Pillow Queens guitarist thought life was over when she came out to her Catholic parents. Now they drink cocktails with her in gay bars
In 2016, Cathy McGuinness, Sarah Corcoran, Rachel Lyons and Pamela Connolly played a game of basketball together and the all-queer Dublin band Pillow Queens was born.
Although they’ve been putting out lo-fi indie rock for just four years, their focus on queer love, social justice and equality have already made them icons in Ireland’s queer LGBT+ scene, even opening for Pussy Riot.
Formed in the wake of Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum, the four musicians are proudly queer and proudly political women who love women, but they have another thing in common.
Cathy McGuinness, on guitar and vocals, told PinkNews that the reason religion pops up so often as a theme in their music – see their hit single “Holy Show” – is that all four of them were “terribly scarred” by their religious upbringings in Ireland.
She said: “God, growing up gay was so scary in Ireland. I mean, I know we’re super privileged, like our age group, but still.
“Being Catholic, going to mass every Sunday like, ‘You’re an abomination, you’re intrinsically evil.’ All that kind of language was very much – and still very much is – pretty terrifying.”
I was brought to Mass every Sunday, I did confessions, always knowing that it was wrong, always absolutely hating it, like a pit of anxiety.
Cathy, Sarah and Pamela grew up Catholic. Rachel, Cathy jokingly whispers, was a Protestant.
She said: “I was brought to Mass every Sunday, I did confessions, I did all that kind of stuff.
“Always knowing that it was wrong, always absolutely hating it, like a pit of anxiety going to Mass.
“But it was very much like a focal point. I remember like gone to my granny’s house and she’d be like, ‘Let’s do Hail Marys!'”
Pillow Queens guitarist Cathy McGuinness thought her life was ‘over’ when she came out – now she’s drinking cocktails with her parents in a gay bar.
Cathy continued attending Mass until she was 15, when she came out to her family, which “was definitely a shock to the system”.
“I was so nervous coming out,” she said. “I remember just being this angry ball of… just a mess.
“My best friend lived next door and I told her, ‘I’m gay, what am I going to do? Oh my God, my life is over.’ Generally people are like, ‘Don’t come out when you’re angry, that’s a terrible idea,’ but I was an angsty teen.
“So, I wrote like this real dramatic letter and left it for my mum, then I ran away to my neighbour’s, like 10 metres away, I ran for refuge.”
Luckily her parents took it well, but said they were “still learning”, which made for an “uncomfortable few years”. Now, she said, they are “absolutely amazing”.
“We have open conversations about, like, trans rights and they’re just so open to education.”
I was just drinking cocktails with my parents in this gay bar before supporting Two Door Cinema Club and I was fine. I wish I could tell 15-year-old me.
Last year, Cathy said, she even took her parents to a gay bar. “We were supporting Two Door Cinema Club on my dad’s birthday at the Olympia in Dublin.
The pub that we go to, Street 66, is a dog-friendly gay bar, it’s amazing. I was just drinking cocktails with my parents in this gay bar before supporting Two Door Cinema Club and I was fine. I wish I could tell 15-year-old me.”
Becoming role models for queer youth in Ireland is ‘scary’ but ‘super exciting’.
Pillow Queens are becoming the queer role models they never had as teenagers growing up in Ireland, but this comes with the feeling that they aren’t “doing enough”.
“That bit feels scary,” said Cathy. “People are like, ‘Oh, you’re political and you’re queer, and I suppose just being queer is political, but then I’m like, ‘S**t, I’m not doing enough, I’m not doing enough, I need to be doing more.’
“There is a kind of pressure with the title that comes, like, if we deserve the title of being a queer band that’s representing the queer community.”
But with the pressure, comes the reward: “These parents came up to us after a gig and they were super emotional. They were just like, ‘I don’t know you guys, but I’m so proud of you.’
“I think it was their daughter, they suspected might be gay or whatever, and they were like, ‘If they do come out, it’s just super exciting to know that they have someone to look up to.’
“It was a really warm and genuine interaction, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re actually providing some sort of comfort for this parent who’s obviously terrified of the future for their child.’
“It was almost like a counselling session where it’s like, ‘It’s fine. Being gay is great. We’re having a great time.'”
Pillow Queens hope to have a new album out next year.
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A new Pillow Queens album is already in the works, just a few weeks after the release of their album In Waiting on 25 September.
“We always seem to kind of get some sort of religious kind of theme going, I don’t know if that will happen in the second album… I can only imagine that there will be, you know, the remnants of the f**king pandemic and the yearning for like, just the people you love.
“We’ll see. We’ll see what comes out.”