Pillow Queens
by Interviews

Last month Dublin-based indie rockers Pillow Queens released their incredible third album Name Your Sorrow. The band holds nothing back as they delve deep into heartbreak along with all the grief and conflicting emotions that accompany it over the course of twelve tracks brimming with direct and honest lyrics. The album is a masterclass of vulnerability and catharsis as the band gives voice to all the struggles (as well as the small victories) that pave the messy path to healing. Name Your Sorrow is out everywhere now via Royal Mountain Records. Pillow Queens will kick off their UK tour in June.

Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with lead vocalist and guitarist Pamela Connolly to talk about the new album, recording rurally, the messiness of heartbreak, Greek mythology, and so much more. Read the interview below!

This interview between Em Moore and Pamela Connolly took place on April 30, 2024, over Zoom. This transcription documents their conversation and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You recorded Name Your Sorrow at Analogue Catalogue Recording Studio in Newry in Northern Ireland and you’ve mentioned how recording here helped you deepen your friendships with each other. What did you learn about yourself and each other during this time?

We’re lucky enough that we know ourselves well. When we are getting into that recording space we like to go somewhere where we potentially can’t get away from each other. We know that we work best when we’re in close quarters, we get the most out of the experience if we’re doing that. We don’t like to be doing the recording process and be like, “Ok, well you’re recording now so I’m just gonna hit the road”. We do like to have everybody in the room for their insights even if it’s small things here and there or even if there’s nothing that you can say while somebody’s doing a bass track or a drum track or something. It’s nice to just have each other’s support and when you’re coming out of the booth have everyone be like, “Great job!”

We’ve been together for so long - we’ve been touring together and have been recording together and we created the album in a different space that was very close quarters - that we kind of know everything there is to know about each other in terms of how we work and probably in ways that a lot of people in our lives don’t even get to see. There’s very few people in your life that you’re around that much that you can see the things that make them tick. We know each other quite well which is good when you’re going to do an album that’s quite intimate and vulnerable. There was never a point in which it was like, “Oh, this is going to be an awkward one”, even when you’re doing a bad take. Especially with me, there’s some weird vocal takes that I’d done where I was fairly certain that I was not reaching the key that I was meant to be reaching. You have the most amount of confidence when you are surrounded by people that you trust.

I read that while you were recording a herd of cows just kind of showed up one day. [laughs]

Yeah! One of the girls, I think it was Sarah, was like, “I didn’t wake up for that” and I was like, “How did you not wake up for that??” We were in the countryside so we could hear cows and stuff all the time but I was lying in bed and I was very much was like, “It feels like there’s a hundred cows right outside my window!” I peeked through and there was literally a cow right there. I was like, “I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t know if they’re supposed to be here”. I’m a bit of a city slicker I suppose so I was like, “Is this normal?” Then I just went back to bed. I was like, “Not my circus, not my cows”. [laughs] By the time I woke back up they were gone. I feel like we should have gotten more proof, I feel like nobody actually got proof. We were just too sleepy. [laughs]

What was it like to record in a very rural area?

It was fantastic! I remember coming out of the recording process and being so content with how the process went and how we did it. We’ve only ever recorded, for the most part, rurally when it has come to our albums. We know it’s a space that we thrive in to really be able to have no distractions when it comes to what we’re doing.

With Collin on board, we were working with someone who was completely new and we had never met before. So there was always going to be that initial fear - not “What if this doesn’t work out creatively?”, I don’t think that ever even crossed my mind because I was like, “I know what this guy can do” - it was just the fear of, “We are going to be in really close quarters with someone we don’t know for at least three weeks. What if we don’t get on?” I had the same fear for him going into a space where he’d be the one person in a group of people who know each other really well and when they are around each other they get a bit weird. It’s almost like we have our own little secret language. But it was like we’d known him our entire lives, it was an immediate click.

