Heathers – Sending Some Forget Me Knots
by Jay S. Jacobs
Irish twin sisters Ellie and Louise Macnamara have been creative waves in their homeland with their intense blend of traditional folk and more current dance rhythms. Their band Heathers has been turning a lot of heads – remixer David Guetta wanted to work with them, filmmaker JJ Abrams hired them to play his Oscar party and the Irish tourism board used their song “Remember When” to anchor a high-profile advertising campaign.
Not bad for a couple of indie singer/musicians still in their twenties.
Heathers have just released their second album Kingdom in the US, with the backing of Sony. Soon after Kingdomwas released in the States, we sat down with Ellie and Louise Macnamara to discuss their band and their sophomore release.
What are your earliest musical memories?
Ellie Macnamara: I remember taking long car journeys with our parents and listening to Graceland [by Paul Simon] songs start to finish. That is probably my earliest musical memory. Our parents brought us up listening to the likes of Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen and a lot of Irish traditional music. It’s funny, because I’m not very good at remembering lyrics of songs. I generally hear kind of rhythms and melodies. But all of those songs that we used to listen to when we were kids, I know every single word of each song in my memory.
Louise Macnamara: I think also, we come from quite a musical family, so our parents were always singing. We’d always have big family gatherings. From a very young age, everyone would have to get up and sing. There would probably a lot of alcohol involved. (laughs) We’d all have to sing something. That is probably the roots of where we started to sing I guess.
Ireland has such a diverse musical culture, how did that affect your own music?
Ellie Macnamara: The Kinks, and as we just said, we were brought up with lots of different types of music. From a young age our parents really encouraged us. We learned to play piano. We learned to play instruments. We were surrounded by a lot of incredible traditional Irish music, which I think was a massive influence to us. Also just general incredible Irish bands such as U2, I think that’s definitely had a big influence on us. Even nowadays, in Ireland there are so many great Irish bands around the country. There’s a wonderful music scene and music is such a big part of Irish culture. That has definitely had an impact on us and has helped us to grow. It’s what inspired us to start Heathers.
When did you start to perform together and how did you take the next step to actually song writing and recording?
Louise Macnamara: We started to sing together at a very young age as we said at family gatherings and stuff like that. We went to school together for a bit. Then [we] separated and went to different schools, because being twins and being seen as the same person a lot of the times was difficult, so we moved schools. We were in the choir together at school and I guess that’s where we started to learn harmonies and we absolutely loved it. I guess around age 16, we started to go to a lot of punk, DIY gigs around Dublin. Our brother was in a lot of bands and a lot of our friends were in bands. We were going to gigs and we thought to ourselves, maybe this is something we can do, too. We both had been playing piano from a young age. We both sang. Then I picked up the guitar and started to play around and write the songs. I went into Ellie’s bedroom one day, since we lived in the same house and asked her to put harmonies to a particular song, which ended up being one of our first songs. We wrote a couple of songs. We put them up on MySpace at the time, and got a good reaction. Started playing some shows. It kind of took off from there. We started to get more serious as people actually really liked our music. We started writing a lot more and yeah, here we are now.
How do you work writing together? Does one of you specialize on music and another on lyrics, for instance, or do you just work together on the whole thing?
Louise Macnamara: It’s very much a collaborative process. I would focus on the instrumental side. Kingdom, for example, our latest album, that was just released here, was 80% percent written on MIDI keyboards. Pianos or MIDI keyboards. All of the instruments are on that, so I would have worked on that. Then the two of us would get together on vocal melodies. Then a lot of the time, Ellie would focus on lyrics. But again, we butcher it up sometimes and she’d work with instruments and we’d both focus on lyrics. So, yeah, it is a very collaborative process.
How did you come up with the bands’ name? Is it a reference to the movie? Also, there is a metal band called The Heathers, has that ever caused any confusion?
Ellie Macnamara: First of all, yes, we are named after the movie, the 80s movie Heathers. It is one of our favorite films and when we were going around to come up with a name for our band, we were like, “What are we going to call ourselves?” We kept throwing around different things but kept going, “No that name is absolutely terrible.” You had to call yourself something different. We saw the Heathers DVD lying around and we were like, “That film’s cool, and we like it… so lets do it.” People seem to like it. And yes, we are aware that there is a band called the Heathers. There’s been a couple of times we’ve had emails or tweets from people saying “Oh, you’re playing in…” I don’t know.
Louise Macnamara: Sydney…
Ellie Macnamara: “Sydney next week! We can’t wait!” We are like, “No, sorry we are not in Sydney next week.” (They both laugh.) It’s awkward.
“Remember When” from your first album got a good amount of airplay. Do you remember the first time you heard your music on the radio or TV or online? What was that experience like?
Ellie Macnamara: I can’t actually remember the first time we heard our music on the radio, but I do remember the first time that “Remember When” was placed on the Tourism of Ireland advertisement. To us it was huge! It was in cinemas, TV, radio, absolutely everywhere. I remember sitting in the cinema with a group of my friends and suddenly the ad comes on with our song. I was slowly sinking into the seat, trying to be anonymous, but at the same time having a mini heart attack. Like, “Oh my God. They’re playing… That’s my song. I wrote that song. That’s my music.” My friends were like, “Ahhhh Ellie!” So that was pretty cool. I can’t really remember the first time I heard us playing on the radio, but I would think it was the same feeling of “this is amazing” because this is what we always wanted to do.