Monday 25 September 2017

Declan O'Rourke

Declan O'Rourke (38) is a singer and songwriter. Born in Dublin, he lives in Galway with his fiancee, Eimear, who works as a stuntwoman. This month, he will perform three concerts with the RTE Concert Orchestra.

Declan O'Rourke. Photo: Carl Timpone
Declan O'Rourke. Photo: Carl Timpone

To get up in the morning, sometimes I use an alarm clock and other times I don't. It depends on how late I've been up the night before. Like a lot of musicians, my natural energy starts to peak in the evening, but I've reined that in a little bit. I try not to go to bed past 3am or 4am. Sometimes it's as early as 1am. I tend to get up between 9am and 11am.

I live in south-east Galway. I moved here seven years ago. When I started out, I got a few quid from a publishing deal and a lot of my colleagues in the music industry warned me not to blow it. Buying a house felt like a wise thing to do. I wanted somewhere picturesque. My grandad came from a village near where I live, so you could say that I have gone back to my roots. He was a painter, and there were lots of paintings of this area around the place - real dreamy-looking, west-of-Ireland stuff, so I was drawn to it, and to the sea.

I live with my fiancee, Eimear. She's a stuntwoman. She was in The Tudors and Penny Dreadful. She gets set on fire a lot and knocked over by cars, and she jumps off cliffs. She gets little knocks here and there, but the real skill is to do these things without being hurt. A lot of the time, we're like ships that pass in the night, but when we're here together, we generally get up at the same time.

The morning is my time to be creative. As soon as you switch on your phone and start looking at emails, you are guaranteed that you're not going to get anything creative done. I think this is because it destroys any kind of introspection or philosophical view in any artistic way.

A lot of people go to work for 9am, they have really intense work up to 5pm, and then they have their leisure time. We kind of have to do it the other way around. I wouldn't say leisure time, but it is in a way. You have to be easy with yourself, and mess around with a bit of music before anything else gets in the way. So, you don't switch on a television or a radio, because that interferes with the airwaves of your own creativity. I might be humming something to myself, or looking at some lyrics that I've been messing around with, but unfortunately I don't get to do this every single day. Invariably, things get in the way.

I wait until inspiration strikes. You get to a point where you get the urge to write something. I might pick the most important line and build something around that. Then, it starts to grow. Generally, I try not to touch an instrument until I've got the song in my head, because I find that if you start to lead with an instrument, then old chords that you use will dominate it. It's really important to keep yourself open to ideas, and a lot of people miss that point.

Years ago, I bought a book in Eason about songwriting. I opened it on the bus on the way home. On the first page, there was a quote from Paul Simon, who said that, 'Most of the time, it's just like waiting for the show to start'. When I read that, I thought, 'Oh my god, I'm a songwriter too. That's how I feel. I'm not the only one sitting around, waiting and hoping.' Writing songs takes a lot of work and patience. Some take months, and others years, but you just have to keep waiting and seeing what happens.

My song Galileo came easily to me. You persevere with the ones you're excited about, and that's what happened with that one. I think people enjoy the nostalgic sound of it. It has grown and grown, and it has been covered quite a few times. It's always nice to hear that somebody new has recorded it, but I've yet to hear the right version. Maybe it's because I'm emotionally attached to it.

I come from a very musical family. At parties, everybody had to have a party piece. We moved to Australia when I was 10. In school, they had music rooms full of instruments and you had access to them any time. Shortly after, somebody gave me a guitar and that was the beginning. I taught myself to play, and then picked up tips from others.

I rarely get nervous before a show. It's more exhilaration than anything else. I usually turn up at the venue at 4pm. I set up all the equipment and sing for about 20 minutes; that's my warm-up. Part of my philosophy is that I use whatever happens, and go with the flow. Sometimes it's probably a bad thing, because it could interfere with your mood or interrupt you, but I just try to be natural about it and not too precious.

I love performing. I change the order of my songs every night, and I enjoy interacting with the crowd. Generally, it builds into a really nice thing where, within a short space of time, you realise that you've forgotten where you are for a while. It's a great privilege to be playing with the RTE Concert Orchestra. To hear songs come to life like that is so powerful. I generally eat after a gig, because you don't have time beforehand. Then, afterwards - well, let's put it like this, I don't go straight to bed. I'm usually thinking about the best bits of the show, what I need to improve and what is going to be the next big thing. You try not to get complacent and relax into it too much.

At the moment, I'm putting out a song a month on my website. They're free to anybody on my mailing list. Everyone knows that you don't make money from CDs anymore, and you have to get new music out there. This is a fun way of doing it. I have way too many songs and the old way of putting out an album every two years is too slow for me. A song a month speeds it up dramatically.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Declan O'Rourke and the RTE Concert Orchestra, conductor David Brophy, are in UCH, Limerick, 8pm, February 12, tickets €25, tel: (061) 331-549, or see uch.ie; Leisureland, Galway, 8pm, February 13, tickets, €27.50, tel: (091) 569-777, or see tht.ie; National Concert Hall, 8pm, February 14, tickets €15-€45, tel: (01) 417-0000, or see nch.ie See declanorourke.com

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