Problem Patterns, Belfast’s pre-eminent DIY feminist queerpunk quartet are releasing their debut album Blouse Club on 27 October after five years of gigging, screaming, and lots of very hard work. They describe themselves as shouty, and justifiably so.
There’s a lot to shout about and shout they will. But Problem Patterns contain multitudes, as I speak to them via Zoom of a Sunday evening, am struck by how profoundly lovable the fourpiece are. From the conviction of their song writing, to their evident love for each other to their sincere silliness, you can’t help but want the best for Problem Patterns.
Your debut album is coming out this week, how are you feeling?
Ciara: It’s a little bit of a dream come true. The debut album feels like the first big thing. It’s what you build up to in a band. And it’s coming on vinyl. We’re really excited to see it and cry when we open it.”
Where did the name Blouse Club come from?
Bethany: “It came from me drinking in the Deer’s Head, because they have a snug there called the Blouse Snug, that only women can drink in. Men can drink in it if they’re with women. It comes from old bars in Belfast. I don’t know if it’s a Belfast thing or an Ireland thing or a Northern Ireland thing or what.
After the war, women weren’t allowed to drink in bars, so they made their own speakeasies, called Blouse Clubs. They were kind of precursors to lesbian bars as well, I guess. And it’s a double entendre for boy’s club. And we wear nice clothes, so it just seemed to fit. It’s a wee history lesson as well.
The cover of Blouse Club features art by Scotland-based artist Nänni-Pää, which depicts a colourful bar scene in the artist’s signature minimalist and linear style. How did you choose the album art? There’s a bit of a contrast between the clean, minimalist style and how your music sounds.
Alanah: We wanted to reference the title in terms of the bar scene and then have some little Easter eggs that reference past things we’ve done. There’s a take on the poster that we did for our EP prom years ago, and there’s a big picture of Beth’s dog Olive with a little crown and Bev’s cat is on the back, knocking over a cup of coffee, which refers to what Ciara and I do in our day jobs.
We all wanted something very aesthetically clean and tidy, with a firm structure with the border. And something very pretty-looking. We do have quite a DIY aesthetic on a lot of our things but I think it’s quite nice to have a parallel to our sound. Because it is a nice surprise, where you don’t know what you’re getting when you’re looking at it. If you had no idea what we sounded like and you put it on, you’re like “AAAH!” It’s a nice kind of opposites attract situation.
It’s coming up on five years since your first gig. It feels like you’ve accomplished so much in that time, does it feel like you’ve been together longer?
Alanah: I feel like we really hit the ground running. A lot of bands start and tinker away for a little bit, trying to perfect their songs or their live show, whatever. And we were all just so excited to get out there, that we wrote the song, we recorded it within a few weeks. We just threw out the single unmastered. We played our first show and then we just kept taking every single show that we could. We put out our EP within like six months of being in a band.
Bethany: Also unmastered.
Alanah: We just wanted to throw things out into the world. We’re just so excited with all of it. Even with COVID, we just needed to keep busy. And there were a lot of things that kept us going, thankfully, throughout that. It’s weird, because of COVID and that two and half years of being stuck inside, a lot of people are like, “why did it take you so long to put your first album out?” and it’s like, because of that.
Alanah: I think for us, this is the best possible time. It feels natural to be putting out our debut album now. Any earlier, it wouldn’t have been ready. It needed baking.
Ciara: We wouldn’t have been ready. I’m hardened as fuck by music.
Bethany: I think there’s a lot of pressure as well, through social media. “Oh, you have to make a viral TikTok sound, and you have to do this, and you have to get this many followers on Spotify.” I guess that stuff isn’t super important to us, because, not to sound like a wanker, but most of the time, we make music just for us.
Alanah: I think in terms of the social media stuff, our entire TikTok is what Bev thinks is funny.
Beverley: That’s true. Follow our TikTok to get a look inside my brain. We love this contrast that we have between being silly and being so serious, and being cutesy and being really angry. Those four things intersect a lot for us.
Ciara: You have to enjoy the silly wee moments to get through the really hard bits. Nine times out of ten, we’re sitting on the boat at 6am, just quoting stupid shows and laughing. Because you have to. If we didn’t do that and enjoy even those really horrible bits, we couldn’t get through it. I don’t know how people could be arsed. Because the gigs and the meeting people and the fun parts are incredible, but you know yourself, getting to those bits, 90% of it is sitting in the airport being like (groans). And you have to have fun. We do word searches and stuff now, at the airport.
Bethany: We like to buy trashy magazines, like Chat! and Take A Break! and stuff.
Beverley: Where was that Ciara, you just had a moment of clarity, when you were like “wow. We’ve travelled ten hours to play for thirty minutes”?
The four of you obviously love each other so much. How is it being in a band with your friends?
Ciara: We didn’t start technically as a friend group, we’ve grown into it. We were kind of Spice Girlsed.
Bethany: We manufactured ourselves.
Ciara: Whereas now, we’re extremely close friends. Best friends. And like, life partners. You have to learn how to fight with each other. You have to learn how to love each other. You have to learn how to constructively criticise each other with heart and care.
Alanah: We always say it’s like a marriage and you have to keep working at it.
Beverley: You ever share a single bed with a friend?
Alanah: How about three at once?
Ciara: No one tells you, if you need to take a poo, if you need to change into your bra and pants at short notice, you need to not have any qualms anymore. The four of us got ready in a disabled toilet once.
Bethany: I saved Ciara’s life once in the shower. Her loofah got stuck in her nose ring. She was bollock naked and I had to go in and help her. It really is like being married to three gross men.
