As busking cities go, Belfast has always harbored an embarrassment of riches. With Prague as its closest competitor, there’s a strong argument to be made that it is the lushest busking city in the world. You can round nearly any public corner in Belfast and find a Montmartre moment in which the talent hierarchy is something akin to musical MMA. The urban landscape is gloriously and intrinsically Irish, but the sounds transmitted from the pavement are undeniably global. You are as likely to see a Middle Eastern oud as you are a bodhrán on any given day. If you thought you already knew how impressive these musicians are, or think you can’t have much to learn about the confines of their communal cool factor, meet Belfast’s own Dea Matrona, three brilliant young women who have effortlessly rewritten the imprimatur of their own musical streets, and done so in a manner that boldly belies their young years.
Even in a city globally acknowledged for busking culture, Dea Matrona could never have been de rigueur. Orla Forsythe and sisters Mollie and Mamie McGinn are the stuff of anyone’s most diamanté dreams who ever wished that Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart would conspiratorially hand a Superstrat to Stevie Nicks and form an unstoppable power-coven trio. Let’s get this universal truth out in the open early: if your ears haven’t fallen into a torrid, tympanic tryst with Dea Matrona yet, you are seriously sleeping through what should be the most satisfying stations of your sonic life. Fix that!
Orla and Mollie released their dazzling debut EP, Chains, as a duo in 2017 before they formally brought Mamie on and renamed themselves after a Celtic mother goddess. That the “Matronae” throughout history were nearly always depicted in sets of three is just a whole separate magic to ponder! By 2019’s incandescent Away From the Tide, listeners received a full album of exotic dimensions set in a paisley-lacquered ecosystem. These Mother-sprung melodies and Beatlesque harmonies reside in symbiotic tandem with unruly little Runaways beats and you’ve never heard anything quite like it this side of 1977.
However, Dea Matrona are not “retro”; they are the soulful re-embodiment of legions of lost luminaries and otherwise bygone beauties from the otherworldly before. There is Jefferson Airplane in spades here. There is also Jimi Hendrix, not even remotely hiding away. Dea Matrona likewise openly recognize and support the official legacies of their Belfast predecessor-legends, such as the inimitable Gary Moore.
Honestly, how many times in your life will you get the chance to hear a tune entitled “Siren Song” that is written and performed by honest-to-Mab, living, breathing sirens? The answer is: only once, only here. Whether they are snatching the slinkalicious scepter right out of the hands of Page and Plant in their chill-inducing cover of “Whole Lotta Love‘‘ or getting all Jenny Lewis-meets-Joni Mitchell with it in their own Hard On Yourself, Dea Matrona consistently demonstrate a broad and endearing enthusiasm for music that will revivify your hopes if you have been actively worrying that rock is taking shallow, frailing breaths of late. [Journalist puts down pen and raises hand high!]
This same waggish writer at your service today has been known to go on record rather reliably with her deep and abiding disappointment in the dearth of serious rock stars under 40 these days. The general unstarriness of this age effing levels me. Let yourself get real for a tick and you’ll have trouble denying that tribes on tribes of the tasteless coefficients passing for pop stars today will limply try to do something with a 1970s vibe and they only end up looking like panting courtiers – and that on top of presenting all the sex energy of marled wool. Unless it’s Greta Van Fleet, it is generally a milleni-laundering of the original free love narrative that abrades the very marrow of those of us who actually bear allegiance to the true seventies. Oh, the dysfunctional brinkage of it all.
What the silly ole flutes do not seem to understand is this one critical thing that Dea Matrona appears to have been born understanding: that the real spell of music is in one’s unswerving love of its untameable power, not in how well you can cop the pose. As a result, Dea Matrona’s seventies is palladian, saurian, meditative, and rhapsodic – an aural au fait for these transitory times. There’s not an anamorphic equalizer anywhere to measure this band’s verve index, or even their thread-wise, self-actualized savvy. Describing their astonishing appeal is a bit like trying to lay down railroad tracks in the face of an oncoming, fast-moving locomotive. All one really wants to or can say is: Every bell sleeve and bellbottom in Belfast and beyond better bow down or bow out. Or, as some of us will take any chance whatsoever to borrow from Glenn Danzig: “Mother….tell your children to definitely go this way.”
