Interview: You’re Only Massive

Updated 11pm, Tuesday 11 October 

The first place I saw You’re Only Massive play was in the poky, sweat-stained upstairs venue in Cork’s Fred Zeppelin’s pub. The room – which always feels as though it is about to collapse and fall onto the bar below, killing an entire generation of Cork metal fans – was packed, and on its snug stage were two very young women, each holding a microphone, and to their right sat a tape recorder.

In my mind’s eye, on stage are Maebh and Megan – but as Maebh informed me yesterday, I must have gotten that night mixed up with another gig I had seen them play, as that night in Fredz, Amy Stephenson from Queen Kong was singing with Maebh.

Ah, how memories fail us! Still, I was right about the backing track of self-made beats, and You’re Only Massive rapping lyrical about all the things that consumed their young minds. Not throwaway, ‘does he like me?’ lyrics, but words that cut deeper than that. (One particular chorus went: ‘Fuck ’em! Just fuck em!’)

The duo were feisty, full of confidence, engaging. At the time, I thought that Maebh and Megan were in secondary school but in fact both were in college. Regardless of their age, I wished I was that full of confidence back then. Hell, I’d like to be that confident now.

By 2008, Maebh and Megan had gone their separate ways, with Maebh Cheasty continuing to work as You’re Only Massive. She upped sticks to Berlin and brought You’re Only Massive into a new phase of life.

Maebh is keen to put it across that You’re Only Massive isn’t a solo project – as you can see from the picture below, she works under the name with Dave Murphy, who is also based in Berlin.

I sent Maebh some questions about You’re Only Massive – who have two Irish dates planned for the end of this month – and her answers were as forthright and passionate as I could have hoped.

Maebh Cheasty and Dave Murphy

Hi Maebh, welcome to Sweet Oblivion.

Thank you for having me.

Can you give me an introduction to You’re Only Massive?

You’re Only Massive was formed in 2007 in Waterford. Since then, we’ve played over 350 concerts, presented the performative walking tour “Disco-nnect” at Conflux Festival in New York (twice), made an audiodetour for The Model, Sligo, self-released two vinyl records and are currently in the middle of the mixtape series “The Fourth Quarter!”. We just finished mastering and are getting the cover artwork ready for print. Although we do other projects, like the audiodetour, we are known mostly for our songs, and our live show – we play our songs simply, but they are sweaty shows with big beats and big synth lines. And lots of crowdsurfing.

What inspired you to start making music?

Alienation from mainstream culture – and a desire to create my own cultural space.

You moved to Berlin a few years ago – why did you move?

The experience of recording the first record, Dot Dash, in 2008, made me eager to learn more instruments and expand my production skills. I also wanted to improve my German – and I like the challenge of living in a foreign country.

David Murphy and I had recorded together and played a lot of shows. It was a perfect storm. I think every band should try a spell in new city. It can really focus the mind, and keep your ego in check. Of course it can also make or break you!

How good has it been for your creativity?

You need a lot of discipline to flourish in a city like Berlin. That has never been a problem for us and has allowed us to take advantage of the time and space that Berlin also offers. We have been able to experiment: we went through a couple of different live sets, each of us playing different instruments. This has also kept us writing new material and kept a certain freshness. But we never lost the focus and, right from the start, agreed that we wanted to break down gender roles and avoid the male guitarist / female singer combo. I admire female musicians and singers who can unashamedly do that, and I value the voice as an instrument as much as the guitar or keyboards, but we’re trying to do something different. At the end of last year we hit on the right combination that expresses the simplicity we are always striving towards. Now we’re both playing synth / midi controller and Dave is out front with his top off, singing his heart out.

How does the Berlin scene compare to the music scenes you’ve been involved with in Ireland?

Berlin is an island, just like Ireland. And it is a village, too. They are roughly the same size, give or take a million. Berlin is easier to get around with public transport, which makes gigging easier. Other than that, there are no comparisons I can think of.

In the Irish music scene, I would personally like to see more entrepreneurship and sustainability – lots of good things have sprung up in the past few years, but they need to be supported and developed. Bands not venues. Why not support releases instead of these pointless showcases? If I had any power, I would commission my band to write the Eurovision entry for next year.

You have some mixtapes on your site – what can people expect from them, and what is it about the mixtape format that appeals to you?

Eclecticism. We have used the mixtapes as a way to express our ideas in an immediate and direct manner and this has ranged from “demo” style recordings (the Daddy Song) to polished pop songs (It Won’t Work) to remixes that reflect the live version (Here is Home). It’s hard to stop tweaking and let a song go and has taken a lot of discipline from both of us. But it’s been such a great feeling to put songs out there with such a short gap between recording and releasing. A song like “Thin Ice” is like a diary entry. It’s just that feeling when the first day of winter snow arrives and you have to steel yourself – and we put it out before Decemenber had even hit! However, with the forthcoming mixtape, Blood In, Blut Raus, we have fallen guilty to the usual curse of long studio sessions and playing lots of “real” (not software) instruments, which means the latest one has been a little slower to deliver – but I promise it will be worth it!

