Listening to the scraping feedback and blunt force trauma drums that kick open Bitch Falcon’s debut album, there’s an air of Nirvana’s ‘Scentless Apprentice’ — an act of distorted noise defiance on In Utero that cleared the decks after Nevermind’s mega success.
But within half a minute, ‘I’m Ready Now’ wrong-foots you with an immediate hook-filled gear change, as Lizzie Fitzpatrick’s swaggering vocals and grungey shoegaze guitar abstractions twirl through the pogo-ready punk.
Bitch Falcon are all about these contrasts. There’s a good chance they’re Ireland’s second loudest band after My Bloody Valentine (my ears were ruined after their showcase at Dutch fest Eurosonic 2018), but it’s a controlled noise, offset by Fitzpatrick’s primal pop vocal left turns, Alomar/Belew guitar experimentation and the dynamic rhythm section of drummer Nigel Kenny and bassist Barry O’Sullivan.
Bitch Falcon have gone through a few line-up switches, but Lizzie Fitzpatrick has been the constant since forming the band in Dublin in 2014. The title of the album, Staring At Clocks, says it all, really. This debut has been a long time coming — for years Bitch Falcon have been one of Ireland’s most-loved underground rock bands (with the undisputed best name, too).
The record was mostly recorded in May 2019, but the C-word suckerpunched their live plans. Still, they’ve teased the launch with the brilliant singles ‘Gaslight’, ‘Test Trip’, ‘Martyr’ and ‘How Did I Know’, and the debut’s finally here after six years.
“It’s great to actually just put it out there,” says Lizzie over the phone from her Dublin home. “I’m just excited to see what people think about it. You know? Who knows when, but I’m dying to play live when people know these songs because there’s nothing like it.”
Lizzie says she was locked in to listening to some “heavy melancholy… the saddest stuff I could find, really” around the time of recording, and drops Beach House, Protomartyr and Cocteau Twins, with the latter’s spectral guitar tones and vocals weaving through Staring At Clocks’ more delicate moments.
I caught up with Lizzie a few days before the album launch, finally at the end of a six-year countdown…
Did you feel a lot of pressure with this being a debut album after a wait of six years or so?
Yeah, I felt that pressure, a lot of pressure on myself really. The stuff that we wrote before, we’re still happy with it, but it seems juvenile now to me, it’s so long ago, so it feels like a different band really. We were ready to write the stuff we really wanted to. I still like the old tracks but we were dying to put out a proper full-length album of what we really are about.
That’s an amazing position to be in, not trying to chase an old sound. So you’re not too worried about the reaction?
Oh of course I am. But I’m kind of confident that it’s gonna have some reaction. I just don’t want it to completely slip under the radar. Or even if it does slip under the radar, I hope it’s an album people will make a comeback to, I’d love if it wasn’t just a straight away ‘wow’, and maybe just grew on people, because they’re always my favourite albums.
You recorded it really quickly as well, was it really only 10 days?
Yeah but we ran out of time. I wasn’t really ready with my lyrics. I had stuff written and I thought we’d be all, ‘Yeah, 10 days, we wrote it in the studio and nailed it in one take’, but that didn’t happen. So the engineer Rian Trench lent me his microphone and I recorded a lot of the vocals at home. It was nice to do that, but I feel sorry for my neighbours!
There was one song, the title track, I just couldn’t get it down, I had the instrumental and I would just listen to it over and over again, going for walks, I had loads of melodies in my head then it eventually came, I was like, THANK GOD! It’s actually my favourite song now.
After this wait to get it out, it must be a bittersweet feeling releasing it right now. In normal times you’d be turning it up to 11 in the Academy or the Olympia or somewhere.
I know, I know, I’d love to be doing it live, but what can you do? I’m just dying to play a gig when people know the songs, because there’s nothing like it. When you’re playing new stuff, people are really just listening, they can’t really get into it. But when you have it out for a long time and people know the songs already, the difference in the crowd is crazy. So I’m looking so much forward to that.
That’s a very positive way to look at it! When do you hope to start playing again? Have you been thinking of smaller gigs?
Maybe well-shot live streams, or a music movie would be maybe on the cards. Small gigs, I’m not sure what to do with them, they’d be all seated. Maybe that would be jarring for our kind of band. But we’ll try it out.. we’ve played gigs with no one in them before, in England, so it’s not that new to us!
Extremely socially distanced gigs!
Oh, yeah, there was the engineer… the ticket seller…
At least it feels like you’re definitely taking it on the chin. You don’t seem to be complaining too much.
Well, I guess I have the security of my job in nursing so that’s where my mind is. During the first lockdown if someone asked me about the music I wouldn’t really have given a shit because it was full-on in a hospital. But now, I guess it’s the long-term plan with COVID, it’s like, how are we going to get on with this? How are we going to try and resume normal life? Because it’s not going away for another year or two I’d say.
You’re pretty open about discussing anxiety and depression on the album, is that something you’ve been trying to explore in your music the whole time?
Yeah, but I think I always wrote on a personal level and tried to express what I was going through. Writing this album, I tried to break out of just speaking personally… I tried to think about other people’s perspective as well. I think a lot of anxiety was just trying to put words to how I was feeling, and maybe offering a link to other people’s situations, so they can take something from it.
Yeah, there’s a little bit of that in the song ‘How Did I Know’ that chimes with all of us, the idea of trying to reach out to someone who you care for. Is that written from a personal perspective, or trying to come up with a universal sentiment?
