The Coronas, who value their independence, pick everything: sleeve design, producers, publicists and people generally who really believe in them and their music.
Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor
Having risen to rock star fame in Ireland, the Coronas are now establishing themselves as a transatlantic band. Their next original album, which is currently in production, is the emblematic of the Dublin band’s new global arc: written and recorded partly in Los Angeles, then more writing in Dingle, Co. Kerry, and finally, recording in London. What’s most surprising about the Coronas is that, despite being one of the most well-known, popular bands in Ireland, they are entirely independent. Lead singer Danny O’Reilly spoke to me about how the band’s decision to operate through their own independent label coincides with creative maturation in their songwriting. This November, the Coronas will showcase some of their new music ahead of their album release at New York’s Mercury Lounge for three shows on Nov. 13, 14, and 15.
The four-piece Coronas — Danny O’Reilly, Graham Knox, Conor Egan and Dave McPhillips — first gained attention in 2007 with their debut album, “Heroes or Ghosts.” Since then, the band has released four more original studio albums, the most recent of which was “Trust the Wire” (2017), which instantly reached number 1 on the Irish Music Charts. The band has not rested for long since then: they have been consistently touring and working on their next album, due for release in May 2020. While this creative output would seem fast by ordinary standards, O’Reilly sees it as intentionally slowing things down. “We took our time with this one,” he said. In that time, the band has explored new melodies, lyrics and arrangements and worked to capture their organic, live sound.
After jiving with the creative spark in California, where they recorded a music video near Joshua Tree National Park for “Find the Water,” the first single from the album, directed by John Broe (of Thanks Brother, an Irish duo involving Broe and singer Roisin O, O’Reilly’s sister), the Coronas returned to the Irish landscape for inspiration for another creative exercise. O’Reilly rang me from Dingle, where the band had locked themselves away to complete the next phase of their songwriting process, ahead of recording the album’s final tracks in London. O’Reilly’s family, which includes other famous musicians like his mother Mary Black, have a long relationship with the town. Within the past 10 years, the Coronas have also made it their own creative oasis, a space to get away from the city and write.
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The Coronas played at the Marquee in Cork in July.
This time, it would seem the beauty of Kerry unlocked Danny O’Reilly’s emotive output in composing. “My songwriting is changing,” he explained. “I’m using my voice in a different way and writing songs for different people, it’s bringing different things to the table.” For example, he wrote the band’s first single release for this forthcoming album, “Find the Water” (available on Spotify with music video accessible at thecoronas.net) with his sister Roisin O. He’s also written love songs for his fellow bandmates in the Coronas: “Being in a band is like a marriage,” he said, “you have to remind yourself of the reason that you are playing and writing the music.” His songs also have a meta-narrative—they are about songwriting itself, about the creative process.
Thematically, the music the Coronas are making now is about maturing, coming into your adulthood while not playing it too safe. “[This album] is more mature-sounding, maybe,” O’Reilly reflected. “We’ve found our feet a bit more.” For example, their single, “Find the Water,” is about “trying to be present and the best person you can be.” O’Reilly discussed being in his 30s and his willful intent not to be too self-critical. He challenges himself not to get comfortable, either: “I’m consistently trying not to be afraid to make mistakes and pat myself on the back when I can.”
This self-conscious maturation relates to the band’s recent decision to make their music independently, with their own label SoFarSoGood Records. O’Reilly admitted that independence makes the band work harder. It’s also a freedom for which the Coronas feel exceptionally privileged to exercise. They pick everything: sleeve design, producers, publicists, people who really believe in them and their music. Having been with a big label before and talking to bands currently signed to such labels makes O’Reilly particularly thankful: “We’re in a lucky position. We can invest in the band how we want to—tour whenever we want to. We have a new lease on life with the band as a result.” And clearly, it has been transformative for their songwriting. “Our band what’sapp group has never been busier,” O’Reilly joked. O’Reilly’s vision is long-sighted when it comes to the label: he wants the band to one day sponsor new, young musicians according to the same ethos, encouragement, and creative freedom the Coronas themselves are now experiencing.
But as O’Reilly said, independence begets a more rigorous work ethic, and the Coronas are applying their stamina toward building their reputation outside Ireland. In fact, it’s only within the past few years that the Coronas have built an American fan base. “We’ve noticed lots more American people coming,” O’Reilly said, “thanks to the beauty of Spotify.” Unaware of the band’s Irish connections, many New Yorkers have wound up at their gigs simply because of exposure via Spotify. The band’s successful sell-outs in Ireland give them the cushion to build their name in new countries. In addition to their New York tour, the band has gigs lined up in Germany, where they’ve recently charmed fans in Berlin, and will return to Australia in the near future. “We enjoy the challenge of building ourselves up in new places,” O’Reilly said.
But the Coronas are particularly excited to be coming to New York next month to share new music from their upcoming album. The show on Friday, Nov. 15 is already sold out, but tickets remain for shows on the Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 13 and 14. You can find out more information and get tickets at thecoronas.net
Before the Coronas appear at the Mercury Lounge, another Irish-American folk rock band, the Narrowbacks, will take the stage at the same venue for their new album launch. See the Narrowbacks debut “By Hook or By Crook” on this Saturday, at the Mercury Lounge—more information on that album coming soon.