It was so lucky that suddenly this person that we've never met before but we really wanted to work with on a professional level has agreed to come to the North of Ireland in a very secluded place to work with us, these four girls that know each other inside and out. The fact that he agreed to do that shows you the kind of person that he was. It was a wonderful experience. I would go back and do it again ten times over.

What went into your decision to work with him?

We were having interviews with a lot of producers and he was one of them. We found a lot of the times when we were talking to producers they were referencing records that he worked on. We were like, “Well, the other producers that we’re talking to are referencing the work of this guy who we are also talking to. So why don’t we just work with this guy?” We could tell initially that he had a big interest in working with us or he was at the very least intrigued by the demos we had sent him and had an excitement in his eye. He seemed to know that he could really make something good out of what we were providing him with.

The studio where you recorded also has a lot of vintage equipment and some of it was used by New Order. What was your favourite piece of vintage equipment to use?

A lot of the vintage equipment used by New Order was synths which is not really our remit. There is some of it on the record but none that I touched at all. [laughs] I wouldn’t be able to know what was my favourite thing. I think a lot of the amps and stuff were owned by them but the owner of the studio wasn’t there at the time so we couldn’t get a run down. We were literally just taking things off shelves and being like, “Let’s use this!” We kind of threw everything at the wall with this record. The amount of equipment and the catalogue of equipment they had was just so good. It was only after the fact that we found out a lot of the stuff we did use was owned by New Order. I was like, “That’s a fun little fact, isn’t it?” [laughs]

With the studio itself, and I guess with most studios as well, you’re going into the space of a person who has accumulated so much equipment and gear that probably all has its own very interesting story regardless of whether it was owned by New Order or not. Stuff that you’re just like, “Wow! These are amps and stuff that I’ve never seen before” or things that you probably wouldn’t be able to find online. The whole place was just like an accumulation of someone’s love of recording music and you could really tell.

For the writing process, you wrote every day in your practice space from 9-5. What went into your decision to write this way? Is this how you normally write or was it a change for this album?

I guess it was a little bit of a change because we were able to have that space to do it. This was probably one of the times when we were doing Pillow Queens full-time. With the previous record, because of the pandemic, things were not necessarily rushed, but once we were allowed to be in a room together legally we were like, “We need to keep on going, we need to keep on going. We have this tour that we have in the future and we need to get a record out of ourselves”. Whereas this just felt really natural.

The decision to go in regimentally was one that was for ourselves for the most part. It wasn’t like, “We need to have a record by the end of this!” it was like, “Why don’t we just go in and every day mess about creatively without any set goals of having a certain amount of songs done by the end of this week”. I think we all personally really like that method of working regardless of whether we are writing or not. Even if we’re just rehearsing for a tour, we like to be waking up and being like, “I’m gonna go into this space and we are going to do music and make sure we are the best we can be”. It’s a nice thing to do. The way bands work, you go on wildly long tours, and then when you’re off them you love it for a week but then you’re left kind of twiddling your thumbs and being like, “I miss that lifestyle of knowing that I was doing something creative every day”.

It created a space to be able to freely make mistakes or discover things when it comes to songs. It was a fun way of doing it. It was like you were carving away at something and every day it felt like it was showing itself to you more. Whereas if we went into the room once a week, that kind of flow would probably fall away from us with that amount of time away from the process. It felt like, “We’re in it, let’s keep it going. And let’s not forget about this stuff that we’re doing”. As we were writing we were constantly recording as well. Every evening I’d take essentially an entire day’s worth of recordings and just send them on and be like, “Listen to that for tomorrow and we’ll go back over it again”. It was a really regimented thing but without a set goal which turned out well for us because in the end, we were like, “Oh hey, look at all these songs that we have. That’s crazy!” [laughs]

How many songs did you come out of that with?

