M(h)aol: “When I get angry, the music rages alongside me”

Fierce Irish punks M(h)aol are here to shake up the scene with their powerful and thought-provoking debut ‘Attachment Styles’. 

Words: Linsey Teggert.
Photos: Naomi Williams.

First formed in 2014 as a response to the male-dominated music scene in Dublin, Irish feminist punk five-piece 

M(h)aol are here to shake things up. “We’re trying to start conversations in our communities through loud music, feminism, fun and healing,” states vocalist Róisín Nic Ghearailt.

After a four-year hiatus due to band members being scattered across Ireland, England and America, M(h)aol reformed in January 2020, and are now releasing their powerful, thought-provoking debut ‘Attachment Styles’. 

“We formed with the intention of being a feminist punk band,” explains Róisín. “Connie [Constance Keane – M(h)aol’s drummer, manager and runner of the TULLE Collective label the band are on] and I had started a feminist society in University which Zoë [Greenway, bassist] was also part of. We were heavily influenced by Bikini Kill and Kathleen Hanna. Prior to forming the band, we had already established a culture of discussing difficult and, at times, challenging topics.”

During M(h)aol’s hiatus, Róisín studied for an MSc in Gender and International Relations, helping to develop her understanding of gender theory and become a lot more knowledgeable and confident, which has helped inform the often-uncomfortable issues that the band tackle head-on. Whereas most might shy away from such unflinching honesty, M(h)aol are telling the stories that absolutely need to be told.

“We’re a queer band full of women. In the past three years since reforming, we’ve grown so much and grown so much closer. You can hear that intimacy in the music. When you’re queer and a woman, your chosen community can be such a source of healing for you.”

One track in particular, the intensely raw album opener ‘Asking For It’ (TW – sexual assault), allowed Róisín to process her thoughts and own experiences within the safe space M(h)aol had created. Just over two minutes of urgent, spiky post-punk, the track explodes into industrial noise as Róisín rages against victim blaming and the outrageous notion that anyone is ‘asking for it.’   

“I felt really strongly about opening the album with ‘Asking For It’ because sexual assault is so often depicted as the end of someone’s life. ‘Attachment Styles’ is a story about healing. I really wanted to subvert cultural understandings of survivors. To depict not just healing but joy and formation of political identity and, ultimately, sexual euphoria.

“When you’re queer and a woman, your chosen community can be such a source of healing”

Róisín Nic Ghearailt

“It wouldn’t have been possible for me to write ‘Asking For It’ if I wasn’t in M(h)aol. The band acted as a safe pair of arms to catch me as I rewrote it again and again as my understanding of myself evolved, and how I was shaped by society’s narratives around victim blaming. The lyrics evolved alongside my own healing. Musically the song almost works as a call and response. When I get angry, the music rages alongside me.”

Though this may all sound incredibly intense, be assured that there is a heavy dose of humour and compassion in M(h)aol’s debut that allows the band to show off their light-hearted side without taking away from the serious issues. Take the off-kilter slacker-pop of ‘Therapy’, for example, which sees Róisín playfully examine a toxic relationship, charismatically describing how she should make that person pay for her therapy, but she doesn’t want them to have the credit of having their name on the bill.

“I’d say we’re all very motivated by having fun,” she says. “And we’ve all known each other such a long time! There’s lots of love and shared history there. I don’t see the serious element of the band as draining; I’m thinking and talking about these issues all the time, so in lots of ways, the songs are an extension of what’s going on in my head.”

And when it comes to shaking up stigma while having fun, it would be remiss not to mention the sensual jangle of ‘Period Sex’, which sees Róisín purr, “Let’s have period sex; it’s time to make a mess”. You just know she’s delivering the line with a knowing wink, aware that she’s challenging a taboo subject in a song that people will either love or feel incredibly awkward about. “Our final single from the album is ‘Period Sex’, and I can’t wait to see the reactions,” laughs Róisín.

Though all five members of M(h)aol are Irish (Róisín, Connie, bassist Jamie Hyland and guitarist Sean Nolan are all from Dublin, while Zoë is from Kinsale, Co. Cork), they’re still currently split across different locations, which has made things somewhat tricky.

“Currently, the band lives in Kinsale, Dublin, Belfast, Bristol and London. Logistically it can be a nightmare, but we’ve been doing it for over a year, so we’ve got used to it. The biggest challenge is how expensive it is and the environmental impact. I won’t fly to Dublin anymore; I get the rail & sail. Whenever possible, Connie and I, who still live in the UK, will get the Eurostar for EU dates. When I joined the others on the European Gilla Band tour, I spent over 24 hours travelling from Bristol to Berlin!”

No matter where the band are based, there’s always one thing they can rely upon to remind them of their heritage, and that’s the band name itself, which comes from bad-ass Irish female pirate Grace O’Malley, or Gráinne Mhaol.

“Grace O’Malley is a really interesting anglicisation of Gráinne Mhaol,” explains Róisín. “Anglicisation stems from the occupation of Ireland by England. As a practice, I’m always surprised when it continues! Gráinne Mhaol is a feminist icon in Ireland; she was immortalised in the song ‘Ó ró sé do bheatha baile’. Connie came up with the name. She wanted something that referenced our lineage of revolution and feminism. By putting the h in brackets, it would be pronounced as male!” ■

Taken from the March 2023 edition of Upset. Order a copy below. M(h)aol’s debut album ‘Attachment Styles’ is out now.