Monday 19 March 2018

Singing from a new Script

The big-selling Dublin trio tell our reporter they're ready to take on the world - again

Guess who's back: (From left) Glen Power, Danny O’Donoghue and Mark Sheehan
Guess who's back: (From left) Glen Power, Danny O’Donoghue and Mark Sheehan
John Meagher

John Meagher

It is the morning after their first show in two years and Danny O'Donoghue, Mark Sheehan and Glen Power are still on that postconcert buzz. They debuted four new songs at Dublin's National Stadium - the home of Irish boxing and once, long ago, the venue for fabled Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy gigs - and were relieved that the fans lapped them up so enthusiastically.

Hard as it may be to believe of a trio who headlined Croke Park in the summer of 2015, they were decidedly nervous about treading the boards again. "We'd been away for a while and you're always afraid that people mightn't care when you return," frontman O'Donoghue says.

For the singer, stepping in front of a comparatively intimate crowd was especially satisfying. O'Donoghue damaged his vocal cords and required surgery followed by a lengthy period of recuperation. "I couldn't sing for a year," he says. "It makes you realise how fragile your voice is and how important it is to take care of it." Now, he says he's completely clean-living, although he and his bandmates have always looked like they spend as much time in the gym as they do in the recording studio.

Like Adele and Sam Smith before him, O'Donoghue learned that vocal cord damage can play havoc with tours and schedules although, luckily for him, the Script were due to take some time off anyway. "It's been all go since the debut album in 2008," says Sheehan, the guitarist who co-writes most of the songs with O'Donoghue. "There were four albums up to 2014 and constant touring. It's the best job in the world, don't get me wrong, but all that travel and early flights and so on can take it out of you. Taking a year off to be with family and to slow down did us all the world of good."

The three are scattered around the globe. O'Donoghue cut his teeth as a producer in Los Angeles, so the US is like a second home for him. Much of new album, Freedom Child, was recorded there - with a little help from a crack team of pop producers including Oscar Görres, a protégé of Swedish hit-maker Max Martin.

But with the sessions taking place during the US election and the fraught weeks afterwards, it's hardly a surprise that global events seeped in. Sheehan says they couldn't ignore what was happening in the world. "My youngest child" - now aged eight - "was asking me what terrorism is. There's such uncertainty in the world - and you can't escape it, even as a child."

One of the 70 songs they wrote for the album that they're especially proud of is 'Divided States of America', which O'Donoghue says is a commentary on the divisions that have become deeply apparent over the past year. It was written and recorded long before the racial troubles in Charlottesville, but captures that sense that the country that likes to think of itself as the leader of the 'free world' is in a very bad place right now.

"You really sense it when you spend some time there now," O'Donoghue says. "It feels a long way from the United States of America. We're not a very political band, but this was something we all felt strongly about."

Much has been made about how the band's sound has changed on this album. The rock elements are playing a back seat to high-gloss, R&B-inflected pop. O'Donoghue believes the key difference is the enhanced production. "It's definitely slicker," he says. "We've really fine-tuned our craft in the studio. We tried to target radio on this album, and I know music critics might say we've sold out, or something ridiculous and stupid and old like that, whereas we look at it as a way to stay relevant and move with the times."

Sheehan takes up the thread. "A traditional band of guitars, bass and drums will not survive in the industry right now. That's why you're seeing Coldplay working with the Chainsmokers, why Imagine Dragons are working with Billy the Kid and why you're seeing the Killers coming out with the kind of music they're doing. It's adapt, change or die right now."

He is also not a fan of critics, and they've had their fair share of them over the years, including this reporter. "We've never played to the critics," he says, crossly, "and we don't give a shit what they think. We play for those people who love our music, and thankfully, there are lots of them."

The Script got very big very quickly - their last three albums have been UK chart-toppers and they've sold healthily in the US too. Releasing a machine tooled anthem like 'Hall of Fame' certainly helped their cause: the collaboration was an aural by-product of O'Donoghue's two-season stint as coach on The Voice UK (alongside the Black Eyed Peas mainman) and, remarkably, they refused to have it used in the London Olympics of 2012. Sheehan says the song is a celebration of ordinary heroes, not celebrities.

And yet, their story isn't quite the overnight success story some might imagine. In the mid-1990s, not long out of school, childhood friends O'Donoghue and Sheehan were in the boy band Mytown. It was the era of manufactured groups - Boyzone were in the ascendency and Westlife were a twinkle in Louis Walsh's eye. It didn't work out for Mytown - although the pictures of them sporting hideous day-glo outfits are available for your edification online - but O'Donoghue and Sheehan were determined to make a career for themselves in the music industry.

They relocated to LA to try their hand at songwriting and production and had some behind-the-scenes success writing and mixing for the likes of TLC and Justin Timberlake. But, keen to resurrect their own ambitions in the spotlight, they returned to Dublin and formed the Script with Glen Power on drums.

Power comes across as a laid-back figure, struggling to get a word in edgeways with his alpha male bandmates. He's had his own difficulties of late - having experienced the back problems common to so many drummers. "When you play bigger arenas and then stadiums, you look around at the larger scale and think you have to hit the kit harder," he says. "But you don't. You have to play like you usually would and be careful of posture."

Those arena and stadia shows came quickly after the release of their self-titled debut in 2008. They soon found themselves supporting both Paul McCartney and U2. "I remember saying to the guys after the U2 show in Croke Park, that we would be back here to headline one day," O'Donoghue says, "and we were."

Power says that 2015 Croker show was one of the highlights of his life. "It's just impossible to describe that feeling of playing somewhere so big - and in your hometown too."

O'Donoghue quips that they will have to play somewhere bigger next time. He's half-joking, but there's no denying that he's long been driven by ambition. "We've always wanted for as many people as possible to hear our music," he says. "Otherwise, what's the point? I hate these pissy little bands who say that isn't important to them, like it's something to be proud of that you don't want your music to be heard by a lot of people."

"And," Sheehan adds, "some of them go on like it's easy to write hit singles and they're above all that. I'd like to see them try."

Freedom Child is out on Friday

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