Sisters in Harmony

0005858056_10Prior to the recent release of their debut EP, Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty, known collectively as Saint Sister, speak with Adam Lawler about the development of their sound and career. [br]Everything is happening quickly for Saint Sister. Formed in November 2014 after meeting as students in Trinity College, Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre have been busy ever since. A support slot for Dublin-based band Spies resulted in an ongoing string of gigs supporting Irish bands such as O Emperor and Wyvern Lingo, which in turn has led up to the release of their debut first EP Madrid. If there is a sense of head-spinning upward trajectory, then it's not present in the music. The songs teased so far unfold gracefully over a bed of harps and synths; these two know their sound, and it is astonishingly accomplished considering the short incubation period.Before speaking to OTwo, they've been preparing costumes for their first music video. One would wonder if they've stopped to take a breath all year. When asked about the recording of the EP, they make it clear that the answer is a resounding no: "That was our only three weeks off in the whole year so we were ready when we went in there, we had all the tracks sitting ready to go," says Doherty. MacIntyre chimes in: “We recorded it on Gemma’s wee computer in our rehearsal studio so we tried to build it up to what it would be like before we went in."  This preparation meant that they could record the EP in a period of just three weeks with producer Alex Ryan, who has worked with Hozier and whom the duo met in college and was, they say, "very perceptive to what we wanted".Attention to detail is evident in the music. Frequently dubbed “atmosfolk”, their sound draws from both late-night urban electronica such as James Blake and Jessie Ware, and also Celtic music, for its “haunting and spooky” atmosphere more than anything. MacIntyre grew up in Donegal living above a pub, and has fond memories of “pressing our ears to the floor to hear all the different kinds of music”. Although traditional music is only present in spirit, the pair has adopted its philosophies when playing the songs live.“We try to use all the instruments at our disposal to recreate the sounds we created in the studio. One of our main obsessions is playing it all live, because there’s a difference between having a sound that you’re generating and having a backing track," says Doherty. “It helped that we were both solo artists, so although we’re relatively new as a band… we both knew what we did that wasn’t working for us. We made a lot of the mistakes you would make as an early artist and hopefully we’ve swept that under the rug!”The duo are surprisingly reflective of their journey so far, saying that there is “no one path” to success. Right now, though, the excitement is palpable. "We're just looking forward to people hearing our music. We‘re getting the actual physical product in our hands next week and I think that‘ll be a really nice moment to have in our hands what we’ve spent half the year creating.” Despite the involving recording process the pair say they are now at the stage where they can see the EP as a whole, and it is clear that there is an overarching theme in Madrid. "Each song has its own narrative, but this EP in particular as a whole happens to touch on loneliness a great deal,” MacIntyre says. “I for one am completely incapable of being alone; I always want someone around me, and the only time I write is when I'm alone because I’m going out of my mind. When you’re with someone you can be alone and if you’re in a crowd of people you can still be alone. It’s not that we wanted to make an EP about loneliness,” they laugh, “it’s just what was coming out at the time.”
“We’re not trying to create anything in particular. We just want to keep going.”
There is certainly a pervading sense of melancholy, even in the name of the work. Neither of them have been to Madrid and this succinctly sums up the main idea; "the songs are all about 'the grass is always greener', the place you want to go and the person you want to be with is always there in your mind but it isn’t necessarily the best situation." This can be seen in the title track’s lyrics: "I'm glad I don't know where you go when you're lonely / I would only meet you there" they sing in unison over a sparse beat and their voices looped, repeating "ah, ah", over and over in a sad accompaniment. The effect is powerful.“Madrid could be anything; it’s the dream, it's the reverie. In this case it's Madrid but it could be anywhere, it could be Dublin or Belfast, it’s just a place where you’re not that you most definitely want to be, for better or for worse. Sometimes the busiest and most beautiful places are the most lonely… That's a strong feeling I always have, and I think it's quite an Irish phenomenon." There is an undoubtedly Irish sensibility inherent in the band; not just in the subtlety and grace of the music but in this sense of displacement that runs throughout. Despite this, there's no doubt that Saint Sister have their feet planted firmly on the ground as they look ahead with hope."We're growing through every song, there's no template there, we're not necessarily trying to create anything in particular," Doherty says. "We just want to keep going. That's the idea of an EP, that you release music when you decide you have music that you want to release. We're in that stage now when we're absolutely dying to write again because we've been so wrapped up in the first EP. We've only written like 8-10 songs together and we're just really looking forward to seeing where it'll go from here. We'll see soon enough I guess." MacIntyre agrees. "We'll get back to you on that one," she says wryly.There’s no doubt about that. Saint Sister are accomplished musicians, wise and reflective in a typically Irish way, and have a knack for songwriting that captures their talent for emotional storytelling. It will be interesting to see how the release of Madrid widens their universe from here.Madrid is out now.