I feel like we had about between eighteen and twenty. A lot of them probably were ones that weren’t fully formed so we didn’t bring them with us. There were some where we were like, “Maybe not for this record”. We knew ourselves, we could have kept doing the process but we were like, “We are fairly certain that whatever is here is a record. We just have to see what makes sense”. We could’ve kept on going and had a 37-song album or something. [laughs] But we were like, “We are actually very content with the songs that we have to choose from so let’s go to the next stage”.

The lyrics on this album are more direct and more vulnerable than on your previous albums, which are also very vulnerable. What helped you to tap into that vulnerability?

Yeah, I do agree. Sometimes people are like, “Oh, it’s not as sad as your previous albums” and I’m like, “No, no”. [laughs] There’s a lot of wordplay and metaphor when it comes to our previous albums and a lot of trying to convey a feeling without directly saying the feeling - which is not something that I will stop doing and is still in this record - but this one is a lot more upfront. It was maybe just the comfortableness of us being surrounded by each other to be able to be a lot more vulnerable. Also maybe the record was heavy because the time was heavy. It was something that I probably would’ve found a lot more difficult to be not direct with. I don’t necessarily have an answer as to why it’s a lot more vulnerable but I think the gravity of whatever I was going through and perhaps the writing process being used as a tool to work through it impacted the music. And I did start therapy around that time as well so it probably has something to do with that. [laughs]

Did you have a song that was the most cathartic to write?

“The Bar’s Closed”, probably that one. It feels the most explicitly vulnerable to me. There’s a part at the end where there’s layered vocals going on while the chorus is being sung and I sing a line that I feel is quite a vulnerable line. It’s one of the songs that I’m quite looking forward to performing live and getting all the heebie-jeebies out.

Rebuilding and strengthening your sense of self and your self-worth are big themes on the album. What has helped you do this?

To me, the record is more of a look at the struggle of doing that rather than showing how you can. When I look at it, it’s not necessarily like, “This is all the hard stuff, and here’s how you can get through it”, it’s a glimpse at the moments when things are hard and not trying to sugar-coat it. Sometimes even I find some of the songs or parts of songs don't necessarily show the person who’s struggling in a particularly flattering light. A lot of the lines can be considered to sound quite pathetic but that’s just a truth of life and something that we were willing to put into the music.

A heartbreak album can be a lot of flowery language and a bit more idealistic and I don’t think that’s what we were trying to do. You look behind the curtain of the more relatable way of seeing it. When you’re heartbroken you’re not actually yourself and you’re not the best version of yourself at all. When you get through it and you look back it’s almost like, “Jesus. I was a mess. I was a ball of anxiety and I was looking at myself in a way that I don’t deserve”. So for me, the record is a picture of the ebbs and flows of that time. Some days you have better days than others and you have the reckoning of your own self-worth when that’s being shaken.

Really getting to the heart and truth of it instead of being like, “Everything’s totally fine”.

Yeah, or just being like, “There was this great love and I yearn for it”. Obviously, there’s still very much that on the album [laughs], but rather than looking outward it looks inward a lot like, “What is this doing to you?” It’s an album that’s more about how the human body and mind and spirit reacts to a heartbreak and sometimes that’s not a very nice thing to look at because it’s not as romantic as one might believe it could be. It’s something you look at and you’re like, “Ugh!” [laughs]

There’s all these conflicting emotions too.

Yeah exactly. I don’t believe when you’re heartbroken you’re even close to the best version of yourself, you’re your own worst enemy. I think that a lot of this album shows that.

On “Like A Lesson” you reference the story of Hero and Leander and on “Love II” you reference Sisyphus. What drew you to Greek mythology?

We know we’re known as, “The band that likes to reference God a lot” and it’s not that we haven’t on this album, it just pales in comparison to any previous work. During the writing of this album, because I’m used to working in metaphors, I was like, “What else could I use to tell a story in a different way?” That’s why we use a lot of religious references in previous records. When people ask why we do it, one of the biggest reasons is that you can reference a line from a Biblical story and that one line tells an entire other story. It’s like a footnote where you’re like, “Hey if you want to know more about this, look up this, and then you’ll know more of the themes of what we’re trying to say because we’re trying to squash a lot of information into a three-minute song”. We were thinking of the same things, putting these little references here and there of Greek mythology because it’s so interesting. There was a lot I was looking up where I was like, “Man, I wish I could’ve referenced that!” but it just didn’t work.

