Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Danny O’Reilly of The Coronas!
The Coronas’ 13-year journey has definitely been unique. With a handful of multi-platinum selling albums and a huge fan base in their native Ireland, they were just about to embark on a planned six-month world tour in support of their long-awaited sixth album when a certain unfortunately named virus spoiled the party. Resilience, however, has won out, and the band are now back on track to release TRUE LOVE WAITS, their first new album in three years, on July 31 with rescheduled tour dates and a point to prove.
Looking back on the last several surreal months, Coronas’ frontman Danny O’Reilly reveals: “The first thing we did, as the crisis unfolded, was tweet Corona Beer, asking them what their plan was.” Their outreach remains unanswered. “Now when we chat to our mates in bands who have also had to postpone gigs and tours, I just remind them things could be worse–you could share a name with the virus!”
Unfortunate monikers aside (The Coronas actually took their name from the typewriter in the film Almost Famous), the new album, TRUE LOVE WAITS, marks the start of what is now more than a new chapter in the career of one of Ireland’s biggest, best-loved bands; it’s more like a whole new book.
A quartet for its first 13 years, last summer The Coronas became a trio when guitarist Dave McPhillips unexpectedly left the band. Briefly, they questioned whether to continue but, once the shock had subsided, something dawned on the Dubliners. If they weren’t the band they used to be, why make music as they always had?
“In retrospect, the shock of Dave leaving the band helped us get a clearer picture of what we wanted the new album to be,” explains O’Reilly. “When we accepted that we weren’t going to be the same band without him, it was easier to let the new songs lead us in ways we wouldn’t have thought of before.”
Two songs had already been recorded in 2019 in Los Angeles with Hozier and PJ Harvey producer Rob Kirwan when Danny, bassist Graham Knox and drummer Conor Egan pressed reset. But the album only really began to take shape once a raft of new songs arrived. Key to the process was Danny’s coterie of new co-writers.
“I co-wrote a little on the last two albums and loved it,” says Danny. “This time I was up for anything. I took snippets of ideas to several musician mates, mostly around Dublin and Kerry, to see what we came up with together and that’s how we hit on some of the new sounds and different song structures.
“When you’re five albums in, it can be difficult to write differently on your own – you instinctively return to the same patterns. With fresh input, you’re forced down new paths, and it’s also great sharing that excitement in a room when you both know that there’s something special in the idea you’ve just created together.
“Rather than replace Dave,” O’Reilly continues, “we actually contemplated ditching guitars entirely. But instead, we opened ourselves up to work with loads of our talented friends, mainly because the songs warranted it, and we had an amazing young producer in George Murphy, who knew exactly the kind of album we wanted to make.”
Murphy, an acclaimed engineer and producer (Ellie Goulding, The Specials, Mumford & Sons, among others) had engineered The Coronas’ previous two albums. TRUE LOVE WAITS was largely recorded at the prestigious Eastcote studios in London. “For the first time, we used real brass, and there are extra guest backing vocalists, guest guitar players and our first featured duet. From early on, the guys encouraged me to use my voice differently, just pushing me to try something that I wouldn’t have done previously.”
The Coronas have previously released five studio albums: HEROES OR GHOSTS (2007), TONY WAS AN EX-CON (2009), CLOSER TO YOU (2011) THE LONG WAY (2014), and TRUST THE WIRE, which topped the Irish charts its first week of release in 2017. Their first three albums were released via the independent Irish label 3ú Records and the fourth one on Island Records, while the fifth marked their return to the independent route with the launch of their own imprint, SoFarSoGood Records, distributed by Blix Street Records. The band’s new TRUE LOVE WAITS album will also be available via SoFarSoGood.
The title track, “True Love Waits.” was written with Cian MacSweeny, frontman of Cork-formed, Dublin-based trio True Tides, one of The Coronas’ favourite bands and their recent support act. Acoustic guitar and bright synths blend to create an atmosphere of dreamy optimism, while the lyric – ‘Take a chance’ – could as easily apply to The Coronas’ new outlook as a new relationship. Much of the song is the band’s original demo, recorded DIY in Dublin, before being completed in the studio in London.
“We’ve never kept so much of our original demos before,” says Danny, “but what’s great about George is that he can see the magic in a moment. There’s a spontaneity to that song which we’d have lost by rerecording it. Because George engineered our last two albums, he knows us very well. He’d hone in on the vibes of what we brought him. A lot of the songs had odd arrangements, and he understood straight away what we were trying to do.”
The unorthodox arrangements helped push The Coronas out of their comfort zone. The release last year of the hypnotic first single, “Find The Water,” was a shock to some, but its success at Irish radio told the band they were on the right path. Beginning with just piano and vocals, then breaking into an intense chant, “Find The Water” soars skywards on trumpets and percussion and has Danny singing so high by the end that he’s all but unrecognizable. The video for “Find the Water” pitted Danny against the stark landscape of the Southern California desert near Joshua Tree National Park.
The track called simply “Cold” may rival it for surprises. Opening on its stark, prayer-like chorus, it’s a majestic spine-chiller that shapeshifts on piano, percussion and synths. Written by Danny as a pick-me-up late one night alone in the seaside village of Dingle, it’s about decision-making and self-doubt.
“How do you know you’ve made the right choice, about anything,” Danny explains. “In the midst of so much change, you can question every decision, but what’s the point? It’s our ‘don’t get down’ song. Have confidence and move on.”
Lyrically, TRUE LOVE WAITS addresses everything from a new love in Danny’s life to looking back at past achievements with pride to dealing with Dave’s departure.
“Light Me Up” flips from atmospheric to anthemic and builds to a boisterous, gospel finish featuring co-writer Cian MacSweeny on backing vocals. “Haunted,” one of two songs written with producer Cormac Butler, is a toast to a partnership – with the phrase “haunted” being Dingle-speak for “lucky.” The video for “Haunted” was shot earlier this year in a seemingly abandoned cabin accessible by trudging through the deep snows of Bulgaria’s winter before international travel became challenging.
“Lost in The Thick of It,” one of the album’s highlights, is a gorgeous duet with English singer-songwriter Gabrielle Aplin, co-written with her and her partner Alfie Hudson-Taylor in Brighton. On the celebratory “Brave,” The Coronas work in a waltz. The euphoric “Heat of The Moment” they describe as their Richard Curtis (Love Actually) love song. By the end of “I Think We Jinxed It,” the guitars and synths soar just much as Danny’s vocals.
“When we started out, we never thought we’d make six albums, or be as excited about music as we are now,” Danny concludes. “It’s great that we’re not trying to compete with anyone else. We’d rather just outdo ourselves.”
During Ireland’s shutdown as the result of the coronavirus pandemic, Danny O’Reilly returned to idyllic Dingle to self-isolate and regularly posted music to the band’s Instagram account under the heading “Self-Isolation Vibes.” He emerged briefly in April to perform a poignant solo acoustic version of “Heroes or Ghosts” on the Irish late night talk/variety program, The Late Late Show, while safely socially distant from the show’s staff.
The Coronas once again plan to tour extensively in Ireland and internationally in support of their new album, while continually monitoring the state of the pandemic in the various locations where they are scheduled to play to ascertain the feasibility of going forward with their shows.