photography Gavin Millar
shot on location at The Merchant Hotel, Belfast
words Zarah Cheng
Where are you from?
I'm from a small town called Antrim, about 20 minutes away from Belfast, in Northern Ireland.
How did you, guitarist Michel Collet, and drummer Louis McGuire meet?
We met on a U-bahn platform at about 4 in the morning. I was on my way home from work at a bar and he was playing his guitar with a little amp. It sounded so incredible, I immediately asked him to form a band with me.
You told London In Stereo that you self-identify as a feminist and are “fascinated by the female experience.” How was this incorporated into the new album, The Dew Lasts An Hour?
I'm fascinated by the signifiers of femininity. I just love the way women move, the way they put on make up, the way they are with each other, the behaviours they have in social situations. Old women, girls, it doesn't matter – I'm just fascinated. I didn't really start to think about myself as a woman until after I lost my mother to cancer. Then I wanted to become more female to keep my memories of her alive, because she was very gentle and nurturing and these are such undervalued character attributes in a success-obsessed, male-driven society.
People operate under the misapprehension that if you are soft-hearted, you are not strong. This is fallacy. In fact the opposite is true - it takes true courage to be gentle and kind in the face of adversity. We call this 'grace'. Pretty much every song I've ever written is about this idea.
I love how Ballet School has embraced pop music and is just focused on creating music that makes people feel good. Do you feel that the underground music community still criticizes fellow artists when they find commercial success through pop music?
No, not at all. That's an outdated idea now. In the 90's it was so quaint, so innocent. Like the Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana thing. The Holden Caulfield of it all! All of that blew apart with social media and the obsession with the Now. References rarely stretch back further than about ten years these days. So much history has been lost. Who was better: Nirvana or Pearl jam? Or was Some Velvet Sidewalk better than them both? No one cares. But at the time there was so much relevance there. So much life.
Communicating authenticity is now a multi-layered, hieroglyphic maze that every person putting themselves out there, from the biggest commercial pop star to the most random person commenting on YouTube, has to wade their way through. Because now, we are aware of the existence of endless multiple perspectives apart from our own. Everyone, particularly the present generation, has developed a sonar-like fine-tuning ability to distinguish the 'real' from the affected or false. No one wants to have their identity soured by signs of fakery. But the irony is we're all guilty of being 'under-construction'. We're all going to tweet something problematic at some stage, we're all going to pick the cutest selfie to post. You cannot extract any authenticity from a public image. The only thing you can do is listen more than you talk and know yourself, I guess.
All of Ballet School’s music videos are very visually stunning (“Lux” and “Crush”, for example). How do you guys usually approach creating video concepts and tying them in to the song?
“Crush” is my favourite video we have done so far. It's pretty old now. Its viewing figures are really small. But it's in a style that has become popular. I was really proud of the way the video turned out – so many nice shots and there was real longing captured there. It depicted exactly how I felt when I wrote that song: hopelessly in love with someone who didn't love me back. Trying to be strong and accept it.
I really hate making videos. It never comes out exactly the way you see it in your head, there's always some soul-crushing argument over money and it's a pain in the ass to even get the thing exposed on YouTube. You put yourself through it because you feel compelled to make stuff. When someone enjoys the video or leaves a nice comment, it means so much.
When I listen to The Dew Lasts An Hour, I imagine myself dancing and someone throwing glitter on me while I spin around in circles. How do you see yourself when listening to the album?
That's so cute! I don't listen to the album at all. It's too embarrassing. All I can think about is the next album.
“Heartbreak Overdrive” is the soundtrack for the film, Something Must Break (2015). What is it like seeing the band’s song interpreted through a cinematic medium?
I really loved that. I'd love to do more music for film. My favourite soundtrack of all time is the Morricone piano theme to Bertolucci's La Luna.
I love watching bands performing live in intimate settings because I feel like that’s when you get to see the emotions behind the songs. Do you ever feel vulnerable when performing in front of an audience?
I feel strong. I only feel vulnerable in everyday life. I wish I could just do nothing but sing on stage all the time.
Does anyone in Ballet School know how to dance ballet?
Haha, no of course not. I think that would be a little glib. I took lessons when I was a kid but, alas, I showed no talent for it.
Currywurst or Hot Dogs?
You are running out of questions I see.
What creeps you out the most?
I'm afraid of the dark. When I'm alone, I sleep with lights on and usually play videos on my laptop as I fall asleep. Mostly ASMR vids, but also documentaries. I like to hear people chatting while I'm drifting off. It's also a good way to absorb useless facts. Birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs. Things like that.
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