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Saturday 24 August 2019

Delorentos... Finding their way back

Music

Side projects: Ró Yourell and Kieran McGuinness see music as a vocation rather than a path to riches. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Side projects: Ró Yourell and Kieran McGuinness see music as a vocation rather than a path to riches. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
John Meagher

John Meagher

If the housing crisis is the topic most on Irish people's lips, especially now that the abortion referendum has come and gone, it's also a subject that has cropped up with grim regularity when it comes to artists and musicians trying to make ends meet.

David Kitt unwittingly started a conversation about creative people being priced out when he mentioned having to leave Ireland due to a rent hike and, then, shortly after, this year's Choice Music Prize winning duo, Ships, announced they would have to depart Dublin in order to secure an affordable rent.

The four members of Delorentos are all too familiar with the cost of living in Dublin - and bassist Níal Conlan has recently upped sticks for life in an even pricier metropolis, London - which is why their decision to abandon an album's worth of new material and start all over again can be seen as both brave and, in the context of the business of trying to make a living from music, foolhardy.

But after months of writing and recording 15 songs - much of it done in a studio in Spain - the quartet decided they just weren't happy with what they had done and they would have to go back to the drawing board.

"It was a difficult decision to make," says lead vocalist Ró Yourell, "but on a gut level, we all felt that it was the right one because the songs didn't really represent where we were at. We knew we'd be gigging the songs for a while and we wanted something that would resonate with us and to be able to play them with authenticity. It wasn't good enough to say, 'Oh, that's a cool riff'."

Co-frontman Kieran McGuinness agrees.

"We only want to release music we can stand over and although there were four or five songs that we were really proud of, it just didn't feel right."

They found their way out of a creative rut thanks to one of the demos, later to be titled 'In Darkness We Find Our Way'.

"It was a pointer," McGuinness says, "to where we wanted to go, to songs that were a bit more questioning, a bit more mature and a bit darker."

'In Darkness…' was the first taster of what would be the band's new album, True Surrender, which was released in April, and it feels like the centrepiece of a work that captures much of the anxieties of being in your 30s, starting families, working out relationships, and wondering where the next pay cheque will come from.

"It's out six months now and enough time has elapsed for me to listen to it uncritically," McGuinness says.

"I'm really proud of it and the fact that the songs are much more representative about where we are in our lives right now. Many of the songs pose questions with no answers - but, then, life is like that."

True Surrender is Delorentos' fifth album and attracted plenty of excitable reviews. The decision to go back and start all over seems to have been worth it. Produced by Villagers' Tommy McLoughlin, with considerable production input from Delorentos' drummer Ross McCormick, it also features playing and arrangements from Richie Egan.

"We've long been fans of Jape [Egan's alter ego] and the Rednecks [his former band, the Redneck Manifesto]," Yourell says.

The album also features vocals from Emily Aylmer, a singer with Republic of Loose, who also happens to be McGuinness's wife.

"It was the first time we had someone else singing on a Delorentos album," he says.

"We had always released an album every second year," Yourell says. "But there was a four-year gap between this and Night Becomes Light and you're all too aware that when there's that sort of gap between releases, things move on…"

And things have moved on for them all since that album came out in 2014.

There have been three marriages, three children and an engagement - and McGuinness cheerfully admits that it's not as easy to get together to write, record and practice as it used to be. "We used to spend so much time together but now we have to be very prepared and very productive when we do get to meet.

"Even going out socially isn't as easy as it once was, although every parent of young children will know that. I mean, I'd have friends who'd say, 'Let's go for a pint in Whelan's', and I'd be like, 'Eh, I can't'."

Yourell says that technology only goes so far when it comes to bands creating new music.

"Nothing beats having the four of us in a room together working towards a common goal," he says. "On paper, it sounds like it's possible to write collaboratively on Skype, but it isn't really. We've had to adjust our way of doing things. I mean, before family life we'd rehearse five times a week. Obviously, you can't do that now."

Ever since the release of their debut album, 2007's In Love With Detail, Delorentos have enjoyed acclaim as one of the country's most consistently strong bands.

Both Yourell and McGuinness say they continue to place as much importance to the album as the most effective format for the release of music as they've ever done. They say they've little interest in doing what some of their contemporaries do and release singles and EPs instead.

"An album is a cathartic process for us," Yourell insists, "and an album allows us to tell a story. You can get a sense of a person and experience over the course of an album rather than on individual tracks. And working together on an album is great for our headspace, as well as being the best form of expression for us."

It hasn't always been easy, though. The band almost split due to creative differences around the time of the second album, You Can Make Sound.

"The problem was we were critiquing what each of us brought to the process before it had even time to get off the ground," Yourell recalls. "But with Little Sparks [their Choice Prize-winning third album] we made the decision that the best way forward was to act as facilitators for each other's ideas."

McGuinness says there's a democracy at work in Delorentos that both keeps the unit grounded and also ensures that each member feels as though they are contributing equally.

"And there's a little bit of positive competition, too, because Ró might bring in a demo he's been working on and it blows us away and then I'd think 'I really need to go away and come up with something special if I'm to have any song on the album'."

The pair seem content to have become big enough to play venues like the Olympia as well as tour Spain - where they've a sizeable fanbase - but McGuinness says he would love Delorentos to be at the level where each member could focus entirely on music and not have to worry about money.

"The numbers don't stack up for us," he says, "but I'm not in this to make money and if I was, it would be the worst financial decision you could make.

"But I also have children to look after [he and Aylmer have two daughters] so I have to do other things like playing songs on the radio that I love [on Nova], teaching people a little bit of what I know about songwriting [in the BIMM 'rock school', where Yourell also teaches] as well as teaching music to kids in Dublin 8 who have no access to instruments [the Liber8 Music Project].

"I understand why young musicians get caught up in the money side of things, but they really need to think about the music first, or at least get into that headspace where they aren't thinking about all the other stuff in the industry that can kill creativity.

"We're at a stage now where young musicians might ask us for advice and I remember meeting a guy from a band - a guitarist in a very good band - a few months ago. We talked for half an hour and we didn't talk about music once. It was all the other stuff that he wanted to know about. Sometimes, people forget about the songs. That should be the first priority, then you can start worrying about the other stuff."

"We've always looked on this as vocational," Yourell adds, "and maybe that's been to our detriment. Once you start thinking commercially, you lose the very reason you're doing it in the first place."

Delorentos' Irish tour kicks off at Kavanagh's, Portlaoise, tonight. See delorentos.net for additional dates

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