INTERVIEW: M(h)aol | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Droll, self-reflective and questioning, M(h)aol open their 2021 EP, Gender Studies, with the lyricWhy don’t you study my gender, tell me it’s not enough…, directly reflecting the condescension of the culture war back to the personal. “My writing style is very influenced by R&B artists like Dua Saleh and Ivy Sole who weave personal and political narratives together seamlessly,” says singer and lyricist Róisín. Speaking of Gender Studies, and its follow-up, Bored Of Men, Róisín reflects on the ease with which these songs were produced: “Songwriting absolutely creates a space to communicate candidly and passionately about issues that affect me and the wider world. It’s also a very accessible art form. Songs can be the springboard to explore topics and issues the listener might not have otherwise come across.”

Although anti-definitional, M(h)aol (pronounced ‘male’) aren’t R&B, but heavy, undulating punks whose songs channel the fury of the feminine experience. Their most prolific song is Asking For It, which combines the shame, regret and anger that follows sexual harassment and assault: “I’m just the dumb bitch that left the party with you, was I asking for it?” demands a loudening Róisín. Significantly, the single cover displays a woman’s hand armed with keys between each finger, a familiar image for any woman walking home alone. “For me, the most powerful line is ‘my whole life won’t be defined by you’ because the song tells a horror story, the reality of a heinous act that has been rendered almost banal by its ubiquity.” Midway through the song, Róisín screams ‘no’, righting a wrong that plagues victim behaviour. “It represents a turning point, it’s the character finding their own voice. The reason the line stands out so much to me is because this character is saying despite everything, despite the victim blaming, the slut shaming, the law working against them, despite it all, they will not let their life be defined by it.”

It was specifically written, musically, to sit between the fury, the shame and the fear

It can get heavy at times, but there’s an emphasis on care, with bassist Jamie reflecting: “knowing I’m safe and with people I trust in the studio is such a special and indescribable experience”. Jamie adds: “we have made an effort recently to make the music a bit less intense, as we do deal with some very intense topics. With Asking For It, in particular, I have walked away from shows in tears. It was specifically written, musically, to sit between the fury, the shame and the fear.” There has been an active push to move away from the relentlessness of such topics because as Róisín says, they’re trying to put a “greater emphasis on healing, joy and humour as acts of resistance”. Feminism isn’t defined by its anger, but can be expressed through different lenses, which is exactly what M(h)aol are hinting at for their later releases, specifically an album (mixed and mastered by Jamie) out next year: “There’s a decided mentality of ‘lighter feminist party songs’ to try and keep the idea that feminism isn’t all doom and gloom and that there are plenty of things to be positive about.”

M(h)aol combines seriousness with humour, poking fun at the lighter side of the patriarchal experience. Specifically, their merch which dons the phrase ‘Ghost a post-punk boy today’, a phrase drummer, Connie, coined: “I think music can be a breeding ground for men who do a lot of talk and not a lot of action when it comes to feminism. I just wanted to make merch that would make me laugh.”

M(h)aol play The Shooting Gallery, Newcastle on Friday 26th August.


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