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MayKay on Other Voices and the power of making lovely noise
Image / Living / Culture

Rich Gilligan

MayKay on Other Voices and the power of making lovely noise


by Sarah Gill
17th Nov 2023

Sarah Gill chats to MayKay about learning on the job, the catharsis of being in a crowd, and getting the band back together.

A woman known for using her voice to its fullest extent in every sense, MayKay—or Mary-Kate Geraghty, if you’re feeling particularly formal—is well regarded as a powerhouse on the Irish music scene. From quite literally belting out tunes with Fight Like Apes, Le Galaxie, and on solo tracks and features, to picking up the baton of host for Other Voices, MayKay has been unflinching in her support for the people of Palestine, using her platform and musical pipes to spread the word and cause impact.

Last summer, Fight Like Apes announced that they were getting the band back together after a seven year hiatus and the crowd, quite literally, went wild. Coinciding nicely with the 15th anniversary of their debut album, Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion, their grand reunion gig at the Olympia sold out in a matter of minutes — a feat which surprised absolutely no one.

MayKay

With a reputation as one of the most exciting Irish bands on the scene, Fight Like Apes played their first show in 2006, and over their 10 years together, they released three top 10 albums, toured with The Prodigy, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Ting Tings, and played Glastonbury not once, not twice, but thrice. Their sound was provocative and entirely unique, and they quickly carved out their own niche of alternative rock, punky pop goodness.

Not long after their reunion show back in March, the band brought their set to the festival circuit, playing both Electric Picnic and All Together Now. I saw them at the latter, and the on-stage energy infected the crowd into a nostalgia-fuelled frenzy, FLA fans old and new jumping around to “Battlestations”, “Jake Summers”, “Lend Me Your Face” and more. “That was one of my favourite gigs ever,” MayKay tells me over Zoom. “With festivals, you never really know what to expect, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a crowd, but All Together Now was an unreal one on all fronts.”

“We weren’t sure if we were losing our minds doing a comeback run. We had said our goodbyes, but we felt like we had more in us. Coming back and playing those shows meant so much to us, and it was so vindicating to hear that it meant that much to other people too.”

Playing their final show almost 10 years to the day from their first, the decision to call it quits came down to a mix of financial pressures, a lack of industry support, and a desire to disband before the joy of playing together left the building. “I’m glad we broke up when we did,” MayKay says. “On a personal and professional level, we all needed it. Me and Jamie [Fox] in particular, I don’t think we went a day without speaking the whole time we were in a band together, and that’s really intense.”

“Your perspective on the world is so skewed and it’s really hard to deal with the peaks and troughs of being in a band, because it feels like it’s all to do with whether or not people like you. And that can take its toll. It’s a lot of criticism, a lot of difficult conversations about the direction things should be going in, and money.

“People are getting really clever and seeing the best ways to keep themselves on the road now and there are a lot more supports out there for bands now. We didn’t see those same supports. I’m glad we broke up when we did, and I’m quadruple glad we got this chance to do it again one more time. These are the best shows we’ve ever done, so we feel extremely lucky.”

I wonder if it was easy, coming together once again and getting those vocal chords ramped up to fever pitch level. “I can tell you, the songs did not come back in a muscle memory way. There was so much riding on those shows, we spent months rehearsing,” MayKay admits. “I would love to tell you that we all just came together and it was like it was yesterday but it wasn’t — we were absolutely appallingly bad.”

Spoiler alert to those who may not have got to see Fight Like Apes in 2023: those months of rehearsals paid off, and led to another date for the diary – Saturday 6 April 2024 in the Olympia theatre. Back when the band were in their prime, social media wasn’t exactly the tastemaker it is now, so they didn’t really have any idea of the impact they were having on their fans. This time around, they can see it for themselves.

