Stage Times: Pillow Queens

From playing charity gigs for dogs to the President's house, Pillow Queens walk us through their most memorable performances

For Dublin four-piece Pillow Queens, the arena-ready sound of their new album Name Your Sorrow is more than just a sonic choice – it’s a statement of intent. Three albums in, the band want to feel at home on any stage you could put them on.

“We go into the recording process being like, we want this to sound like it wouldn’t be out of place in an arena, or on a very large stage. Because we constantly try to aim higher and higher and higher,” says co-vocalist and guitarist Pamela Connolly. “So we knew obviously there were parts of these songs that were quite delicate and small, but there’s always these big swells, [where] we do wanna fill a room with sound, whether that be wailing guitars or four-part harmonies. We wanna think big but not necessarily melt-your-face-off big – not all the time, anyway.” 

That ambition makes the poignant, yearning songs on this album feel cinematic and all-encompassing. Between transcendent choruses (‘Suffer’, ‘One Night’) and rocky barnstormers (‘Friend Of Mine’, ‘Gone’), there are moments that give you chills around every corner. On highlight ‘Like A Lesson’, when the band drops out and Connolly sings, “I don’t wanna ruin my life but I wanna go home with you,” you can’t help but imagine 20,000 people backing her up. It’s an excellent album, and it feels like the transition from exciting up-and-comers to force of nature is complete for Pillow Queens. 

With a trip across the Irish Sea coming up in June, including their biggest UK gig to date at Electric Brixton, we sat down with Connolly and drummer Rachel Lyons to chat about the most memorable on-stage moments of their career.

Pillow Queens - Like a Lesson (Official Video)

The gig that made you want to play music

Lyons: We have to go back a very long time. I’d say Bell X1 playing Vicar Street. I was definitely like, 16 or something. 

Connolly: I think when I saw this gig I’d already been in bands and stuff, but it was the first gig where I felt like I was moved: I went to see Sufjan Stevens in the Olympia in… gosh, I don’t even know what year it could have been, but he was touring the Age Of Adz album. I’d obviously been to loads of shows for years before that, but it was the first time where I felt really overwhelmed by the music. And I guess that was a kind of realisation that like, hey, maybe I can make people cry too.

The first

Connolly: The first Pillow Queens gig was in BelloBar, in Portobello. We did it for charity. We organised the gig ourselves; we just got a bunch of our favourite bands that were around to play. And it went really well. Although I just remember my lip quivering during the first song because I was so nervous.

Lyons: I dropped a drumstick two songs in. And I don’t drop my drumsticks very often, but yeah, I probably was quivering too.

Connolly: Yeah, it was very nerve-wracking. It sold out. I mean, people didn’t really know us at that point. We did have a good few friends there, but the other bands that were on the line-up helped sell it. And it was all in aid of a dog rescue, so it was very nice and wholesome.

Pillow Queens - Hearts & Minds (Official Video)

The biggest

Connolly: I guess I wouldn’t include festivals. But the biggest of our own shows that we’ve played would have been Vicar Street in 2022. And then our next one will obviously be [4000-capacity] Iveagh Gardens…

Lyons: Yeah, that’ll be our biggest headline to date, not on a festival stage. That’s what we’re working towards at the moment. It’s a big deal. But the night before we’re playing support for Snow Patrol for 27,000 people at Thomond Park Stadium, so that will be our biggest gig to date. I’m not worried about Iveagh Gardens, to be honest with you. It’s the stadium that’s massive.

How are you feeling about that? Nervous or chill?

Connolly: I keep on forgetting…

Lyons: Yeah, I’m kind of putting it away in my brain and locking the door, and things like this remind me that we have to do that. But it’ll be fun. We’ll have a massive stage, I won’t have to be backed into a corner of a venue.

Have you done anything so massive and nerve-wracking before?

