Interview: Saint Sister
L-R: Gemma Doherty, Morgan MacIntyre
Irish duo Morgan MacIntyre & Gemma Doherty formed Saint Sister in 2014 and have steadily gained acclaim across the world for their etheral, atmospheric 'electro-folk' music. They released their first EP Madrid in 2015 which has since garnered over 2 million streams on Spotify and are now gearing up to release their debut album this October. Their latest single, the heart-breakingly beautiful 'You Never Call' has just been released and Women In Pop recently caught up with Morgan and Gemma to find out more about Saint Sister and their music.
Can you tell us all about how Saint Sister the band came together?
Gemma: We started playing and writing together towards the end of 2014. We had met a few times over the years, but never properly hung out or got to know each other. Morgan got in touch asking if I'd be interested in starting something up, and we just seemed to click straight away. The timing was perfect as we'd both just finished college, so we didn't have much else going on! We just jumped right in and started gigging pretty soon after that.
We've had a couple of tasters from your upcoming album Shape of Silence, including the amazing single ‘Twin Peaks’. It has a brighter, lighter feel to it and is a little more upbeat then some of your earlier tracks. What was the inspiration behind this track?
Morgan: I was trying to help a friend who was going through something quite difficult. I was hoping to distract them from the problem by throwing as many things in front of it as possible. I just wanted to take their mind off it all and so the song is in effect a letter to them listing all the fun things we could do together. There're loads of references to things or people that I love: Joni Mitchell, Judee Sill, [US television series] Twin Peaks and [1986 film] Peggy Sue Got Married. The song is generally quite upbeat and full of happy notions but there's a darker through-line that only rears it's head once or twice; the reality that sooner or later we'll have to open the curtains and face whatever's going on.
Can you tell us a little about what more we can expect from Shape of Silence?
Morgan: The title comes from one of our songs, 'Tin Man'. We thought it suited the conversation we were trying to have with this record on a number of levels. We try to use space within our music quite a lot. We're interested in what can be felt and said within the gaps. It made sense to think of silence as something you could hold, because it can so often feel so heavy. We made the record with Alex Ryan. Everything we've done so far has been with him and over the last three years we've learnt to work together and trust each other's instincts.
Do you have a process when it comes to writing music?
Gemma: We both come at writing from different angles. Morgan generally brings the lyrics and a lot of the time melodic ideas, and then I'll work on production, and arrangement and structures. Or sometimes I'll come with a progression or a few beats first, and Morgan will work from there. We tend to work separately at the very beginning of songs, but we always bring our ideas together relatively early on.
You have a world tour coming up in September, including a trip to Australia. What can you fans expect to see at your shows?
Gemma: We're so excited to come to Australia! It's our first time so we really can't wait. The tour starts in September in the US and Canada, and from there we'll also be heading to Ireland, Europe and the UK. The Australian shows will be just the two of us, playing our two-piece set up. It's a little more intimate than the full band show, but we try to give the same amount of energy and thought to the arrangements.
You recently played a gig in what must be one of the most amazing venues in the world - a former chalk quarry in Russia. What was that experience like?
Morgan: It was incredible. Definitely one of the most beautiful venues we've ever played. We had never been to Russia before so we were all just so delighted to get a chance to see the place and play in front of such a warm crowd.
What are your views on the current gender equality in the music industry debate? Do you think we have a problem?
Morgan: The world of music undoubtedly remains a male-dominated space. There are so many incredible women doing amazing things and that is something that we try to celebrate, but huge inequality still exists, and the majority of decision-making roles are still held by men. Thankfully, important conversations are starting to happen and people are now being called out every other day within the entertainment industry; festivals being condemned for curating male-dominated line-ups, greater acts of sexism and abuse being exposed in the media, and both women and men coming forward and speaking out about injustices in a way they felt unable to do up until now. But behind the large-scale, public acts of disgrace and things that make headlines, it is the subtle, everyday acts where we struggle to break through. Someone might say enough to make you feel uncomfortable, but give themselves just enough room to get away with it.
Have you ever felt disrespected, or felt you have been treated differently, in the music world because of your gender?
Gemma: We had a frustrating experience in an interview in which we were asked whether or not we had experienced sexism in our career. Our words were taken out of context, and used to form a throwaway headline; simplifying the matter and tokenising the entire article, which was supposed to be a conversation about our music. We don’t doubt that it was brought up with the right intention in order to shed light on the issue, but the result became a part of the problem. We have to take it out of the realm of just women sharing these thoughts and stories with one another. It’s an incredibly important discussion and one that we feel very strongly about. But a lot of the time, it feels like it’s being brought up in an interview as the token question for a female act. The question of equality within the industry is one that we should all be having, but it seems unlikely that a male would be asked to talk about this in a conversation about music.
You were very vocal in your support of the ‘Repeal the 8th’ referendum in May which sought to legalise abortion in the Republic of Ireland. How did you feel when ‘Yes’ was successful?
Morgan: It was an incredibly emotional time. We heard the exit poll results on Inis Oirr, an Island off the coast of Galway and we all just wept into the sea. I felt very proud of all my friends who'd canvassed, who'd given up so much of their time to push our country forward but we were also thinking of the North [Northern Ireland], where we're from and where abortion is still illegal.
What’s up next for Saint Sister?
Gemma: Our debut album comes out in October, so we'll be gearing up for the release and album tour over the next few months. We've a few more singles coming out over the summer in the lead up to it. We've been sitting on these songs for so long now, we're just so excited to just get them out there and bring them out on the road.
Saint Sister will be touring across Europe, the US, Canada and Australia from September. Dates and tickets can be found on their website now.