Isabella Ambrosio chats to Barry Lally about modernlove.’s upcoming tour, growing up, and writing songs.
I had spoken to Barry Lally once before over Zoom in a group interview with modernlove., an up-and-coming act from Drogheda. Due to technical difficulties, I sound like my 66-year-old father when I say that, I lost the interview and a second had to occur. I enjoyed the band’s dance-pop sound, something really light and enjoyable, with lyrics that were easily relatable by any twenty-something. I wanted to talk to them again - and I wanted to ask more questions.
modernlove. sounds similar to the 1975, but with a more electric pop-rock, dance-pop influence. There’s a certain ethereal sound to their guitar licks, always keeping a lighter feel to their music, while their bass contrasts heavily in the background on songs like ‘Don’t Wanna’ and ‘Islands’ off their newest EP, Oh My Mind.
It was an early interview. Lally joined the call on time, him and myself looking like we had just woken up. I chuckled to myself. He was sipping at a cup of tea, presumably, relaxed on the sofa in his living room. His hair was tousled and dark circles lay underneath his eyes.
“I see you guys have a tour coming up.”
He nods, “Yeah,” while taking a sip of his tea.
“So, is this your first tour?”
“Yeah, this is like properly the first tour that we’re ever gonna do. I think Bristol and Leeds have just sold out, or are almost sold out… The first London gig sold out within two weeks and we added a second date, and that’s nearly all sold out. And Manchester sold out, so we upgraded the venue, and that sold out. But before we put the tickets on sale during COVID and lockdown, when we weren’t able to gig, and we were just releasing music, song after song. Felt like we were kind of just throwing it out into the ‘ether’ because there was no way of telling back that there were people who were invested on the other end. So, when we put the tickets on sale, we had no clue or notion that would happen. It’s like a pinch yourself moment, where you’re like ‘Oh, there’s actually people who want to see us’,” he says with a smile, “You know, which was news to us.”
“Would you say you have a bigger fanbase in the UK than in Ireland?”
“I’d say so, yeah. I don’t really know what that’s about, but I think are more sort of enthusiastic about indie or guitar music in the UK. And I also think that [people from the UK] and everyone else, bar Irish people, are more just enthusiastic and believe the hype more. I think Irish people like to take you down a peg, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all.” He takes another sip of his tea.
“And that’s hard. Growing up in that kind of environment… I mean, did you always want to be a musician?”
“I think when I was really, really young, I kind of just sang all of the time, and listened to music and danced around without really thinking about it. And I wasn’t necessarily listening to ‘cool music’,” he imitates air quotes and smiles to himself, “But, Cian, the drummer in the band, was always playing drums. His dad was a big alternative music guy, and he played the drums as well, so Cian came to me when we were like 13 and said, ‘Man, we should start a band.’ And that was the first time I thought about it and was like, ‘oh, yeah! That would be cool. I just have to learn how to play guitar now,’” he laughs a bit harder to himself.
“How old are you now?”
“24. Just turned 24. Which is horrible, I’m not even early twenties anymore, I’m mid-twenties.”
I search for the words to comfort him, but I can’t find them, so I make a series of humming noises before finally admitting, “I really don’t know how to comfort you, I’m sorry. I just finished college.”
“It’s okay, you don’t have to. You don’t have to,” he dramatically shakes his head and feigns slight annoyance.
“Was your family into music, or was it more that you started seeing it as you were going to school, and being exposed to the outside world, or…?”
I think my family loved, loved music.”
“I think my family loved, loved music. But no one in my family played, I’m not from a family of musicians at all. They were in U2, obviously, but that’s kind of inescapable if you’re Irish.” I snort at his comment, “And, I do love U2, but I think it’s just in the fabric of me hearing U2 since I was about 6 years old.”
“You don’t have to be embarrassed, it’s okay, there are plenty of people out there, who are Irish, that love U2.”
“Yeah, I know that, yeah,” he chuckles, “And I suppose there was a lot of country and funk, like Joni Mitchell and Willie Nelson, stuff like that, got me very much into music. But, I think it was also becoming an adolescent and listening to My Chemical Romance for the first time. Obviously, a lot of indie bands after that, like Block Party, the Bombay Bicycle Club, and the 1975. That was kind of when I started being like ‘Yeah, I want to be a musician. And I want to be in a band. They were people to model if you were in a band.”
“So, would you be the main songwriter in the band, or do you all write?”
