Michael Smyth of the Belfast Shoegaze Band Virgins Discusses Their Upcoming Debut Album, “nothing hurt and everything was beautiful”

Currently, it feels like we’re seeing the gradual dissolution of music categorisation, as every subculture seems to be consolidating with every other and nobody appears to confine themselves to a single genre anymore. As such, it’s growing increasingly rarer to find modern musicians who feel comfortable being within any kind of bracket. Then there’s the Belfast band Virgins, whose guitarist and founder, Michael Smyth, declaratively states, “We’re a fucking shoegaze band!”

Michael is a well-versed musician, who has played in bands for his entire adult life. His early inspirations were punk, primarily ‘80s American hardcore and post-hardcore, like Fugazi, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag.  “That sound was influential to me, very early on, but more the ethics, the values, the approach, and the attitude,” Michael tells Post-Burnout.

Inspired by the D.I.Y attitude of punk, Michael would go on to start his own PR and events company, Old Crow Promotions, which has helped many up-and-coming artists get representation and publicity at an affordable price and which has also allowed Michael the opportunity to bring some of his favourite acts to Ireland. “You don’t have to wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder to go do the thing you love,” he says. “If you know that you can put on your own show, you can be in a band.”

With this background, Michael played in and promoted various bands with varying influences and styles, which has diversified his pallet as a listener and a self-admitted music snob. During the lockdowns, Michael began getting really into shoegaze. “I got really into [the Belgian shoegaze band] Slow Crush,” he says.  “I can’t remember how it happened, but I came across their record Aurora, and then I just got really, really into it, man. I had always liked My Bloody Valentine and stuff, but that’s a more ethereal, floaty kind of thing, whereas Slow Crush is a full band, and it [had a] punk rocky kind of energy behind some of it and it was a bit more driving, you know?

“And I really kind of latched onto it, and then I just got really, really into it, and just found out about all these bands that I had never heard of that are huge in the shoegaze community, like Nothing and [The Black Heart] Death Cult and all this kind of stuff, so I just got into it. And then I was like, ‘Well, I write songs, so I might try and write a shoegaze song,’ you know?”

At the time, Michael was playing with the alt-rock outfit Paper Tigers and filling in on drums for other acts and found that these bands didn’t offer him the opportunity to sprinkle in his new shoegaze influence. To satisfy this desire, Michael formed an entirely new project: Virgins.

Photo by Ebony Alexander
Courtesy of Old Crow Promotions

“I just thought it was funny, man!” laughs Michael, when explaining the name. Expanding on how he was influenced by the Death From Above 1979 song “Virgins” and Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel in her dreamlike and visually-hazy 1999 feature-length debut, The Virgin Suicides, he continues, “I remember thinking, ‘It would be really funny to call your band Virgins,’ and then I was just like, ‘Fuck it.’  Like, it just fit, you know? […] I remember the first show we ever done, man. Like, I’m so used to, like, playing really high energy – like our shows are that – but, at the time, I was like, ‘What am I going to do?’, and I got up and shouted, ‘WE’RE FUCKING VIRGINS!!’”

But Virgins didn’t begin life as a collaborative project. Their first EP, 2022’s Transmit A Little Heaven, was primarily a solo effort of Michael’s, but he always wanted to expand the project. “The initial idea was, I would write and record everything, then I would get someone to sing on it, and then I would have a live band who would bring it to life, so we could go do shows,” he says. Michael found vocalist Rebecca Dow, who lent her talents to the EP, and who would end up being the band’s full-time singer.

However, the band grew beyond this initial conceit into a project with a steady line-up. Now in their third iteration, Virgins currently consists of Michael and Rebecca, with David Sloan on lead guitar, Matthew McMullan on drums, and Mo [No last name given] on bass. The band’s debut album, nothing hurt and everything was beautiful, releases next month on the Galway-based label, Blowtorch Records. It features the band’s previous bassist, Brendy McCann, and drummer, James Foy, who both left shortly after its recording.

“I just wanted to get something out that was like, ‘OK, this is the band; it’s not just me,’,” says Michael of the album. “Like, as much as I love talking about me and I’m class and all, I wanted it to be a band, so it was important for me to get that out. It’s very gaze-poppy and it really leaned into that, and a lot of that comes from Brendy, because that’s where he naturally kind of goes; whereas I would naturally go the longer, bigger, expansive kind of things, and those songs are on the record, too. […] But the album is varied […] Shorter songs, longer songs, bigger songs; like, there’s a lot of different sounds on the album, you know? So, it isn’t all just buzz/reverb the whole way through. We’re trying to add depth.”

Fans can get a taste of what’s to come from the record with the album’s second single (and last to be released before the album hits), “s o f t e r,” which is an addictive and catchy almost dream-pop earworm.  “’s o f t e r’ was one of the first ones that was wrote [sic] for the new record,” says Michael. “I think it came along pretty quick, because, like I say, I just want to keep writing and playing more stuff […] but that song is just based around the riff, you know? Like, the bassline is the riff and it’s such a simple, straightforward song. It’s all the same notes the whole… – I shouldn’t be saying this! – but it’s the whole way through, just finding new ways to play that progression of notes and then bringing things in and out.”

To celebrate the album’s release, the band will play two launch shows in Dublin and Belfast next month. “We’re going to play the album front-to-back because they’re long shows,” says Michael of these gigs. “That’s really our plan. The record is ordered in a particular way to take you on that kind of journey and, live, we want to be able to recreate that, and we’ve started doing that now, in practice. Because we’re playing a bunch and, like, having to do different sets and we’re writing new stuff and we’re incorporating that in, but these shows will just be the record, and when you do play it live, it pulls you along and there’s a different pace, and there’s different lengths of songs, and there’s different moods, so it’s important that it gets presented that way, once it’s out and people can listen to it.”

While Michael admits that playing the album live is a little daunting, due to the length of the songs and many moving parts, practising and listening to the record is no problem. “I listen to my own music,” says Michael. “I don’t know how other people…If you’re making anything and you don’t enjoy it yourself, how can you expect anyone else to? So, I listen to it all the fuckin’ time!”

Virgins’ debut album, nothing hurt and everything was beautiful, releases on April 11th and is now available to preorder from Bandcamp or Blowtorch Records. Their latest single, “s o f t e r,” is available to stream on all platforms. You can keep up to date with the band, their upcoming shows, music, social media accounts, and mailing list here.

Catch Virgins at:

April 26th – Dublin – Sin É (Tickets here)

April 27th – Belfast – The Deer’s Head (Tickets here)

July 19th – Dundalk – Spirit Store (Tickets here)

Tune into today’s episode of POSTBURNOUT.COM Interviews… at 17:00 (IST) on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music Podcasts to hear our full interview with Michael, where we go into further detail about everything discussed in this article, as well as his view on the current resurgence of shoegaze, opening for Bdrmm, producing and composing shoegaze material, working with Blowtorch Records, and more.

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