Delorentos take another leap into the unknown

New album True Surrender shows a band more interested in emotional precipices than the well-trodden path

Kieran McGuinness, Níal Conlan, Rónán Yourell and Ross McCormick of Delorentos.

Kieran McGuinness, Níal Conlan, Rónán Yourell and Ross McCormick of Delorentos.

 

“Time changes a band.” Níal Conlan, the bassist for Delorentos is hanging around outside Fagan’s pub in Drumcondra before the band heads off to rehearse. Along with his bandmates, Kieran McGuinness, Ross McCormick and Rónán Yourell, Conlan is someone who both gravitates towards and interrogates creativity.

He is also a member of a band that tends to balk at easy options. The terrain of Delorentos is rugged. There is a cliff, somewhere on the Delorentos landscape. And on it, the band occasionally stands, looking over the edge wondering; what’s out there? Can we jump? Are you with me? Sometimes, unsteady underfoot, the rocks crumble, crashing below. Sometimes they make the leap.

For their sixth album, True Surrender, it’s another leap into the unknown for a band that is increasingly uninterestd in well-trodden paths. Delorentos seem to like emotional precipices. Or maybe they’re just more honest about walking towards them.

On Friday, April 13th in Whelan’s, Dublin, the band stand on a stage now marketed in their context as “intimate”. Lashing through old songs and a few new ones, the reintroduction takes a while to feel itself out, before the audience finally clicks and roars. Upstairs, their longtime manager, Dan Oggly, hangs back, leaning on a banister and appraising the situation. “I see stormy weather / Coming at me ‘cross the great water / It’s a true surrender / Like I’ve been longing for,” Yourell sings on the album’s opening track. 

Emotional depth

Little Sparks (2012), the band’s third album for which they won the Choice Music Prize, shifted their position from indie-pop nice guys to a group with extraordinary emotional depth and sophisticated songwriting skills. Night Becomes Light (2014) followed, compounding their popularity. While touring in Spain, they set about making this album, recording over a dozen album-worthy demos. But upon returning to Dublin and London (where Conlan lives), the songs didn’t sit well. It was a bit of a Delorentos selection box. They effectively swept them all aside, bar In Darkness We Feel Our Way, and set about writing an album that was more sonically creative. In a pub in Dublin 8, McGuinness flicks through those momentarily retired tracks on his phone, and speaks passionately about time signatures. 

I don’t want to go on Dancing On Ice. I don’t want that shit

McGuinness has always seemed like the most outwardly driven member of the band, but his jittery desire for approval, evident in their early years, has dissipated into a more introverted, reflective assessment of what it really means to be a career musician. “I do want it,” he says of success, “But I don’t want to go on Dancing On Ice. I don’t want that shit. I’ll play as many gigs as you want to give me, as long as they’re decent gigs. I’ll do them.”

He talks about two famous friends – one actor, one musician – who can’t go to a cafe in Dublin, or for a walk with a girlfriend, who are restricted. “When someone says you seem very driven – totally! Let’s get an album written, let’s get the best songs we can get, let’s get some fucking good gigs, let’s do some cool stuff with the artwork.” He balked at a record label lesson in social media engagement, deadpanning, “I don’t want to be. A fucking influencer.”  

Over in Fagan’s, Conlan is talking about cities, but he could just as easily be talking about his band, “Invention and creativity happens on the fringes. Places like London and New York are metropolis areas that bring disparate elements together, but I actually don’t think they’re inherently more creative than Dublin or Madrid.”

Fringe position

Delorentos never generated the buzz that followed other Irish bands around and, in some cases, suffocated them. But buzz is for a season, art is forever. With industry heat only occasionally warming them, the band resolved to use their fringe position in the industry as a strength, creating the autonomous structures that permitted them to hustle on their own turns.

We weren’t ever really a fashionable band

They built a fan base in Ireland, and largely shied away from the often soul-crushing slog that cracking the UK involves. Instead, they found kindred spirits in European and Mexican fans, where they attract large festival crowds, particularly in Spain. With five studio albums, and one additional acoustic album, to their name, they have outlasted most of their peers.

“We weren’t ever really a fashionable band,” Conlan says, “When we started, it was at the tail end of the singer-songwriter thing. And all those Humanzi and Mainline lads came out, and they were all really cool. Leather jackets and all that jazz. But we were never really one thing or the other. Anytime we did photo shoots there was always someone saying ‘Do you want a loan of a jacket?’ We’ve never been focused on the extraneous stuff. Ró and myself used to really love roots music. Kieran and I might like a band like Pavement or the Pixies, and it was because we liked their music. I don’t know what the fuck the Pixies look like – four people who have hung around but not thought about how they present themselves. But they make great music.”

