By Sarah Donoghue
Many fans of The Academic are well acquainted with the Irish girl group Florence Road. The group, comprised of four sixth year students, has become The Academic’s regular supporting act, propelling them to success. Just one over year after their formation and one week after their secondary school mocks, the group played the Olympia on March 10th, 2023. Lead singer, Lily Aron, guitarist, Emma Brandon, bassist, Ailbhe Barry, and drummer, Hannah Kelly, let go of their exam stress and joined the list of icons, from Bowie to Adele, who have conquered the iconic stage.
Despite their success, the group came off impressively down to earth. The interview took place in lead singer, Lily’s, shed which had been renovated into a practice space. The start of the interview was dominated by nervous laughter and the members looking to each other for reassurance. They came off as a humble garage band rather than one which had played the Olympia just months previous. As a collective they hailed their favourite gig they’ve ever played to be ‘The Fishbowl,’ a local pub in Wicklow Town, which had a personal link for drummer, Hannah.
Hannah explained “I went to the Gaeltacht last summer and I had invited some of my friends for the weekend, I really wanted them to come. The others were really not that bothered but I was very dead set on it happening.” She went on to tell me “It was entirely self-run. I was doing calls with the venue, my family drove up all the equipment, we put it up on Eventbrite and had to find our own sound engineer. It was stressful but it was a wonderful night. It had a real sense of community.”
Music had been instrumental in the lives of all four members. Most of them have been playing since they were young. Over the years, bassist, Ailbhe, has picked up 9 different instruments. On the other hand, guitarist, Emma, began playing in third year to cope with her mental health. Music also played a big part in their friendships with each other. Lily told me, “Way back, Ailbhe, Hannah and I were in this little band called ‘Panorama.’ We would do Hozier covers, but we were bad.” Ailbhe explained “I was playing piano and box drum at the same time, Hannah was playing the guitar and Lily was playing guitar and singing.”
In 2021, their friend Emma approached Lily about doing a song together, Lily suggested getting the rest of Panorama involved. From that “Happier than Ever” performance at their school’s Christmas concert it became clear what the band needed. Ailbhe recalled “It always felt like we were missing something. Then there’s a point in ‘Happier than Ever’ where Emma does just one note on the guitar, and when she did it, we all stopped and were like ‘where have you been?’ We needed her.” However, Emma refused their offer to join the band at first “I felt like I was intruding,” she told me. Finally, Emma agreed to join, and Florence Road began.
From there, their career snowballed but as exams, relationships and college came hurtling towards them sacrifices had to be made. They really began to take off after they won a competition which gave them the opportunity to professionally record their debut single “Another 17,” and scheduling quickly became an issue. Emma recalled how she struggled, being the only member in a relationship at this time “we had a lot of success all at once, we were practising almost every day and then we had school. I always had to cancel plans or move them. I felt really bad because I couldn’t get time for other people or my girlfriend. Back then, no one else in the band had a relationship, so, I couldn’t really say “oh I can’t do this day” because they wouldn’t understand.”
A balance between school and band-life was becoming increasingly difficult too. Hannah believes “It’s never felt like we’ve found a balance. It’s either we only did music or only did school.” Band began to take away from schooltime. “We found out we were going to play the Olympia a week before the mocks started, how are you supposed to focus on exams when you’re doing the biggest thing in your life,” Lily remembered. The band has also been suffering as the leaving cert approaches. Emma told me “We haven’t practiced in a month because of oral prep. We came together today, and we all had completely different perspectives. It takes so long to gel back together.”
But the Leaving Cert isn’t the end of their worries. All four have applied to different colleges and conflicting schedules have them worried. Lily told me “It’ll be difficult because we’re all going to have our separate schedules. But I feel like in college you have a lot more time off so I’m hopeful.” Despite their worries, Florence Road has already started to bounce back after the dreaded leaving cert, playing kaleidoscope festival on July 1st, their single “Anther 17” soaring to over 125k streams on Spotify, and they will be performing at Electric Picnic on September 3rd.
Ultimately, their respect for each other’s talent stood out. Each member took every opportunity to praise their bandmates, leading me to believe Florence Road will have a long successful career. Lily, who has released solo music, said “It’s so much better with them, so much less daunting too. Hannah’s so incredibly musical, and Emma and Ailbhe are so great I could never do what they do.”