Hype List 2024: NewDad: “People should be allowed to be fucking angry”

With their debut album ‘Madra’ on the horizon, Irish quartet NewDad are bubbling over with potential.

Words: Neive McCarthy.
Photos: Patrick Gunning.

Sometimes, your emotions and the experiences tied to them stick to you. Days, weeks, months, even years later, and they can still linger, the after-effects vividly felt. In the thick of it, they can feel like your shadow. For NewDad, however, that haunting feeling is something more akin to a dog following you around, an inescapable companion cementing itself by your side.

The Irish translation for ‘dog’ is ‘Madra’, and with that, NewDad had a title for their debut album, due to release in January. “‘Madra’ was the first song we wrote,” explains singer and guitarist Julie Dawson. “It defined the album as a whole and what it became, but the thing with the actual title is that it felt like it was ours. Having an Irish title, one that’s simple and ties in with the themes of the album, it just felt like the right fit.” 

For Julie and her bandmates, Sean O’Dowd, Fiachra Parslow and Cara Joshi, finding the right fit and the right time was fundamental for their debut effort. There’s no denying that the album has been a long time coming – their first single, ‘How’, was released at the beginning of 2020. Yet, the last few years have proven absolutely vital in terms of learning. Now, NewDad emerge with a debut album of formidable heights. 

“Ideally, we would’ve put it out earlier,” Julie reflects. “We were quiet for a bit. We wanted to make sure we put our best foot forward. A year ago, we would’ve been able to release an album, but it wouldn’t have been what this album is. It’s the best bits of two years of writing. We needed that.”

“Our favourite music is old rock, shoegaze, and the grunge bands from the 90s”

Julie Dawson

‘Madra’ sees the band coming out swinging. It’s darkly candid, relentingly atmospheric and sees the band craft the bubbling potential they’ve always had into something completely compelling. Above all else, it’s steeped in who NewDad are – as a band, as people, as friends, through good and bad, the album puts it all on display.

“We weren’t exactly sure what we wanted to be,” Julie explains. “Did we want to be an indie band? Or a rock band? Our favourite music is old rock, shoegaze, and the grunge bands from the 90s. We wanted to have that, but a bit cleaner. It’s still grungy, but it’s really clean, which makes it feel new to me. It was important to have those guitars sound amazing. We wanted to define ourselves as a rock band. We were more in the indie lane when we released our EPs, but we wanted to show people that this is a really great rock record, and that’s the music we wanted to make.” 

Settling in at Rockfield Studios in the Wye Valley, the band worked with their longtime collaborator Chris W Ryan to curate an album that is hauntingly powerful. This is NewDad at their most polished and spellbinding. Tracks like ‘Nightmares’ crawl into being – their guitar lines are crisp, for sure, but they’re also menacing and stormy. 

‘Let Go’ is perhaps NewDad at the peak of their rock world. Julie’s vocals are as spectral and stirring as ever, but combined with the snarling guitars of the track, it’s truly world-shaking. The single’s artwork recalls Saint Brigid’s Cross – an ancient Irish symbol thought to ward off evil and bring on the protection of the saint. It’s a perfect example of how, in this new, more expansive musical world, the band have also found space for their identity to be expressed more than ever. 

“We wanted to show more of ourselves in this,” Julie confirms. “I feel like before, we did keep things under wraps a little bit. This feels more like we’re pulling more from our interests and shared experiences growing up in Ireland. The Brigid’s Cross, that’s something we used to do in school, making a bunch of them every year. It’s cool to be using that as an image for our music, and it’s a nice full circle of using these funny little things from home.” 

There’s always been an element of earnestness to NewDad’s music, but ‘Madra’ sees the band venture further into themselves than ever before. It’s an act of peeling back the layers to get to the crux of who they are with each track. It’s a foray into the psyche – being unwilling to move on and let go, feeling like a burden, grappling with mental health and relationships in a manner that cuts to the core. There’s an unguardedness to the album that feels new, and paired with the foreboding soundscapes populating the album, that unguardedness becomes powerful. It’s potent and without fear, making the burning need to unleash those feelings even more fierce.

