Dream a little dream: Whenyoung

Interview Dream a little dream: Whenyoung

Moving from Limerick to London via Dublin, Whenyoung’s debut arrives as an ode to passion, togetherness, leaving small-town thinking behind and following your dreams.

‘Reasons To Dream’ is the perfect title for Whenyoung’s debut in plenty of ways. The title, taken from a lyric in gorgeous closing track ‘Something Sweet’, serves as their mission statement of sorts, a recognition of the collective leaps of faith the trio have taken in their lives and in the band, and a nudge of encouragement to others fretting over whether to make that scary but ultimately necessary change.

Moving from their native Limerick to London via a stint in Dublin a few years back, Aoife Power, Niall Burns and Andrew Flood have found a new home in the English capital, something that seemed purely a pipe dream to these outcast kids in their small, insular home town. “You can give off the idea that the place you come from isn’t good enough, and you’ve gone somewhere better,” Aoife reflects today in a Stoke Newington pub in the corner of the capital that her and drummer Andrew now call home, “but it’s not that - not everyone belongs in the place that they’re born.” It’s a pertinent point, set against traditional narratives and life paths, and it’s this sense of wildheart dreaming that fuels ‘Reasons To Dream’, a debut that serves as a handbook for throwing convention out of the window and forging your own way.

The pub stop comes at the end of a day-long trip the band give us around their adopted home. We begin at the notorious Cable Street Studios in an industrial part of East London, in the dingy corridors of which they created their debut, an album that broadens their musical horizons with panache. “We didn’t want it to sound like an indie record,” guitarist Niall reflects of the recording process. The band have been welcomed into the bosom of the young next generation of indie royalty, touring with the likes of Declan McKenna, Dream Wife and - most recently - DIY cover stars Sundara Karma, but ‘Reasons To Dream’ takes the trio’s sound away from any kind of scene. Ostensibly, they’re still indie-pop numbers packed with hooks, but in the soaring, almost post-rock guitar screeches of ‘Never Let Go’ and ‘Labour Of Love’ and the glistening, softened dream pop of ‘Something Sweet’ - a track that’s halfway to a Beach House song - their lack of easy categorisation rises to the top once again. “Even though [indie is] the type of music we love, and we love lo-fi music, the songs that we have and the way we play needed to go bigger,” Aoife affirms. “The choruses feel big, and really melodic. We wanted to make that work with the production, and to be a bit ballsy.”

Dream a little dream: Whenyoung

“The three of us, we’ve always been dreamers.”

— Aoife Power

The most intense example of this comes with ‘Never Let Go’. A gargantuan track set around the topic of mental health, it sees the band reaching their arm further than ever before, its production lifting the band up to new heights, full of wailing guitars and Aoife’s skyscraping vocals. It has also quickly become the focal point of the band’s live shows, connecting especially well on the band’s recent Sundara tour; inciting delirium, it’s become a burgeoning anthem for holding on in the toughest of times. “We’ve struggled with [the song],” Aoife remembers, the track having travelled through countless arrangements and rearrangements across its lifespan. “It’s interesting and maybe a coincidence because [of] the topic as well. I wonder if it’s subconsciously because the subject is so sensitive.” As with everything surrounding ‘Reasons To Dream’, the hardest decisions and the situations that fall closest to the bone are the ones that end up producing moments of real transition and connection.

Leaving Cable St and driving up to Stoke Newington’s notorious Irish pub the Auld Shillelagh - it serves the best Guinness in London, many will tell you - talk turns to the band’s move from their homeland to London over a pint of the (admittedly well above par) black stuff. “Limerick is small and it can be close-minded,” begins Aoife. “People can slag you for what you’re wearing, or what you’re listening to, or what colour you dye your hair - all that usual small town stuff. I guess we went through that when we were younger, and you start to resent people and the place a bit. And then we just said ‘Ugh, we’re going to Dublin’, and when you get to Dublin you get a taste for the big city, and the freedom and the anonymity. We all had that [change], and it was refreshing.” “Growing up [in Limerick] and being different, in my personal experience, was really difficult,” Niall affirms. “I just needed to escape, and coming to a massive place where no-one really knows you was the perfect answer for that. Even though people talk about [London] as a really isolating place, I finally felt accepted, because nobody was taking notice of me.” Whenyoung’s debut arrives at a time when Irish music is being celebrated more intensely than it has been in decades. The rise of Fontaines DC and a host of their peers has shone a new light on music being created on the emerald isle, and Irishness in general. As Fontaines guitarist Conor Curley told us in a recent interview, “While the world has changed in some ways, the things that we’re trying to do are still the same, documenting Irish life. An idea of Irishness preserved in their art and the people showcased in their art. I think that’s really important for an Irish artist. You’re preserving the culture. Showing that it’s worthy, that it has value. That Irish life has value.”