QRO would be hard pressed
to name a more vibrant virtual tearoom than that which waited for us on April
15th when we digi-dated with the divine Orla and Mollie. Read on for all our
lovely laughs on matters of high fun and fabulosity, ranging from ralphing dogs,
through the coolest pronunciation of the word “garage,” past all the wrong ways
to say the band’s name, and even a pitstop at how hard it is not to objectify
Robert Plant. And if you’re reading this in Belfast, don’t read another
syllable until you’ve gotten up off your dusty duff, gone out to the streets
where Dea Matrona is likely slaying away per usual today, and thrown some money
into that buck bucket, as is certainly your civic duty.
QRO: In the interest of full disclosure and so that you will be put at ease straight away with how unashamedly biased I am, I’ve got to tell you that your “Make You My Star” sticker has a permanent home on my own folder of lyrics and Away From The Tide has been mine and my car’s constant companion for weeks now – what a song and what a record! So very delighted to be here with you wonders. So, let me start by asking the obvious: how do you get this good this young? I mean, dang! What’s your practice schedule like?
Mollie McGinn: Yeah, we practice a lot as a band and individually and stuff – I feel like with us, we never really feel like we are good; it’s always like ‘we’ve got to keep improving!” And I think we’ve just both been around music for so long, and we’ve been playing together about four years, Orla and I.
QRO: Do you structure it at all or is it just like a whimsy – it’s like “we feel like jammin’ in the garage today?” How does that work out for you ladies?
MM: It’s kind of a bit just like whatever we feel like on the day, you know, like the latter, just jamming in the garage!
QRO: Yeah, well I mean every great tech startup and great band began in a garage, as far as I can tell so…
MM: [laughter] I like how you say that “ga-rahhge!”
Orla Forsythe: Yeah, it’s “ga-ridge” over here so I think “ga-rahhge” is quite cool…
[laughter all round]
It’s “ga-ridge” over here so I think “ga-rahhge” is quite cool…
QRO: Oh my gosh, and here I am sitting here jonesing for your incredible, beautiful accents! I’ll take your “ga-ridge” any day! Though I’m a Galway girl, I’ve been to Belfast enough times to know that busking is a way of life there and it’s something I definitely want to ask you about – that pecking order. I really respect you for conducting your career this way because I firmly believe that going out and playing on the street with little to no expectations is the way of the true artist, so tell me about your busking experience; what’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you girls out there?
OF: Now that you ask it’s so hard to point out like one singular one; so many rare experiences have happened to us busking. Where do I even begin? We’ve been robbed before, not for loads of money, but somebody just grabbed money from our tip bucket and ran…
MM: There’s a lot of crazy stuff in the street, a lot of drunk people out and stuff…
OF: A dog threw up in my case one time…
QRO: Oh my god…
MM: Oooh yeah, that was gross.
QRO: [howling] I’m laughing near you, dear Orla, not at you, I promise!
OF: No, laugh away!
A dog threw up in my case one time…
MM: There’s so many times we’ve gone to busk and we get there and set up, and it takes about half an hour, and we play for five minutes and it’s just like torrential rain. And we broke our amp once and had to go to the bathroom in the car park and try to blow dry it and all! [laughing]
QRO: Niiiice! But see, these are stories that are not just character-building as a band, they’re stories that I think are going to unify you girls when you get to be older women and you’re just going to be like “remember when we were 20 years old, standing out in the rain”….You’ll have stories no one else has got!
OF: I know!
QRO: So that leads me to something else I wanted to ask you about, your equipment setup, actually. Since you are sort of mobile and going out every day, I wondered about how you managed that. Though I think I’ve watched every video you’ve ever made and should probably have paid better attention to your kit, tell us a bit about what you’ve got going on there.