“When we play gigs, we have those roles of I sing, Cian plays drums, Dan plays bass and keys, but when it comes to writing, literally anyone of the four of us could start a song and then, people will just hop in on different parts. We tend to send a lot of emails back and forth with songs, I think that kind of happened over COVID and we never really stopped, where someone will just start writing a song at home, but we can’t go and meet up, so we send emails back and forth. Everyone has their own kind of input on every song, but the bassist isn’t necessarily writing the bassline, he could be writing vocal melodies or drums. I do end up writing a lot of the lyrics because if I don’t like them, I don’t have to sing them at a gig,” he laughs, “I could just not sing, and my band don’t get to play their gig properly.” He starts laughing even more, throwing his hands up in the air before quickly assuring me, “I’m joking.”
“We all write, when we’re writing, we’re not really writing in our roles at all, we’re writing as songwriters in a room.”
“So, how do your influences growing up affect the way you write? Are there any artists that have a specific thing that they do that you like or that you take inspiration from?”
“We were saying, in another interview recently, there’s a lot of indie music that we would’ve listened to and new wave… in the UK, like the Bombay Bicycle Club and the Cure and the Smiths and stuff. There was always a case of a lot of melodies jumping around in the song. Like, there would be a vocal line, but then there would be another line in the guitar, not like chords I suppose, but these melodies would be bouncing off each other, and we incorporated that a lot into our songs. There’s always more than one leading hook and there’s a lot of repetition from the pop end of things, there’s some hooks that start at the very beginning of our songs that play throughout the whole thing at the very end. When I was younger, that folk and country stuff gave me a love for the narrative, I suppose. Because we do write, as euphoric as possible, with poppy-indie-dance music. Stuff to lose your head to and jump around and have a good time. There is always that sort of contrast in the lyric content and the narrative of something that you are feeling a bit shit, or a bit moody, or a bit main-charactery,” he cracks a smile, “You can sit at home, with your headphones on,” he mimics headphones over his ears with his hands, “listen to the lyrics and maybe write, or get something out of it, but there is that juxtaposition. And if you want, you can lose your mind to it and drink with your friends.”
“You’re giving me some really great pull quotes, thank you by the way,” I mention to him and he cracks up.
“I’m trying my best man, I’m trying my best.”
“With your lyrical content, is it based on personal experience or do you tell other people’s stories? Where do you gather your material?”
He seems to think about it for a moment, eyes wide as he tries to figure out what he wants to say, “It’s funny that you said ‘is it [my] stories or is it other people’s stories?’ because, I think a lot of the songs do start off from a place of ‘I’m writing about something that literally happened to me’ and then, as you go on, there’s other lines that pop into your head because you’re in the zone, and they may not be true to your life, but they sound class in the song. But then, I think it becomes nearly every song that’s about maybe someone treating you really shit and you taking it, the overarching theme becomes about you taking someone’s shit, and it becomes about that thing than that thing that happened to you, the particular experience you had, it becomes a general thing. And I think when you’re writing about yourself or writing about things that happened to you or things that you care about or touch you. People are very concerned with being different and being unique, but nearly everything that matters to one person matters to the next. At the core of everything, we want the same things. We want to be happy, to be cared for, and to care for our loved ones. So, when you write something very, very ‘unique’ to you,” he puts air-quotes, “If it is true, it will hold true for most other people, if that makes sense.”
“Yeah, definitely, it’s like there are shared experiences that we have as human beings whether its heartbreak or losing a loved one, whether its any kind of mental illness, it is a common shared experience, and that’s a part of life.” I agree with him.
“Exactly, there’s an essence to it, that shared humanity, that everyone has. It affects everyone. Life happens to us all.”
“Unfortunately, life fucks us all, no one dies a virgin,” I quote Kurt Cobain. Lally laughs at this, sipping at his tea, which has probably gone lukewarm during our conversation.
“So, with your upcoming release, it’s on the 29th [of July], correct?”
“Yes, yes,” he looks frazzled for a second and then whispers, “There’s so many dates.”
“I can imagine.”
“I’m going with you man, I’m trusting you. If you say it’s the 29th.”
I put up my hands in innocence, “I just know what [their publicist] tells me, that’s all.”
He laughs and I continue, “What is your upcoming release looking like? What was your main goal and your vision for the EP?”
