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Heathers – Sending Some Forget Me Knots

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Louise Macnamara and Ellie Macnamara of Heathers

Louise Macnamara and Ellie Macnamara of 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 Kingdom was 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.

Your new CD Kingdom came out yesterday.  How does it feel to get new music out there?

Louise Macnamara: It feels amazing. Absolutely amazing. We’re really excited they’re putting it out here in the States and people can hear it. It’s fantastic. We worked really hard on this record and it means a lot to us. So it’s really nice to finally get it out there and for people to hear it.

I haven’t heard the entire album yet, but the songs I was able to listen to on your Soundcloud were interesting in their mixture of folk and dance beats. What is it about that juxtaposition which you find intriguing?

Ellie Macnamara: To be honest, our first album that we wrote, which is called Here, Not There, was a completely acoustic album. Myself and Louise, it probably spoke the same to us. Then when we were writing Kingdom, our second album, I think it was maybe four years later. We were older. We’d been listening to different types of music. We didn’t want to go with just the folk feel to it. We wanted it to be more intimate and to challenge ourselves. That’s what happened. Kingdom came out of that. We’d been influenced by lots of 90’s bands’ music at the time, along with a lot of other different types of music. Kingdom is just what came out of that. At the same time, we wanted to keep a little bit of what the original Heathers was. We wanted to keep a little bit of that rawer folk influence. A little bit of the blend. Our musical taste and our music writing is changing from time to time, so who knows what will happen with the next album. It might be completely different. I don’t know. We’ll see. Definitely it was a mixture of what our first album was and then a progression to what we’ve came to be. A little bit of the first album and a lot of the new. It’s very different.

David Guetta wrote a song to record with you. How did that connection come about?

Louise Macnamara: Yes, that was funny. I think it was last summer, and we were contacted out of the blue by his people. They had heard "Forget Me Knot," which is the first single on Kingdom. They had seen the video for it actually, on a blog, and really loved it. [They] contacted us and asked if we would be interested in writing with him. So, that was absolutely crazy! We never would have expected that in our wildest dreams, but it was pretty cool. It was just something completely different. We listened so many different types of music, including more expansive dance music. It was great to be able to again challenge ourselves and try something different. Writing music for other people is another part of what we do. We also signed a deal with Universal Music Publishing. So that’s part of our musical tasks, I guess, to write for other people. It’s really interesting. It’s an ongoing process. We’re constantly back and forth and writing loads of music.

The album was recorded as an indie, but it’s getting distribution through RED/Sony. How is it different working as an indie compared to having label involvement?

Ellie Macnamara: It’s great that... obviously with Sony our music is probably reaching so many more people then it would have if we were completely independent. I think at the same time, we’ve made conscious decisions to work with people that give [us] the same creative freedom that we want. We also still are in control of our music and that is very important to us. But it’s wonderful that our music is reaching people that we never thought it would. We’re going to tour the new album here in the States. It’s what we always wanted to do. It’s different, but at the same time we are still in control.

The music business is in such weird shape these days. Labels are trying to figure out how to deal with downloading, streaming and piracy. Radio listenership is down and thus it is not as important to breaking a band. You don’t sell albums the same way you used to. How does a young band go about finding an audience?

Ellie Macnamara: I think that is so true. It is getting very difficult nowadays since people don’t buy music anymore. So it’s very tricky getting your things out there. At the same time with the internet it’s actually opened the door because anyone can record a song. Anyone can release a song now. You hear of so many YouTube sensations that have just blown up and become worldwide sensations.

Louise Macnamara: Nowadays you can record a whole album in your bedroom and it sounds nearly just as good – or as good – as going into a massive recording studio. Then you put it up on the internet yourself and get it out there. It’s fantastic. I think at the same time, there’s something to say for going around the country, playing small gigs, playing to as many people as you can. That’s what we did. We got into the States a couple of years ago. We’ve done that in Ireland. If you’re willing to put the work in to it, hopefully you will reap the benefits.

You recently played at SXSW. What was that scene like?

Louise Macnamara: That was amazing. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. A lot of our friends in bands from Dublin have come over and played. This year we were releasing Kingdom over here, it felt like the right year for us to do it. It was really great. It was absolutely crazy. We played a couple of shows and we did a lot of sessions. It was brilliant. It was really, really good. We really enjoyed it.

You also recently played at JJ Abrams’ Oscars pre-party. What was that experience like?

Ellie Macnamara: It was absolutely crazy. We played that probably this time last year maybe even earlier. JJ Abrams had an event in Bad Robot [his production company] and his pre-Oscar party. Steven Spielberg happened to be there as well. They watched us play and we got to meet the two of them. It was just incredible. We had grown up watching Lost and ET and loads of Steven Spielberg movies. So, yeah, it was great!

How long are you going to be in the States? Are you going to be doing more touring around here or are you feeling at all homesick and ready to get back?

Louise Macnamara: I don’t think homesick. I love it over here. We are in New York for the rest of this week. We’re doing a lot of promo around the album. We have a show tonight at Pianos and tomorrow at Arlene’s Grocery in New York. Then we’re heading over to LA on Saturday, we’re playing a show at The Mint on the 17th. [We’re] doing a lot of promo over there as well. Then back to Dublin for a bit, but the plan is to be over here really the next month. We're barnyarding shows and festivals through the summer and throughout the autumn time. We really can’t wait to just get on the road and tour.

Copyright ©2014  All rights reserved. Posted: April 18, 2014. 

Photo Credit: © 2014. Courtesy of Aunthill Records/RED/Sony Music. All rights reserved.

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