INTERVIEW: Pretty Happy

“I think you’re the first person to say we have genuine talent…” laughs Pretty Happy’s guitarist Abbey Blake when I enthusiastically tell her I love the music that the Cork art punk trio make. Bassist Arann Blake laughs at my compliment too. The bandmates (who are also siblings) are sat in their car, windows rolled up, sweating to death whilst talking to me on Zoom via their smart phone. They’re about to go on a well-deserved holiday to Kerry after releasing and promoting their recent EP, Sluggers Bridge.

Along with drummer and friend Andy Killian, the trio create riotous, tongue-in-cheek post-punk offerings often centred around their observations and experiences of living in their home county of Cork in Ireland. We spoke about the “uniquely Cork” humour that underscores their new EP, growing sick of the sound of your own songs, facing up to the fact you’re never going to be like Rory Gallagher and winning over fans in the most unlikely of places…

Hello Abbey & Arann. For anyone who doesn’t know, can you tell us how Pretty Happy first got together?

Abbey: We’re siblings, so we kind of always played a bit of music together as kids.

Arann: Our Dad was a drummer in a band in the 80s & 90s around Cork in Ireland, so he was always putting musical instruments around the house and stuff. Our Mother is big into blues music and Rory Gallagher. I think she always wanted one of us to become a famous blues guitarist. Abbey & I actually got guitar lessons together at a very young age and we both rejected them…

Abbey: They were just awful. We were sent to this local young fella – who looking back, was obviously a stoner – and he was trying to teach us something like Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer of 69’ and I just absolutely hated it.

Arann: We just wouldn’t practice; it was so funny. He’d be like, “go away and learn that chord.” Then we’d come back and be like, “we didn’t learn the chord.”

Abbey: We just didn’t want to do it. I remember coming home and giving my Mum back this awful mini strat that we got in Smith’s toy shop, and I was like, “Mum, I’ll never be Rory Gallagher. Stop.” and that was the end of it. But we did start jamming and I did pick up the guitar again when I was 16/17. If you listen to Pretty Happy’s early stuff, it just sounds like rip offs old Strokes songs. I had no FX on my guitar and Andy our drummer was just doing simple 4/4 stuff. You can definitely hear the progression and it’s only gotten weirder since we’ve actually learned how to play.

Arann: We’ve been going for three or four years now and I think we really needed that time to develop. Kind of like what Abbey said about the Strokes, I think that’s what happens when you’re in a band. At first, you mimic other bands, because you don’t know how to develop your own style. And then you do something a bit different and you’re like, “Okay, there’s something in that,” so you write a new song and that keeps going until you start to have a bit of a repertoire of songs that are kind of a new style. But it was fun kind of learning stuff as the band started to gig more.

Abbey: Our first gig was a metal gig and we were the lightest, lightest, pop rock version of ourselves at the time. Andy was living in London for the summer, so we hadn’t really jammed that much and Arann just got onto us and he was like, “we have a gig” and Andy was like, “Oh, I didn’t know this was an actual band” and that’s how Pretty Happy started. It was never supposed to be a band. It was always just jamming with pals.

Arann: Abbey would always bug me and be like, “let’s start a band or something” and I’d be like, “Alright, get off my back – a band with my little sister?” Fine…I’ll pick this great friend of mine that I know, but he doesn’t actually know how to play the drums. Then as it went on, it obviously became the main band and became the band that people actually took notice of. People were like “there’s something to that, what you’re doing there.”

Abbey: It’s good to hear your thoughts on the start of the band there Arann. Thank you so much for letting me in. Appreciate it man…

If it makes you feel better Abbey, I’ve got an older brother who makes music and he probably wouldn’t let me be in a band with him – mainly because I can’t actually play.

Congratulations on the release of your EP, Sluggers Bridge. I read that you described it as being “uniquely Cork and influenced greatly by the people and humour of the city.” We’re a London based blog, so can you elaborate on that a little for our readers…

Abbey: I think all Cork people would call it the “real capital” of Ireland. Cork people love Cork so much. They’re just very funny people.

