Singer Sharon Corr: I’m not a good girl
Barry Egan finds Sharon Corr in feisty form, not wanting to be pigeon-holed as that nice girl from The Corrs anymore, as she bounces back from a struggle with anxiety that nearly crippled her on stage.
Sigmund Freud famously pondered the imponderable: “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?'''
Sharon Corr addresses this question on her brilliant new album, The Same Sun. And the answer appears to be: not to be stereotyped or conventionalised; to be allowed to be themselves, complex and complicated; and even to fancy someone in their imagination, however fleetingly, who isn't their husband ...
Echoing Simone de Beauvoir's line about “the torment that so many young women know, bound hand and foot by love and motherhood, without having forgotten their former dreams,” Sharon sings on We Could Be Lovers about the actual reality of women's private sexual longings. “Would I be out of my mind, would I be losing control?” she coos.
I ask her if the song is her saying that we all have those feelings sometimes for other people, who are not our partners? “Yeah,” she says with an honesty that underpins the new record. “I think we do. And I think it is a lie to pretend that we don't. We don't all go through life every day and not, at least once a year, see somebody else that makes you go: ‘God, that person is really goddamn attractive!' It is, basically, the truth.
“But what I am more interested in in that song is exploring it from a woman's point of view. I am not really interested in the man's point of view. We've heard too much about that over the years. It's like — ‘Man is unfaithful but there is no woman involved'. How does that happen? Because, clearly, the vast majority of the time he's clearly doing it with somebody,” she says. “So, for me, in my 40s, I see the world very, very differently.
“And as a woman, I feel that sometimes we just get so pigeon-holed – like, we just want hugs and kisses, whereas, actually, I think we're downright into lust and can make mistakes just as easily as a guy,” says Sharon Helga Corr, in what I can only presume is a reference to infidelity.
She adds that when sex is “being served up on a plate” by someone else, “what you do and what choice you make defines you”.
I joke that she is, perhaps, looking for an open relationship with her husband, Gavin Bonnar. “No, not at all!” she says, mortified by the very suggestion.
How would you feel if he wrote We Could Be Lovers? “I get you,” she says. “But these are my feelings. They are real. They are honest. They are the truth.”
Isn't it true that one of the things you inherited from your mother was to have a strong sense of independence within a marriage - emotional and psychological? “Yeah,” she says. “But also, I don't want to dilute myself to make somebody else feel comfortable. And the lovely thing is, my husband has never, ever made me feel that way. He has always said, ‘the stronger you are, the sexier you are', basically.”
Relaxing in the Dublin sunshine, Sharon Corr is full of challenging thoughts about existence and love and the nature of what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.
“I'm not saying this has necessarily happened to me,” she continues. “What I'm saying is that we are all living, breathing, physical animals and this is how we feel, quite naturally. Women are just too stereotyped.
“Three girls in a band,” she says by way of explanation — meaning The Corrs — “is perceived like we are the ones being pursued, rather than we can be the pursuers. Women are very well capable of being the pursuers. That's what interesting to me.”
I ask her did she pursue Gavin. “He certainly saw me first. But then I asked him out!” (They met in the summer of 1995 and married in Co Clare on July 7, 2001.)
She started writing this extraordinary new album in 2012. Extraordinary, because she sings, in that Karen Carpenter-esque voice of hers, lyrics that are perhaps her most confessional, certainly her most emotionally bare. On one song, Raindrops, she muses, “I can't let you go because I want you to know that I tried.”
Asked what was going through her mind, her soul, when she wrote those lines, Sharon says: “I was having a particularly low day, as people do, but one that was lower than normal. Do you ever get in seriously bad form and it is like the world's turned upside down and the world is against you? And you don't know why? And you really have no excuse for it, either. It's not justified in any way. So you can't find what you're trying to grapple with. You don't know what's disturbing you. So I spent the whole day like that. It was lashing rain outside all day.
“The constant driving rain all day became the focus of the song. So I treated the weather like my enemy. It was like the clouds were ganging up for the chase. You know?” she asks rhetorically. (You know, the thing about Sharon Corr and her sisters — Andrea, in particular — is that they have a unique way of looking at the world. Poetic, definitely; there is an innocent intensity, an existential seriousness that Woody Allen would find entertaining.)
“I suppose the idea of Raindrops is not to give in to the dark times. It's about not giving to the times where you feel like that and letting it get worse. And fighting that. I've gone through dark periods in life and have been quite down at stages, but I am having a particularly light period at the moment,” she laughs.
What brought on those periods of darkness? “Too much stress, sometimes. The elastic snaps and you have no more to give. And then you just feel like” — she laughs — “you have no more to give! You know, many different things, but I don't want to go into the detail.
“And, actually, the beautiful thing about it is, the writing process is my therapy. I was smiling like a Cheshire cat after I'd written the song. And yet I was having one of the darkest days I've had in a long time.”
Is it sometimes difficult for Gavin to live with you? She laughs as if to say I'm crazy. “I think most often I'm a pretty good person to live with. But, yeah, of course, there are going to be those challenging times. None of us is perfect.”
On the song The Edge Of Nowhere, Sharon is, as she sings, back in the “arms of darkness again”.
“Yeah, but they are warm arms in darkness,” she says, “that is more about being a musician on the road. You are always on the outside, looking in. Which, by the way, I completely love. It is not lonely at all. I don't find it lonely, ever. It's the question of as a mother, or as a dad, are you getting it right?” she says. (She and Gavin have a son, Cathal Robert Gerard, born March 31, 2006, and a daughter, Flori Jean Elizabeth, born July 18, 2007.)