The story of Hero and Leander and the myth of Sisyphus, they’re very similar in a way - although the first one is more focussed on love and the unhealthy things that you do in order to get your love. You’re going out of your way to put yourself in danger or do things that are not kind to yourself in order to pursue something. Then with the myth of Sisyphus - I only realized recently that we have referenced it before! Someone mentioned it recently and I was like, “Oh my god, it’s been a recurring thing!” But I guess that’s the point of the myth, you do something over and over again and you get the same result every time. Referencing that particular thing is trying to give you another angle of looking at what the album is trying to say. While all these songs can feel part of a whole story, some of them are their own individual stories. But they blend so well with the whole arch because it’s the same thing over and over again with the same outcomes. It’s a nice way to broaden what you’re trying to say in a short amount of lines.

Were there any myths off the top of your head that you remember wanting to work in but not being able to?

Yeah, I think there was one. It was Cupid and Psyche. It was one of the ones where you see imagery first and you’re like, “Wow, that’s beautiful!” There’s this beautiful sculpture of Cupid and Psyche by Antonio Canova too. I think Cupid hits himself with his own arrow and then falls crazy in love with Psyche and then the whole story gets a bit dark and twisted. While I was reading it I was like, “Hmmm, maybe this isn’t exactly what I want to convey here”. It’s actually quite similar to the Hero and Leander one as well. I was really looking at that one for a while but I couldn’t find anything to rhyme with “Cupid”. [laughs]

Along with Greek mythology you also have some literary references on the album. The name of the album is taken from a line in a poem by Eavan Boland and you’ve said that C.S. Lewis’ book A Grief Observed inspired part of “Blew Up The World”. What do these authors and their work mean to you?

The Eavan Boland piece, which became the namesake of the album, we came to after the fact. We were racking our brains as to what to call the album and there was nothing that fit. Then a friend of ours sent us Eavan Boland’s poem Atlantis. We were all familiar with her work because she’s a poet we all do in school but this was a poem that none of us had known. When we were reading the whole piece it just clicked, it just made sense. It felt like we’d known about that piece of work before we made the album and that it had been a constant reference. It just fit into the tone of what we were trying to say in the album as a whole. When we saw the line, “Give your sorrow a name and drown it” we were like, “That is kind of what we’re doing”. This is a very vulnerable album and it’s us basically putting our sorrows out into the world and using that as a method of getting through it.

With the C.S. Lewis line, it was from a book that he released under a different name which is about the grief he was going through after his wife died. The line that is referenced in that song is, “I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was Grief”. I thought that line was trying to convey the multiple emotions that you go through when you're grieving. Obviously “Blew Up The World” is not about death but it is a song about grief in another form. It’s a song about anger as well and how those two emotions can co-exist together. When I saw that line I was like, “That just sums up a lot in terms of what we’re trying to say”. It’s nice to be able to put little things like that - little footnotes like, “This is trying to convey this feeling”.

There’s so many things that we grieve that we don’t acknowledge as grief like, “Oh, it’s not about death so it can’t be grief”.

Yeah, I get that. It’s one of those things that you don’t really realize until it’s happening. You have this idea of what grief is and then when you’re experiencing grief in a time when you’re technically not supposed to, it’s quite confusing and you don’t really know what to do with that feeling. I guess what we did was make an album. [laughs]

Your video for “Heavy Pour” was inspired by silent movies and was shot at Glenmaroon House in Dublin. What was filming the video like?

