On the Verge: Heathers

When I first heard Heathers – the twin duo of Ellie and Louise Macnamara – sing, I had flashbacks to high school, to the girls who sang the National Anthem games and sang in the hallway to the four chord strumming of the guy who stole your first girlfriend. The teen angst that has never escaped me made me predisposed to hate them, but then I realized there’s no way they could have sang the National Anthem at high school games, they’re Irish. I still couldn’t help but see them as popular girls who would probably have had their boyfriends push me into lockers and force my head down a toilet for reasons my mom could only rationalize as “jealousy.” It took some time to convince me otherwise: “We went tour a week after graduating high school,” the sisters explained. “We released our first album while taking our final exams in school.” They were certainly too passionate and dedicated to have time to be popular in the high school world, but that passion earned them a much more valuable and tangible popularity – a number one hit in Ireland.

The first song the duo played was “Circular Road,” a generally folky song that found an edge with its aggressive acoustic strumming pattern. The song was driven by the power of the twins’ vocals individually as well as while harmonizing. The simplicity and minimalism of the performance allowed for the power of the vocals and the strength of the songwriting to be highlighted. The sisters, while perhaps more experienced and comfortable in this format, wrote their entire new album with a full band. “Our new album has a lot more going on than just guitar, we used [Digital Audio Workstation] Logic quite a bit working with MIDI keyboards. Then we would come together and work on lyrics,” said Louise.

The next song the Macnamara sisters played was “Forget Me Knots,” a song more dynamic than their previous tune. Consistent changes in the strum pattern and guitar phrasing matched the rising and falling intensity of the vocals. It felt so natural and supernatural at the same time; the two were eerily in sync. Trying to figure our what voice was coming from what twin was like trying to figure out what Olsen twin was standing in for Michelle on Full House at any given time.. twins just have that advantage. Ellie, the twin born first, says she’s “definitely” in charge, but Louise disagreed and quickly intervened. “No you aren’t, I’m the more organized one. I carry Ellie’s passport for her, I look after all her stuff, I’m a bit OCD when it comes to that stuff,” she said while wrapping an XLR cable into a perfect coil. The timbre of their vocals had a strong pop quality to it, so much so that at moments it was reminiscent of Katy Perry. A capo that never found its way towards the tuning pegs gave the guitar a bright glistening tone that complemented their upper-register singing. As beautifully complementary the Macnamaras were, each had a distinct personality and were truly individuals, an element that came through on their music just as strongly as their sisterhood did.

 By Kevin O’Brien

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