Closer to home
Huge in Ireland but untested abroad, Dublin band The Coronas are at an interesting juncture. ‘This feels like a turning point,’ Danny O’Reilly tells JIM CARROLL
BACK THEN, the gangly kid from the south Dublin ’burbs had stars in his eyes. Danny O’Reilly would head to the Olympia Theatre in Dame Street with his mates to see bands like The Frames, Relish and Picturehouse. Afterwards, he’d come out of the venue buzzing. “Imagine playing somewhere like that,” he’d say to the gang. “Imagine getting to do a festival gig. Just imagine.”
That was then, this is now, and these days, it’s O’Reilly and his band The Coronas who are playing those venues. As sure as eggs are eggs, there are probably kids looking at The Coronas and imagining what it would be like to be up there. The cycle begins all over again.
But The Coronas still have dreams and ambitions. Three albums into their career, the band are at that interesting juncture where they’re huge in Ireland but untested abroad. “This feels like a turning point,” says O’Reilly of the new album, the Tony Hoffer-produced Closer To You. “If we don’t make some inroads abroad, we could be just an Irish band. There’s nothing wrong with that, absolutely nothing wrong with that.
“But even in Ireland, things could turn. You look at bands like The Thrills and Director and you wonder whatever happened to them. It can fizzle out for any amount of reasons, so we don’t take things for granted.” There have been campaigns and incursions overseas and they get crowds when they play, but O’Reilly knows most in the audience have Irish passports.
“It’s ex-pats we play to outside of Ireland for the most part, I’d say it’s 70/30, and that’s fine. But I look at us now and I don’t think our music is particularly Irish-sounding. It’s pop, rock, radio-friendly music, which gets played on radio because people like it. Sometimes you doubt yourself and think you’re not good enough to make it elsewhere, but I can’t see any reason why we won’t work elsewhere.”
Their progress at home to date has been spectacular. Songs like San Diego Songput them on the radio in the first place, albums like Tony was an Ex-Conbroadened their appeal and constant gigging has kept the fanbase sweet. “There was never any great plan to be a big band,” recalls O’Reilly. “I’d a few songs written and we got the band together and then San Diego Songtook off. We recorded our debut album when we were 20. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but Joe Chester pulled a great album out of us.”
The Coronas came of age during an interesting time in Ireland, with both boom and bust to contend with. The band haven’t been immune to it –“it’s so strange to see mates having to emigrate to get work, while we’re doing okay here”– but O’Reilly is unsure if the recession has affected their songs.
“It’s hard to know. You write from your surroundings and where you are mentally. I’m sure the way things have gone has impacted. We never made a conscious decision to stay away from politics, but politics and the economy are not something I feel comfortable writing about.
“You can only write about things you can give a proper insight into, and two of the themes I write about are love or what’s happening with the band, and, basically, they’re the only two things I write about. Obviously, there are other bits here and there, but I’d never sit down to deliberately write a song which touches a chord with people who’ve lost their jobs or who are pissed off at this Government. I wouldn’t even consider that. Maybe in a few albums’ time.”
As The Coronas have grown in stature, they’ve remained resolutely unfashionable. The hits keep coming and the fans keep buying the tickets, tunes and T-shirts, but derogatory remarks about the band from hipper Irish music fans keep getting aired too. O’Reilly is blasé about such snobbery.
“It doesn’t bother me. We play this type of music, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We try to write catchy songs which people will hear and love and sing along to. That’s the kind of music I like. I don’t listen to experimental weird New Age stuff until that gets into the pop world.
“One thing that might bother me sometimes is if there is a sense that we’re trying to pull the wool over our fans’ eyes or manipulate them. It’s like we know our fans like pop ballads so we write pop ballads. If someone made that comment in an article, that would get to me, because we write music for ourselves. It’s not planned to appeal to bringing in new fans.”
If there are new fans to be made, O’Reilly hopes they will be beyond Ireland. The band have had some approaches and prospective deals abroad, but nothing came of them.
“We signed to a management company in America last year who were promising the world. They said ‘we’ll get you a major deal right away’ and ‘we’ll get your songs on this ad’, but it didn’t really happen.
“They were looking at The Script’s model and wanted to replicate that, but we aren’t the same kind of band. We’re a live band, we have to get out on the road and play the small venues and build it up. That’s where we win over people. But the management company were looking for a quick break and an old-school record deal and that’s not really happening any more. We got out of that deal and we’re now back at the drawing board.”
O’Reilly points out a few times that the band are puzzled rather than frustrated at why the international breakthrough hasn’t happened. “It’s not as if we feel we deserve it or have some sense of entitlement to success.
“When we do gigs like Marlay Park and they sell, we’re still surprised. We’re quite humble people. We’re like ‘we’re lucky to have this’.
“That’s why we wanted to get the album out here so quickly. Ireland is our bread and butter, Ireland is where we are. We didn’t want to wait until we had things sorted overseas to release it here.”
That said, O’Reilly says they would “be gone in a second” if international opportunities came their way. “We’re still young and don’t have kids or wives so we’re open to moving somewhere if there was an opportunity.” The plan now is to get the new album out in Ireland, get another tour under their belt and start plotting again in the new year.
“We’re re-evaluating what we do next. We’ve done the best album we could possibly do, and I’m really excited by how it has turned out. We’ve got agents in London and the States and promoters who want us to come to Australia and tour – but, again, to the ex-pats. It keeps going, it still keeps going. I hope it doesn’t ever stop, but we don’t take things for granted. There’s no frustration or impatience, we’re just enjoying it.”
Closer to Youis released on November 11. The Coronas tour Ireland in November and December. See thecoronas.net for details