The Coronas' Danny O'Reilly: 'Subconsciously, I resented my mum for her touring'
Danny O'Reilly of The Coronas talks exclusively to Barry Egan about his famous mum Mary Black and break-up songs.
Danny O'Reilly exhibits all the charm of a 32-year-old man with a poetic nature and a brooding, searching mind, like a young Bono or Van Morrison. Or even a young Mary Black - Danny's mother.
Having listened to him sing lyrics like 'Is there a wrong time to be alive?' and 'When will I know how that feels?' on The Coronas' new release, their fifth studio album, Trust The Wire, I wasn't expecting much of the ordinary out of the mouth, or head, of young Danny boy.
"That line - 'Is there a wrong time to be alive?' - it's mainly about being envious of a couple like my parents," he explains. "I suppose it's about people getting it right."
When Danny sings the line 'When will I know how that feels?', would his parents ever feel the need to say to him, 'Look, son, it's okay?'
"Yeah. My dad (Joe) is my mam's manager. He's brilliant. It's funny, I'm so close to them, my parents, but sometimes you get to the stage where you say to yourself, 'They're not always right'.
"It's a funny thing as you get older, you think your parents know everything, but they don't," Danny smiles. "They're human too but they definitely would have said to me if I was going through a tough time, break up or whatever it is - 'Don't worry, it's alright. It will sort itself out'."
In an interview with a music magazine a few years ago, Danny mentioned that in his youth he carried a small amount of resentment towards his mother because she appeared to be always away on tour.
"Yeah, sort of more subconscious resentment," Danny says now, "because she'd come back from being on tour and for the first half an hour we'd be like, 'Oh we missed you, where's the presents?' She'd say: 'How's the football going?' And I'd say, 'Ah, mam - the football finished last month'. We'd be just cold to her. Then she'd have to pick and choose whether to be away, and she struggled with it for a long time; my da had to tell her to keep going," Danny says.
"There were times when she wanted to pack it in and just be at home with us... I mean she started having kids when she was in her early 20s."
If Danny was to have kids himself one day, would he wonder about the same things - being away from them for long periods?
"I suppose I'd probably be aware of it, but I think the three of us," Danny says referring to himself and his two siblings - younger sister Roisin (now a singer of some brilliance, aka Roisin O) and older brother Conor, a land surveyor - "turned out okay in the long run. Everyone has issues. Everyone has some issue about home. I'm not standing here saying, 'Oh poor me, my mam was away' you know? It was great, a great house. We turned out great and they worked very hard for us."
Did his parents ever warn Danny, to the effect, 'There's a lot of pain in the road he has chosen to go down?'
"Absolutely, one thing my mam told me from a very early stage was, 'It doesn't matter how much talent you have, there's loads and loads of amazing, talented people out there who don't make it'. And there's a line from Heroes or Ghosts (The Coronas' debut album from 2007) that came from that: 'It's going to take a lot of time, and a little bit of luck', because it is about luck as well. I know The Coronas have been lucky and I appreciate that and I'm very grateful that we got to do this for a job because I know it's difficult. We still love it, we still enjoy it and I still think we have something to give."
This last bit could be said to be a bit of an understatement, not least because they are one of the best bands to emerge out of Ireland since U2. The Coronas' show at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham in Dublin on July 1 has just sold 15,000 tickets. Later this summer, they will be jetting off on eagerly awaited tours of Europe, Australia, the UK and America (returning home at Christmas to possibly play the 3Arena).
Long before the Meteor Music Award-winning Coronas formed in school in 2003, they were a band of brothers - life-long friends. Danny and bassist Graham Knox have been friends literally since birth. Danny was born on March 23, 1985 and Knoxy 15 days later. Their parents were best friends, and Danny and Knoxy's friendship started from when they were babies. "We grew up together," says Danny.
Danny went to the same Dublin primary school and college as Knox, future Coronas drummer Conor Egan, and manager Jim Lawless.
"Knoxy and I went through everything together, all sorts of stuff. First loves, going to festivals together. Dave (McPhilips, lead guitar) hadn't even joined the band yet. We met him in UCD; he was the last one to join," Danny says, recalling a memory of going to the Witnness music festival in the Republic of Ireland, as a teenager: "We were like, 'Imagine if we could play at Witnness on any of the stages'. Jim had already become our manager at this stage," Danny recalls.