It was so much fun! I’d never been in the house before but it’s quite close to where I live. I remember walking in and I was like, “Wow, this is amazing!” [laughs] It was owned by one of the Guinnesses so it was a pretty big mansion. I think it had the first residential swimming pool in Ireland and that’s the swimming pool that we’re playing in in the video. It was amazing! I was kinda confused as to how this is not somewhere that someone has decided to just take over and live in. I think it’s probably too expensive to heat. [laughs]

We were doing it with Kate Dolan who has directed quite a few of our music videos and working with her is so lovely. It’s so nice to exist in her brain and see what comes out of it. We’re always just delighted with it.

Did you have a silent movie in particular that was the most inspiring?

We were talking about it briefly with Kate beforehand. I don’t have a back catalogue of my favourite silent movies but there was one that I said at the time to her, The Passion of Joan of Arc. I don’t know that many silent movies but that’s one that I do know and it’s one of my favourites. Even though it’s not a horror - it’s more of a heavy subject - it has the same vibe and movements of fear. But it probably has a lot less slapstick. [laughs]

Did you have any supernatural experiences while filming?

I walked around the house alone for a bit and there’s still parts of the house that I did not explore. I was kind of hoping to get a vibe. There were certain parts where I was like, “I don’t want to go any further!” because I was afraid but I don’t know if I was afraid for any particular reason or just because I’m a scaredy cat. [laughs]

You set up an interactive mural in Dublin inviting people to share their sorrow or their joy or both leading up to the release. You asked people on Instagram to share their stories as well. How did the idea to do an art installation come about?

Getting a mural in Dublin was something that we were quite interested in. We went to our friend Conso from BipolarBear and we worked with a few people on it. They were like, “How about we make it a bit more interactive?” “Name your sorrow” was quite an interactive question and it was posed so that we could be like, “Name your sorrow but also name your joy” - I know that’s not what the album is but it’s a nice juxtaposition. Also “Joy” is the part of the wall that’s mostly full. On the “Sorrow” side there’s a lot there but it’s a lot nicer to remember the things that make you happy even if it’s something that’s really small. It’s been lovely. I walk past it all the time and I love seeing anything new on it. It’s really nice.

Was there anything surprising with the response to the mural?

I think my biggest surprise was how quickly people interacted with it. I did think that maybe people would just look at it. It’s quite a vulnerable thing to do when you’re walking down the street, like go over to a wall and write down something that makes you happy, let alone something that makes you sad. So I was quite surprised with how much interaction it got. When we initially did it, we were there for a couple hours and people came and did it but I’m surprised by how much people have been interacting with it without actually knowing the context of what it is. Obviously, there’s been people there interacting with the mural without knowing it’s just album promo. [laughs] But people are willing to be like, “Hey, I’m going to write down ‘pizza’!” or write something quite heavy in the “Sorrow” part during their day while they’re walking down the street. I guess that surprised me, how willing people were to interact with it regardless of whether they knew what the context of it was. It’s been quite nice to see.

How would you describe the music scene in Dublin?

It’s great! We get asked a lot about the scene itself because it has been thriving. I always try to put an asterisk beside it to say the music scene in Dublin and in Ireland in general has always been amazing but there is a lot of stuff coming out of Ireland into other spaces where it hasn’t been quite so much before. I think the most interesting thing that’s been happening in Ireland in terms of the music scene is that it hasn’t been as Dublin-focused. Being the capital it’s like, “If you wanna be a band in Ireland, you gotta go to Dublin”. That is starting to not be the case and there’s other really cool scenes popping up or scenes that people are wanting to be more involved in in other parts of the country.

The scene here is so musically diverse as well. You don’t feel like, “Oh, we’re in the indie scene” because the country is so small fundamentally. Once you’re a musician and even if you just work in the arts, you kind of all mix in the same circles. There’s not like, “There’s the rock kids over there and there’s the trad kids other there”, it’s kind of like a mixing bowl where we’re all in this scene together and there’s no compartmentalization. I don’t know why it’s started to spill over into other people’s peripherals as much as it has been but I’m glad it has. To me, the Irish music scene has always been good. [laughs]

More people are paying attention now.