How important has the internet been to your music? What are the positives and negatives of utilising the net as a tool to promote your music?

Despite pioneer hopes, the internet is far from a utopia and mirrors the good and evil in society. However it is such a pleasure to have your own website – on our site, www.youreonlymassive.com, you can listen to songs, watch videos, say hello, buy records, check out the audiodetour project, look at photos, read the blog and personal statements, find out about upcoming shows, etc. I love the feeling of direct communications this gives you, especially when we get mails from fans and people who have been to shows.

What’s the songwriting process for you – does it depend on the song or do you have a set way or writing?

I throw a lot out. For the song “The Privilege” I really wanted to cut it right down to the bones and express exactly and only what matters. I work on songs a lot before they are finished, though sometimes that work is invisible. In movies, songs are finished in ten minutes, but this is not the truth. The most accurate depiction of the process that I have seen on film is the movie Hustle and Flow.

My collaboration with David Murphy really changes a lot from song to song. Sometimes we rehearse a song a lot before recording, at other times we pass files back and forth. At various times either of us can be writing any part of a song.

When I’ve got the first mix done, I love going for a long walk around the city. This is my favourite part!

Who or what inspires you? What makes you want to make music?

What? – everyday life. The struggle to simply exist. The constant and relentlessly unequal distribution of resources. But also lust, love, confidence, intimacy, language, sex.

Who? – small pockets of people who find a way to cut through the isolation and create communion.

How has your music evolved over the past few years?

It’s become more accomplished. You’re Only Massive started with just two turntables and a microphone and has developed to make music in a much wider variety of ways. However, the basics are still the same – you have to make the killer track, you have to get the crowd hot.

You’re one of a very small number of female Irish musicians who express themselves through spoken word / rap. What is it about this type of music that endears itself to you?

I just love hip-hop! I don’t just rap, I also sing and play synth, but hip-hop is my first love!

Why do you think there are not as many women making this sort of music here compared to men?
There is a big difference between being a talented and exciting musician and being in a successful band. You have to have a completely different set of skills for each of these roles. Men are encouraged from a young age to desire success and external approval. Women are encouraged to be supportive and feminine. There are many women out there who are talented musicians, and many who are interested in music, but they will never trust themselves enough to take the steps to form a band – and if they do, they will be at best ignored and at worst vilified – and always seen as the “big exception”. Look at Party Weirdo or Queen Kong – two bands, with lots of women in them, that occupied gorgeously uncomfortable places in the Irish music scene.

Surprise has often been expressed to, that I songwrite or produce, or even that I started this band. The surprise simply shows that some people still don’t expect women to care about anything except shopping and being pretty. Interest in music seems exceptional because of this persistent (and false) idea. When someone expresses wonderment at a woman making music it begs the question – what do you think women do all the time? Are you that blind?

Speaking of gender and music, would you describe yourself as a feminist, or say there is a feminist element to your music?

Since the band started, it has been difficult not to become political. But there is no point in sacrificing ideals to become popular. Our music is deeply feminist. But we know that the system is not something you fight against, but something that lies inside you.

With You’re Only Massive, there seems to be a real emphasis on energy and fun on unabashed self expression. What is your favourite thing about performing?

I just love playing our songs for an audience. It’s really as simple as that. I love when the audience start dancing – then I feel like I’ve done my job. I love when girls come up to the front. I love when Dave takes his top off. Most of all, I love crowdsurfing!

My least favourite things are the muscle aches I get afterwards. I always stretch and am quite fit, but I always seem to jump around so much that I get muscle pains. I have just started a hip hop dance class so I hope to be properly fit for our next tour schedule.

What’s on your record player at the moment?

Dr. Dre. The production, those synth lines! I recently acquired a new synth so I’m listening to lots of classic synth pop and playing along. Lil Kim and Laibach are perennial favourites.

I really hope Meadhbh Boyd from Cork releases a record, having heard the tracks she’s posted online. I am also listening to this Berlin band called Tropengold, who sing in English. They write witty lyrics and have this very cool rock band sound. Hanin Elias (declaration: I play in her live band) released this amazingly vivid record, Get It Back.

Do you see yourself returning to Ireland in the future?

Yes! Ireland is my home, I was born and grew up here and don’t have family anywhere else. I want to make a longer visit next March.

In the immediate future, we are coming very soon for some shows to launch The Fourth Quarter in Ireland, one in Waterford on 28th October and one upstairs at the wonderful Project Arts Centre on Halloween Night, Monday 31st October. Come, come, come!

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