More from a personal perspective really. Sometimes you get caught up in your own stuff, and you don’t realise what’s going on around you and what’s going on in your friends’ heads. Like, ‘How did I not know about this?’ Some people are very good at keeping it quiet. And on a universal level, a lot of people are affected by suicide, a close friend, a relative, and they didn’t even know they were down, it just happened. It can be so… so hidden.
I can relate to this, everyone we know can, really. It’s just a question that goes through your head, you find yourself going through things over and over, trying to look for signs you might’ve missed.
Exactly. And how can you be there for someone all the time? You know, it’s so difficult to do that… to think about all the people who are around you all the time.
Yeah it’s really difficult, should you prioritise which friends that you should be most worried about?
And then, you know, it’s usually the person that you don’t even think.
That kind of sentiment, it really hit me, it’s what you say to people to comfort them when they’re going through this guilt: ‘You would never have known’. That must have been a very tough song to write. Because it’s emotional, you’re trying to get your personal feelings across, but also, it just does resonate with so many people.
Yeah, exactly, especially during this period, we’re probably gonna see a lot of that going on, a lot of things hidden in people… not seeing people, people aren’t going out and socialising.
Do you think as well, sometimes it’s a lot easier to try and reach out and help other people than it is to take care of yourself?
Yeah, I think that’s where you find yourself having panic attacks for no reason or anxiety attacks for no reason, and you realise, ‘Oh, maybe I wasn’t looking after myself at all’.
How’ve you been doing anyway, have you been balancing your online and outdoors-y kind of life? Actually you must’ve been working loads I guess.
Yeah working loads, after that I’ve been relaxing. My life has changed more on a social level, and gigs obviously. At least I’ve had some socialisation at work, I’m able to talk to strangers, and patients. But online, you catch yourself on the political side of the internet, the opinions there can bring you down and be really intense…it sucks you in, it’s so intoxicating. Even a bit of drama, you start enjoying that, but then you’re just scrolling through loads of people’s comments giving out, and you’re like, why am I doing this?
Besides trying to find a work-life balance during COVID, how were you able to balance music and your work in the health service?
I guess there aren’t many musicians on our level that are doing it full time, you know, you don’t really make much money out of it… so it’s just get on with it and your holidays… your holidays are your touring times. You need to be touring all the time, and playing big shows all the time.
A lot of artists want to give up their ‘actual’ job to make a living from music. But if you’re a nurse it’s different, there’s a definite vocation there. But is that something you’d do, give it up for music?
But you can always go back to nursing, you can do a refresher course and go back later on. I guess it’s kind of two sides of the coin for me, like I would absolutely love to go full time and tour for years and be full-on recording artist all the time, that’d be fantastic. But I have another side of me that really enjoys health care.
I’ll give you one example… we were on tour and I was feeling a bit unwell so I went to bed. We were all in a shared room. I was watching this cable channel that had heart surgery on. I work in operating theatres so that’s what I’d be doing. The lads came back and were like, ‘What are you watching?’ But this is my job! So I guess I like both sides. It’s a nice balance.
Maybe if you’re doing music all the time it can be a bit draining, on your ego and your self esteem, you’re always up for judgment. And so it’s kind of nice to work in a job where you just, you know, get your work done.
That’s like in the song Gaslight, it seems to be about trying to keep yourself in check. But you can’t really have a more performative act than actually fronting a rock band. Does your job as a nurse help you stay grounded?
Yeah, I think so. Maybe it keeps you in reality. In the music world, we can really get caught up in numbers, popularity. So it’s nice to see the other side of life, you’re a pawn really, as a nurse, you’re a soldier in a way, you’re just getting your job done… part of a big machine or a service. I guess you’re being as selfless as possible as a nurse. And maybe I’m being quite selfish as a frontwoman of a band. You know, it’s performative and very egotistical. Not really in a negative way, but it really is, by definition.
Probably out of all sectors, the health service and the arts have the most grievances. How do you keep that in check without pretty much leaving your house and marching down to the Dail every day?
Yeah, it’d break your heart! You feel like going on strike every day. But you have to be careful, because you have to keep strong. It’s very easy to maybe feel like you’re hard done by all the time. I’m not saying we’re not, but you have to keep your own spirits up, to get on with it and do your job. And then when it’s time to put up a fight you have to be strong and go for it and fight for what’s right, and fight for the future of nursing and healthcare. You know it’s almost part of our culture… the first cuts are to healthcare. That’s a whole other area to talk about…
What did you think of the really late and paltry support for artists from the Government this year?
I don’t know what they should do, really. I guess it’s just not in their priority list. I guess they can still go golfing, dinner-dancing, whatever. People don’t understand how much grass-root and low-level art influences the higher ups… for instance the punk scene influences so many things that eventually lead on to pop, you know. We’re just not in their mind I guess.
Yeah, until something breaks through. It was kind of sickening to see Micheal Martin praising Normal People on Twitter for the Emmy nomination as is if he’s a real supporter of the arts.
Yeah it’s like it’s earpiece time, ‘Have to mention Normal People’!
I was just thinking whenever the lockdown was announced in March there was just such an immediate rush to share music online, probably within a day or two, through streaming gigs. What do you think that says about the need to just just connect and share straight away?
I know, yeah… the rush to it. Then maybe people got a bit tired and it’s kinda come back again with more and more live streaming stuff… it’s such a big part of Irish society… it’s really missed.
It’s really nice that people are able to be so creative and create an online togetherness.
Staring at Clocks is out now on Small Pond. Check out a brilliant deep dive here with Lizzie and Nigel over the weekend with May Kay, as part of Ruth Medjber’s At the Living Room series.