Bright Plans for Wonder Villains
The Derry~Londonderry pop band on working with Gianfranco Zola and their colourful future
By now, you should have seen the endearing video for the Wonder Villains' single ‘Zola’, complete with cameo appearance from the Italian football legend who inspired it – Gianfranco Zola. It was quite a coup for the Derry~Londonderry foursome, as drummer Kieran Coyle explains.
‘A friend of ours from school was at university in London with Zola’s daughter, so we thought we should at least have a go at getting the main man for the video,’ he says. ‘Funnily enough he had already heard the song through his daughter and liked it, so he was very up for it!’
Coming immediately on the heels of their long-awaited debut album Rocky, the video marks an exciting time for the band, but then excitement is in their DNA. Over the last five years, the youthful quartet – they range in age from 21 to 24 – have established themselves as one of Northern Ireland's must-see live bands, a colourful explosion of indie-pop tunes and puppyish energy.
What's clear when we sit down with them in a Belfast coffee shop is that the on-stage giddiness carries through to their off-stage personas. The two girls, Eimear Coyle and Cheylene Murphy, are dressed in dazzling technicolor and prone to finishing off each other's sentences, and the conversation is punctuated by knowing smiles, excited whoops and peals of laughter.
‘I think we're all stupidly happy and excitable anyway,’ says Cheylene. 'When we first hung out, we thought, 'This is great, yay’!’
‘There's always the most upbeat person in a group of friends and we're all that sort of person,’ adds guitarist Ryan McGroarty. ‘There's no angst, really.’
And what about the clothes? Did they dress up for this interview? ‘Oh no, if anything we dress down for interviews!’ Cheylene laughs. ‘When we joined the band we were all quite conservative, but then we started getting in to more colourful clothes and egging each other on. We used to see if we could find all the colours of the rainbow on everyone's clothes. We always could!’
All of this begs the question of how natural all of this is. Sitting in Caffè Nero on a Friday afternoon, Wonder Villains look unmistakeably like a band of some sort. No one else dresses this way. So is it a strategy – part of presenting themselves as 'The Wonder Villains' at all times? Apparently not.
‘I think it just happened,’ says Eimear. ‘It was really un-thought out.’
‘I suppose we dress like we're playing a gig every day without even thinking about it,’ says Ryan.
In the very early days, the Wonder Villains were a duo: Eimear and Cheylene. They have been the closest of best friends since their mid-teens (which wasn't that long before they starting writing songs together), and they are forever flashing smiles at each other on stage and during the interview. The bond between the two of them has always been key to the band's dynamic, and their appeal. ‘I think if we didn't get on as well as we do, there'd be no hope that [the band would] last as long,’ says Cheylene. ‘We have to be best friends because it's so intense.’
Initially, Kieran – Eimear's big brother – and Ryan were in an angsty rock band, and while Eimear wanted to start writing songs, she didn't want to follow suit with love songs. So she took a different tack, which is why so many of their songs are filled with references to music, movies, TV and the detritus of pop culture.
‘I remember hearing Fight Like Apes' song ‘Jake Summers’ and wondering, 'Who is this guy?',’ Eimear recalls. ‘Kieran said he was a celebrity in America and I thought, 'Really? Cool! You're allowed to just pick someone and write a song about them?'. It just escalated from there.’
Cheylene: ‘Once you realise something is a good idea you're like, 'Let's do it again'!’
Eimear: ‘I never thought anyone would notice. I thought we were being really subtle!’
An early example is ‘Oh Peter’, about the Heroes character Peter Petrelli (sample lyric: ‘You exploded at the end of season one’), or how about the Weezer references in ‘33’, a track entitled ‘Linklater’ after movie director Richard, or non-album track ‘Space Jam’, which (surprise) is about the movie Space Jam. Some of these songs are several years now, dating to when Eimear and Cheylene were 16 or 17, and the band reveal that new songs rely less on this formula.
‘At the moment, the songs we're writing are less about specific people, just to try it out,’ says Cheylene.
Eimear adds, ‘For me, every line in every song has a joke to it, or a funny reference somewhere. Like a really subtle John Candy reference that no-one knows about, to make it fun for us.’
But, according to Ryan, most of the time the references are little more than fun red herrings. ‘They're more about our lives,’ says Eimear. ‘It's maybe one line.’
Now that the band are no longer teenagers, their songs and subject matter are bound to change. As Eimear admits, ‘we can't talk about school any more.’ But they insist that this change is natural, and they are certainly in no rush to distance themselves from their earliest songs. Why should they? They came to define what the Wonder Villains are all about.
‘We're in such a different place from when we started the last album,’ says Eimear. ‘I couldn't play bass at all, Kieran was telling me the notes and I was so slow. Now I'm like, 'Let's do whatever'. Key changes! We're so different as well, as a group.’
‘Also, it's really weird doing this [next] album knowing that it's going to be an album’ says Cheylene. ‘When we were writing our first album, we didn't think about it in that way or realise that we were still going to be playing [the songs] five years later. It's a bit more thought out now, I suppose.’
With the debut album finally available, it feels like the first chapter in the Wonder Villains' story is over, and the band are keen to build on what they have done so far. ‘We're happy to move on,’ says Cheylene. ‘It would be great to tour more and build up a fan base. It feels like we're moving forward – I think if you had asked us last year we might have felt like we were a bit stuck. But we're happy and excited.’
And as for looking further ahead? There's too much talent in this band for the future not to be bright. It will certainly be colourful.