With their new single ‘Nineteen’, nobody puts Cardinals in the corner

Cork’s genre-defying CARDINALS channel their city’s idiosyncrasies into a dizzying artistic revolution on their brilliant debut EP. Check out our latest Hype playlist cover feature.

Words: Stephen Ackroyd.
Photos: Ali Quinlan.

“We love getting away in the summer to work our part-time jobs in the country club. Not a lot of people know, but we love to dance,” Cardinals’ vocalist/guitarist Euan Manning grins when asked what the band do for fun. “When we’re not working, you’ll find us in a basement underneath the country club, dancing salsa all night long. But there’s one rule: You can’t mix with the guests. Professionalism is a priority. But that doesn’t bother us. All we care about is dancing.”

You think you’re interviewing a band about their new single and debut EP, and you find out that, actually, they’re the staff at Kellerman’s, eager to engage in a bit of dirty dancing.

With an ingenious sense of humour and audacious enthusiasm blazing through, the Irish six-piece can be many things – a dizzying genre cyclone, a celebration of youth’s evanescent deliriums, an ode to their beloved Cork’s idiosyncrasies. But at their core, Cardinals are a tight-knit crew of lifelong friends whose infectious camaraderie fuels their chameleonic artistic vision. Six pals who also happen to love clandestine salsa sessions.

At the time of this interview, the gang are enjoying a rare respite. “Darragh’s gone to see Mitski,” Euan shares. “Finn’s working. The rest of us are just savouring the sunshine.” Moments of downtime must prove fleeting for the rapidly ascending Cardinals. Their transcendent self-titled debut EP, due this spring on So Young Records, captures a spirit of relentless artistic cultivation – the sort of achievement that doesn’t lend itself to huge amounts of rest and relaxation.

Born from a sound they aptly describe as “pop music at its core, personal, youthful, and, if you can see past the chaos and noise, extremely warm,” the six tracks are a reservoir of ingenuity – mates pouring their souls into an audacious artistic vision. “Being in a band and being an artist lives up to the hype; we have to write and play music to sustain our well-being,” Euan states frankly. “It sounds sappy, but the overarching highlight of the band is the connection we’ve made with each other. It’s great having close friends.”

“Of course, there are highs and lows,” he offers. “That’s ok. What’s one without the other?”

“It sounds sappy, but the overarching highlight of the band is the connection we’ve made with each other”

That fraternal bond shines through their kinetic performances and the intuitive interplay of their dizzying sonic tapestries. From the suitably titled ‘Twist and Turn’ to the swirling, nostalgia-tinted ‘Unreal’, they’ve already teased an aesthetic weaving 60s pop idealism, shoegaze’s opiate textures, the plainspoken vulnerability of Irish folk, and industrial-strength riffs into something both exhilaratingly modern and blissfully familiar.

Their newest single, the sub-two-minute adrenaline shot ‘Nineteen’, epitomises that bold eclecticism. “It came from a desire to write something short and poppy,” Euan shares. “I had been listening to Buddy Holly when I wrote it; he’s got some great short songs. I’ll let the listener take what they want when it comes to the meaning; it’s very open to interpretation, and it should stay that way.”

“It’s a continuation; it’s different from what came before, but certainly part of the same story,” he continues. “It’s another side to the EP. Blindly confident and positive, perhaps too much so for its own good at times. That’s ok, too. There are worse qualities.” A fascinating paradox – youthful ebullience shaped into a spiralling cyclone of nervous energy. A juxtaposition slicing to the heart of Cardinals’ artistic DNA as virtuosic storytellers spinning emotional truths from life’s frenetic uncertainties.

“All we care about is dancing”

Recorded last summer with producer Richie Kennedy, the EP is, in Euan’s utilitarian terms, “a collection of songs taken from over a few years of playing, embodying a work suitable to introduce ourselves.” But once sequenced, “it became clear that there were some underlying themes and a story for anyone who wanted to look for it. We just ordered them in a way that made the most narrative sense to us.”

‘Nineteen’ lands toward the tracklist’s climax, “a full-circle moment on the EP thematically,” according to Euan. “Sonically, it’s pop-filled with repetition and a build that could be seen as invigorating or anxiety-inducing, depending on how you hear it.”

Cardinals’ lyrics frankly confront the humdrum heartaches and existential crossroads of forging an identity in a city oscillating between the charming and monotonous. As they put it, “We’re inspired by the city we’re in and the music scene that’s here… People are working hard on their own projects, and that makes us work hard to keep up.”

That cultured petri dish is Cork, with its own fiercely self-determined identity. “I cannot speak too much on the Dublin music scene,” Euan admits. “The bands sound markedly different, is all I would say; that could come as a direct effect of Cork wanting to differentiate itself from the rest of the country. In Cork, it’s Cork first, Ireland second. We’ve got great pride in our county.”

For Cardinals, the highest aspiration is to inspire with their ingenuity. “We hope people hear our music and feel inspired to do something themselves,” Euan shares. “We also hope it continues to act as an outlet and free therapy; we do it for ourselves as much as anyone else.”

If their opening missive is any indication, that goal is well within reach for this uncompromising creative tour-de-force. Because at its core, Cardinals’ sound is the defiant spark of a revolution – six fresh voices rising against the mundane, armed with invention, humour, and an audacious enthusiasm to stir the soul. One thing is abundantly clear: nobody puts Cardinals in the corner. ■

Cardinals’s new track ‘Nineteen’ is out now. Follow Dork’s Hype Spotify playlist here.