Danny O’Reilly, lead singer of The Coronas told David Hennessy about the band’s new album, being joined onstage by his mother Mary Black at Electric Picnic and why he wouldn’t change the thing despite the band not replicating their success abroad.
Dublin band The Coronas, led by Danny O’Reilly, released their latest album Time Stopped last week.
Time Stoppped is their seventh album, and follows two successive Irish number one albums Trust the Wire (2017) and True Love Waits (2020).
It is also their first album to not feature their guitarist Dave McPhillips who quit the band in 2019.
The Coronas were all set to release True Love Waits when the pandemic hit in 2020 and called a halt to all touring.
They would release it anyway and with success as it held off competition from Fontaines DC and Taylor Swift to top the Irish charts while also becoming their most successful album to date internationally.
They couldn’t tour the album but nothing could stop them writing and they had enough for an album before they knew it.
Danny told The Irish World: “It was funny because we weren’t really sitting down to write an album.
“We released an album in the middle of the pandemic, the lockdown, in 2020.
“And we couldn’t really get out and tour that, so we just started writing.
“We didn’t really go, ‘Okay, let’s do the next album’.
“It wasn’t probably until maybe a year later, we still weren’t out of the pandemic that we were like, ‘We have another album here ready to go’.
“So we decided to make a plan to release when things came back and thankfully, it all worked out.
“I wouldn’t call it a lockdown or a pandemic album.
“But each song sort has a little reference, it’s almost like the backdrop to each of the stories of each of the songs.
“It’s not so much about it, I suppose there’s one or two songs that maybe are about lockdown or whatever.
“But in general, it’s an album of optimism. I think it’s defiant.”
Listening to it, it does feel like it came from lockdown but far from being downbeat, it has themes of moving on and counting your blessings…
“I think you’re right.
“A lot of the songs were probably written coming out of the lockdown where you can see the finish line in sight.
“So there was a bit more optimism, a bit more seeing the next chapter.
“And then there’s the usual themes as well that we often write about. We write about relationships and self-improvement is a thing that I’ve sort of started writing a bit more about in the last couple albums: Trying to be a better songwriter, trying to be a better singer, trying to be a better friend, bandmate, brother, whatever it is.
“So all those things are in there as well but it’s definitely not a depressing listen, I don’t think.”
So how have the last couple of years actually been for you guys? “It’s been tough, as it was for everyone in the industry, but I do think we were luckier than most really.
“I mean, I was confident enough when things did come back- we have such a loyal following, especially here in Ireland- we would have a crowd to play to.
“And that that turned out to be true, thankfully the gigs are going great.
“I think the whole thing would probably have affected us a lot more if we were on our first or second album.
“Momentum is so key when you’re starting out and when you’re sort of trying to get going and definitely the pandemic scuppered a lot of new bands who were just emerging and about to kick on.”
In the early days of the pandemic the band were being written about as having the ‘unluckiest’ moniker in music.
The band even made a joke out of it by tweeting the Corona beer brand to ask how they were planning on dealing with the bad press.
But it should be pointed out that this was before they knew how serious the virus was or would become.
But behind the jokes, there was a serious concern that sharing their name with something so awful could be detrimental to the band.
Was the band’s future even a bit uncertain at times? “Yeah, definitely uncertain.
“I mean there was a time even only a year ago, when we still weren’t completely out of restrictions, and you’re sort of wondering, ‘Is it ever going to come back to full capacity?’
“I don’t think we ever doubted whether the band would stay together.
“I mean, the name situation was another weird level of strangeness on an already strange situation, and I think that passed quick enough for us.
“When it first happened, it was like, ‘Uh oh. Is this going to affect us?’
“And then we could see after a while the pandemic sort of took on its own meaning for everyone.
“Coronavirus was just a word and I think after a while, we were like, ‘Okay, I don’t think the name is really going to make much of a difference’.
“I don’t think we considered stopping.
“I’d say we considered stopping more the album before last when Dave, our guitar player, left.
“That was probably the only time when we had a moment of, ‘What now?’
“David left very amicably, and we’re still friends now.
“But he was the one who sort of suggested that we keep going.
“And it sort of turned into a new chapter for us and I think it’s given us a new lease of life.