Arann: It’s funny talking about this and being from Cork, it’s like “I’m pretty and I’m funny and I’m sound…”

Abbey: Cork people always have an ego. It’s a joke all over Ireland that Cork people fucking love themselves. I think there’s so much slang and just the constant slagging – people will mock you relentlessly in Cork. It’s so good. You can’t take anything seriously because you will be slated. I think that’s why we’re so jokey in the band and especially with that EP. Even the title Sluggers Bridge was an old slang term our Nan used to call Arann. She’d say “Oh go look at sluggers bridge there” because he drank stuff so quickly…

Arann: It was a milk bottle I was drinking, I was a baby like, I was just drinking my milk…We’re a post punk band, so I think there is an expectation to be very serious and take yourself seriously. But you couldn’t possibly do that in Cork.

You’re putting Cork on the map. Do you have a favourite track on the EP? If so, why?

Abbey: We’re sick of them by now…

Arann: You don’t promote an EP by saying “I’m sick of all the songs,” Abbey. The correct answer is “but they’re all so good, how could I choose?” It depends. What is funny, I think, when looking at your own music, is that it’s so hard to enjoy it. You hear it and then you remember all the different versions of it that you put down in the studio, so it becomes more like this mathematical thing. It’s so hard to enjoy your own song.

Abbey: I’m also disgraced when hearing myself. I hate hearing myself. Do you ever hear your own voice back played back, and you realise it’s fucking awful? And I can’t hold a tune. I can’t sing, so that’s why I kind of shout and stuff. So yeah, I can’t listen to our songs much.

Arann: Is it a bit late to ask if we’re allowed to swear?

Swear away, it’s all good.

Abbey: Okay, if I had to pick a favourite it would probably be ‘Sea Sea Sea’, because I think that was written so quickly and that was my first time properly “singing.” It’s my favourite to play live too. It’s always our last song, so you know that your last minute of energy can be spent.

Arann: There’s a big outro at the end which we always love to close the show with. It reaches a fever pitch so that’s a very fun song to play. It just descends into madness a bit.

I love that you’ve just admitted to hating your own EP. That’s really cracked me up.

Speaking of ‘Sea Sea Sea’, I know you directed the video for that Abbey, and you were nominated for Pinewood Studio’s ‘Lift Off First Time Film Makers Festival’ award, which is amazing. Talk me through the concept of the video and where you got your idea from…

Abbey: Yeah, it was cool. It was kind of like something I had to do, it was like, “Oh, shit, we need a music video,” and the lads had moved to London, so I was like, “Okay, fuck you, you’re in London, I’m gonna do it and I’m not gonna tell you what I’m doing.”

It was really fun in the end. I studied film in college and my final year was cut short because of COVID, so the video was my first time getting back with a camera, coming up with a concept and editing it. We filmed it during winter on a beach in Cork and I had to beg my girlfriend to be in it. I was like “Please, will you just do this video? You have to run into the sea. Yes, it is November, but I’ll bring whiskey hot chocolate…” and she was like “for fucks sake, fine!”

The sea was the perfect backdrop for the video and the beach was perfect for the concept of kind of digging your own hole. The song is essentially about coming out, facing rejection and also trying to talk to older generations about gender and sexual identity and stuff like that. I was really lucky with my parents when I came out, they were so cool and open, but I’ve seen different reactions from people before. I think a lot of that is provoked by fear of the unknown.

I don’t know. I hate saying meanings for music videos. Take what you want from it…

It’s an important issue behind the video’s concept and a great video! This is honestly the most self-deprecating interview I’ve ever done. I’m into it. How are you feeling about the return of live music after Covid-19 put a stop to it last year? What’s the situation like in Ireland at the moment?

Abbey: That’s a big thing in Ireland at the moment. The fact that sporting events are back with no social distancing, but not gigs.

Arann: At the time of speaking, there’s been a lot of backlash against the government about the double standard. It’s a real point of contention.