Dream a little dream: Whenyoung

“We’re existing in our own world and I’m happy about that.”

— Niall Burns

Through their base in London, Whenyoung sit apart from this scene. Yet though they’re grateful not be caught up in the media-led buzz (“Some bands get looked at too quickly and don’t have time to develop. We’re existing in our own world and I’m happy about that,” Niall affirms), they still clearly possess a huge affinity for their homeland and its culture. The band played at Shane McGowan’s 60th birthday party, walked on stage at a recent London gig to the theme of Michael Flatly’s ‘Riverdance’, have put a cover of The Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’ to tape and, well, we’re currently sitting in the best Irish pub in London. Though their origins have undoubtedly shaped them, however, they’re not ones to be entirely defined by it.

“We’re Irish, and we have an innate sense of Irishness, and we’ve been brought up there, and that’s the culture that shaped us, but that’s that, and I don’t think we need to preach it,” Andrew reflects. “However it affects us and our music…” he continues before Niall finishes off: “...it’s just in us.”

“We don’t want to be a token of a scene or a time,” Andrew picks back up. “We want to be a band that will transcend genres and eras, and I’d be worried about being labelled as an Irish fad or something.”

“I’m glad we’re outside it though,” Niall continues, “and maybe that’s because we’re based here.” “... Or because we’re absolutely shit,” Aoife deadpans.

“The world is a big place,” Niall exclaims, reflecting on those who frowned on the trio’s decision to leave their homeland. “I don’t [understand] when people have that pride that verges into nationalism, saying ‘How DARE you leave this place!’. Like, I can go wherever I want really! Borders and stuff don’t really make sense to me.”

“Now more than ever, people should be outward looking, rather than insular and nationalistic,” Andrew hammers home. “What’s the point?” “I do think that that’s one of the things,” Aoife picks up, the band becoming more and more impassioned as we talk, overlapping each other in conversation. “Our reason to dream is in order to belong. That’s such a human thing - everyone wants to belong. They’d be lying if they said they didn’t. Even from Instagram, the coolest person that’s very careful about what they post, they want acceptance too. We’re all dependent on each other, and we need each other. That’s a very obvious thing, and maybe something that shouldn’t even be brought up, but for me it wasn’t obvious enough, and I needed that.”

“We want to be a band that will transcend genres and eras.”

— Andrew Flood

Uprooting themselves from a childhood as outsiders, Whenyoung have found their home in London, and their journey is laid out as a mission statement on ‘Reasons To Dream’. It’s an album that could inspire that same fearlessness. “It’s that whole escape thing that we’re all about,” Aoife sums up. “The three of us, we’ve always been dreamers. Not financially or anything, but just getting lost in thoughts and hopes. We’re very honest with each other about human desires, to be accepted and loved, and that felt like a huge thing. For a long time I didn’t feel like I had that, and I felt very isolated growing up, and after finding solace in books and stuff, then you finally meet the right friends who you can talk to about these things, which for me was [Andrew and Niall] and our group of friends, a lot of whom we went to school with and have also moved here from Ireland. When I first met those people, I was able to talk openly about stuff, and…” “Not feel like a freak,” Niall interjects. “We’re quite conscious of when people are really cool and cold and fronting,” Aoife continues, “and we’re just trying to be honest. Obviously everyone does that at times, but we’re just trying to offer some kind of similarity in our music that people can relate to,” she says, before concluding: “That’s our reason to dream.”

‘Reasons To Dream’ is out now via Virgin EMI.

Tags: whenyoung, Features, Interviews

As featured in the May 2019 issue of DIY, out now.

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