OF: It’s completely battery powered, we don’t have any leads going out, and in the early days we used to power everything by AA batteries and then we realized it wasn’t sustainable because every half an hour we would have to go and buy new batteries. So, then we bought a battery that is for a golf cart and it powers everything a bit better!
QRO: How very cool! So, if you just wanted to rip, how long could you go with that?
MM: I’d say about six to eight hours.
QRO: Wow! So that definitely gets you through your one to two hours you want to play, sounds like.
OF: Yeah, it totally does…
MM: When we started out, we would genuinely be playing on the streets like all day; it would probably be so annoying for everyone in Belfast… [laughter]
When we started out, we would genuinely be playing on the streets like all day; it would probably be so annoying for everyone in Belfast…
QRO: Like, ‘get these girls home, we’re sick of it!’ Never!! But now speaking of home, Mollie, you and I have something in common, and I cannot believe I just discovered this little fact about a week ago, but your Dad is Finn McGinn! Is that right?
MM: Yeah! That’s right!
QRO: Oh my gosh, it was so cosmic and cool that I thought it had to be a joke when someone first told me that – I can literally sing every word of “Betty the Banshee” for you, if you’d like! I also have a musically accomplished father, and I have to wonder if yours has given you advice on jumping off this ledge that is music as a career?
MM: Well, it definitely helps, you know, to have a Dad who does it. He would give advice even though sometimes you won’t follow it! He’s into the Irish country music and all of that so…
QRO: It’s ‘Dadvice’! [laughter in threes] Okay, well before we leave one another today I’m going to send you a video of my own Dad playing slide with a pepper mill at his gig this past weekend and you’ll know for sure why I felt such a recognition!
MM: Yeah, my Dad would be like handing out his CDs to all my classmates and he picked me up from school in his cowboy hat and I’d be like [covers whole face with hands]…
QRO: Oh noooo! But all daughters of rock-n-roll giggles aside, I think that’s so cool, just the musical tradition in a family. That’s just beautiful. Another beautiful thing I read about you ladies is that Jon Astley produced one of your tracks on this last album – tell me about that experience! That had to be amazing.
OF: Yeah, well Jon Astley actually, he mastered the last single, “Make You My Star”, and everything else, so everything we’ve put out has been mastered by him. But, in terms of production, it’s actually myself and Mollie that do those kinds of things.
QRO: Ah, how inspiring is that! Well, as a renowned digital idiot, I’m completely in awe, tell me about that process, pretty please.
OF: It’s quite fun and it’s daunting because we’re really taking our own music into our own hands and you know it’s nice to have the control and everything, but then you know there’s such temptation like, ‘Oh should I add another guitar line at the top of that?’ But I think that Mollie and I are quite a very strong team so we get what we want. We understand one another’s musical tastes and everything. So, it’s fun, we enjoy it!
QRO: I bet! So, how do you work – do you do it like on an SSL board or a computer?
MM: We do it on my laptop here and we have a Focusrite. We don’t really have that much gear yet, but we would like to gradually build it up. It’s very DIY!
OF: It’s not by any means like this fantastic, massive setup but it gets the job done, basically.
QRO: Well, I completely tip my hat to you for that, for being able to produce and engineer your own songs because one of the things I definitely wanted to ask you about is whether you had yet gone head-to-head with any of the very unique challenges that come with being a woman in rock. Because there are quite a lot of those, unfortunately, and there shouldn’t even be one in this day and age.
MM: Yeah, I don’t think we would really take anything like that. So far, we are really lucky because we haven’t really experienced that much negativity.
OF: We’re all so close, and we just want to play music and that’s it; we don’t think of ourselves as ‘women playing music,’ which is something that means a lot to us as a band: that we’re a band band. We just love to play!
MM: Yeah, we wouldn’t really focus on the gender too much…
We don’t think of ourselves as ‘women playing music,’ which is something that means a lot to us as a band: that we’re a band band. We just love to play!
