The Galway quartet discuss their delicate and distorting debut, MADRA, bonding with baby lambs and why you don’t need to be rock ’n’ roll to record a rock album.

“While you took your time, you wasted mine / I said, “I wanted you” / You said you felt too blue / And while you were making up your mind / I lost mine,” sings Julie Dawson on the chorus of NewDad’s indulgent 2020 single, ‘Blue’. The lyrics are delivered delicately amongst faint reverberations, relaying vignettes of human fragility with a beautiful candidness. On fellow early releases, the band unfurl emotion through the banalities of everyday life just as powerfully, untangling notions of harm, hate and love over floaty indie rock.


It seems a fitting evolution then that the cover of NewDad’s debut album, MADRA – which translates from Irish Gaelic to ‘dog’ – evokes a sense of self-doubt and destructiveness. The striking, pale faced china doll looks down at the floor despondently; its shattered nose and broken cheekbone summoning a sense of mystery. Those who’ve been following the Galway rockers for a while will be quick to point out that sonically, this record is a lot heavier than previous releases; NewDad step out into the unknown and break free from the formulas of their past.

“We never sat down and intended to come up with an idea for the album,” says lead singer and guitarist Julie over our relaxed lunchtime chat. “It became this mosaic that worked,” adds fellow guitarist Sean O’Dowd before his band member re-interjects, “I wrote about many of the themes originally in Galway, and then two years later, revisited them through the lens of being in London”. The Irish quartet, completed by bassist Cara Joshi and drummer Fiachra Parslow, join me after their Notion shoot, and are quick to explain how moving to the capital inspired a change in sound that actualised their lofty ambitions.


Drenched in disarray and disillusionment, many of the themes Julie visits across the record align with the melancholy of previous EPs, Waves and Banshee. “You’re sweet, I’m sick / I hurt myself for kicks,” she whispers on the opener, ‘Angel’, while ‘Where I Go’ is just as revealing: “I lost my body, it didn’t feel like mine / I lost my trust in everything and everyone”. MADRA differs by embracing a new-found abrasiveness; crashing guitars and rumbling drums feel resonant of London’s cacophonous roads, as spiking sounds and repetitive riffage create a claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s noisy and rambunctious, trading vibrant hues for a darker and more grandeur vibe.

MADRA’s dense alt-rock textures have a lot to do with where it was made. Recorded at Rockfield Studios, where Black Sabbath and a young Ozzy Osbourne sowed the seeds of heavy metal, the venue’s illustrious past rubbed off on NewDad. It’s where Queen recorded ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and Oasis crowned themselves the kings of brit-pop with Morning Glory. Those hallowed walls have homed many a superstar, holding together their unconventional secrets to success. 


Some are revealed in the BBC documentary, Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm. Liam Gallagher describes their old stomping ground as “The Big Brother house but with tunes”. Not that he can remember much of it: “We were off our faces most of the time”. The singer and fellow former Oasis member Bonehead drove a combine harvester across a farmer’s field to spy on, and then smoke a spliff with, The Stone Roses, who were recording in the other studio at the time.


NewDad’s experience was comparably uneventful. The recipe for their loudest work to date? Bonding with baby lambs, taking in the Welsh countryside and dining on home cooked meals from Rockfield owners John and Sue. A wholesome affair, the band had just 15 days to record 15 songs. “We were too busy to be causing havoc,” Sean says. I think next time [we record an album] we need to plan something crazy so that we do have some stories,” grins Fiachra.


More interested in echo chambers and perfecting their guitar tones, NewDad have Alan Moulder to thank for their debut’s mesh of disorientating distortion. The mixer has produced albums by some of the most innovative rock acts of our time: from the Smashing Pumpkins to My Bloody Valentine, and more recently, Royal Blood to Yves Tumor. “You wouldn’t bother getting a mix from someone unless it brought it up a level but he brings it up like four notches. No one can do what he does to songs,” explains Fiachra fanatically, stroking back a bleach blonde mullet from his eyes. In fact, the final mix was so far removed from their original that they couldn’t quite believe what they were hearing. 

