Corrs & effect: Andrea and Caroline on fame and family
As The Corrs return with a new album, Andrea and Caroline from the band talk to Roisin O'Connor about maturity and why they never troubled the gossip columns
Almost 20 years to the day since their hit album Talk On Corners was released and The Corrs - two of them, at least - are sat at a hotel in west London talking about their new record Jupiter Calling, along with the phenomenal, sold-out show at the Royal Albert Hall they played just a week earlier.
That venue has a special significance for the Irish quartet, who say it brought them from the "obscure folk section" to a number one UK album - the biggest-selling LP of 1998, outselling artists including Madonna and Robbie Williams.
It was a triumphant show, packed out with a surprisingly diverse audience who witnessed the apparently ageless group perform a perfect balance of their biggest hits and new material. If Talk On Corners was one of the first albums you owned and this was the first time you'd seen them live, you'd be forgiven if those first few notes on Only When I Sleep brought a tear to your eye.
"When I first went on I was nervous," lead singer Andrea admits. "It was contagious because Jim starts with this classical piano piece, Sharon (violin, guitar, backing vocals) had to start playing, and it's like dominoes, I'm thinking, what if I just ruin this?"
"It was a big deal for us," she adds. "It was very emotional to come back with all that's happened in between, those that are missing from our lives now. It's almost like you're looking back on a different person, but then it's still us, in the same group."
Following a 10-year hiatus where solo projects were released and families were raised, The Corrs returned with their first album in a decade, White Light, in 2015. It saw the band try out a mature pop sound that toned down the more traditional Irish themes, but not erasing what people loved about them altogether. It also felt as though the band had far less pressure on them than they did on previous records In Blue or Borrowed Heaven, because the fact they were back in the studio was kept relatively quiet.
"Obviously on every record something new is happening, so you do mature, and I suppose now we have a lot more time to think about what we wanted to do," drummer Caroline says. "Because there was a lot of pressure at that time in our career, once Talk On Corners happened. We were suddenly in this bubble, everywhere. So now at least we have the time to write and think about what we want to do."
"Particularly on the last two," Andrea agrees. "But this one, because T Bone Burnett produced it, it was a really different experience for us. He's like ... it's almost holy to him, it's ritualistic. He handles your music like it is sacred, and to get that respect from someone like him is all the success we could ever dream of.
"His way of doing things is just not a pop world that we might be used to, apart from maybe in our unplugged records. But what T Bone loves is the anomalies," she says. "Anything can be made perfect. So when he came in on the second week and we played Song of Solomon he said 'Don't play that again'. What he meant is that he didn't want us to know it too well. There's something where you don't know the song so well where it's actually better."
"It's a beautiful feeling just to play a song and having that as 'the take'," Caroline says. "How we produce music has changed since the Sixties. Some people do entire tracks and put the voices in later, so the idea of saying let's do this as a whole take. It's pretty nerve-wracking."
It was as early as when they were putting White Light together that the band realised they might have enough material for another album, where they found that writing wasn't a task. That freedom they speak of to explore their own ideas apparently resulted in songs such as SOS, which Andrea wrote after feeling guilty over the ongoing crisis in Syria.
Its strangely upbeat instrumentation contrasts darkly with its lyrical content, as Andrea sings: "There's pain on the border as far as the eyes can't see/ And hell's getting busy while we're in the cheap seats/ My girl in a tutu, more shoes to pick for her feet/ How many lies long until we admit what we see." The narrator sings with a self-awareness of the excuses she's making - "love", her children, "sorrow" - grief over the death of their father Gerry - without preaching to the listener.
"I suppose it's a mother's guilt about doing nothing, seeing these horrific images and having that guilt, with your own perfect children beside you," she nods. "That is the perspective it's from. I'm not saying I have the answer, I'm not pontificating, that's just what it is. It's self-loathing, in a way."
Since The Corrs emerged in the Nineties, few other artists have attempted to emulate that blend of Celtic and pop rock - the most recent example being Ed Sheeran and his divisive song Galway Girl. Yet Andrea and Caroline point out that he cited their band as an example of how popular and joyous that music can be, regardless of how "uncool" people might view it to be, and nod towards the idea that Sheeran, aged 26, better remembers the impact their music had than a 50-year-old label head.
They know that feeling all too well. As a writer for The Independent noted last year around the time of their comeback, the band's music was considered "uncool" by certain corners of the music press yet they enjoyed enormous success, perhaps in part thanks to timing: emerging when Riverdance fever was at its peak and standing out from the pop groups that blatantly targeted the US with a harder, more produced sound. The Corrs avoided tabloid gossip columns, were never arrested over drugs or caught up in drunken brawls at Brits after-parties. Basically they were all about the music.
Of course they had their differences, and might still do - having a family history with someone you're working with can be tough: just ask the Gallagher brothers. But they tread carefully, and respect one another's position in the band, with everyone involved appreciative that they still get to work together.
"We've got better over the years," Caroline says. "I think there's a mental shift that happens that makes you realise the arguments can help you get where you need to be. If you're thinking of disagreements of being entirely negative, that can bring you down. In anything, there's always differing opinion. It's probably just a bit more difficult for us because we are family."
"There is an awful lot of history there," Andrea adds. "There's what I say to you and what you understand. I can only be responsible for what I say to you, and not for how you understand it. There's a minefield that you have to tread carefully around."
Jupiter Calling is out now