Queer indie rockers left ‘scarred’ by their religious upbringing
Pillow Queens formed in 2016, following Ireland’s referendum on same-sex marriage. (Faolan Carey)
In 2016, Cathy McGuinness, Sarah Corcoran, Rachel Lyons and Pamela Connolly played a basketball game together and Dublin’s all-queer group Pillow Queens was born.
Although they’ve only been out of lo-fi indie rock for four years, their interest in queer love, social justice and equality has already made them icons of the Irish 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, proudly political women who love women, but they have one other thing in common.
Cathy McGuinness, on guitar and vocals, told PinkNews that the reason religion appears so often as a theme in their music – see their single “Holy Show” – is that all four were “terribly scarred” by their religious upbringing 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 a Catholic, going to mass every Sunday like, ‘You are an abomination, you are inherently evil.’ All that kind of language was very – and still is very – quite terrifying.
I was taken to mass every Sunday, I made confessions, always knowing it was wrong, always hating absolutely, like a pit of anguish.
Cathy, Sarah and Pamela grew up Catholic. Rachel, Cathy whispers jokingly, was a Protestant.
She said: ‘I was brought to mass every Sunday, I made confessions, I did all that stuff.
“Always knowing it was wrong, always absolutely hating it, like a pit of anxiety going to mass.
“But it was really like a focal point. I remember going to my grandmother’s house and she was like, ‘Let’s do Hail Mary!’ “
Pillow Queens guitarist Cathy McGuinness thought her life was ‘over’ when she came out – now she’s drinking cocktails with her parents at a gay bar.
Cathy continued to attend mass until she was 15, when she came out to her family, which “definitely came as a shock to the system”.
“I was so nervous to come out,” she said. “I just remember being this angry ball of…just a mess.
“My best friend lived next door and I said to her, ‘I’m gay, what am I going to do? Oh my God, my life is over. People usually say, ‘Don’t go out when you mad, that’s a really bad idea,” but I was an anxious teenager.
“So I wrote like this really dramatic letter and left it with my mum and then I fled to my neighbour, about 10 yards away, ran for shelter.”
Fortunately, his parents took it well, but said they were “still learning”, which made for “an uncomfortable few years”. Now, she says, they’re “absolutely amazing.”
“We have open conversations about, for example, trans rights and they’re so open to education.”
I was just drinking cocktails with my parents at this gay bar before supporting Two Door Cinema Club and I was fine. I wish I could tell myself that at 15.
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 we’re going to, Street 66, is a dog-friendly gay bar, it’s amazing. I was just drinking cocktails with my parents at this gay bar before supporting Two Door Cinema Club and I was fine. I wish I could say that to myself at 15.
Becoming role models for young gay men in Ireland is “scary” but “super exciting”.
The Pillow Queens are becoming the queer role models they never had as teenagers in Ireland, but with that comes the feeling that they aren’t doing ‘enough’.
“This track is scary,” Cathy said. “People are like, ‘Oh, you’re political and you’re queer, and I guess being queer is political, but then I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m not doing enough, I’m not doing enough. not enough, I have to do more.
“There’s kind of a pressure with the title that comes, like, if we deserve the title of being a queer band that represents the queer community.”
But with the pressure comes the reward: “These parents came to see us after a concert 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, who they suspected was gay or whatever, and they were like, ‘If they’re going out, it’s just super exciting to know 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 bringing some kind of comfort to this parent who is obviously terrified about their child’s future.
“It was almost like a counseling session where it’s like, ‘It’s okay. Being gay is fine. We’re having a good time.'”
Pillow Queens hopes to release a new album next year.
A new Pillow Queens album is already in the works, just weeks after the release of their album Waiting September 25.
“We always seem to have kind of a religious theme, I don’t know if that will happen in the second album… I can only imagine there will be, you know, the remnants of the f**king pandemic and the desire to love, just the people you love.
“We’ll see. We’ll see what comes of it.