Cara Cullen and Sophie McCarthy, both aged 17, are singer-songwriters and members of the hip-hop group Misneach. They have been involved with MGCC programmes since 2012, first learning trad music from the age of 7 in school with Creative Tradition, then joining after-school rock & pop programmes with SoundOUT and later Music Mash Up, and now they attend weekly music workshops at The Kabin Studio in Hollyhill, with GMCBeats.
They are co-songwriters of a new song ‘Music Gives Me a Reason’ specially commissioned to celebrate 10 years of Music Generation Cork City. Together with a group of young performers coming together from multiple MGCC programmes across Cork City, they will perform this song live on stage at MGCC’s 10th Birthday Celebration in The Everyman Theatre on November 21st. For further info, see www.musicgenerationcorkcity.com/10thbirthday
Pictured: Cara (right) and Sophie (2nd from right) performing with Misneach at the Music Heals fundraising event, May 2022. Photo: Wayne J. Forde.
Aida Whooley (MGCC) met them for a chat in Knocknaheeny Youth Centre on 2nd November 2022:
Aida: I’m delighted to sit down together for this chat with the two of you, ye are creating so much amazing music both individually and together, and it’s been fantastic to see your musical journey over the past 10 years. Let’s get started by telling me a bit about yourselves.
Sophie: I’m Sophie, I’m 17 and I’m a singer songwriter and musician.
Cara: I’m Cara, I’m 17 and I’m also a singer songwriter and musician.
Aida: How did ye get started or what was your earliest memory of making music?
Cara: So when we were 7, we were in school and Jessie and Karl (Jessie Cawley and Karl Nesbitt of Creative Tradition) came in to teach us tin whistle, and it just basically led on from there. We just stuck with them and stuck with Music Gen for the rest of our lives!
Aida: Having learnt trad in those early days, and being exposed to different types of music along the way over the past 10 years, would you say that has influenced the type of musician you are now?
Cara: Ya I’d say definitely, ‘cause it kind of opened us up to doing other styles of music. So like, we have our trad way with Jessie and Club Ceoil and all of that, and then when we were in 5th or 6th class, we joined SoundOUT which moved to Music Mash Up, and that was all guitars, drums, like non-Irish traditional instruments and we were learning to play covers of songs. And now in the Kabin, we don’t play instruments as much, and we write our own songs, originals and all of that, so it’s been like a nice transition between all of the different music that we have done.
Aida: Does the music you make now feature elements of those different types of music?
Sophie: It definitely does. The music that we do now features a lot of what we did do when we were doing trad music. So like in our Misneach songs, there’s elements of trad in the songs, there are fiddles, there’s everything, so ya.
Pictured: Cara, Aoife, Jessica and Sophie from Club Ceoil Knocknaheeny, heading to the Munster Fleadh Cheoil in Ennis with Creative Tradition Director Dr. Jessica Cawley
Aida: And what type of music do you most enjoy listening to?
Sophie: Personally I listen to a bit of everything, but I would say my favourites at the moment, and probably will be forever and always, are One Direction and Taylor Swift.
Cara: Ya I’m the same as Sophie, I kind of like listening to a bit of everything. I feel like my favourites are probably Little Mix. I listen to a load of random songs, like one minute I’ll be listening to Dolly Parton and then 2 seconds later I’m listening to Disney songs. It’s a wide range.
Aida: Can you tell me a bit about how Misneach formed?
Sophie: So we came together as Misneach at the beginning of this year (2022). It all started last year when we wanted to make a song for the Cork camogie team, but we didn’t have the time, so we couldn’t do it. So we held off, and then we got funding from the St Patricks Fest X Tik Tok Creative Fund. So we sat down as a group and we were like “ok what can we do to speak on female empowerment in the way we do it, which is through music?” And then we said “ok we’re gonna make 3 songs and each song will cover a different topic”. At the beginning, we didn’t even know if the whole project would really work in the end. But now we’re doing performances like every other day, so ya !
Pictured: Misneach during the music video shoot for their song ‘No Worries’. Photo: Rosie Barrett.
Aida: I’d love to hear about the songs you have written. Sophie, when you were writing ‘Pressure’ (Misneach), what was your process behind writing that? Did you write mostly on your own or was there collaboration, how did that go?
