Back to their roots

Fri, Jan 13, 2012, 00:00

TOWARDS THE END of the conversation, Nial Conlan mentions the first time Delorentos met The Ticketfor an interview back in 2007. Extreme dental surgery would have been a more pleasant experience for the interviewer on that day. A reticent band had absolutely nothing to say and spent the best part of an hour saying it, as the transcription subsequently showed.

It’s amazing the difference a few years can make. Today, Conlan and bandmate Kieran McGuinness have a lot to say. Of course, there has been much drama and tramua in the intervening years to distill and discuss. But what’s emerged from those incident-packed years of ups and downs, albums and tours, splits and reconcillations, is a much different, much more honest bunch of musicians.

Later this month, Delorentos release their third album, Little Sparks. Full of brave, bracing and emotionally direct songs, it’s the sound of a band who have found their musical and lyrical groove.

McGuinness believes everything changed in 2009. “We came to a point where we said to each other ‘what the hell are we doing?’ We were all broke, we were putting too much pressure on each other. We needed to rethink what we were doing and so we broke up for about 25 minutes.

“In the process of saying goodbye and doing what we thought were the final shows, we realised that we liked playing music together and that we were actually a good band. It takes a long time to admit that to yourself, but we’re good and there’s a strange alchemy that happens when we play together. The four of us are way better together than any of us are solo.”

McGuinness says they decided to be “honest” and “not play the bullshit game” when they resumed activities as a band.

“You don’t mean to play the game, but you watch how everyone else does it and take the advice you’re given and you end up playing it. This is how it is supposed to be: you try to be big in Ireland, you try to break England, you try to break America and hey you’re the biggest band in the world. But that’s all rubbish, it means nothing and it doesn’t feed you.” What they’ve done, according to Conlan, is to go right back to the beginning.

“We’ve gone back to the original ideas we had when we were in a band as teenagers. You felt you could do anything. There was no web of interested parties and schedules. We’ve had all sorts of ideas down through the years about all kinds of stuff, but we stopped ourselves or other people persuaded us not to do them. Now, though, the shackles are off, all bets are off.

“These days, what the band is about is completely akin to what it was even when we were in school. We just ended up being more creative this time out,” adds McGuinness.

“On other albums, we’d have written songs and gone ‘ah no, we’ll never be able to play this live’ or ‘that will not get played on Spin’. But now, it’s a case of just write the song. I don’t need anyone to review this record because I know how good this album is.”

It’s not just the songwriting which has benefited from this new enthusiasm and approach. Last year, the band released the Little SparksEP, which came with a magazine profiling various creative associates of the band – from writers and performers to musicians and designers – talking about what they do and why they do it. “It was a piece of art and it was hard work, but it was so inspiring to do,” enthuses Conlan. “We want to do stuff that is good, fun to do and interesting and it’s through meeting people and conversations that you get more ideas. We’ve opened ourselves up to other people that we really respect and their ideas. You realise that there’s loads of talented people out there who’re getting on with things, people like Project 51. Nothing is stopping them.”

The new ideas don’t stop at magazines and the pair talk enthusiastically about plans for pop-up shops, temporary radio stations and streaming live shows in the coming months.

“We went through the music industry machine and when we came out the other side, the industry had changed beyond recognition,” says Conlan. “But this change is the same for everyone now. We’re not competing with other bands for live shows, we’re competing with the couch. Most of our friends are out of work or have emigrated, but some of them are featured in that magazine and are trying to make things work. This is what this is about for us: come up with solutions that you can actually achieve and give an experience to people.”

“The thing is, you’re not going to sell a milion records anymore,” says McGuinness, “it’s just not going to happen. But what you can do is create an experience for and a connection with people. When we did those acoustic shows a few months ago, we kept the prices down and everyone who was there got a copy of the magazine and we got a great reaction from people. But it was also for us, a little reminder that we’re good at this.”

The new album amply demonstrates that they’re now mastercraftsmen.

“When we started, we decided we wanted to have really creative, interesting things,” says McGuinness.

“We wanted to get a producer who had done something really exciting. Let England Shakeby PJ Harvey is one of the best albums in ages and Rob (Kirwan) was that fellow and we were delighted to get him to work with us. And we decided to put everything into the album. Before, we’d be leaving stuff out because we’d think you’d need an extra person onstage to play it live, but this time we didn’t worry about that.”

The new honesty also extended to the songs, says McGuinness. “We didn’t write them to be catchy for the masses, we wanted to write about what we really wanted to write about. I wanted to write about a couple of things and it took me a year to do it because I had to teach myself how to write songs again. It was the worst writer’s block ever.”

One of the tracks, Petardu,was inspired by McGuinness’s own background.

“I’m adopted, but I never went into it or went looking for information before. Two years ago, though, I went to Cúnamh [an adoption agency] because I wanted to find out about my birth-mother. There was so much amazing stuff to find out and the stories came out and it was a huge thing.

“I sat down and wanted to write the song about it, not a song but the song, because I didn’t want to write the song 10 times. I spent ages on it, just getting it right, getting the words right. Eventually, it came together.

“It’s gas because it happened a couple of times on this album and as a result of that process, we’ve written our best songs ever.”

What Delorentos have discovered is that they’ve become a better band by taking chances.

“For us, something did change,” says Conlan. “Why do you form a band in the first place? You want to write songs and you like playing music. So what’s the problem? Do it. Do all the interesting things you want to do with your life because it doesn’t last forever. Bands are incredible things. They’re more than just a bunch of people who express themselves creatively through music. It’s got to be about ideas. You don’t often make friends like this or have connections like this or have opportunities like this.”

“Bands constrict themselves sometimes by not allowing themselves to do things a certain way because of what their audience might think,” adds McGuinness. “But we don’t need to do this to get a reward from an audience: this album and the process we went through making it is our reward. The fact that we’ve taken gambles and we’ve done stuff we’ve never done before is our reward.

“If you write good songs, with insight and emotion, and present them to people in a way that excites them and makes them want to experience it and hold onto it, there will always be an audience for that. You just have to be brave and honest.”

- Little Sparksis released on Delo Records on January 27. Delorentos begin an Irish tour at Dublin’s Button Factory on February 25. Full dates at