Interview: Delorentos - Big Sparks
Delorentos tell John Meagher about their memorable 2013
Ask Kieran McGuinness and Níal Conlan of Delorentos what their highlights of 2013 have been and you are going to be in for a long conversation.
There's the Choice Music Prize win for best Irish album, several acclaimed performances in the US, a one-off gig in Moscow, supporting Bruce Springsteen in Kilkenny. And then there's the small matter of a fourth album that is taking shape very nicely indeed.
When pressed for a single moment that encapsulates their marvellous year, McGuinness – who shares frontman duties with Rónán Yourell – plumps for the night after bagging the Choice prize: "We were in New York to play a show. We had flown out early that morning on a high after the win – some of us without any sleep at all – and we were so delighted to be getting to play this great city and have an album that had been honoured back home. It felt like we had come a long way."
On the night of the award, just before the winner was announced, word reached the Dublin band that they had been pipped to the post by "another act on their third album", so McGuinness says he was as surprised as anyone when their name was called. "I had my camera ready to take a photo of the winners, and the next thing I'm hearing 'Delorentos for Little Sparks'.
"It meant an awful lot to us, because we put everything we had into that album. There's a lot of personal stuff there."
One of Little Sparks' standouts, Petardu, is about as personal as you can get because it finds McGuinness confronting his adoption.
"I knew I wanted to write one song about it," he says, "because I'd often thought about why a parent could give up a child like that."
Days after sitting down with Day & Night, he was due to meet his birth mother for the first time. Remarkably, she had seen Delorentos perform the song on The Late Late Show. "It's something I'll talk about to a degree," he says, uneasily. "But there are personal aspects that have to remain personal – and not just for my sake."
He's less guarded when discussing the inspiration for the album's euphoric title track – his wife. "There was a magical moment when we played that song in Waterford," he says. "Dust seemed to be kicked up and it was caught in the light and the fragments looked like the tiny sparks we were singing about."
For drummer Ross McCormick, the sessions for the album coincided the time he was caring for his terminally ill mother, Mary. The band would dedicate the Choice prize to her memory – her illness and death had affected the other members greatly.
"Our friendships are as close and important as ever," Conlan, the band's bassist, says. "We have been through some tough times together, but there have been really special times too – and so many of them this year."
In one jetlag-inducing period in March, Delorentos played, in order, New York, Toronto, Moscow ("our footwear started to disintegrate because it wasn't compatible with the stuff they spray on the snow," McGuinness recalls) and Memphis – the sort of globe-trotting itinerary Rihanna's people put together for her infamous 777 publicity tour.
"Some time ago, we made the decision that we would consider every offer that came our way and not dismiss it out of hand," McGuinness says. "So when the opportunity to play Moscow came up, we said 'absolutely' and when we were asked to play Memphis, we jumped at it."
There was an opportunity to play such disparate locations as southern India and Las Vegas too, but the band weren't able to fit either into their schedule. "The mayor of Las Vegas knows us and likes our stuff," Conlan says. "We'll try to make it happen."
There might be a show in Malawi next year and the band appear keen to do it. "We're not world-beaters selling millions of albums," Conlan says, "but we're getting some great opportunities to travel to interesting places. We're four friends who are getting to have this creative life and do so much together."
Delorentos made significant inroads in the Hispanic world over the past few years. "That's down to a really good agent we have in Spain," Conlan explains. "So many breaks happen when you meet people that believe in what you're doing and will go that extra mile for you."
More recently, they have found themselves in the happy place of being swamped with orders for their albums from Mexico. "A really influential Mexican blogger wrote about us," McGuinness says, "and that introduced our music to a whole new territory." Dates in Mexico and Central America look like real possibilities in 2014.
When McGuinness thinks back on how Little Sparks changed the game for Delorentos, he cites the appearance of their song, Care For, on Spanish television during the interval of the Barcelona-Real Madrid football match in late 2012 as the moment it looked as though the band would be elevated to another level.
"The song was used in a TV ad to promote a music festival in Murcia that we were playing," he says. "It was incredible exposure to us because so many people would have been watching that game." To the uninitiated, this football tie – known as El Clasico – brings Spain to a standstill in much the same way the Super Bowl does in the US.
"So when we were playing the festival in front of 20,000 people," McGuinness adds, "they went bananas as soon as we played the song. Spain has been really good to us."
Recognition abroad would have been a pipe dream to the band that took its first tentative steps in 2005. There was deserved praise for a confident debut album, In Love With Detail, in 2007, but the band came close to splitting just two years later in advance of the release of a patchy second album, You Can Make Sound.
Few could have anticipated how strong their third offering, Little Sparks, would be.
"It was much more democratic than before," Conlan says. "Each of us brought as much as we could to the table. There was a sense that this could be our last album so let's make it the best possible album it could be."
For several months now, the quartet have been hard at work on their follow-up in a makeshift studio in north county Dublin. They have 33 new songs up their collective sleeves and that number has been whittled down to 16 that they will shape with Rob Kirwan, who produced Little Sparks.
McGuinness says one of the songs he wrote that he was especially proud of failed to make the last 16. "I was outvoted three-to-one," he says, ruefully. "That's democracy for you."
They are also re-recording acoustic versions of every song they ever released, inspired partly by the excellent response they got to a stripped back tour in the weeks leading up to Little Spark's release.
"We're always trying to do something different," Conlan says. "Whether it's the magazine we brought out to celebrate the creative talent in Ireland or the pop-up shops we did to publicise our last album, it keeps it interesting for everyone if you think outside the box. We don't want to be one of those bands who sticks to the rulebook."
Delorentos play a special Christmas "triple header" in Dublin on December 21: an acoustic show at the Unitarian Church, St Stephen's Green; an electric performance at Whelan's; and a DJ set at Whelan's (upstairs). Three-event bundle tickets cost €25.