Sophie: So when I wrote ‘Pressure’, it was during one of our workshops, and we had sat down and spoken and written a load of words up on the board about how it feels to be a woman, what challenges we face, and then we all went off into the separate rooms (in the Kabin Studio) and I was just sitting in the room and I was like “D’you know what, instead of sitting here, and just putting whatever onto the page, I’m gonna try and write from a personal experience, about how I feel and things like that”, so that’s where ‘Pressure’ came from and that was how I wrote it. But then along the way obviously there were bits and pieces that needed to change because I had written it without anyone else. So things were fixed and changed, so I did get help from everybody else along the way too, and with the lyrics aswell.
Aida: That’s so interesting to hear, and it is such a beautiful powerful song.
And Cara, could you tell me about ‘Got Your Back (Sometimes)’ the song you wrote with your younger brother Coben (aka MC Sparky)?
Cara: Ya so my uncle Roy came to Garry (Garry McCarthy, GMC Beats) with the idea of making a CD of my dad’s songs (Cara’s dad singer-songwriter Ross O’Connor passed away in 2020. The ‘Music Heals’ CD created in his memory is available online at https://linkfly.to/musicheals, with funds raised going to The Kabin Studio, Cork Life Centre and Anam Croí House).
He wanted me and Coben to write a song to go on the CD, but me and Coben were not having it at all! We were like “why would we wanna write a song together! – this is so, we just don’t wanna do it”. But then we ended up writing it. We were trying to come up with a song idea of what to do and Seán Parnell (a tutor at The Kabin Studio) was like “what if you do something like ‘ye are siblings but ye don’t get along much’, so then I was like ‘alright I could kinda work with that!’ “.
It was a very fun, but also very weird song to write, because we do wreck each others heads, especially during writing that song. When Coben was writing his lyrics, he said something about calling me Mr. Bean, and “I wanna flush your head down the toilet” – I nearly killed him! Because I was being so nice in my lyrics, I was like “oh my God I love you so much, you’re my little brother, I’ll always be there for ya”, and he was like “you called me a sausage! I wanna flush your head down the toilet!!” (laughing)
It was a wild experience to be honest!
Pictured: Cara and Coben (aka MC Sparky) performing at the Music Heals fundraising event, May 2022. Photo: Wayne J. Forde.
Aida: That’s brilliant, and it’s a gas song, I love it! And tell me – is music important in your families? Sophie, would members of your family make music or are you the first?
Sophie: So in my family, there wouldn’t be many people really interested in music, but there is my uncle, he used to write songs all the time, but none of us even knew. Then last year I got a book of all his lyrics. And there were 56 songs written inside one notebook and I was like “how did none of us even know about this!”. And then I actually got to record one at the Kabin during the year, and I finished it during the summer. It’s called ‘I know when I’m not wanted’.
And then also about a year ago, my little brother starting asking to come to the Kabin. So in a way, I started off in the Kabin, which then made him want to go. And my niece wants to come along now aswell.
Cara: She came to the Kabin the last day and she was like “I wanna go to the kabin aswell”. She was like “I’m too tiny yet, maybe when I’m bigger”, very cute.
Aida: And that’s the different thing about the Kabin, in that it’s open to all ages, siblings can come, and I’ve often heard it being said that there’s a family atmosphere. Do ye feel it’s like a family there?
Cara: Ya it’s really weird cos we just felt so comfortable in there from the beginning, from having never been there before to now we practically live there! (both girls laugh) We’re there like every single day! And we have a lot of say in what happens with the Kabin now.
You just don’t really get judged when you’re in there. It’s just like, if that’s what you wanna write about, that’s what you write about. If this is who you are, it’s who you are. There’s no judgement or anything like that. Everyone’s just one big happy family. We really are though!
And I’m just so grateful that we have a lot of fun with anyone that we work with, like the CMC crew (Cork Migrant Centre), when we work at the Kabin, we do a lot of collaborations with different people, and I’m just happy that we all have fun. It’s very enjoyable!
Aida: You have both written a lot of songs now and ye are experienced performers. I’d love to hear about your favourite performances or highlights that you have had so far.
Cara: I think my favourite performance that we’ve done was in the Firkin Crane in July for ‘Make Some Noise’ (an event produced to raise awareness of positive mental health).
That was my favourite performance because we just sounded amazing to be honest like. We were listening back to the videos, and a lot of our families were in the audience, and they were all like “oh my God I don’t think we’ve ever heard ye this good before!” which was a great compliment.
So ya I just really loved that performance cos we just had a laugh. It was like we were all on the same wavelength, but there wasn’t too much pressure on anyone to get anything right. We were just having a laugh on the stage, but it ended up sounding amazing, and I just loved that so much.