“We’re almost having another sort of resurgence, I think, in a way.
“We’re enjoying it as much as ever now.
“We can’t wait to get back on the road.”
Originally made up of Danny O’Reilly, Graham Knox, Conor Egan and Dave McPhillips, The Coronas met at Terenure College.
The band came to prominence with their debut album Heroes or Ghosts in 2007 with the title track and San Diego song becoming immediate anthems.
The 2009 follow-up Tony was an Ex-Con beat U2 and Snow Patrol to take Best Irish Album at the Meteor Awards.
The subsequent albums Closer to You (2011) and The Long Way (2014) went to numbers 3 and 2 respectively in the Irish albums chart.
Dave McPhillips had left the band before True Love Waits was released in 2020 but his playing was on it making this the first post- Dave album for the Coronas.
“Yeah, this is the first one completely without him.
“He co-wrote a couple of the songs on True Love Waits and played on four or five of them as well so that was a transition album really but this is the first album we’ve done completely as a three piece.
“So, as I say, it feels like a new chapter for us.”
How is Dave, by the way? Is he well? “Yeah, he’s great.
“He’s in good form, he’s playing a bit of music for himself and he’s teaching.
“I’d say he probably still has the odd moment where he’s like, ‘Ah..’ Like when we have a good gig coming up.
“But I think he’s happier.
“He knows it was the right decision, he wasn’t enjoying it and we had given it a good ten years.
“It is a big commitment.
“I love it.
“I love every aspect of being in a band.
“I love travelling, and I love the way our life is.
“It has no schedule or structure but it’s not for everyone, it can be tough on the road when you’re missing home or whatever.”
Did you ever think of doing anything else even for a second? “No, I did it a little bit in college and I remember having a taste of doing 9 to 5, working in factories and even in a music shop.
“It made me realize, ‘No, no, no’.
“I think I always knew deep down but I never really admitted it until I got a little bit older and the band started doing a little bit better.
“That’s when I said, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do’.
“I think when I was in school or in college, I was sort of like, ‘This is a bit of fun, it’s a hobby type thing’.
“But deep down I knew that it was what I wanted with my life.
“We never put too much pressure on ourselves.
“We all finished college. We said, ‘We’ll give this thing a year and see what happens’.
“That was nearly 15 years ago now, so we haven’t had to get a real job since.
“It’s been a great journey. Doing it with your best mates, growing up together and working it out.
“I mean we hadn’t a clue what we were doing when our first album came out.
“We were so young, and we were so naïve.
“We just had a bunch of songs and we just put them on an album.
“We had never even toured outside Dublin nevermind outside Ireland so we were really finding our feet and it nearly took us a couple of albums to really become a band.
“But I wouldn’t change it.
“I think that journey was good for us and I think it’s actually stood to us and our longevity, the fact that we sort of evolved in those early albums.”
The Coronas are huge in Ireland while having a more modest but still dedicated fanbase elsewhere.
The Coronas took a shot at cracking the UK a decade ago when they signed to Island and moved to London.
It did not work out how they hoped but that is nothing they are bitter about.
In fact, it’s like one of the themes of the new record, they count their blessings.
“I wouldn’t change our journey.
“People often say to me, ‘You never quite kicked on outside Ireland and made it big anywhere else’.
“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, but we get to tour. We have a great life. We have a great balance and thankfully, we’re still packing them in here in Ireland’.
“So it’s great. I wouldn’t change anything.”
Is it really thrown in your face like that? That you’re not selling out stadiums internationally? “Not really, no.
“I suppose it’s probably just in the back of our own heads.
“People don’t really say it to us but the odd time you have a mate going, ‘What happened? Why aren’t you bigger in America?’
“But as I say, I wouldn’t change anything,
“We’ve had a lot more ups than downs and it doesn’t seem to be stopping so we’re loving it as much as ever.”
This is true.
In 2011, the Coronas played for President Barack Obama during his visit to Ireland when the crowd at College Green was estimated to be between 80,000 – 100,000 people.
They have also opened for Beatles legend Paul McCartney at the RDS Arena.