Abbey: It’s weird, because it’s been a year of talking and saying “Oh yeah, we’re a band, we do band stuff,” and then not properly gigging. We’ve done live streams, but I think that’s a totally different thing. We had to adapt from performing to a live crowd to performing to a camera.

Arann: You have to point the energy in different places, it’s so weird. In terms of acting, it’s like Theatre vs Film, it’s about creating an energy in a room or a venue, versus translating that energy to a camera lens. It’s much weirder and it took a while to get used to. I don’t know if most touring musicians today would be used to that kind of thing, we definitely weren’t at the start. We’ve done around 8-9 of them now.

Abbey: I think we’ve always had that thing of conjuring up energy though. I always loved having a “bad crowd” or playing old country pubs and you see these old fellas with a pint of Guinness at the bar looking at you like “what the fuck are they doing?” I love those gigs because I like trying to turn people. I love screaming my head off to someone who hates it, I don’t know why. I way prefer that to a crowd that likes us. I think we’re very awkward with praise, so I prefer that situation.

Arann: They were sort of lovely gigs though. Abbey would be screaming her lyrics from ‘Sea Sea Sea’ – “you hate your son / but you love yourself” – at these old men from…

Abbey: …you got our own lyrics wrong there Arann. It’s the other way around, it’s “you love your son / but you hate yourself”

Arann: Well, I don’t have to sing it do I? We never listen to our songs because we’re sick of them, remember? We’ve both already established that…

But yeah, those kind of gigs were so funny because you would go on and at least if they don’t like the style music we’re playing, which they normally don’t, you know it’s pretty out there, they did appreciate what we were saying or trying to do. We’re really looking forward to have a couple of gigs coming up and it’s just going to be fantastic to have a crowd again. We’re really buzzing.

Abbey: I remember getting a handshake from one of the old fellas at the bar that I mentioned after the gig. He was like, “Jesus, you really put into what you’re playing. You really go mad on the guitar, don’t ya?” It was just like a “fair play, you’re doing what you’re doing” kind of moment which I loved.

Arann: I remember at another gig, we were in a bar where the stage is literally in the middle of a functioning bar. We were doing soundcheck, and people were watching matches and having drinks while we were trying to sound check a punk song, and there was a woman who just shouted “Will someone turn that off!?” as we were checking levels and stuff – and that’s when we knew the gig was gonna be a slog. So we just screamed so loudly that people either left, or the people who stayed kind of had to listen to us.

A bad reaction is still a reaction, you know? If you know any venues that would hate us, please give us their details…

I’m sure I could think of a few venues in London or Essex (where I’m from) that I can recommend. What’s next on the agenda for Pretty Happy? Any new releases, anything you can tease us with?

Abbey: We’re going into the studio to record next month. We’re writing for the first time in so long, because the lads have moved home from London, so it’s the first time we’ve actually had free time when we’re not just practicing for a gig. It’s just us jamming for fun again, which is so nice.

Great stuff. Finally, are there any new bands or artists that you’d like to recommend to us?

Abbey: We love what Elaine Malone does. Her stuff is insane. Her live show is insane, I’m just in awe of her. We had her on for a gig with Angry Mom a few years ago and it was my first time seeing her. She just stood on stage with a harmonium and a guitar and she played the harmonium with her feet, whilst she also played guitar and sang and I was like, “Holy fuck.” I remember sitting on the floor in front of her and being like, “how is this one person making such layered music?” It was so beautiful. Then we saw her with her full band and it’s just like…honestly, you’ve got to see her live, she’s so good.

Arann: Arthur Itis also has a new album coming out on Art For Blind Records, who we released our EP with. If anyone likes us, then check out what he’s doing. He’s doing very cool off-the-wall post-punk stuff. He’s definitely someone we listen to a lot. Everything on Art For Blind Records is unbelievable actually, they have some great acts.

Thanks so much to Abbey & Arann for the chat!

