Life is political: In Conversation with M(h)aol

Just over a year since their debut Gender Studies EP, Irish band M(h)aol are back with a full-length album. Attachment Styles is not afraid of anything or anyone; packing jagged, industrial punk made up of duelling distorted bassists, apocalyptic guitar and confrontational, in-your-face vocals.

The group are naturally political. “There isn’t a clear line for any of us between normal life and politics,” explains drummer Connie Keane, who also fulfils the role of band manager & label runner. “Life is political. What unites the five of us is a strong political backbone. It definitely brought us together”. Rather than aspiring to be a “political band” the group live their lives politically: made up predominantly of women, the group is an important vehicle for the members to discuss their real-life experiences.

This is clear throughout the record, and from the outset of Attachment Styles, M(h)aol make their position known. Album opener ‘Asking For It’ is a takedown of the rape culture that women have no choice about living within; the cut builds into a crescendo of wailing guitars and muddy, sludgy bass as Róisín Nic Ghearailt roars the refrain “my whole life won’t be defined by you!”. ‘Asking For It’ is M(h)aol distilled – and reflective of Attachment Styles as a whole. This method of building tracks from humble starting points into grand soundscapes of distorted bass and heavy, jagged guitar is a theme throughout, and Ghearailt’s lyrics remain resolute in describing her lived experiences as a queer woman.

“I write all of our lyrics as poems, usually without any music attached,” Roisin explains. “I had written something like 90% of the album before we went into the studio. I knew politically and emotionally where I wanted this album to go, which was very different to writing and recording Gender Studies.” Bassist and producer Jamie Hyland elaborates, “All that we had was Róisín’s lyrics, then we build the songs around them. Gender Studies was a three-day record, and this was only eight.”

The band are certainly more of a unit than in previous iterations, and this becomes abundantly apparent as they take to the tiny stage in Manchester’s YES Basement. There is undeniable growth in M(h)aol, their sound has been honed and perfected in the year since Gender Studies, and they are rapidly becoming one of the best live bands on the circuit.

The show takes place on release day of Attachment Styles’ final single. ‘Period Sex’ has long been a live staple for the band, but the cut has had a reaction that goes further than most singles. “We found today that people tweeting the video were getting flagged for sensitive material. The video isn’t even explicit and there’s no sensitive material in the video whatsoever,” Connie says. “It was not surprising, because of the way the world is, but I was more shocked that Twitter, with different moderation standards than before, was still flagging”.

The censoring of their new single is as baffling as it is enraging; the track is clean of explicit language, but still, M(h)aol have faced hurdles. “Grove [who curates BBC 6 music’s Loud and Proud Guest Mix, a celebration of LGBTQ+ voices] asked us to send over a radio edit of ‘Period Sex’. We don’t have a radio edit, we wanted it just to be played as it is.” There is a sense of anger about this decision from the band, but the overwhelming mood is one of expected disappointment. Róisín continues, “There’s no swearing, nothing like that. I say “period sex”, it’s also the only song where I outright say “patriarchy”, but they ran that past BBC big bosses who said ‘it’s a no, they will not play it.’ …Grove has a track called ‘Skin2Skin’, where they use the word ‘cervix’ and BBC made them take that out! It’s biology, it’s an anatomical term for fuck sake!”

“Look a how much they played ‘Sex on Fire’ by Kings of Leon. That song was absolutely everywhere. It begs the question which part of our song do you take issue with?”. It’s evident at this point exactly why M(h)aol are facing pushback on a song of this nature, “this is a song not just about period sex, it’s about queer sex. I [Róisín] talk from a woman’s perspective about going down on someone. From a queer sense, stuff like that just isn’t as accepted, plus the period sex part just layers taboo on taboo on taboo.”

Despite radio pushback and social media shadow banning, it’s a struggle to imagine M(h)aol being cowed into compromise as they perform to the Manchester crowd with passion and anger. Packing a venerable commitment to their values both on stage and throughout Attachment Styles; the punk ethos of rebellion and liberation flow through every pore of this group and into their music.


Photo credit: Naomi Williams

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Charlie Brock

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