Wonder Villains: So good, it's no wonder they’re villains of this piece
Singer Eimear Coyle's 'party pop' band Wonder Villains are the Ulster music scene's bright young things. Just don't call them cool, as she tells Edwin Gilson
If you see a colourful, flamboyantly dressed crowd parading the streets of Belfast late at night, the likelihood is you’re looking at Wonder Villains, the bright young things of the Ulster music scene.
The quartet, originally from Londonderry, are instantly distinctive from most brand-donning students, as well as other current alternative bands who tend to favour the dark, minimalist look. Excitable singer and bassist Eimear Coyle explains that she wants her band to "stand out," and they've certainly achieved that goal. Coyle, who in 2011 was still at secondary school in Strabane, indicates that Wonder Villains have enough self-confidence not to care what onlookers think of them.
"We used to dress all in black, because we thought that would be the cool thing to do, or whatever," she laughs down the line from her family's house in Derry, which she has visited for Father's Day weekend. "But now we're definitely aware that we're not typically cool!
"We're very free with things like that; we just have a laugh about what we look like and don't take it all too seriously."
Such a mantra could extend to Wonder Villains' music, too. Ever since the four-piece began playing together in high school in 2009, they've set about creating songs that are sometimes sugary, sometimes thrashy, but always melodic and danceable. The group unashamedly label themselves 'party-pop' on their Facebook page, and they've attracted admirers for their in-your-face attitude and unique lyrics. Coyle, who as lead singer is "uncomfortable with anybody but myself writing the words" has penned tunes featuring a number of eclectic cultural reference points; former Chelsea footballer Gianfranco Zola, American sitcom How I Met Your Mother and bobsleighing film Cool Runnings have all been given the Wonder Villains treatment in the past, and there is a track about Bruce Springsteen on the band's debut album, due out on Monday. The album launch gig takes place at Bar Sub, Queen's Students' Union tomorrow.
"I wrote all of those songs when I was at school, when I really didn't know anything else apart from going to class, coming home and watching TV," explains Coyle. "I was really just writing about what I saw, and what I saw was TV shows and popstars."
According to the singer, Wonder Villains' newer tunes are more about their own personal experiences, like "moving away from home, being hungover and all of that grown-up stuff". There can be no denying the Derry band was built upon the exuberant spirit of youth, though. Eimear and her brother Kieran (guitarist in the band) have been jamming together since they were young children, composing songs about their mum and the family dog. The two followed different paths for a spell in their early teenage years, with Eimear forming an all-girl punk group called Damn Fine Coffee and Kieran, who reportedly "didn't think it was cool to be in a band with his sister", playing in a rock band named Organized Confusion. At one point Wonder Villains contained seven members and covered classic rock numbers like Bon Jovi's Livin' On a Prayer, but soon enough Eimear and Kieran were reunited in musical harmony.
"You can say anything you want to your brother, can't you?" grins Eimear, when contemplating that sibling dynamic. "As brother and sister you can tell each other honestly if you're not really into what each other is doing! That doesn't happen often, though."
At her Strabane secondary school Eimear met and befriended Cheylene Murphy, who had moved to Northern Ireland from London as a toddler, and who would become Wonder Villains' keyboardist. The two girls spent much time in the Coyle family garage, making pop ditties and bonding over a shared love of Beyonce and The Undertones. "What a hero Beyonce is!" Eimear blurts out. "I think with The Undertones too, they're such big influences on us that we get a bit worried if a song goes over three minutes! Like them, we make short, fast pop songs."
Meeting Murphy was clearly an important moment in Eimear's formative years, and, by extension, the progress of Wonder Villains. The singer was delighted that Murphy wanted to be in a band with her, and finds it "odd" that there aren't more girls in Northern Irish rock groups. She astutely points out that there are plenty of female singer/songwriters, and asserts that "that's the easiest way to play music if you can't find people that want to play with you".
Eimear adds: "I can definitely see it happening for girls in Northern Ireland, you just need to find people who love the same music as you; like me and Cheylene being crazy about Beyonce and The Undertones!"
The two girls admire Beyonce so much that, when they made a YouTube medley video entitled 'Eimear and Cheylene's Top 20 Girls That Rock' the pop diva predictably came out on top.
The final stage of Wonder Villains' formation came when Ryan McGroarty joined the band on drums, having met Kieran Coyle at an Ash concert. The hard-rock fan adds more "groove" to the group's dynamic, says Eimear. Finally the Villains had cemented a stable line-up, and their big break came when now defunct Belfast indie band Oppenheimer ran a competition for an "underage band" to support them at their last ever gig. As big fans, Eimear and co put themselves forward. They won, thus beginning a long, fruitful connection with Oppenheimer's Rocky O'Reilly.
"We were just like 'Oh, pick us, pick us, pick us!'" remembers Eimear of the competition. "We'd only played about three gigs at this point, and then we were supporting Oppenheimer at their last show! Incredible. Then, the day, after, Rocky was like 'Do you guys need a manager?' Just like that! From that day on he has looked after us, paid for our flights to places, and generally hooked us up with everything that has happened for us. So when it was time to decide who to record our album with, it was obviously going to be Rocky."
Wonder Villains laid down their debut record, called Rocky, in O'Reilly's Belfast studio. Eimear was overwhelmed at the options at their sudden disposal, the "amazing variety of tones and effects we could make use of". For one thing, it meant that "Cheylene no longer had to play the crappy Casio keyboard that my brother got when he was 10. It blew my mind, the level of choice."
The new tracks from those recording sessions will be displayed at Wonder Villains' Belfast show tomorrow. Then, after the gig, it's all back to the 'Wonder Villa', the band's 'party house', for a right knees-up. "Usually after shows in Belfast people pile into our place," reveals Eimear. "We've had some wild times there. People often find glitter in their hair a week later!"
If this young Northern Irish band party with half as much gusto as they perform music, it's certain to be another 'wild night.' It would take a cold-hearted man to deny the vibrant spirit of the Wonder Villains.
Wonder Villains play Bar Sub, Queen's Students' Union tomorrow. For details, visit www.qubsu-ents.com. Rocky is released on Monday