But what would stand out for them as highlights of their journey up to now? “Honestly- maybe because it’s fresh in my mind but- our show in Shepherds Bush in London on Friday (30 September) was just a magic night.
“That was the first big show we had done outside Ireland since the pandemic and that sort of knocked us in a good way.
“We were all coming offstage going, ‘Jesus, that was magic’.
“I would say probably our highlights are some of the bigger shows we have done like Kilmainham or the 3 Arena in Dublin.
“The home town shows where all your family are there and huge crowds. They’re all there for you.
“They’re definitely some of the moments we remember and getting to play the Olympia every Christmas is something we just look forward to and just enjoy every second of it.
“And then getting to support people- I was only talking last night actually about when we got to support Paul McCartney.
“That was incredible, getting to meet Paul.
“I’m saying ‘Paul’ as if I know him, Sir Paul McCartney.
“We’ve had a couple of pinch me moments like that where you’re like, ‘This is crazy’.
Of course Danny comes from a famous musical family being the son of Mary Black.
His younger sister is the singer-songwriter Róisín O and it doesn’t end there as his auntie is another revered ballad singer, Frances Black and her daughter, his cousin is the folk singer Aoife Scott.
Danny, Róisín and Aoife have often shared the stage, all three combining for a centenary version of Grace in 2016.
Róisín also provided support for the Coronas’ recent UK dates.
However, something that had not been seen until recently was the mother and son together on stage.
At the recent Electric Picnic, Mary Black joined The Coronas onstage to sing Only A Woman’s Heart.
“It was amazing.
“It was probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to.
“Someone told me that there was between 40 and 50,000 people there when we played.
“We had such a good slot on the Sunday and then getting to share the stage with my mam, which is something we never do.
“We’ve been asked to do it plenty of times for different things and it just never felt right.
“But this time, it was just on our own terms.
“It was a big festival gig, we knew that Mary would go down well with the Electric Picnic crowd- And she did.
“They were singing every word.
“People are still talking about it to me.
“Everyone loves Mary.
“No matter where I go in the world, at every single gig, ‘I love your band, but I LOVE your ma. I grew up listening to her’.
“So I’m well used to it.
“And it’s funny, even the younger generation still know her music.
“So yeah, I’m very proud of her. She’s a legend.
“We had Róisín playing with us live as well.
“My dad and my brother were there as well watching on the side of the stage so it was a nice family moment for us.”
She may be revered the world over but Danny says Mary never pushed her children onstage. In fact, she warned them about how tough the business was.
“I never forget she said, ‘Listen, go for it if you want to do it but just remember there’s so many talented people out there who don’t make it and don’t get that little bit of luck that you need. You need to go into it with that in mind and don’t expect that it’s going to happen for you. If you do get that little bit of luck, just be ready to work hard’.
“And that was advice that I took to heart, and she was also very encouraging for me to write songs from a young age and I did and that definitely helped me as a songwriter.
“The earlier you start, I think, the better it is for you.
“It was great to have her there and my dad as well.
“It’s great to have that family support.
“You go home after being on tour and you’re just another child. There’s no airs or graces around our house.
“We’re lucky that we have that sort of family base.”
A former Dublin minor, Danny spent two years playing London GAA with North London Shamrocks when the band made the move to London helping the North London side to an intermediate London county championship in 2014.
Were any of his former teammates at his recent London gig? “A couple of the boys were there.
I think back so fondly to my time with the Shamrocks.
“It was amazing. I made friends for life there and I loved it.”
His London intermediate championship remains something he is very proud of.
“It was a very proud moment.
“It was a great journey, we got to the All- Britain final and unfortunately we lost but it was a great time.
“Those days were amazing. I remember the London final, the rest of the band came to watch it.
“They were on the side line, and they were loving it down in Ruislip.
“As I say, I look back very fondly on those times.”
The band have just played three UK dates and will now embark on a 25 date European, North American and Australian tour which culminates in a four night run at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin. The band’s annual Christmas gigs at the Olympia have become part of the calendar.
How does it feel to have such a calendar to look forward to after the last few years? “We’re absolutely buzzing.”
Time Stopped by The Coronas is out now.
The single Don’t You Say You’re in Love is out now.
For more information, click here.