QRO: Some of us would call that a REAL band!! I’m so glad to hear this because so many times the tragic thing is that you get women like yourselves entering this sphere and it’s just all, ‘Oh, look at the pretty girls, look how lovely’ and that has nothing to do with anything, but they’ll try to make that your calling card. I’m very relieved to hear you say you won’t allow them to!
MM: Yeah, you know it’s not like it’s offensive or anything, being called a ‘pretty girl,’ but like you say, compliments on our music are obviously our favorite, you know, it means so much more if someone says, “love the production” or “love the guitar playing.”
QRO: Right! Something that actually matters! Because, I mean, compare it to your male counterparts. Let’s say you were someone like….oh, who would we choose… Michael Hutchence from INXS? Someone like that level of male beauty, no one talks about how hot he was first – I mean, I definitely do second, but it’s after I’ve fully melted down over the music!
[triad of giggles]
MM: Well, I do say it sometimes – we’re all guilty of it I think because sometimes you’ll be watching Led Zeppelin and you’re like… Robert Plant though… [general purring all round]
QRO: Ahhhh, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page both are so unbelievable. I’ll refrain from where my thoughts go since we may have innocent readers here! [laughter] But on the subject of those divine gentlemen, I have to say, I hear all kinds of Led Zeppelin in you, lots of the goddess that is Stevie Nicks, and I also hear loads of Beatles. Am I accurate in that ear-assessment and, if so, who else inspires you?
MM: Oh definitely! We just have so many bands that inspire us. I think when we first started out it was like the Big Three: Zeppelin, The Beatles, and Fleetwood Mac. But now if we were to list our influences it would be hundreds. Different ones all the time!
And America is coming, don’t worry!
QRO: And is it anyone contemporary, or – because I know you’ve got like your ‘70s aesthetic but I know that’s not all you listen to – who do you like in the last 10 to 20 years? If anyone!
MM: Oh, we like Amy Winehouse, we like The White Stripes…
OF: Do you know Larkin Poe? They’re from Atlanta?
QRO: Yes, I do! I’ve seen them all over the city; they’re local guitar goddesses!
MM: Yeah, they’re class!
OF: They’re so cool and that’s someone we really like that’s relevant to your location, you know.
QRO: Absolutely, and it’s a good one for you to mention because it reminds me to tell you how well you will be received whenever you do decide to come over to the U.S. and tour, especially in the American south. They love a good guitar player down here! Which leads me to ask you: what’s the touring game looking like for you guys once COVID is out of the way?
OF: Good question! Well, so far before COVID we hadn’t ever done a headline tour of Ireland, so that is going to be our first move, because, you know, we want to do that first. We’ve got that all planned for December and we’re setting our sights on hopefully going and doing some shows in England maybe next year. That would be great if we could do that as well, but once we get Ireland done, I think we can start to navigate our way around…
MM: And America is coming, don’t worry!
QRO: You better! If I don’t get a message saying “hey, we’re on our way to Atlanta,” you and I are going to fight in the streets, Mollie! I will hunt you down! [laughing] No, but I really do want you to come over because the musical culture in the south is longstanding, and they love people who do it your way. They would respect you down here and they would call you “salt of the earth” for sure – which is just a euphemism for any self-made artist or person, and that’s the perfect descriptor for you guys. Talking about live shows, are you doing some kind of festival – maybe Harmony Live – in June? I may have been looking at an older video where I saw you talking about that…
OF: Yeah, we did play Harmony Live actually in June of 2019, that was like the last summer before COVID…
QRO: Ah, before COVID, gotcha! Have you guys played many festivals then or is that still unconquered territory?
MM: Yeah, we’ve done a few local type festivals and we were booked for a few bigger festivals in the U.K. and stuff before all this Covid shite hit the world…
QRO: Ugggh, the magical COVID monster – who would have ever thought? But you know what it’s done, I think? – and I hope you will eventually reap the benefits of this – I do think it has made people realize what art means to their lives. Live music and art in general. I’ve always argued that artists were vastly undervalued in the mass populace and once people got stripped of the opportunity to soothe their own psyches with public distractions, I think it recalibrated for a lot of people what the live music experience, and the role of art, actually is.