Inspired by the feedback soaked atmospheres Alan created for My Bloody Valentine, NewDad are constantly likened to shoegaze revivalists and bands of the past. A new generation of anti-rock appreciators lurk in the binaries of social media algorithm, championing the subgenre and its layers of unrelenting guitars. On MADRA though, they prove they’re more than the alumni of bands like Just Mustard and Julie. “10 years down the line, I hope we’ve started a new sound,” says Sean, looking over at the rest of the group. MADRA has shoegaze-y elements, especially on tracks like ‘Angel’ and ‘Change My Mind’ but they are still rock songs,” notes Cara, who had sat quietly until this point. “I think the only time it’s ever a problem is if somebody reads it and never gives the album a chance because they don’t like shoegaze,” Fiachra concludes. 


NewDad are part of a new crop of Irish guitar bands straddling genres like indie rock, post-punk, dance-pop, and of course, shoegaze. Steeped in storytelling tradition, the country’s shores have produced some of the most essential acts of their time: U2, The Cranberries and The Boomtown Rats knowingly, but more recently, acts like Sprints and The Murder Capital too. This year, we lost two of the most iconic artists to ever grace the Emerald Isle, Sinead O’Connor and Shane MacGowan, who although known for their turbulent relationship, individually refused to ever be put inside a box.


“Sinead was such a powerhouse, not just to women in Ireland but women everywhere,” says Julie. “She was a rockstar, my mum still talks about seeing her on stage in a black suit wearing Dr Martens. She was just the coolest.” Shane’s musical subversion was just as impactful, especially for Fiachra, who recalls: “You always get picked on for the stupidest things in school and because I didn’t listen to what was popular, I grew up playing Irish music, people would be like, ‘stop with the weird banjos and stuff,’” he says, impersonating former classmates in their normie voices. “But The Pogues made it seriously cool to play Irish music, so of course they’re a big inspiration [on us]”.


Bunking class and practising in their former bassist’s shed became the reality of NewDad’s original line up at secondary school. Friends would pop over, curious to hear those early jamming sessions and their repertoire of covers. “It was very random at the start. We had a keyboardist instead of a second guitar player and one of our friends used to sing,” reflects Julie. “There were no expectations and we’d only practise once a month because that shed was so f***ing cold,” says Fiachra, shivering at the memory of their old hideout. 

It wasn’t until the band recorded and released their debut single, ‘How’, that they started to take themselves seriously. Like waves rippling onto a beach’s shores, the track drifts between hazy soundscapes and kaleidoscopic instrumentation, which Julie brushes with her choir girl refrain. Signing to Atlantic Records, via a Zoom call last year, was an indicator that this diaphanous and drony sound had global appeal. 


Their recent BBC Maida Vale session was another landmark moment. Disciples of The Cure’s gothic allure, they covered ‘Just Like Heaven’. “We played it a lot at the shed when we had a keyboardist, but he refused to play the main riff, which is the only part of the song anybody knows!” Fiachra says disapprovingly. Luckily, it was one of the first songs that this current lineup played together too.


NewDad’s completely sold out UK and Ireland tour kicked off last week. Concluding with a show at north London’s iconic KOKO, the band are alarmingly unfazed by the stakes of the eight dates. Having supported fellow Irish rockers Fontaines D.C. and Scottish singer-songwriter Paulo Nutini, they’re excited to get on the road and play material from MADRA. “It’s nice knowing that no matter where we go, the crowd will be good because they all want to be there,” Sean smiles. “We haven’t done our own shows in a really long time,” considers Julie. Touring is a luxury many artists are struggling to afford but the demand for NewDad’s proves they have a fervent, almost cultish following who are as willing to be on this journey as the band themselves.


I wrap up the interview by asking NewDad about their tour antics, hoping they drop an edgier anecdote than the one provided about Rockfield. “We need lots of DVDs,” declares Sean. The band agrees resoundingly. Shark Tale?” suggests Cara. “I have the whole of Father Ted to bring,” adds Julie, pleased with herself. Maybe making rock and not falling victim to the genre’s more troubling tropes isn’t such a bad thing, especially if, like NewDad, you’re beginning to follow the fruitful footsteps of music’s elite.

Listen to MADRA now:


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