"So, playing Witnness was the goal," Danny says, "And then it happened with Oxegen and then the goalposts changed." And changed again; "sharing a stage with Paul McCartney", supporting Pink, selling four double platinum albums, selling out Marlay Park, Dublin.
The evolving inner life of Danny O'Reilly is mapped out on The Coronas's new album Trust The Wire. Songs like A Little Withdrawn and Look At All The Lovers are Danny reaching deep inside himself to reveal something as much to himself as to the listener.
"It just kind of came out of me," he says of A Little Withdrawn, "and I was feeling a bit ... I was sitting with a friend of mine and you could sense that she was a bit withdrawn. I'd ask her a question and she was withdrawn, a bit antsy, not really listening to my answer. I'd say to her, 'I do that all the time, wanting to be more present'."
He explains: "I'd be at dinner with my mam and dad, because I'm so comfortable around my family. I sort of just switch off. I might chill and take up my phone, and they'd be giving out to me, saying, 'Talk to us, be present, put down the phone'. So it's all that sort of stuff. It's finding out stuff about yourself - and it's okay."
What did he find out about himself? "That it's okay to feel a bit unsociable sometimes."
Does he ever wonder who that guy is? Does he ever look in the mirror after a few drinks and say, 'Am I Danny or am I that guy in the band?'
"Definitely. If they get overlapped it becomes, 'Danny from The Coronas or am I Danny O'Reilly?' Sometimes you can over-analyse and over-think things. Often times it's just the first feeling that you think, 'Just go and follow what your heart says'."
Following what his heart says has pretty much been Danny's artistic raison d'etre from the beginning. (He doesn't, however, want to go into the current state of his love life). On the 2011 album Closer To You, he came across as a more joyous young man from the songs that he sang. On 2014's album The Long Way Danny seemed less joyful.
With the new album Trust The Wire, Danny appears like a man considering his place in the grand scheme of things, looking at life, weighing things up.
I say to him that on 2014's album Closer To You - written in the aftermath of his break-up from Laura Whitmore - he didn't hide his emotions about that split, or his more downbeat emotions about life.
"Yeah - and I think it is just that getting older as well. Closer To You still had that sort of unashamed joy and ambition like, 'I'm great. I can do this and I'm going to be this and I can do that if I want (then, with) certain knocks, maybe personal life, whatever - okay, maybe this might take us a bit longer...'
"I think my best moments as a songwriter were the honest, vulnerable moments and you can't contrive it. I remember when The Long Way was just about finished I said to the band, 'Lads, there's too many 'break-up' songs in this album'; and they were like, 'F*** that, don't worry about that stuff. All you've written is what you're going through and that's it'. I've always been honest about what's going on in my life. I just write about it."
Danny is also honest enough to admit that at the start of last year he was at "the closest" he'd ever been to going through 'writer's block': "Not that I had writer's block. But I wasn't drawn to song writing the first six months of last year.
"We took a good bit of time off. We'd just come back from London. Knoxy was still living in London, I moved back here; Dave moved to Berlin for a couple of months. I was a bit down then and I was a bit (in a reflective place), I think, with everything that happened with Island Records - with The Coronas, everything has always been baby steps forward.
"We started off as a really small local band. We got a little bit of radio play, we went up through the venues in Ireland. It was always baby steps and then we moved to London and signed to a major record label (Island) and then we got our first knock-back when we got dropped or whatever. It didn't work out and I think that hit us. It hit me anyway.
"I was reassessing what we were doing," he adds, "and it's basically what the Trust The Wire album is all about... what the song We Couldn't Fake It is about, even Give Me A Minute is about trying to regain your focus. Regain your ambition. Do it for the right reasons. Do it because you love it. There were definitely moments where we were like, 'There's no point in us going through the motions here'.
"We were living in the same house for three-and-a-half years. We didn't kill each other at all, we loved it. Knoxy was the cook."
Knoxy got engaged - to Aoife McCormick whom he married in December 2016 - "and she was living with us then. So there was five of us in the house.
"We thought about moving back after the stuff with Island Records happened," Danny continues. "We said, 'We got away with it for three years - let's not push our luck. Let's get our own space now'. As I said, there was definitely a moment where we weren't going to break up and I don't think we'll ever break up but I think we might do other things."
- The Coronas's new album Trust The Wire is released on June 2. The will play Sea Sessions at Bundoran, Saturday, June 24. Visit ticketmaster.ie for details