INTERVIEW: The Coronas’ Danny O’Reilly – “Playing live is like a drug to me”

INTERVIEW: The Coronas' Danny O'Reilly - "Playing live is like a drug to me" 4

The Coronas return to Belfast with their Biggest NI headline show yet at Custom House Square (CHSQ) on Friday 23rd August 2019. They will be joined on the night by very special guest, Tom Odell and Roe.

The last two years have been incredible for The Coronas. Their most recent album ‘ Trust The Wire ’ went to No. 1, they sold out many Irish shows including their biggest ever headline show in Royal Hospital Kilmainham, hit singles ‘Reel Feel’ & ‘We Couldn’t Fake It’ were among the top songs played on Irish radio and in December 2018 sold out the 3Arena Dublin and Ulster Hall, Belfast. Mark Millar caught up with The Coronas frontman Danny O’Reilly to talk about the Custom House Square show, getting dropped by Island records and upcoming album.

The Coronas

The Coronas recent single ‘Find the Water’ is the first single to be taken from your upcoming album. It’s a different sound for the band. How did you arrive at that song?

Danny: It is different – it’s not one of those things that we spend a lot of time talking about when we’re sitting down to write new music. We don’t go “Okay, we need to try to do something different. We need to do this we need to do that.” – We tend to let it evolve naturally. As you get older, I think your songwriting changes because you listen to different bands and it was just sort of a natural progression for us. And when we wrote the song it was one that came together very quickly for us, and we all liked it, and it seemed like a good starting point for what the next album was going to be. I think The Coronas music will always have its own sound with my annoying voice on top of three-minute pop songs or whatever. (Laughs) But it did feel like maybe the new batch of songs will have a little bit more maturity and depth, and I suppose will be slightly different.

We have been around now for a few years, and when you look at the new music that’s getting played on the radio we felt that we couldn’t compete with the likes of Picture This and Wild Youth and bands that are doing really well that we like, but it just didn’t feel natural for us to try and compete with them in a pop sense. Bands that we’re listening to now probably don’t get played on daytime radio anymore. Its a natural process for us and thankfully the new song is getting a great reaction, even though we were proud of ‘Find the Water’ you never know how its going to go down and to be honest the reaction we’ve had from it has been amazing, so we are very excited about working on the rest of the new album. We’ve got half of it done – we are still finishing off the writing process, and then we will be recording it. It’s all going well.

Is it hard to believe The Coronas are on their 6th album?

Danny: Absolutely it’s crazy. In a certain way, I still feel like we are a new band – it doesn’t feel like we have been around for that long. It’s just mad how the years have passed. The first album we did, we had barely toured outside Dublin never mind touring outside Ireland. We were just a college band, who had a bunch of songs, and we decided to go in and record them – we didn’t know what we were doing. I think there’s a certain naivety to our first album and we had a few good songs on it as well. We were learning as we were going. With each record we have progressed a little bit more – The Coronas has always been baby steps forward.

We have always been welcomed in Belfast and got a great reaction, but I remember the very first show we did in Auntie Annies had thirty people there, and they were mad into it, and every time we went back we built on it, and the next time we filled Auntie Annies. Then we played the Empire, and then we played two nights at the Empire and then Mandela Hall, and then the Ulster Hall – moving up through the venues. I think that’s the way The Coronas lifespan has always been – in baby steps. It was the same in Dublin – we built up through the venues and all over the world.

What themes lyrically have you been exploring on the record?

Danny: ‘Find The Water’ is a good example of some of the lyrics that we have been investigating. Now I’m at this stage where I’m in a good place. With the last album ‘Trust the Wire’ we had just come back from London, and we had got dropped by our major label Island records. It was the first time we had signed to a major label with the album before that ‘The Long Way.’ As I said, The Coronas has always been baby steps forward and after ‘The Long Way’ when we moved back and left Island, that felt like the first knock that we had. I ended up writing a lot of lyrics on ‘Trust the Wire’ about that because I didn’t know what else to write about. I wrote about how it’s okay to feel down sometimes. And it’s okay to give myself a pat on the back to remind myself how lucky I am to do what I do, and appreciate that I’m doing it for the right reasons, and not get too caught up with the business side of things.