Reflective periods

Yourell tends to transcend into a wide-eyed frantic space when he plays. But off stage, he’s quiet and sensitive. Sitting down to talk, he announces his mental state in the first sentence, “I’m emotional. If I cry, I apologise. I’m an emotional person anyway, as you know. I wear my heart on my sleeve.”

Yourell recently became a father for the first time, leading to one of those periods of reflection he’s prone to, “Do I feel the responsibility? Maybe it’s an ego thing: what sort of person am I? If you’re foolish enough to bring another human into the world, it’s like why have I done this? What do I have to offer them? Then there’s the precariousness of the life of a musician as well, the practicalities of that. Can I actually fend for this little thing? My wife is amazing. She’s very supportive. But sometimes I wonder, why do I do this? Is this a fair thing to be doing? Sometimes it is a selfish thing I feel in many ways, if you’re lucky to pursue art, to still be doing that. I feel very fortunate to be doing it, but it involves a lot of sacrifices from other people around you.”

The record was largely recorded in Tommy McLaughlin’s Attica studio in northwest Donegal. Richie Egan (Jape) came on board to work on a few tracks. Sonically, the album veers away from the band’s angular origins, and using Little Sparks and Night Becomes Light as lily pads, bounces towards something unexpected. 

Allergic to interviews

McCormick is slightly allergic to interviews, anxious about saying the wrong thing, and not wanting to share anything overly personal. He opts to talk over email where he can gather his thoughts better. “That same anxiety is something I’ve always felt when it comes to playing gigs,” he wrote. “The overwhelming feeling of ‘don’t fuck up’ had always inhibited me when it came to playing live and it’s only really since Night Becomes Light when I started singing/ performing Valley Where The Rivers Run that I feel I’m finally enjoying gigs as I should be.

“It’s probably given me a bit of confidence and, as pretentious as it might sound, maybe just singing a song about finding inner strength and hope has helped manifest and reinforce that within me.” For years, McCormick thought he hated gigs, tied in knots with nerves. But when he thinks about it now, those are the best memories.

Wanting to continue those great adventures is part of why we pushed ourselves so hard with this album

“Playing to thousands, even tens of thousands of people in Corona capital in Mexico City, or going a bit further back, playing SOS festival in Murcia, Spain. That was a real affirmational moment for the band. We were on a big stage in a foreign country and these crazy Spanish people were all singing the chorus to Care For like it was Mr Brightside or something. That was exactly the tonic we needed at exactly the right time.

“After that show we knew we were able to carry ourselves on a bigger stage. I think Rónán and Kieran both became better front men since that show, and the many festivals we have played since and wanting to continue those great adventures is part of why we pushed ourselves so hard with this album.”

Personal development

“Am I done? Am I over before I’ve begun? . . . Am I scared? Overwhelmed and underprepared. Afraid of something barely there, am I, am I done?” McGuinness sings on the new record, capturing that inherent Delo existential reflection. An album has a tendency to be a snapshot of where an artist or band is at a given moment and, for Delorentos, their professional success has coincided with moments of personal development.

“I’ve had a lot of anxiety over the last while,” McGuinness says. “I’ve had a lot of, you know, self-doubt, personally and musically. Once you get into your adulthood, suddenly life is mad. It’s different, and the protections that you had growing up start to leave you on your own a little bit. It’s funny because I spent my whole life trying to be independent, being this person who is ‘I know what I’m doing, this is what I’m doing.’ Then as I got older it’s like, ‘What am I doing?’ It was funny to go through all that stuff.

There’s something wondrous about it, that something is made sort of out of nothing

“One of my friend’s mums used to go, ‘You never need to worry about Kieran,’ you know? I just got on with stuff. I wanted to be a musician, and that was all I wanted to do, so that was the end of it. Then I had kids. I started to figure out where am I going to live? Am I always going to live in town and be in pubs all the time? That seems really facile, but it’s also like what am I doing?”

“There’s something wondrous about it,” Yourell says of their music-making, “that something is made sort of out of nothing. Certainly in our case, a ramshackle bunch of lads who I don’t think necessarily any one of us was pinpointed out as you’re going to be a great band person, or you’re going to write a great song. To sort of come together, or make something, or have those little moments that you have, whether it’s in rehearsal, or you’re working on a piece of music. When that moment comes, something clicks. There’s this incredible feeling that you realise something afresh. There are only so many chords, and it’s all variations on a theme, but for you, for me, that moment. Maybe part of it is that something that I’ve been striving for, that something, that feeling that I’m trying to express is realised, and there’s a great catharsis in that.”

Delorentos are survivors, for sure. They emerged at a time when the rug was pulled from underneath their generation. With everything up in the air, they snatched and hustled and designed their own structures, always pushing forward. Survivors, yes, but creatively, now is their time to thrive.

True Surrender is released on April 27th

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