OF: I completely agree with that!
QRO: Now, we’ve talked about my Anglo-Irish literary nerd queendom a good bit today so you know why this next question appeals to me, but for readers who may not know as much about Irish mythology, can you tell us a bit about your band name? Because that was seriously one of the first things that drew me like a Gaelic rocket-magnet to your band!
OF: I love that! Well, Dea Matrona originates from Celtic mythology – which you might know a bit about – and actually it does mean “Mother Goddess” in Celtic mythology, but we didn’t pick the name because of the meaning. We liked the name, you know? It works with us and we love it, so hope other people like it as well.
MM: Yeah, I think it’s nice to have a band name that has a bit of a positive vibe as well – Mother Earth, goddess and all – you know it’s like when you hear bands like Nirvana, it’s like “heaven,” I think it means?
QRO: Yeah, exactly! Paradise! And I love that you tied it into your Irish background and all because even people who are not necessarily connected to Ireland will look that up. You’re teaching them even if you don’t know you are, which I think is so cool, and it also connects you to that sort of divine feminine energy that we were talking about because I do think there’s great power in that – the sacred feminine.
MM: Definitely. I think art is so fascinating – it’s so beautiful – and we loved looking at all those Celtic meanings and all the old stories and things, so it is something that we do like.
OF: And it’s a strong name; I like saying it. DEA MATRONA! It’s powerful, like you say.
QRO: It is, and you’ll laugh to know that I was putting the emphasis on the first syllable – like Dea MATrona – before I heard you girls say it and then when I heard how you put the punch on that second syllable, I was like “YEAH Dea MaTROna, that’s so much better! Powerrrrrr!”
[laughter in triplicate]
OF: Oh, we’ve heard so many really strange pronunciations! Someone came up to me and was like “You’re from that band Dea Matrea!” and I was like “No.”
MM: My Dad called us “Death Matrona” for like about a year!
QRO: You know, you really should do like a midnight version of yourselves, like an alter ego band, called “Death Matrona”…
MM: Proper heavy metal!
Oh, we’ve heard so many really strange pronunciations!
QRO: Yes! And we’ll get you a Frankenstrat – I heard Eddie Van Halen’s is going on the auction block – and just make you straight 80s hair metal and no apologies! I know you could easily pull it off! [laughter] But let’s see if you can pull off this last question, which is the beast of the bunch that I’ve of course saved for the end! Fill in the blank, each of you: The pinnacle of musical success for me would be _______. What would it be?
QRO: I know, pardon my French, but that’s the bitch of the bunch, isn’t it?
OF: I think to be able to love it as much as I did when I first started doing it. Because if you don’t have that, what success do you have, really?
MM: I think it’s probably just having fun, you know, having the good craic all the time because if you don’t enjoy it, you should just drop it right away.
QRO: I couldn’t agree more and think these answers are perfect, and I think you will achieve that pinnacle for sure. The passion you girls have for it is very obvious. Watching you play a cover song – and certainly when you’re playing your original material there’s this sort of electric vortex that’s there – but even when you are playing a cover song, it’s there – in neon. Anyway, I just can’t tell you what a big treat this has been getting to talk to you this morning. Thank you so much for sharing your time and your musical passion with QRO!
MM: Thank you so much; we’ve really enjoyed chatting as well!
OF: Thanks, we so appreciate you having us!
QRO: It’s been a pure and total joy, girls – and I know I’ll be seeing you out there on the mystical rock-n-roll highway very soon. Keep kicking ass and rocking on, my sirenic sisters!
Catch Dea Matrona’s headline tour of Ireland this upcoming December whether you’re in Ireland or not. You owe it to the Mother Goddesses in your own life! You owe it the prelapsarian spirit of rock!