“I think with the first EP [Monochrome Blue], we had our whole lives before it to write about. We weren’t necessarily writing a song for that EP, we were just kind of writing songs because it was fun. And then we got signed, and it was like, ‘Okay, what songs do you want to put on your EP?’ and we could choose from songs spanning a lot of time. With this one it was like, ‘Okay, you wrote that one, used all of your best songs from that period of time, so write songs that will be better than the last EP’. So, we wrote nearly all of those songs for the EP, with an EP in mind. And I think what we wanted to achieve with that was a Snapchat,” he sighs and stops himself, “Oh my god, Snapchat? Snap-shot of who we are now, where we are now. Young adulthood and dealing with lockdown again. The titral song off the EP, ‘Oh My Mind’, is sort of about that. It’s about generally feeling anxious and horrible about yourself and not knowing what the hell is going on in your head, and not feeling like yourself, and the derealisation. It’s also about that happening during COVID as well. And everyone sort of trying to deal with what’s going on in their head because it’s all kind of getting away from them and then, COVID ends, and you have to go back to normal life and go back to being a normal person all of a sudden. And you’re not a normal person anymore because you’ve been in your own head for the last two years. And there’s another song coming out, which touches on that in a different way. There’s a bit more of that side of things on this EP, like mental health or wellbeing.”
There is always that sort of contrast in the lyric content and the narrative of something that you are feeling a bit shit, or a bit moody, or a bit main-charactery.
“With going off the mental health sort of angle, was it coming from a place of ‘I want to write about my own experience to help me process and deal with it, or ‘I want to write this to raise awareness of what people can deal with, and create a dialogue about it and normalise it and destigmatise it?”
“I think when you are writing about very serious topics and you are playing them out to euphoric dance music, it always is kind of about catharsis, or I think it ends up being cathartic whether you’re thinking it or not, just having these thoughts and horrible feelings that you’ve been having for a long time and then writing them down and singing them over the most mindless, dancy music that you can make, you know?” He waves his hands around and smiles to himself, before continuing, “Having your friends create that with you and sharing that with other people and then other people coming back and saying, ‘Oh, that song means a lot to me.’ [And] once you hear that all of that horrible stuff I was feeling by myself, that person was feeling it too, these people are all feeling it. Everything that’s scary is a lot less scary, I think, when you know you’re not alone in it. That’s kind of really the reason…” he trails off, looking out for a moment, getting lost in his thought.
“Kind of a similar mindset to what we were talking about earlier about writing and the shared human experience… but ultimately, where do you want this to take you? Obviously, your future, what will music look like for you?” I tend to ask young bands this question, curious as to what they think and then watching them develop over time.
“I don’t know what it’ll look like,” he sighs, almost kind of sadly.
“Or, well, what you hope it will look like.”
“I think nearly any young musician would be lying if they weren’t hoping that they weren’t the biggest band ever,” he sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. I know it’s a tough question to answer, but I remain silent so he can continue, “But I don’t need that, though. We’ve talked about it, all the guys in the band, kind of like, if we can do this for a living, and we can make this music and play it and people want to hear it for the next few years or the rest of our lives, and we can scrape by…”
“Are you guys still working?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve just finished a twelve-hour night shift in a factory.”
My face turns into shock and horror, “Oh my God, am I keeping you up? I’m so sorry!”
“No, I wake up around this time anyway, so apologies if I’m groggy… We’re all still working, we’re saving up money because we’re kind of planning to move to London towards the end of this year, at the end of this tour, is to go to England to the tour and never come back.”
“Doesn’t sound like a bad idea, Ireland… is you know,” I don’t want to say anything and he chuckles.
“I think for a musician though there’s not as many opportunities here as there is anywhere else. And like, I love Dublin, I love Ireland. But, it is kind of a thing, especially for the amount that you’re paying for rent and stuff, that’s not mirrored in the opportunities that you have as a young person, a young artist. You shouldn’t be paying that amount of money for the stuff they can’t offer you. Hopefully, in ten, fifteen years, there will be people who still like our music. If we can squeeze enough money out of it, travel with it, and do it full time. That’s always been the goal.”
“I wish you all the best then. It was so nice to chat with you, I think this was better than the first one.”
“Man, this is the best interview I’ve ever had. Seriously.”
“Yeah, I’m always trying to ‘be better’ in interviews.”
“It’s important for it to be a conversation. A lot of people just have ‘question-answer-question-answer’. But you made my day, thank you for saying that.”
“It was really, really nice. It was like talking to a therapist.”
I laughed, taking that feeling with me, really hoping that modernlove. goes far.
See modernlove. in the Button Factory on the 25th of November. Tickets on sale now.