Follow Pretty Happy on bandcampSpotifyInstagramTwitter & Facebook

Photo Credit: Nicholas O’Donnell

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

PLAYLIST: February 2021

We’ve made it through the first two months of 2021! Despite the current lockdown here in the UK, the GIHE team have been busy unearthing more new music gems to help you get through these long and tedious days. We’ve put together an eclectic mix of alt-pop gems, atmospheric electronics and gritty guitar tunes on our February playlist.

Take some time to scroll through our track choices below and make sure you hit play on the Spotify playlist at the end of this post. Follow GIHE on Spotify to hear all of our previous playlists too.

 

Scrounge – ‘Leaking Drains’
The new single from South East London duo Lucy and Luke – aka Scrounge – ‘Leaking Drains’ offers a stark soundscape reflecting on the state of society at the moment. Propelled by Lucy’s raw, snarling vocals and slashing guitar alongside Luke’s immense, thrashing beats, it builds to a colossal cacophony before coming to a disconcerting, abrupt end – only adding to the stirring tension that has built up throughout. Oozing a ferocious power, the duo have created something that is striking both in its jarring potency and rage-driven force.
(Mari Lane – Managing Editor)

HAVVK – ‘Home’
The first single to be shared from HAVVK’s upcoming new album, ‘Home’ is a stirring reflection on appreciating those closest to you. Propelled by a shimmering ethereal fuzz, the track showcases the soaring celestial majesty of front woman Julie’s vocals, as they float with an impassioned splendour over scuzzy hooks and a gritty, driving energy. Fusing together tinges of ’90s grunge-fuelled angst with twinkling shoegaze sensibilities and the band’s own unique poignant grace, it’s a truly captivating soundscape. (ML)

Softcult – ‘Another Bish’
Informed by their love of Bikini Kill and Smashing Pumpkins, alternative duo Softcult blend atmospheric guitars, energetic percussion and bittersweet vocals to create their hazy, antagonistic sounds. Formed of Ontario-based twin sisters Phoenix and Mercedes Arn Horn, this single ‘Another Bish’ was born from their desire to resist and relieve the pressures of existing in a patriarchal music industry. I had a lovely chat with the grrls over Zoom a few weeks ago which you can read here.
(Kate Crudgington – Features Editor)

New Pagans – ‘Harbour’
A tenacious celebration of women’s strength and resilience throughout pregnancy and childbirth, New Pagans’ latest single ‘Harbour’ is based on the experiences of vocalist Lyndsey McDougall’s pregnancy with her own daughter. Full of the Belfast band’s trademark urgent riffs and catchy melodies, it’s an empowering examination of the fears and triumphs that accompany this unique time in a woman’s life. I can’t wait to hear New Pagans’ debut album, The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All, when it’s released on 19th March. (KC)

Grandmas House – ‘Always Happy’
A thumping post-punk anthem that seethes with sardonic wit, ‘Always Happy’ is the latest single from Bristol-based trio Grandmas House. Released via Brace Yourself Records, the track is a raucous juxtaposition of the confident image we project externally to others, when internally we often feel the complete opposite. (KC)

Pretty Happy – ‘Salami’
A wise-cracking anthem about the complexities of processed meat, ‘Salami’ is the new single from Cork art-punk trio Pretty Happy. Full of sarcastic lyrics, gutsy vocals and crashing percussion, the track is a ridiculously good off-kilter banger that rambles through the band’s many absurd thoughts and feelings about the pork-based snack. (KC)

Hadda Be – ‘Another Life’
Complete with a refreshed line-up and new name, Hadda Be (formerly Foundlings) bring their shimmering joy to latest single ‘Another Life’. Despite the track’s somewhat melancholic sentiment – “it covers me in worry, now that’s all I ever know” – it’s buoyed by an infectious jangling energy as scuzzy hooks whirr alongside frenetic beats and Amber’s rich vocals. An uplifting slice of indie-fuzz-pop that’ll leave you longing to dance along to its sparkling sounds live. (ML)