“It's like: ok, my children are at home, I'm here in Texas and I'm going through the night on the highway. A question flickers: am I getting it right? It is very important to question that — because it is the only chance you have of getting it right. And so, the question is: where's home? Are you home? Is home a physical place?”
And what is it for you?
“I have two homes. I have my family. But I have another huge home on stage. They coexist. And there is always going to be a tug and a pull.”
Sharon's life has never been the same since her mother Jean died on November 24, 1999, in the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. That sadness is reflected in the song, Christmas Night.
“I know it is your dad's anniversary,” Sharon says when I ask her about the song — I had come from a Mass to mark his passing. “This song happened because I have been watching my dad, over the last 13 years, struggle through Christmas and struggle at many other times of the year — but Christmas is particularly hard, and I struggle too. We all do, because she is the person who should be in the room but is not in the room.
“Anybody who has ever lost somebody knows this — that at a time where the world goes quiet and you are not distracted by your daily job and you have celebrations that remind you of your childhood, that's the time you go, ‘Where is she?' Christmas is the time of year where we spend most of our time in the past; we are not in the present. You have to take all that baggage off to make Christmas smaller in order to enjoy it. For me, it's like I'm in the lost and found, in a limbo. You're stuck in the past but it is being forced into the present, but then you are also forced into this, ‘wow, this has to be super-cheerful'. A lot of the time you are just getting flashes of memories.”
Like the memory of her mother stuffing the turkey and “looking quite tired,” she says — “because she was tired from working so hard to make Christmas Day so beautiful. She was very dearly loved but perhaps was a little under-appreciated and, I think, that's a mother's thing. I think of her so much. I miss her so much. I love her so much.”
The star looks like she is going to cry but doesn't. The last time I interviewed Sharon she cried her eyes out when the subject of her mother came up. Sharon is a very emotional being.
“I see myself as being very strong, but being equally vulnerable. I see myself as being much more in tune with who I am now than I have ever been in my whole life.”
Why is that?
“Because I don't hold back,” she answers instantly. “I held back for a long time and it was just part of growing up and being shy.”
The most upbeat, even rousing, song on The Same Sun is probably the most reflective of Sharon Corr now. It is called Full Circle — “because I feel like I have come full circle”.
From what to where?
“When I started off as a kid, I was learning violin, I was playing piano. Everything musically for me was solo. And then I had a duo with Jim, and then we got the four-piece together (The Corrs, who sold squillions of records around the world, before stopping in 2005), and then I went back to being me. What I feel now is I've come full circle, as in the fact that I'm completely me now more than I ever was. It feels like a celebration, because when I'm on stage now, I just feel like I'm on fire. I feel I am where I should be.”
“I needed to find my quirks again and what it was that made me uniquely me, because, in The Corrs, it was a beautiful thing what we did together, but we needed, all of us, to dilute ourselves in order to achieve it. I had to unlearn that. I had to unlearn compromising. I had to unlearn thinking as a team and I had to start learning just to think for myself.”
Was that frightening or liberating at first?
“I wanted it badly. I sought it out. But the transition was a little ...” she says, stopping. (The Corrs ended in 2005; Sharon released her debut solo album Dream Of You in 2010.)
“I used to get anxious performing alone,” she admits. “Most artists go through periods in their life where they doubt themselves, where they don't feel 100 per cent secure. It is natural to feel a little bit of nerves, but I went through almost three years where the nerves were taking over the performance.
She coped by going to a voice coach in Dublin for lessons and by changing the way she viewed performing live.
“I needed to see the stage as pure joy, and not to take it so seriously. I had an awful tendency in the past to take many things way too seriously.”
Is that because you are the big sister of the Corr girls? (Andrea was born May 17, 1974; Caroline was born March 17, 1973, while Sharon was born March 24, 1970.)
“Possibly. I think it is,” she says. “And I really needed to kick myself out of that. I really needed to undo that in myself.”
And have you?
“Yeah, because it was very crippling. I held myself back, because I was just so worried about everything all of the time that I didn't enjoy the moment.”
What were you worried about? Your dad, Gerry (his wife had died)? Your big brother, Jim (he was saying some controversial things about 9/11 and conspiracy theories)?
“Just life in general,” she says. “Many, many things that probably didn't need that amount of worry dedicated to them. I seemed like I had it all together. And that was the problem, because I am just one of those people that seemed like I was very responsible and seemed like I had it all together but, actually, inside I really didn't at all.
“And the minute that I went, ‘you know, it is actually ok that you feel like crap, it's actually ok that you can't do this' — that's the moment when I stopped taking responsibility for everything. It was amazing.”
“I've been worrying my whole life,” she laughs. “There are always people who are the ones who take action, the ones who seem like they are in control. I was one of those people.”
And you put yourself in the same position with your family?
“Oh, absolutely,” she says firmly. “I'm not saying that I was doing all that much for them. I was just worrying too much and it seemed like I was in complete control. I had way too much stress — way too many things going on. And then it just snapped. Gavin was an absolute rock, building up my confidence.”
While you shatter it with that song!
“Will you stop!” She roars with laughter.
“We Could Be Lovers is not about Gavin. It is just about women in general.
“That is not a reflection on Gavin and it is not like I'd be unfaithful! Don't turn me into anxiety-ridden, sex-loving, unfaithful bitch, ok?” she hoots.
- Sharon Corr's new album, The Same Sun, will be released on September 5