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Newdad are the Galway indie upstarts excelling in lockdown

Words: Julie Landers

Following the release of their debut EP Waves, Julie Landers spoke to Newdad about the importance of Galway’s local venues and how they finessed their sound in the absence of live music.

You’d think with the amount of time we’ve spent on Zoom in the past year, we’d have mastered it by now. However, when I speak to Galway upstarts Newdad there is some virtual waiting room hokey cokey in the four piece’s attempt to rejoin with a working camera. I’m left wondering: Is that really Newdad? Is the camera really broken? Are they taking notes from MF DOOM and sending impersonators into each interview? When they return, the camera is working and I throw this theory at them, which they neither confirm nor deny.

The Galway band, having spent several years honing their alternative-rock sound, have found themselves numerous ones-to-watch list for 2021 and have featured on BBC 6 Music’s A-List. Additionally, they’ve just released their long-awaited debut EP Waves, a collection of dreamy, reflective songs that only continue to bloom the more you listen to them. Singer and guitarist Julie Dawson’s lyrics softly pull at the skeins of what could be the simplest of interactions and emotions, bringing them into focus and drawing out what is profound. Their music bears a distinctive shoegaze-informed sound and their deftness in combining old fuzz with modern softness has seen them aligned with the likes Just Mustard, The Magazine Club and Joanna Gruesome. 

Having spent years gigging in front of people, lockdown left the band without a live audience to bounce songs off, something that has taken some getting used to. “It’s annoying sometimes in practice where we’ll play them with all the energy we would during a live set and we’ll be like ‘That’s a fucking tune.’ and then we’ll be like, ‘Wait, is it a tune? Nobody’s said it was a tune!’ laughs drummer Fiachra Parslow.

Lockdown has also affected the extent to which the band have been able to process the buzz surrounding them. “It’s the reason that this doesn’t feel real, like all of this crazy stuff has happened during lockdown, so we’re in our little bubble and we don’t get that live response which is unlike anything,” Dawson explains as the camera refocuses.

Saying that, the time away from gigging has given the band a chance to explore their sound and try out new things. “The songs that we were playing live are completely different from the songs that we’re playing now”, explains guitarist Seán O’Dowd. “It’s only really just before lockdown that we started to find our sound in recording and in live stuff. And we love them”.

2020 was a productive year for the band, as they released a series of strong singles including ‘Swimming’, ‘Slowly’ and ‘Blue’. They also got the chance to record Waves with Chris Ryan in Belfast. Chris, having been the recording engineer behind Just Mustard’s Wednesday, provided a sounding board for the group’s ideas and encouraged them to experiment with their sound. “Chris is such a wizard as well in the studio. He knows everything inside-out.” says O’Dowd. ‘Seeing how easy it was and how much better it sounded when he was doing it just made me realise that I never want to mix any of my own tracks ever again!” adds Dawson. 

Waves brings together several of their singles (along with three previously unreleased tracks. For the band, it was less about having the EP as a frame within and around which to construct the songs and more about finding a level of cohesion across songs they had already written. “We just had these songs written and they just cohesively gelled together so well that we figured we’d just stick them in an EP” explains bassist Áindle O’Beirn. The result is a group of songs that, while sonically working well together, lyrically demarcate different points of a life, various headspaces captured across the years of being in the band. With the title track ‘Waves’ being written five years ago, Dawson admits It feels like a memory… Thinking back on that now is kinda strange. Like I’m very different to how I was back then.”

Along with releasing Waves, the band have also just announced a tour of Ireland and the UK for November. The potential to play live shows again is something they’re excited for. “To actually see people would be nice. We just wanna be able to meet the people who like our music. We’re just hopeful that it all comes through.” Having cut their teeth playing support to a myriad of acts that have passed through Galway, they attribute the live music culture in the city with impacting their development as a band.

“You dream of these things but you never ever expect that you’ll be one of the people that they happen to.”

– Newdad

“I think going to the Róisín (Dubh) and seeing guitar bands, it was just such a venue for that kind of music. And then all of our friends would be in punk bands or some type of indie band. And so many massive bands have come through Galway, I think that’s played a part in it” says O’Dowd. “You might be watching someone who has a platinum record one day and then someone who’s just started the next. You just get such a diverse amount of bands. Music and Galway just go hand in hand I think.”

Things are looking bright for Newdad. A stellar debut EP, a bound to sell-out upcoming tour and a place amongst some of Ireland’s most exciting acts all speak of bigger things to come. From their beginnings of playing together for their Leaving Cert music practical to now, did they ever expect their music to gain this much traction?

“You dream of these things but you never ever expect that you’ll be one of the people that they happen to.” remarks Dawson.

“It’s crazy. Like we never took it seriously for the first few years. But we were sending our demos to different record labels and stuff and when we started having that reaction from people in the industry we were like ‘Oh! Maybe this could be a proper thing’. But that was still crazy. I can’t wrap my head around it”.

It seems that some people are trying to get ahead of the crowd, with one fan, having pre-ordered the band’s new EP, going on to sell it for twice the original price on Ebay.

“We haven’t even gotten ours yet!” O’Dowd exclaims. Parslow grins before adding jokingly “We should just send whoever it is a bag of rocks”.

Waves is out now. Tickets for Newdad’s November tour can be found here.