Lauren Auder – ‘Heathen’
“I think this may be my favourite song I’ve ever worked on,” explains London-based songwriter Lauren Auder about this track, and I can see why. ‘Heathen’ is actually my first introduction to her sound, but what an intro it is! It mixes everything I love about electronic music – yearning vocals, urgent beats, rapturous synths and guitar noises – it’s all here and it gives me goose bumps every time I listen. Definitely check out Auder’s new EP, 5 Songs For The Dysphoric, if you’re into this. (KC)

Tyler Holmes – ‘Nothing’
I’ve only recently become acquainted with Tyler Holmes, but I have fast fallen in love with their poignant, affecting and utterly unique sweeping electronic soundscapes. Holmes has spent a lifetime crafting their own Black, Queer narrative by pushing the limits of their imagination and their innovative ability to fuse together genres to create truly stirring, instantly immersive sonic trips is showcased perfectly on ‘Nothing’. Holmes is set to release their new album next month via Ratskin Records. Watch the video for ‘Nothing’ here. (ML)

SPIDER – ‘Water Sign’
Born in Nigeria but raised in Dublin, London-based twenty-one year old SPIDER blends jagged electronics and brooding guitar riffs alongside her distinctive vocals to create her evocative sounds. Her focus is on how a track makes you feel – whether that’s a feeling of power, fluidity or chaos – and on ‘Water Sign’ she weaves these emotions into a cohesive, stirring electronic soundscape. (KC)

Roma – ‘Stay Like This’ (Tiiva Remix)
I’ve been following queer artist & producer Tiiva since I heard their re-working of Despicable Zee’s ‘We Won’t Stop’ last year, and I’m continuously impressed by their instinct for choosing talented and interesting artists to collaborate with. Tiiva reached out to songwriter Roma during lockdown after hearing her track ‘Stay Like This’ and the pair have worked together to create this lush, dreamy electronic tune. Roma originally wrote this song from the perspective of her daughter, exploring what it means to grow up in a modern world and Tiiva overcame their own adult cynicism to create this woozy new remix. (KC)

Show Boy – ‘Turn It On’
Following 2019’s Surreal, London artist and producer Show Boy has today released his much awaited brand new EP Ishtar Lion. A wonderfully eclectic collection, the EP showcases Show Boy’s knack for blurring genre boundaries, combining influences from across the musical spectrum to create perfectly catchy offerings oozing an uplifting, vibrant energy and heartfelt emotion. Driven by the soaring power of his unique vocals, ‘Turn It On’ interweaves an intricate musicality with a sparkling soulful splendour, resulting in a euphoric ode to new beginnings. (ML)

Callaz – ‘Queima Essa Ideia’
Recorded in Berlin and produced by the brilliant Ah! Kosmos, the title of this latest single from songwriter Callaz translates roughly as ‘Burn That Idea’. Based between Lisbon and Berlin, Callaz has recently released her second album, the brilliantly titled Dead Flowers & Cat Piss, and it’s full of her soft vocals, candid lyrics and alt-pop soundscapes. (KC)

Grove – ‘Ur Boyfriend’s Wack’
Bristol-based hyperpop artist Grove blends chaotic synths, warped beats and wicked rap verses on this high octane track ‘Ur Boyfriend’s Wack’. Taken from their debut EP, QUEER + BLACK, this song forms part of Grove’s aural journey through their experiences of being young, black and queer. (KC)

Ci Majr – ‘Summer Drug’
Ci Majr is an emerging non-binary artist from Atlanta and this new single ‘Summer Drug’ is a flirty, joyful dose of dancing beats and smooth vocals. Of the track, Ci explains: “I think a lot of us have been in a place where we’ve been hurt from a relationship and have a hard time opening up again…so this song is saying ‘yes, you can absolutely satisfy my physical needs but we’re not taking it further than that’; likening ‘using’ someone for their body just like you’d use a drug of some sort.” (KC)

