DANNY O'REILLY woke up one morning last week and had, he says, “serious quarantine blues.”
He thought that the band he formed with Graham Knox and Conor Egan in Terenure College in 2003 “was finished, because of our stupid, unfortunate name. I thought there would never be live gigs again; all sorts of things were going through my head.”
He continued: "But I think now I’m more self-aware than I used to be, and I’m better at dealing with those moments when they do come along, and also I’ve got a great support system of friends and family that are always there for me.”
The now-three-piece Coronas (lead guitarist Dave McPhillips left the band after 12 years last November) release their new single, ‘Lost In The Thick Of It’, this coming Friday.
During the song, which is a duet with English singer-songwriter Gabrielle Aplin, Danny sings: “I hate to say that I’m wrong. It’s feeling better playing along… I’ve got to face it alone.”
What is he facing?
“The ‘wrong’ that we’re talking about in this line is feeling not right in yourself as opposed to being wrong about something,” he answers.
“I suppose, these days, the general narrative out there is to talk to someone when you’re feeling down. But sometimes you crave a bit of isolation and time for yourself to make sense of what’s going on in your head before you’re ready to talk to other people about it.
“For me, the ‘playing along’ is just getting on with things in your life, be it music, work or whatever, until you’re ready to face some emotional trauma that you’ve gone through.”
Danny sings about various degrees of anguish – not much tamed by the small fame he has achieved or the critical acclaim that has come his way.
The upcoming album offers a glimpse into the psyche of a brilliant, if brooding, young man. In the Coronas’ previous single, ‘Haunted’, he sang about fighting “the wrong way around… and you tell me I sing things I’m afraid to say.”
Asked what he means by those lines, Danny reveals: “Just before writing the song, there was someone in my life that I had started to drift away from. There was no falling out at all; we just stopped communicating the way we had done before.”
He convinced himself that he was fine about it but, any time he tried to write, he found himself singing about the relationship. “It’s almost an imaginary conversation/argument with myself, criticising myself for writing about my feelings but not being able to go and talk to the person about it.”
He adds that a lot of his lyrics are almost arguments with himself, “or maybe more like reminders to myself to try to self-improve... to be a better friend, brother, son or whatever.
“The ‘fought the wrong way around’ line,” Danny continues, “is sort of that feeling of having an argument with someone but not feeling satisfied after.
“Technically, you had a little argument and sorted things out but maybe there are other, deeper things that you still need to get off your chest. Thankfully, I always have songs to get that unresolved frustration out.”
Is there strength in vulnerability?
“I think so,” he says. “More so, I think there’s strength in being honest about your vulnerability. Acknowledging it yourself and being honest about it to others, because everyone feels that way at times.
“Personally, I think it’s a nice feeling to almost give yourself to someone emotionally; to allow yourself to be open and give someone else the power to hurt you if they decide to. But it’s different for everyone and, like everything, I presume there are healthy and unhealthy levels.”
I ask Danny if he ever gets depressed.
“I’ve had my ups and downs,” he says. “I had one serious low a few years ago, but I refuse to give it power and say I was depressed. I was low and still, now and then, I get moments of feeling down.”
Last year, his mother, Mary Black, revealed in the RTÉ documentary, ‘Mary Black – No Frontiers’, the depression she went through at the height of her popularity.
“I am blessed by so many things, but people don’t really know what is going on in someone else’s life,” she said. “I haven’t had too many bouts of depression but it has always more or less been there.”
She added that, on the ‘Woman’s Heart’ tour, while sharing a room with the singer Dolores Keane: “One night I sat up on the bed and Dolores said, ‘What is it?’. I said, ‘I can’t see Danny’s face; I can’t see my baby’s face’. I was crying. It was a horrible feeling.”
How is his mother? How does he check in on her?
“Mam is in good form,” Danny says. “We Zoom all the time. Her and my dad have been getting loads of jobs done around the house.
“Similar to a lot of people, we miss hanging out with them. It’s her birthday later this month. I miss going out for dinner with them and my brother and sister more than anything,” he says, referring to younger sister Róisín (now a singer of some note, aka Róisín O) and older brother Conor.
“And I miss sport,” adds Danny, who follows the all-conquering Dublin football team.
“I still play a little bit of Gaelic football when I can. In another life, I could have been a contender! But I love watching all sport. And I’ll definitely appreciate it more when it eventually comes back after all this.”
Listening to the Coronas’ music, one gets the feeling that Danny has found a sense of himself within his lyrics. However, there is always a restlessness buried within the songs and, by extension, within him.
“Is there a wrong time to be alive?” he sang on the band’s last studio album, 2017’s ‘Trust The Wire’. Will the songs on The Coronas’ new album, ‘True Love Waits’ (out on July 31), reflect the strange times we are living through? Does he feel 2020 is a ‘wrong’ time to be alive?
“I think the next Coronas album might reflect the current climate more. I’ve started writing away while in isolation in Dingle and, so far, I’ve found it difficult to write about anything else.
“Some cynics might call it derivative, and I know there will be mountains of art created this year that has been inspired by, or at least written in front of, the backdrop of this pandemic. But I suppose like I’ve always done, I’ll use song-writing as a way to just be honest and describe what I’m feeling.”
How has the musical dynamic within the band changed without Dave?
“I suppose we haven’t really had enough time without him to see how the dynamic has changed,” says Danny.
“He left the band officially at the end of last year and we didn’t have much on in 2020 before all this madness. Creatively, for whatever reason, the change gave me a burst of energy.
“I began writing more and collaborating with different people. Lar Kaye from All Tvvins, Cian from True Tides, and Ryan and Jimmy from Picture This all have writing credits on the album, and all of those songs were written after Dave told us he was planning on leaving at the end of the year.
“I don’t think Dave would mind me saying that, for the last few months before he told us, we could sense him losing his love for it and he began to drift a bit.
“It was a brave decision, him leaving. He could have just phoned it in and done the bare minimum, but he didn’t think that was fair on us or himself. He also made the transition as easy as possible and I’m grateful to him for that as well. I’m delighted that he agreed to play a bit on some of the album too.”
How does Danny cope at the minute with Covid-19? How is the oul’ cash flow? Is he broke, like the rest of the feckin’ country?
“We had three tours planned that we had to postpone, and a run of gigs and festivals this summer that was really meant to keep us going financially for the whole year.”
The Coronas were due to headline both nights at Killruddery House and Gardens, Bray, on the August Bank Holiday, as well as the Marquee in Cork on May 29, the Saltwater Festival in Westport on May 30 and the Fever Pitch festival on June 27.
“With us being our own label as well, we’ve taken a hit on that side of things too,” he adds. “But I hate to complain. We’re lucky that we have such an amazing fanbase that I know will come see us whenever we get out the other side of this.”
What have we learned about ourselves from the Covid-19 crisis? How has it changed us as a people?
“I do notice less cynicism, more humanity. Hopefully, we’ll come out the other side of this with a bit more appreciation for the world.”
How has it affected Danny philosophically and psychologically?
“Like everybody, I’ve had my ups and downs. I’d like to think it hasn’t affected me psychologically too much.
“I think if I was in my twenties,” says the 35-year-old, “and the band was just starting out, it would affect me much more, for different reasons. But I suppose we won’t really know the answer until we’ve come out the other side.”
And his love life? Does he rustle up some romantic lockdown meals for the woman in his life?
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t enquire!” he roars with laughter.
“All is good, thanks. I’m happy…”
The Coronas’ new single, ‘Lost In The Thick Of It’, is out this Friday, May 15. Their album, ‘True Love Waits’, will be released on July 31 and is available for pre-order now. See www.thecoronas.net for more details.