Having just released their critically-acclaimed new album, The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All, Belfast indie band New Pagans are rapidly building on their reputation as one of the most exciting acts to watch in 2021. Following the release of the album, we spoke to vocalist Lyndsey McDougall about growing up in Belfast, attitudes to women in music, and how she feels writing songs that are really personal to her.

Thanks for your time, how is life treating you at the moment?

Lyndsey McDougall: “All good, Spring has finally arrived in Ireland so, the slightly warmer weather has lifted my wintery mood.”

The album is finally out. How does that feel and what’s the feedback been like to it?

“It’s my first album (the rest of the band have all released albums before with other bands) so, I didn’t really know what to expect and needless to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how gushing some people have been about it.”

You have a massive backing across the media. Given some of the subjects covered on the album, how helpful is this as an enabler to get those messages heard?

“When we were writing those songs we didn’t realize we had anything significant to say, I’m glad we did but it wasn’t intentional. Having the support of the media definitely helps us get across some of the tricky subject matters we write about, all we hope to do is facilitate some of those uncomfortable conversations. We really don’t have all the solutions but dialogue is a good place to start.”

As well as more general subjects, there are some hugely personal songs like “Harbour.” Can you tell me what inspired you/Lyndsey to write such deeply personal songs, and what you took from it?

“I started my career as a visual artist and I remember during an assessment at art college one of the tutors made a comment that my work was too personal and it made them feel uncomfortable. I don’t think any form of art is ever too personal, at its very core artists are surely unravelling a little piece of themselves every time they make something. Well, all my favourite artists do, PJ Harvey, Bjork, and Louise Bourgeois. For instance, when I write and sing about pregnancy, I feel liberated and empowered rather than vulnerable.”

There are also songs written from a more general experience like “Christian Boys.” again. What prompted you to write about those experiences?

“‘Christian Boys’ is about an observation I’ve made over my life; that often the most vulnerable people become victims, and then they become the scapegoats. I hate this. I wrote the lyrics to this song when I was very angry after hearing about my friend’s experience with a Christian man. The bottom line, don’t be a hypocrite, don’t blame anyone else for your errors.”

Looking back over your life, has there been any particular experience that you would describe as (good or bad) a life-changer in terms of your outlook on society, people or life as a whole?

“A big life changer for me was meeting Cahir O’Doherty, the guitarist in the band and now my husband. It was the most electric type of encounter I’ve ever experienced and we haven’t been able to get away from each other, even if we’ve tried, ever since. I’d grown up in an Evangelical Christian home and although I left when I was 18, I’d always surrounded myself with similar people. Cahir was different and he taught me that I was inherently good not inherently bad. Although a very simple truth, it enabled me to think better of myself.”

Artwork for ‘The Seeds, The Vessel, The Roots And All’ by New Pagans

You were featured as part of a Kerrang! feature on IWD which is great but the music industry/media is still criticized for the way it portrays/discriminates against women.

Would you agree that there is still a long way to go and, if so, what changes would you like to see?

“As I said in that feature, we’ve come a long way but we’re naïve if we think we’ve arrived. Some of the issues close to my heart that we still need to address include how we treat older women and how we treat mothers/parents in our industry. I would personally like to see even more women in leadership roles across the board, more women running labels and media outlets, more female producers, managers and crew.”

Let’s talk a bit about life in Belfast. I’ve spoken to a number of Belfast musicians over the years who’ve said growing up there was hugely influential on their music/life, how has life there influenced you?

“We all grew up in the ‘Troubles,’ that period of Irish history has affected us all differently. It’s most definitely represented in the music but again it’s not something we plan, sometimes it just appears. ‘Bloody Soil’ is a good example, we didn’t realize we’d written a song about Northern Ireland until after the fact.”

It’s hard to mention Belfast at the moment without talking about the current troubles. What are your thoughts on the current troubles?

“We all remember what it was like in Northern Ireland before the Good Friday Agreement (1998), it wasn’t good. Northern Ireland is such a fragile place, full of wonderful people. We just hope the country remains stable and safe for our kids. None of us wants to go back.”

Did you have any experience of the troubles in the ‘80s? If not, did any of your family or friends?

“Yes, we all grew up in the ‘80s, each of us could probably tell you unsettling stories about what we saw or how it affected our families but going into too much detail isn’t always helpful. I’ve been reading a really beautiful book called ‘Thin Places’ by Kerri Kerri ní Dochartaigh. Anyone that’s interested in understanding what it was like to grow up in the Troubles should start there.”

From my own experience, Belfast is a wonderful city. Tell us about some of your favourite memories from there. Gigs, nights out?

“We love playing shows in Belfast, one of my favourite Belfast venues is the Limelight and we are playing there on December 16th. I spent most of my university days heading to the Limelight and torturing the DJ to play whatever song I was obsessed with at the time. Belfast is full of wonderful people and if you ever need a laugh you can just take yourself to one of our little pubs, like the Sunflower, have a stout and soon you’ll be chatting to everyone in the bar about music, places to visit and things to eat. My favourite spot in Belfast though is Botanic Gardens, it’s a sanctuary in the city and right beside the Ulster museum. Taking a walk there has lifted my spirits on many an occasion.”

Ok, so the album is out, in time for life starting to return to normal. That being the case, what are your plans for 2021?

“We’re currently finalizing a UK tour towards the end of the year which is pretty exciting and we’ve started building a recording studio. We realized we’re very picky about how we sound so, for now, it feels good for us to do it ourselves. We’re also hoping our new headquarters can be a place for other bands and musicians to pass through, a creative space where we can make/record all kinds of music.”

Thanks again for your time and good luck with the album. Over to you for the final words…

“Thanks for including us V13, it was an absolute pleasure and hopefully some of your readers make it over to Belfast in the future. Ádh mór oraibh (good luck).”

Upcoming Tour Dates:

10/11 – Oporto, Leeds
10/12 – The Craufurd Arms, Milton Keynes
10/13 – Green Door Store, Brighton
10/14 – The Black Heart, London
10/16 – The Dark Horse, Birmingham
10/17 – Wild Paths Festival, Norwich
10/18 – Star and Garter, Manchester
10/19 – Broadcast, Glasgow
12/09 – Academy 2, Dublin
12/16 – Limelight 2, Belfast

I have an unhealthy obsession with bad horror movies, the song Wanted Dead Or Alive and crap British game shows. I do this not because of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle it affords me but more because it gives me an excuse to listen to bands that sound like hippos mating.