LIKE THE Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’ in a previous age, the thumping guitar of Heathers’ ‘Remember When’ has become entwined with Ireland’s tourism industry. Since Heathers’ twins Ellie and Louise McNamara began playing music in 2007, their career has had a meteoric rise.
The Dublin pair are touring Ireland on the back of their second album, Kingdom. First single ‘Forget Me Knots’ has received much radio airplay and the new album is much fuller musically than their 2008 debut, Here Not There. It was a natural departure from their earlier sound, the girls say.
“Here Not There was just myself, Ellie, guitar and bits of cello,” Louise tells me. “We’ve always wanted to go that bit further and have the full band, so it was a good time to experiment with that and it worked. Kingdom has drums, strings, piano, synths, a fuller sound than the last album. I think it was definitely just a progression. You can still tell it’s us, but it’s different.”
Tracks on Kingdom vary from the almost-Prince like ‘Lions, Tigers, And Bears’ to the moody ‘We Burn Bridges’, while there are r’n’b traces on ‘Gather Up’. Yet the Heathers’ sound of old has far from disappeared, as evidenced on the gorgeous ‘Underground Beneath’.
“When we wrote Here Not There we were 17. Now we’re 22, so we’ve hopefully matured a little bit,” Ellie explains.
Heathers’ story has been an extraordinary one. The twins, who take their name from a cult 1980s high school film, began to play music together in their sixth year in school. Their brother and many of friends were already involved in music and it was natural for the McNamaras to join in.
Originally intended to be a bit of fun, the band took off and soon released their first album in 2008. Then, Fáilte Ireland happened upon their single ‘Remember When’ and the agency has been using the song in its Discover Ireland ads since 2010. Here Not There was re-released in 2010 following the campaign. However do the girls ever get sick of the song?
“It’s nice now to have new stuff to play, but at the same time it’s really given us such a boost,” says Ellie. “We’re so delighted to have our song, in a way, representing Ireland, which is really, really nice.”
That does not mean there have not been strange moments for either sister.
“It was really weird when it first came out and it was in the cinema,” Ellie says. “And, like, going to the cinema with friends, you’d just be sitting there...” she mimics sinking into her seat, covering her face with her hand. “We’ve just got used to it now,” she continues. “I don’t neccessarily listen to the radio an awful lot so I don’t hear it, and I never see it on TV. People say ‘Oh your song is always on the TV’ but I never see it!”
While some parents may have been less than thrilled to have their daughters recording an album during their Leaving Cert year, Louise and Ellie’s parents were supportive.
“That year when we finished our Leaving Cert, we went on a tour of America with a band we didn’t know very well, I think they were a bit apprehensive about that,” says Ellie. “I think when they saw we actually worked hard for our Leaving Cert and stuff... As things have progressed they’ve been very supportive of us.
“I think also music and starting Heathers was an escape for us from the work. It was a way to relax, you know going and playing music and writing songs.”
The twins are no strangers to juggling. Louise has just finished her degree in music technology and geography in NUI Maynooth, and Ellie is currently taking a year out from her degree in primary teaching. Ellie says it “wasn’t ‘feasible” to continue with her studies while Heathers demanded so much of her time.
“I like it [teaching] but I love music,” she says. “I love playing and this is what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Heathers have already toured the US twice and have played around Europe. Their current nationwide tour finishes at the Roisin Dubh on October 6.
“We haven’t played here in a while,” says Louise. “It’s really exciting to play our new material,” adds Ellie. “It’s refreshing for us but also we can’t wait for people to hear our new stuff. It’s kind of weird for us because we finished recording the album in December so we have been listening to the songs for months now and we forget other people haven’t.”
The ‘Forget Me Knots’ single led to the production of the Heathers’ first music video, which starred a group of the twins’ friends and was made with Hugh O’Conor and Jamie Tanner. Making the video, according to Louise, was “so much fun”.
“That song is probably one of our favourites on the album,” says Ellie. “It seems to have been received well so far.”
For Heathers the future is bright. The girls plan to continue making music for as long as possible.
“I hope this album goes down well with people,” says Louise. Ellie does not have any specific plans but snows where she wants Heathers to be in the near future.
“For the immediate future, from September onwards, we’re planning on touring, doing a bit more in Europe and the UK. I personally would just love to be touring and hopefully writing new stuff
as well,” she says.
Ellie and Louise McNamara are looking forward to their trip west.
“We love playing the Roisin Dubh,” Louise says. “I think we’ve played there every time we’ve been here but it’s always such a great venue, such a great atmosphere, and everyone is so nice down there. I love Galway as well, we were just talking about the lovely food we always have when we’re down here!”
Heathers play the Roisin Dubh on October 6. Doors open at 9pm, tickets cost €12.50/€10.