More bands are probably able to tour.

Yeah, but at the same time it’s not easy to tour. I think the success of the Irish music scene has begotten more bands and more people are actually putting themselves out there and getting involved in it. There’s more and more and more of us. But when it comes to touring outside of Ireland specifically, the main place that bands would usually go to would be the UK. That’s actually not very easy to tour in anymore because of Brexit. There’s a lot of financial barriers that if they were there when Pillow Queens started, I honestly have no idea how we would have done it. It wouldn’t have been possible. While we do have the benefit of still being in the EU, there’s a lot of financial barriers to touring in the place that makes the most sense for a band when they’re starting out which is the UK. You can cover so much ground. There’s also a similar language and culture and stuff. Irish bands usually do well in the UK. UK bands usually do well in Ireland. It’s usually that exchange that happens first before the bands feed into Europe or feed into the US.

Are there any tips you have for younger bands to tour?

That port in Northern Ireland is really good and nice this time of year. [laughs] When people who aren’t musicians themselves talk about touring they can see it through the lens of, “Isn’t it amazing, it looks like so much fun!” and it is. It is so much fun but it is also work. It is draining. My tip - and it’s something that I still have to remember all the time - is to take the good with the bad. You’re doing something that not many people get to do. Remember that it’s a fun thing to do but also remember that the mental struggles, the physical struggles, and the financial struggles that you have when you’re doing it are legitimate. Don’t let anybody delegitimize those struggles by saying, “Oh, but you’re having so much fun! You get to go out every night and play a rock show”. Remember your concerns and the things that happen on tour that don’t feel as good as the other great things. They shouldn't be pushed under the carpet just because, “Rock ‘n’ roll, man”. [laughs]

Speaking of touring, you have dates coming up in the UK in June and you’ll also be playing your biggest headlining show to date at Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. What are you looking forward to the most about these shows?

The initial thing that I’m looking forward to when it comes to the UK tour is playing the new album and having the album work its way into our set and see how it feels with our older music. I think whatever we come up with in terms of a touring set will make sense. I don’t think Name Your Sorrow is leaps and bounds beyond the music that we’ve made previously. I think you can see a through line of what makes Pillow Queens Pillow Queens and see the evolution of that music happening. I’d love to be able to create a set where that can be showcased really well. That’s what I’m mostly looking forward to.

With the Iveagh Gardens show, God. I mean, I’m terrified. It’s a hometown show so it’s one of those ones where we’re going to be playing to a lot of people, some people I don’t know but also a lot of people I do. Looking out into the crowd is a really lovely feeling of people looking back at you and being so supportive but it’s a bit daunting at the same time. I’m looking forward to the feeling of pure joy that I’m going to get playing that show.

What does the future hold for Pillow Queens?

This year there are a lot more shows. Some shows haven’t been announced yet and will be announced soon. A lot of shows and hopefully more to come on top of that as well. Shows in places all across the world. [laughs] We’re gonna just take it all in our stride and gain more experiences as we go.

Jun 05WardrobeLeeds, UK
Jun 06The FleeceBristol, UK
Jun 07Electric BrixtonLondon, UK
Jun 08YES Pink RoomManchester, UK
Jun 10ClunyNewcastle, UK
Jun 11St. LukesGlasgow, UK
Jun 30Gastonbury Left FieldGlastonbury, UK
Jul 12Thomond ParkLimerick, IE (supporting Snow Patrol)
Jul 13Iveagh GardensDublin, IE
Jul 26Deer Shed Festival - Baldersby ParkYorkshire, UK
Jul 28Latitude Festival - Henham ParkSuffolk, UK
Aug 17Chez HubertLe Juch, FR
Sep 27Ohana Festival - Doheny State BeachDana Point, CA