On May 15, 2019, Faye O’Rourke delighted fans with a surprise Instagram post. “I’m over the moon to announce our new project, Soda Blonde. Our debut single ‘Swimming Through the Night’ will be released on June 7th.”
Everyone who knew O’Rourke rejoiced – her work with Little Green Cars was celebrated internationally, with appearances at Coachella, South by Southwest and Late night with Jimmy Fallon. This following grew to support her and her bandmates Adam O’Regan, Donagh Seaver O’Leary and Dylan Lynch under this new and mysterious guise.
Their first performance in the basement of Hogan’s on George’s Street was sold out. O’Rourke’s familiar, haunting vocals fit seamlessly with the group’s commitment to a more poppy sound. Success is a theme that has proven consistent with this group, who now boast the skills of music industry veterans.
By this point, O’Rourke and her bandmates had been writing for about 15 years, eschewing college education to become fluent in the art of sharing shared experiences, and digging for gold on their personal experiences.
As a teenager, O’Rourke was “a nightmare.” The darkness followed her and to some extent still does, but now she knows not to let her win. It started when she was left heartbroken, really heartbroken, at 14.
“I haven’t gotten over it for five years,” she says. “It was really intense. I felt so dark all the time. I still feel like that person because I felt something very intense. I remember thinking at the time that I just felt things ten times more intensely than anyone else.”
The teenage years that followed read like the kind of socially relevant pamphlet a school nurse might hand out at morning assembly: meddling with the wrong crowd, self-harm, alcohol and drugs — “just weed, but if there were others I probably would have.” done tried”.
“I was heartbroken, and so were my parents,” she says. “I still do them good today. I was struggling to be liked, and I just couldn’t like myself. My validation was tied to being desirable—I hate how shallow that sounds. I still feel that way now, but now I know I can’t help but be myself. That’s where I arrived.”
O’Rourke and her Soda Blonde bandmates (the name was inspired by Frank Ocean Blondand because “it sounds like it could come from anywhere in Europe”) grew up in the leafy suburbs of south Dublin in a sheltered but humble environment.
An only child – “I know that’s the case too” – her father grew up in 1970s London, where he worked as a tube driver before turning to fashion and patterns for big names like Marc Bolan and David Bowie designed. He still does freelance pattern work today. Her mother did everything from Reiki to nursing, eventually ending up in landscaping.
“I’m middle class, but I’m also not a silver spoon. At all,” she says. “I’m slow to say that I’ve had a hard life. I definitely saw trauma in my teens because I kind of tended to get overly emotional or very affected by things and then when I get into my 20s I get real trauma, you know what I mean?
video of the day
We meet her partner, the actor Fionn Foley, on a Thursday around lunchtime at Hen’s Teeth Gallery, a stone’s throw from O’Rourke’s home in Dublin 8. She wafts in, her hair pulled up at the nape of her neck, with deep brown eyes that are almost cartoonishly captivating. She has the disposable beauty of a young Kate Bush – carefree, effervescent. She gets a coffee (Vietnamese, paper straw) and immediately opens it, like a daisy pointing towards the sun.
“I just always felt that openness was my currency,” she says. “I can talk about my mistakes very easily, but I find it very difficult to talk about what other people have done or anything like that. I think it’s a very feminine thing, making emotional connections and sharing stories, it’s a powerful connection.”
O’Rourke interrupts her sentences with laughter; a deep, throaty, reticent call to lighten the previous load. She’s bad at interviews, she says, subconsciously saying either the wrong thing or too much of the right thing — ultimately embracing the mysterious frontman stereotype.
And yet she is not mysterious. She is effusive in answering questions, often rehashing old trauma and tearing out confidential details to make a point. It’s a joy to see this level of seriousness and openness in a woman who has been employed in one of the more volatile industries since the age of 17.
However, her tenure has left scars that have molded and twisted the confident, mature, confident teenager into a crippling embodiment of self-doubt.
“When we were in [Little Green] Cars, I just always felt so infantile. I didn’t really have much freedom. And I was constantly told that I wasn’t good looking or that I shouldn’t speak unless I had something interesting to say, and that was tough. I just went out for a release all the time,” she says.