You have recently signed with Oxford-based independent record label Alcopop! Records. How has that been in comparison to being completely independent?
Alanah: Alcopop! is amazing because they still allow us a lot of freedom. They’re just helping amplify our voices. They’re doing a lot of work in terms of the PR stuff. We’re very used to sending emails every time we put something out. It’s been an odd adjustment not having to do that anymore.
It means, thankfully, more opportunities are coming in, but we’re busier than ever, which is scary. It’s been really great but it’s been like “oh! We need to fly over to do a BBC live session? I’ll try to get the day off work!”
The four of you take turns writing about things you’re angry about. How do you approach song writing? Does it help with processing your anger to write a song and perform it?
Beverley: The lyrics (of the single ‘Letter of Resignation’) are written as an ex-Christian, leaving the church and all the things that make me cross in it. People who, like me, grew up in Ballymena, which is like the Bible belt of Northern Ireland, have been like “I know what you’re talking about.” I let my Mum hear it and she even understood where we were coming from.
Bethany: It does help open conversations, maybe would be difficult to have if you were just to sit down and talk about it.
Alanah: We’ve had men come up after gigs and respectfully say, “I’ve never seen you guys, I’ve never listened to your stuff but you’ve given me a lot think about and take away.”
Ciara: Even within the band – I’ve never experienced lesbophobia, I’ve never left the church. There’s things within the band that I’ve never experienced, but I have learned from hearing the other band members talk about how it made them feel. We’re helping and teaching each other.
Bethany: The way we channel our anger is the healthy way to do it. It’s a better outlet than taking it out on family or whatever.
Alanah: I have been told, people will come up to me after a gig and say, “I don’t know who that person is! Who are you?!” On stage, it’s fully unmasked me. In my day-to-day socialisation, being in customer facing work and just trying to get through life, it’s not a persona so much as not really wanting to be perceived. Whereas onstage, I’m like “everyone had to listen to me right now!” I feel like I can be as weird as I want onstage and that weirdness is celebrated.
Ciara: I feel most myself when I’m on stage. The rest of the time, I’m just storing up the energy to do it again. Since the band has started, I’ve become much more of a chilled out person, who wants to go to bed. I mean look at me (Ciara is lying in bed).
You’re known for your energy on stage. Is it difficult to deliver that level of performance consistently?
Ciara: We have zero tolerance for letting ourselves be physically burnt out by it. We just don’t sleep on floors. Not because we’re divas but because it’s so physically demanding. We need to be hydrated and sleeping at the very minimum. That’s not a lot to ask for.
Alanah: With chronic illness in the band we need to make sure those basic needs are met. I’ve learnt over the years that most of the bands doing 3 weeks of tours, with no breaks were all on cocaine.
Bethany: We’re actually not rock ‘n’ roll at all. We got back from our gig in Blackpool and ordered a McDonald’s and watched Dinner Ladies on the TV in our pyjamas.
Beverley: McDonald’s is our cocaine.
You have a lot of younger fans and you have a lot of care for them? Are you thinking of your younger selves?
Alanah: I grew up going to a lot of gigs when I was a teenager. Proper local ones and it wasn’t a safe environment. For everybody, for any fan, regardless of age, coming to our gigs, we want to promote a safe environment but it’s most important for those younger ones. I’ll go back and have chats with my oldest friends and they’re only just going back through that stuff and realising hey! Maybe they shouldn’t have had twenty-five year old boyfriends, when we were all only fifteen.
We want to remind the younger ones that shouldn’t have to put up with all that stuff. If a freaking adult is coming after you, he’s a loser. He can’t get women his own age and he wants someone to manipulate. Twenty years down the line, you’re going to be chatting with your friends and be like “that was fucked up and it might have traumatized me for my whole life.” It was just so normal and it still is.
Beverley: It’s funny that Alanah and I grew up in very different circles but that was happening in the church as well. Just men be creeps everywhere!
Bethany: And I think it’s so important for us with the young fans, whenever we do an all-ages show, that it’s a place for them to go, where they’re not going to get in trouble, their parents know where they are and they’re safe. They can come and see a gig and have a nice time and not be pressured to do stuff that they don’t want to do. And that’s not something that was available to me ten, fifteen years ago.
What art have you been enjoying recently and what would make good companion pieces to Blouse Club?
Alanah: I’ve been listening to a band called MSPAINT recently. They’re really weird. The album (Post-American) is probably one of my favourites of the year. A companion piece? I reference them all the time, everyone’s sick of me talking about them all the time, but Pissed Jeans, Why Love Now. I’ve got a picture of them framed on my shelf from the album.
Ciara: I think the companion piece is a DVD of season one of I Think You Should Leave. And Shrek 2, but they have to be all on DVD.
Bethany: Bouncing off Ciara’s, it’s the sketch from I Think You Should Leave, where he’s doing the prank show with the prosthetics on and he’s like “there’s too much fuckin’ shit on me”. We quote that way too much. And also, I would throw in season one and two of Victoria Wood’s masterpiece, Dinner Ladies. Just cos.
Ciara: And eat a butter pie.
Bethany: Bev, do you have anything to add?
Beverley: I already made an album called Blouse Club but just in vibes, and it has artists such as L7, Bo Burnham, Le Tigre, Minutemen, Weezer, Lady Gaga and sleepy hoover sounds to send you to sleep.
Bethany: That’ll make sense at some point.
Blouse Club by Problem Patterns is released on 27 October 2023 and can be purchased over on Bandcamp. They will celebrate the release with a special launch show in Belfast’s Black Box. Hosted by Table It, support on the night comes from Mucker and Touch Excellent. Tickets and further information available on the Black Box website.