“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!
Photo Credit: Nicholas O’Donnell