Sophie: One of my highlights from the last couple of years was definitely when we performed at ‘Party at the Port’ for Cork Pride (presented by Cork City Council), which was in July too, the day after the Firkin Crane. It was the biggest crowd we’d ever performed to – there were over 4000 people! And all the people we met backstage, and the fact we met Nadine Coyle backstage before we left, I was in awe! In awe!! It was such a fun day! We were so nervous in front of that amount of people, but then the atmosphere and all the people coming up chatting to us afterwards, it was just unreal!
Pictured: Misneach performing at ‘Party at the Port’ for Cork Pride, presented by Cork City Council. Photo: Caoimhe Barry.
Aida: Does it mean a lot to ye that in your locality the younger children in the area can see what you’re achieving? Does that mean a lot to ye or do ye not think about that too much?
Cara: Ya I feel like I never actually realised the impact that we have on younger children, especially girls aswell, with our Misneach songs. We were performing in the library (in Hollyhill) last Friday and some of the girls there, their jaws were just on the floor. They were like “oh my God”, like they were like starstruck because of us. Which was the weirdest feeling ever! And at the end of the performance, a couple of the girls went up to Sophie asking “what are your songs called, I want to look ye up”.
Sophie: They had me write it down on their piece of paper so they could look it up when they went home. I was nearly crying!
Cara: Ya I was so confused, that has never happened before! It was the weirdest thing ever, but it was the first time that I really thought about the impact that we are having, especially on younger girls. Like letting them know they don’t have to worry about who they are, and just to be themselves. Cos it’s too much work being someone else, you know what I mean? Like just chill and be yourself. Like I wouldn’t be bothered to be like you (looking at Sophie, both girls laugh!) It’s literally what the song ‘Pressure’ is about, with the lyrics about ‘girls on the magazine covers’ – That’s effort, you know what I mean! I just wanna chill and do my own thing, write my songs, get on with my day! (both girls laughing)
Aida: You’re absolutely right there! And what would you say to any of those younger children who would see what you’re doing and would like to try and do similar things?
Sophie: What I would say is don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I know when I first started at the Kabin, if I came up with something, I wouldn’t tell anybody. I’d keep it to myself, I wouldn’t tell anyone. And then I’d say it maybe 2 or 3 days later, and they’d be like “why didn’t you tell us this when we were first doing it?”
So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to say it, and then if you’re only starting off, do what you can. Just because you don’t think it might be as good as what you could do if you had all the big fancy equipment and things like that. Everybody is gonna start out like that anyway with nothing and build up, so don’t be afraid.
Cara: Ya I would say just don’t be scared to push yourself. Because I remember when we first started, we thought that we wouldn’t be able to hit high notes or do a belt or do a certain note or things like that. But then Garry would be like “ah just do it, and if it turns out bad, it’s alright, you can switch it up. But you won’t know until you try it”. So I feel like that’s one thing that’s really helped us. Because, to be honest, our songs probably wouldn’t sound the way they sound today if we didn’t take on Garry’s advice and just push ourselves to do what we wanted to do. Just don’t be scared.
Pictured: Misneach performing with Clare Sands at ‘Rock the Block’ an event presented by MGCC in partnership with The Kabin Studio for Cruinniú na nÓg, June 2022. Photo: Wayne J. Forde.
Aida: That’s brilliant advice. And now you’ve written a song called ‘Music Gives Me a Reason’ for Music Generation Cork City’s 10 year celebrations – Can you tell me a bit about that song and your involvement in making it?
Cara: Ya, so with this, it’s a bit like our song ‘No Worries’ in that it was a song before, but we took bits and parts of it to make a new song. We took the chorus from a song we had written at a summer camp in July at the Kabin, and brought it to this new song but changed the lyrics a bit. So we were talking about how we love music and music changes our lives. So that was my input on the song anyway. And Sophie you wrote a verse…
Sophie: So I wrote part of one of the verses, and I was just talking about how music has made me who I am over the past say 10 years that we’ve been with Music Gen like.
Cara: Been here since day one biys! (both girls laugh!)
- For more info on The Kabin Studio, see @thekabinstudio on Instagram or gmcbeats.com
- For info on Misneach, see here: https://musicgenerationcorkcity.com/misneach/
- ‘Got Your Back’ by Cara & Coben: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHsT3Su0JC0
- ‘Pressure’ by Misneach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjThUcrJ9hM
- Info about the Music Heals fundraising CD: https://linkfly.to/musicheals
- Previous interview with Cara from 2017 (age 12): https://musicgenerationcorkcity.com/musician/cara-cullen/