Connolly: We supported IDLES last September in Greece. And that was quite big. Actually, it was more the aesthetic that was really… not overwhelming, but it was overwhelmingly beautiful. It was on a cliff face, and it was an amphitheatre, kind of similar to Red Rocks in America. And it was just one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever seen. It was just so picturesque. It’s one of those ones where you’re just like, ‘I’m never gonna forget this.’

Lyons: For the IDLES set we got to sit in the amphitheatre seats, and with the light show and the full moon, it was incredible. 

Pillow Queens - Like A Lesson (Acoustic live at Hopeless Botanics Dublin)

The smallest

Lyons: Probably that one that we did in Laval in France, last November. We’d done a run of shows based around one or two festivals, and we just needed a show to get us from one place to the other, and it just happened to be this small little town in France, called Laval. It was a little wine bar across the road from an Irish pub, and I think the capacity was 50 or something. It was tiny, but it was cool. Other than that, we also played in a bookshop in Bristol. They just left us the keys for the shop for a while, so we had our own bookshop. 

Connolly: Yeah, they were like, ‘Look after the bookshop there,’ and we were like, ‘Okay!’ 

The best

Connolly: I think it’s the one at Vicar Street for me.

Lyons: Yeah. That was a really important big gig, and all of our families were there. It was a very emotional night.

What was the most memorable part?

Lyons: My favourite part was being able to look up to the seating upstairs while playing drums and just being able to see my family. Being able to see them bopping, singing, smiling. It was really nice.

Connolly: Yeah, I have a similar answer. Basically looking out into the crowd and seeing my entire family, and all my friends, and people I’d gone to school with and I hadn’t seen in years. I guess the feeling of like, everybody being behind you, and everybody singing along. And then our sound engineer played Vengaboys at the end and everybody just had a big dance party. It was great.

Lyons: Yeah, it was perfect.

The worst

Lyons: There’s been a few… 

Connolly: There’s not one in my head where I’m just like, that was a terrible, terrible gig. I just know there’s been gigs where it was too hot.

Lyons: Oh god. I can instantly think of one that was just one of the worst gigs to play.

Connolly: Rotterdam?

Lyons: Yeah, the one on that boat.

Connolly: Yeah, yeah. We were in the basement of a boat, and it was probably one of the hottest days of the year…

Lyons: …In a really warm tin can.

Connolly: It was so hard to just function. I thought that was the hottest show I’ve ever played. But then we played a show in Italy, and the stage was aimed right at the sun, and obviously we weren’t used to the strength of the sun. I just remember being like, oh my god, I think I’m gonna pass out. That was a good show, it was just a hard one to stay alive at.

Lyons: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve had any really nightmare shows. There have been ones where our instruments haven’t arrived on time for us to go onstage, or we’ve had no soundcheck, or just logistical difficulties. But it’s been a long time since we’ve walked away from a gig being like, ‘That was absolutely terrible.’ Maybe one night somebody has a bad gig, something goes wrong or they play badly, but I don’t think people really notice and it’s not the end of the world most of the time.

Pillow Queens - Rats (Official Video)

The weirdest

Connolly: We have played quite a few boats, and castles and stuff. But it’s hard, because once you start playing strange ones, they eventually just kind of feel normal in the end. Gosh, I don’t really know what the weirdest one would be… Oh, the President’s house, that was pretty weird.

Lyons: I was gonna say, is that weird or is that just really cool?

Connolly: It’s just unusual.

Lyons: We played the President’s house last summer. Every year there’s a garden party thrown, and last year it was a celebration of the National Women’s Council. We were asked to play that, and yeah, it was a no-brainer. We got to see all around the house, so that was really cool, and the president and his wife were bopping along. And then we also played in the US consulate. That was before we headed off to the States for South By South West in 2021. We met the immigration officers and got real pally with them, so when we arrived at the gates to show our visas they were like, ‘Come on, gals!’ They hardly looked at them, just scanned them and were like, ‘You have a great time!’ So yeah. That was pretty cool and weird. 

Pillow Queens play London, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow between June 7-11, before playing Iveagh Gardens in Dublin on 13 July. Find tickets here

Photo credit: Debbie Hickey/Getty