And now we have come full circle and really appreciate what we do. We love what we do, and a lot of my lyrics now are about self-improvement and trying to be positive and try and enjoy the journey. ‘Find the Water’ is about trying to be a better person, bandmate and friend, and basically living each day trying to be positive. I think when you get into your thirties, you appreciate things better and don’t get caught up with insignificant things. Again because we have been in the industry now for over ten years, we understand it more than we did at the start.

In the early days, we were just going with it and having the craic and writing breakup songs, and it was all good and going for it, but now we are looking at slightly different themes and friendships. I definitely think self-improvement and self-awareness and appreciating what you have is definitely a theme that seems to be coming up now. There’s always going to be songs about relationships and friendships and also about the band. I tend to write a lot of songs about writing songs and about trying to be the best band we can be, and often times they sort of hide themselves within a song that looks like it’s about a relationship or sounds like it’s about a relationship, but it’s actually about us trying to be a good band – and that can happen.

Does songwriting come easy to you?

Danny: It didn’t after I came back from London when Island dropped us – that was probably the closest I’ve been to having writers’ block. I was being way too self-critical- I thought everything I wrote was crap. Before I would even let an idea develop and stick with it for a while, I would think it was terrible and throw it out straight away. That maybe came from the knock of confidence of coming back and parting ways with Island records. As a writer, you need to work at it as well you know, but I think now I’m in a much better place and I enjoy the process. At the moment I’m writing a lot – it used to be I would write a song on acoustic guitar or piano and bring it to the band, and they would write their parts, and now we write together. I’m also writing with friends of mine and my sister and her boyfriend – who are in a band. The three of us write together. I try to get people to bring out the best in me and Dave – our guitar player in the group is very good at that, so I write a bit with him as well. I have always written songs since I was thirteen, and I think I always will, whether we’re still releasing music when I’m fifty or whatever, I think I’ll still be writing – I enjoy it.

The album is being produced by industry legend Rob Kirwan how did he get involved?

Danny: We literally started Googling albums that we really liked, and we saw that he had done the Hozier album and he’d done a Bell X1 album we like. We looked at the bands he had been with and thought, “This guy is great.” So we reached out to his management and said, “We have got a batch of songs what do you think?” and he said, “Yeah I love the demos, they are deadly, come over to LA and record them there.” So we went over in February, and we recorded four songs – ‘Find the Water’ was one of them. It was a great experience, we went over for two weeks and recorded the four songs, and it was amazing, it was enjoyable, and he’s a great guy. He’s from Dublin but living in LA now. We had a chat on the phone with him when we first made contact, and he was talking about getting the live vibe of our band across which was something we might have overlooked on our last couple of albums.

A lot of people say to us, “You are amazing live, but the energy you have live maybe doesn’t translate to record.” So we definitely had that in mind, and that was the first thing Rob said to us, and straightway we thought, “This is the guy for us.” It was great we did the four songs with him, and we are looking at maybe doing some more work with him back in Ireland later in the year if he can make it back. This is probably going to be the first album where we are working with a couple of different producers – we have started working with another Dublin producer called Cormac Butler, who is brilliant as well. So I think working with different people will give the album a good dynamic.

The Coronas come to Custom House Square, Belfast, with Tom Odell and Roe supporting on 23rd August. It’s your biggest headline show in Northern Ireland. Are you looking forward to the show?

Danny: We can’t wait – we have always been so welcomed up there from the early days building up through the venues. It was terrific to see the crowd grow, and thankfully we have got good radio support up there as well. We played in Custom House Square four years ago supporting The Stereophonics and its just a beautiful little amphitheatre for music, it’s so central and such a friendly vibe. We had a sold-out show at the Ulster Hall in December, but you never really know if the crowd is going to keep coming back to see us, and thankfully the tickets are flying, and it’s going to be a great night, and we’ve got a great bill as well. Roe is a fantastic up and coming singer, and we are looking forward to seeing her, and of course, Tom Odell as well has been to Ireland many times over the years. It’s probably our biggest show outside of the republic ever, and it’s so close to home as well – we are really excited about it.

There is a lot of great music coming from Ireland now. Which bands or artists are you most into?

Danny: Absolutely there are amazing acts at the moment. Obviously Picture This are doing really well, and Wild Youth are starting to make waves. Hozier has been killing it for the last couple of years, and Dermott Kennedy is doing absolutely fantastic. My sister is in a band called Thanks Brother. Academic are another band who we really like. Gavin James is doing really well. There’s just an unbelievable amount of groups doing well, and we are glad to be starting the conversation. When we first came along, there was a wave of bands that came before us – Snow Patrol had broken through and gone mainstream with Damian Rice and Bell X1, and The Frames. We are just happy to be still doing it.