“It wasn’t sustainable and it was also so upsetting because people told me I was doing great and I was just unhappy. That’s the great thing about this new project, it’s completely different.”
Soda Blonde brings with it both a legacy and a promise to make a difference. The influences of the 1980s are evident: hints of Annie Lennox, Fleetwood Mac and Karen Carpenter come to the fore, while the group’s unique lyrical sensibilities refine the “gritty kitchen-sink realism” that made them famous.
For O’Rourke, it was a chance for a new identity. Her propensity, when shooting or performing, had always tended toward the androgynous—suits, lapels, ties. Yet her experience was intrinsically that of a “woman.” “Backstage I was often called ‘girl’ because I was the only woman who didn’t need a name,” she says.
Everyone is afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing
Alongside a newly-found belief, she consciously leaned towards “some kind of sexuality” when she started fresh — she dyed her hair blonde and chose a figure-hugging, sequined, navel-grazing dress for the “Terrible Hands” video. “We wanted a lounge singer vibe, somewhere in the dichotomy of glamorous and grotesque.”
It’s a conscious decision to embrace her femininity, not uninspired by the #MeToo movement and the power to reclaim the Divine Feminine in recent years. It also serves as an opportunity to project something new.
“I was in that crucial phase when I was about 25 or 26 [she is now 30] and wanted to convey more classically sexy imagery that I don’t feel like I have a lot of. It also served this new way with the art we planned. Even so, I still wake up every now and then and think about cutting off all my hair.”
A fresh and essentially unbranded start brings its own baggage, which O’Rourke doesn’t seem to mind, but today’s industry leaves a lot to be desired. It has become a bit sterile, she argues. “Everyone is afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing.”
With cancellation constantly looming, it’s both gratifying and refreshing to be able to speak with an artist who is at the top of his game, venting like an old steam boiler and discussing the effects of speaking out loud.
“There’s a lot more diversity, and that’s amazing, but I think people these days are so conscious of how they’re perceived, and that’s become more important than how they feel.”
It overshadows the art, she says, listing the reasons why making mistakes isn’t so bad.
“It’s the only way we learn, by making mistakes through our art,” she says, raising her hands above her head, dropping them quickly to wipe the table with a self-deprecating look.
She doesn’t see herself as a role model. It was never on her list, she says. I can feel my forehead wrinkles. Unbeknownst to O’Rourke, she is exactly the kind of role model that those who look up to her can count on: empowered by the truth, fearless, courteous to a mistake, and the first to point out her own imperfections.
She laughs at the concept, arguing that humans are inherently flawed (“which isn’t necessarily a bad thing”) and that it’s never a good idea to idolize anyone anyway.
“Actually, Sinead O’Connor [the band were due to open for her in the Iveagh Gardens last month before tragedy struck in O’Connor’s personal life;], she is a role model. I’ll never know how she was so sure and confident at 18.”
Some time later, the restaurant fills up. We start laughing at our mistakes.
“I think I like to play devil’s advocate,” she finally says, and a crooked smile forms. “To annoy people. It’s okay to admit that you don’t actually know what you’re talking about. Like, that’s fine. You could come to that conclusion in a minute. Censorship is also a bad thing in my books. Why just remove something and pretend it’s not there? I’m sorry, I’m going to have another one,” she laughs.
She finishes her coffee with a smile, the look on her face tells me that she has said too much but believes everything. And then she’s gone to finish the record the band is working on. They are not shy about the end goal.
“The dream is to go into the stratosphere,” she says. “We want to tour and perform in the States again. I think we all have different ideas about what we want to do, but I want my life back and for me that means going abroad to perform. So that’s the plan now.”
Soda Blonde will play Castlerea’s Night and Day Festival on September 25th and Vicar Street on December 9th. Tickets are available at sodablonde.com.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/music/i-was-told-i-didnt-look-right-and-not-to-speak-unless-i-had-something-to-say-soda-blondes-faye-orourke-on-surviving-as-a-woman-in-the-music-industry-41924519.html “I was told I wasn’t good looking and not to speak if I had nothing to say” – Soda Blonde’s Faye O’Rourke on surviving as a woman in the music industry