Desire – ‘Zeros’
The latest single from Desire, ‘Zeros’ will capture the ears with its sweeping celestial aura. As a majestic, electro-driven soundscape provides the backdrop for Megan Louise’s honey-sweet soaring vocals, glitchy beats and twinkling hooks create a truly moreish offering, oozing an ethereal, effervescent grace. Of the track, Desire explain: “As the calendar pages fly by, we are all reaching for a new normal on what sometimes feels like an endless loop. The cyclical music echoes flashback sequences of a recurring dream.” (ML)

Blonde Maze – ‘Fade Into You’
An exquisite rendition of a Mazzy Star classic, Blonde Maze’s ‘Fade Into You’ oozes all the poignant, rich emotion of the original, whilst adding her own unique blend of soaring electronics and uplifting chiming beats to create something truly euphoric steeped in its own ethereal splendour. Another blissfully cathartic creation from Blonde Maze, showcasing her ability to take an already beautiful track and transform it into something that is completely, undeniably, and majestically, her own. (ML)

Kalbells ft. Miss Eaves – ‘Pickles’
A dreamy tune about escaping a romantic pickle, ‘Pickles’ is a delightful new offering from cosmic-pop collective Kalbells, featuring rapper Miss Eaves. Kalbell’s will be releasing their new album Max Heart on 26th March, which they describe as a “portrait of badass women harnessing their improvisational magic.” (KC)

pecq – ‘Stranger’
‘Stranger’ is the debut single from Oxford psych-pop duo pecq, aka Nikò O’Brien and Hannah Jacobs. It’s a delicate, lush soundscape which the pair wrote, produced and self-released through their own label, Upcycled Sounds Records, earlier this year. pecq are set to release their debut EP, also called Stranger, this summer. (KC)

Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business – ‘Woman Is A Word’
A cover of Empress Of’s ‘Woman Is A Word’, this latest offering from the six-piece choral punk ensemble highlights the power of voices coming together in unity. Oozing a sweeping, celestial splendour, the many vocals flow together in harmony, propelled by an upbeat, jazz-infused musicality. Adding their own unique euphoric energy to the poignant sentiment and soulful passion of the original, Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business have created an emotive and empowering rendition. (ML)

BAXTR – ‘Grace On Fire’
The latest single from London-based trio BAXTR, ‘Grace On Fire’ reflects on the feelings of helplessness that come with seeing someone you love suffer. A sweeping, uplifting slice of alt-pop it oozes nostalgic tinges harking back to the anthemic indie classics of the early noughties, whilst maintaining its own unique shimmering power. As Floss’ honey-sweet vocals flow with a celestial majesty throughout, the track builds with explosive, soaring riffs and a swirling heartfelt emotion to create something truly stirring. (ML)

Samantha Crain – ‘Bloomsday’
Taken from her upcoming new EP, I Guess We Live Here Now, Samantha Crain’s latest single ‘Bloomsday’ is a poignant slice of Americana combining beautifully strummed melodies and a stirring warmth. As the impassioned subtle power of Crain’s rich vocals ooze shades of the raw emotion of Sharon Van Etten, twinkling hooks flow with a rustic charm to gently grace the heartstrings. I Guess We Live Here Now, the upcoming new EP from Samantha Crain, is out 9th April via Real Kind Records/Communion Records. Watch the video for ‘Bloomsday’ here. (ML)

Ex:Re – ‘Where the Time Went’ (with 12 Ensemble)
This song stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it. The title, Elena Tonra’s vocals and lyrics, composer Josephine Stephenson’s cinematic string arrangements – they all resonate so much deeper during this extended period of lockdown. ‘Where The Time’ went is one of ten beautiful tracks on Tonra’s new collaborative album, Ex:Re with 12 Ensemble, and it’s accompanied by a wonderful music video that she directed too. Watch it here. (KC)

Hannah Peel – ‘Ecovocative’
I’m very late to the Hannah Peel party, but I’m in love with her ambient electronic soundscapes. This single ‘Ecovocative’ is lifted from her upcoming album Fir Wave, which is set for release on 26th March via Peel’s own label My Own Pleasure. (KC)