You mentioned being dropped by Island Records. A lot of bands have been dropped and have never been heard of again. But The Coronas seem to have gone from strength to strength – that must feel good.

Danny: One hundred per cent – we started our own label after that and it was the best thing we have ever done. For the last three years, we have toured more than we have ever toured before. We had our first number one album, we have had more radio play than we ever had before and have been to America three times. Really everything started to happen after we were dropped by Island, to be honest, and it’s incredible to see. We took control of our own destiny running our own label – it nearly makes you work harder because you have no one to blame but yourself if things don’t go well – it’s your own fault. Also, I would say that we were lucky because when a lot of bands sign to major labels, they sign a four-album deal, and if they are dropped they can’t really go and continue on. We went into it with our eyes open. We had released three albums already, so we put stipulations in the contract that if it didn’t work out and Island wanted to drop us, they had to give us the masters back of ‘The Long Way,’ and they had to let us go on and do our own thing.

So I have to give a lot of credit to our manager Jim Lawless, and our lawyer Will, who put that contract together for us, because when a lot of bands sign contracts they don’t realize what they are signing and are basically signing their lives away when they are signing to majors. We rolled the dice with a major label, and I don’t regret that – we knew from the start going into it that one in ten bands who get signed you hear about, and the other nine you don’t, and that one band pays for all those advances and all those signings. We knew that was a possibility, but we wanted to roll the dice to see what would happen and see if we could take off. We have learned from it, and it was such a knock being dropped personally. There were moments when we came back from London where we wondered if we should keep going, but we got a new lease of life when the last album ‘Trust the Wire’ started to come together, and we could see it was getting a great reaction and the gigs were still selling. Even though we did get dropped with ‘The Long Way’ it was our biggest ever album, so a lot of positives came out of that whole experience, and it has made us work harder since, and made us appreciate what we do, and as you say, we have gone from strength to strength – long may it continue.

Out of all the records in your collection who do you have the most albums by?

Danny: Obviously the Beatles – I have every album, but I almost don’t count them because everybody has all of their records. But I’m obsessed with a band from Cinncinati called The National who I just love so much, and I’ve seen them loads of times live, but on record, they are even better. I listen to them all the time – three albums in particular of theirs which are High Violet, The Boxer and Trouble Will Find Me which I have on shuffle. They are the go-to albums that I listen to all the time. Radiohead is another band I would say I own every one of their albums and Coldplay are another band who I’ve always loved and like how they have evolved over the years and continued to stay so successful. And then there are Irish acts as well – I mentioned Bell X1, and The Frames – they are two bands that I love, and now Glen Hansard is doing solo stuff. I listen to a lot of music, and as I said, there’s some fantastic Irish music out now that you don’t have to look too far to find.

What are you most grateful for about being able to be a musician every day?

Danny: I think it’s still getting to do it – playing live is like a drug to me, playing in front of an audience is the best feeling in the world. I wouldn’t even drink before a gig because I feel like it clouds the buzz for me. I tend not to get nervous before shows, I get more excited – that’s how much I enjoy it. Getting to play live and to perform, and to have people singing our songs back to us is really the be-all and end-all for me – it’s something that I love so much. I feel so comfortable being on stage.

Everyone says to me, “You looked like you enjoyed that gig,” and to be honest I do – it’s not fake. I’m not up there with a smile on my face pretending that I’m enjoying it – I literally love every second of being up there and doing our thing. We’ve got to the stage now where I’m confident we can put on a decent show, even if The Coronas music isn’t your favourite genre of music, I think we can be respected as a decent live band for what we do, and I’m proud of how tight we are, and the show we put on. Custom House Square is going to be amazing, I’m so excited about it. There aren’t many downsides to my job. I feel blessed – long may it continue.

The Coronas

The Coronas return to Belfast with their Biggest NI headline show yet at Custom House Square (CHSQ) on Friday 23rd August 2019. Tickets priced £27.50 + Booking Fee, on sale NOW from Ticketmaster outlets and

Xsnoize Author
Mark Millar is the founder of XS Noize and looks after the daily running of the website as well as conducting interviews for the XS Noize Podcast. Mark's favourite album is Achtung Baby by U2.

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