“I think music is such a great outlet for coming to terms with things and accepting things in a way,” explains Julie. “Even now, when I’m having a bad day, I’ll go back and listen to one of the songs that shows you can be there, move on, and it’s fine. It was very therapeutic to get that into a bunch of music. That’s when I am most creative when I have loads of things to get off my chest. It’s good to look back and see how you’ve come a lot further from where you were.”

Over the course of the album, Julie also found other ways into those emotions and other ways of perceiving her own experiences. For tracks like ‘Angel’, she turned to TV to force some more introspection. 

“With ‘Angel’, we hadn’t written anything in a while. It was a very quiet spell where nothing was really going on in my life, so I was rewatching ‘Euphoria’. I think the dynamic between Rue and Jules is something a lot of people can relate to – you feel like you’re bringing your partner down or you’re a bit of a burden because you have bad mental health. It’s something I’ve touched on in songs like ‘Blue’, but it sparked something in my brain, and I think a lot of people relate to that. Whenever I’m quiet or haven’t done anything in a while, I usually will get inspired by things on the telly.” 

TV often offers us comfort and solidarity in our own experiences, but diluting that into a song can make those messages hit home even more. ‘Madra’ chronicles the kind of happenings that are pervasive and evocative.

“A lot of the album touches on difficult relationships either with other people or with yourself,” shares Julie. “It’s nice to hear someone else say it, and that’s almost why I would go back to it – it’s a comfort to hear someone else saying those things that you might be afraid to admit that you feel. I hope it can be a comfort to people as well because it definitely has been for me. It’s the same way that TV shows are when you see pieces of yourself in characters – I think that’s important for people.”

“We wanted to define ourselves as a rock band”

Julie Dawson

‘Madra’ shines for its ability to articulate those experiences so starkly – they drill down to the core of the issue every time, but with their complex sonic world, it is infinitely more palatable. It’s a fine balance to strike, but over the past few years, NewDad have undoubtedly learned to toe that line exceptionally well. ‘Where I Go’ is this at its finest. 

“I was quite reluctant to have it on the album,” Julie admits. “I think maybe because it’s a touchy, hard subject to talk about. Feeling used by people is something a lot of people experience, but I was reluctant. It’s an important track on there because it’s a different story. It was quite hard to put into words, so I was almost worried that I wasn’t putting it into words in a good way. It’s the angry song. So much of the album is like, ‘I’ve done this, that wasn’t good, I hate myself’. This one is like, no, fuck those people. People should be allowed to be fucking angry. I think it’s an important song on there. It’s a funny one; it’s the track that, for ages, I wasn’t used to the idea of it being on the album, but I’m glad it is. It’s a big swell in the album, and it’s a moment where you get to be angry, which I think is important.”

Having the courage and knowledge to give space to those emotions, regardless of how daunting it might be, is a testament to their growth as a band over the past few years. As Julie rightly attests, they couldn’t have made this album before now. It’s dedicated to showcasing who NewDad truly are, but without the experiences of the last few years, it might’ve been more difficult to pin that down. From a move to London that proved to be an invaluably refreshing change of scenery to understanding how to take care of themselves on tour to playing huge stages with the likes of Paolo Nutini, it’s been a crucially enlightening few years that has brought them to this point. 

The sum of the world around them and the people they’ve become, ‘Madra’ is an immaculate introduction to who NewDad are and who they have the potential to be in the future. It is its very own entity, something to get lost in and come out of having done some real discovery. “A lot of the inspiration is cinematic, and it feels all-consuming in a way,” Julie muses. “I hope that when people listen to it, they really are just in the world of ‘Madra’.”

Taken from the December 2023 / January 2024 issue of Dork.


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