“There are so many positives to be taken from social media. People can interact with their fans so easily, and I’m so jealous of new bands coming up now that can have such a close connection with their fans online,” MayKay says. “I think for everyone, not just for musicians, the level of scrutiny online is tough, because when you’re so accessible, not everyone is going to be kind. When we started, I don’t think there was a big enough conversation around the mental health of artists at the time. I think it’s really, really good that that’s being talked about now and that people are being looked after more.”

“There’s a lot to do, and unfortunately being online is half the job now, but there isn’t just one way of being successful. Spotify is tricky, trying to get daytime radio play can be tricky, but you can completely exist and be an artist online in your own way and make your own money without having to go down those same routes. If anyone is feeling overwhelmed or disheartened, just know that there are 10 other ways of doing this that don’t mean you have to go against what feels like a big machine.”

When it comes to dishing out advice for those who want to make a start in the music industry, MayKay tells me that it depends on the day you get her: “Some days, I would say don’t do it. It’s tough and it can be insecure, but truthfully, for the most part, I just feel so lucky. To be able to write music with my friends and perform it and get paid to do that, there’s nothing else like it.”

“Regardless of what you’re singing about, your music can soothe people, it can light a flame under someone, it can help people through the grieving process. People fall in love with music and they fall in love with people because of music. It’s one of the most privileged positions to be in, if you take the business and the difficulties of the business out of it, being an artist is really a total honour and a privilege.”

Whether she’s on stage or in the crowd, MayKay feels and thrives on the energy of song and sound and reverberation and chorus, and it’s that catharsis that has never once waned. “That collective energy is so powerful,” she notes. “When people come together and sing at the same time, something happens to us, and it’s a great, beautiful thing. It heals us in a way, and it’s so powerful. God, I love it so much.”

MayKay

Back on hosting duties for Other Voices 2023, first returning to the Guinness Storehouse on Tuesday 21 November and then to Dingle from 1-3 December, this year marks MayKay’s eighth year in the role of presenter. Having gone from watching to player to hosting has given her a unique ability to draw compelling conversation from performers, giving them space to reflect and respond, and she credits the team behind the action for giving her the opportunity to learn on the job.

“When I was offered the job, I was so unbelievably excited, more than I’ve ever been, and I said yes immediately without even knowing what the job would entail,” she recalls. “I’m so grateful to them, because they gave me the space to learn. You just need to entertain people and keep people feeling welcomed and giddy about what they’re about to see and let people know just how special it is and why. I love the show and I adore the people I work with, and the lineups are always killer.”

Over the years, Other Voices has taken on a lot of weight within the music industry. Playing the trail in Dingle, or indeed Saint James’ Church, is something of a rite of passage for both aspiring and established artists. MayKay describes the stage as a ‘leveller’: “Something happens in that intimate space, you can feel it in the room. No one has to say it out loud, but you can feel it when someone’s on track to be special, and that we were lucky to have them in such a small space. I get that feeling every year with one artist or another. It doesn’t mean that they have to go on to be a huge commercial success, but you can feel that special quality.”

When asked for a highlight from her years of hosting, performances from Little Simz, Loyle Carner and Cormac Begley all spring to mind, but one moment stands out in MayKay’s memory. “During lockdown, when it was just me and the crew in the church, For Those I Love played his first live performance. It was so intense and emotional and powerful and important, and I’ll never forget it,” she says. “At a time when people were feeling so lonely and disconnected and worried, it was so amazing to just feel that strength and know that people at home felt it tenfold too.”

On Tuesday 21 November, Other Voices: Home at the Guinness Storehouse brings Mahalia, FIZZ, Saint Sister’s Morgana MacIntyre, The Bonny Men, and Dagogo Hart together with The Streets in the heart of the Liberties for what’s guaranteed to be an unbelievable evening of music, conversation, and connection.

Working on getting her own solo album out into the world, prepping for next year’s Fight Like Apes gig, doing songwriting workshops with children, and keeping her finger steady on the pulse of Irish music, MayKay will continue making lovely noise until her voice gives out.

Find out more about Other Voices here.

Featured image via Rich Gilligan. All imagery provided by Other Voices.

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