merged into one big beautiful machine?

Michael and John are both jazz musicians. They're incredibly talented and they both write their own stuff too which is sick. Ivan is newer to music like myself but is like a machine with it, he has such a maths brain with it all which is so opposite to me but it's ultimately why I think we're a good guitar team. Ivan is taking time out of the band so my wonderful friend and musical influence Robbie Stickland is stepping in. Michael, our drummer and producer, is also leaving the band after Christmas which will be a huge loss, as he shapes so much of the music. I'm not too sure about what that means for the future of the band or if it'll become more of a solo project.

 I remember seeing images you shared of the beautiful and impromptu studio Banríon set up in Connemara during the recording of 'Airport Dads'. There was something so beautifully comfortable in how makeshift everything was. Could you speak a little around the recording of your EP?

“We had a little duvet fort for recording vocals, pillows stuffed up the chimney, and an entire dishwasher worth of dirty cups. It was totally manic but I think it was the most productive I have ever been in my entire life.”

I think those couple of days recording were my favourite days of 2020, it was just a big sleepover with my best pals. We had just had a spell of gigs over a couple of weeks and were all really in tune with each other, I think I had seen the boys every day for about two months. We decided about two weeks before that we would record an EP in Michaels's house in Connemara without giving it much thought at all. We forgot lots of equipment, and it took us like 7 hours to get there on public transport, in the middle of this enormous storm and our bassist John had to go back to Dublin 24 hours later for college. We had a little duvet fort for recording vocals, pillows stuffed up the chimney, and an entire dishwasher worth of dirty cups. It was totally manic but I think it was the most productive I have ever been in my entire life.

Please tell me a little about the 'Yesterday's Papers' video! What was the creation process like, what were your influences?

It's hilariously corny to say but that is how I met my girlfriend Anna Heisterkamp so it's so special to think back on the creation process. She shot, edited and directed it. When I met her first, she had a completely different interpretation of the song’s meaning to me and such a clear idea of how the song looked like in her head, so I was so happy for her to take the reins on that, as the only idea I had to offer is that I wanted a shot of myself sitting in my old wheelchair being pulled by an army of small dogs. We thankfully scrapped that plan. She showed me a couple of visual prompts like some of Daniel Arnold's photos and some photo of a guy on a motorbike carrying a mirror and I was like "sweet let's do it". We shot half of it in my garage and half in the Featherbeds in the Wicklow Mountains with the help of our dear friend and dedicated assistant Charlotte Keegan.

You've spoken about not feeling like music notation is your strong suit and members of the band picking up on what you’re playing to meet you where you are musically. I love the idea of you all in a non-verbal state and everyone in the band having a magical ability to 'morph' to what you're playing. How much do you all communicate whilst playing together?

There's also lots of what I call “mouth guitar" where I'm scream-humming notes at the guys for riffs, “it sounds like DOOOO, NOT DOO!

When we're writing something new, I start playing the bones of the song on guitar and the boys start messing around on top of it. That's my favourite point of songwriting, when you can see it take a bit of shape and you're all giddily looking round at each other like "oooh we gotta keep that bit!" There's also lots of what I call "mouth guitar" where I'm scream-humming notes at the guys for riffs, "it sounds like DOOOO, NOT DOO!" It's an entirely inefficient way of working and I need to get guitar lessons pronto, but I will say that it is very funny to listen back on in recordings of practice.

Although you are frequently described as a ‘composed’ person, I personally find you to be quite crazy and gutsy. Corny., but I am constantly in awe of your bravery and 'I like this... let's do it!'-ness. I know you have spoken a bit before about tuning in to performance anxiety and 'working on it'. What are some things that you have found have helped you deal with this?

No joke, I watched the Nasty Cherry documentary on Netflix and it genuinely changed how I viewed music and performing. They all just upped and left their jobs to start this band (with the help of LOTS of Charli XCX funds) but almost all of them were brand new to music and really had no idea what they were doing, but were just doing it anyway. I saw myself in that. I had been letting being nervous actually make me worse at performing which made me more nervous which made me worse. So I came back after Christmas and was like "f that! I'm not good at this yet but I'm definitely not bad anymore" and just channelled some Nasty Cherry rockstar energy.

In 2018, you released the track and accompanying music video for your song ‘Bins’, which was a solo Project. Could you speak a little about the recording of 'Bins' and the role of your magical uncle?

“It was such a push in the right direction about seeing a bit of value in the stuff I was writing and that it's worthwhile to put them out there into the ether”

I had just gotten an electric guitar for my twentieth birthday and had written a handful of songs, which I had only shown to one or two people. Last year, my uncle, who is a sound engineer, was over at our house and I was asking advice about how to record electric guitar. I showed him some little demos and he really liked 'Bins' so said we could record it in his studio in his house. It was such a push in the right direction about seeing a bit of value in the stuff I was writing and that it's worthwhile to put them out there into the ether, and then the reaction to that little SoundCloud song is what got me my first gig - making me ask around for people who would play the gig with me and ultimately form Banríon.

I know you and your bandmates are scattered around the country a wee bit. Have you been cooking up any projects during lockdown? What are some of the first things you all want to do when the vaccine hits the shelf?

The first thing I wanna do is play a big sweaty gig. As far as projects go, I've been cooking up some songs over summer and I’m thinking of recording a solo EP early next year. I'm also working on two collaborative songs with other artists, so that has been a cool way to branch out of our genre.

Before we finish off and she walks the two-minute journey home, Roisin speaks of how her lockdown album was, unequivocally, Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’. If there was only one surviving vaccine in the world, she states she would gift it to Phoebe Bridgers and finally, unprompted, she launches into a speech concerning Paul Mescal and the joys of supporting Irish Musicians; ‘On a scale of 1-100, I love Paul at a 110’ she says whilst putting on her coat. She continues: ‘During level 3, I would literally book a table at a restaurant for my girlfriend and I under the moniker “Paula Mescal.”

As I watch her walk down the lane, her tracksuit billowing in the wind, I can’t help but smile at her infectious determination and passion- excited for all Banríon have in store for the future.

'Airport Dads' is available on all good streaming sites.