'I look back and it's like I'm looking at a different person. It's like watching someone else. Because I was only 21 and, you know, I was so different. Back then, I was more confident, because," explains Andrea Corr with a throaty laugh, "I didn't know enough not to be. It was naivety. And then you get to know the world a bit more and you're not so confident anymore."
It still seems strange to Andrea Corr to find herself sitting solo on a sofa conducting an interview. Not so much the conducting an interview bit, as doing it solo, though she is adamant that no one should ever get used to talking about and artificially analysing themselves. "I realise now how bold I was back then [as one-quarter of The Corrs]," she says. "Really, all that time, I would sit back and try not to speak. I'd shrink back and think, 'Oh, God! They're going to get to me next,' and I'd hide as much as I could and let the others do it. And they did a much better job of it than me anyway.
"But then when it came to doing something on my own, I had to learn to speak up for myself," she continues. "And I'm still learning. And that was difficult. I get scared and I walk away wondering what I've exposed about myself, but I've learned that you can't let that stop you, either."
So, the speaking up doesn't come easily to Andrea, though she is rather good at it when she gets going. But also, even now, not having her siblings physically squeezed up against her on the sofa is a little strange. "There was such intense physical proximity, all the time," she explains. "People always assumed that we wanted to sit right up tight together on the couch, or we'd have photo shoots where it was all about hugging or pillow fights and you got sick of being that physically on top of each other, all the time.
"It was mad, really," she reflects, not for the first or last time. Mad good and mad bad and mad crazy and madly different from where she is now, solo on the sofa and solo on her second album.
Andrea Corr won't pretend to be entirely at ease with the whole promotion -- and self-promotion -- business that goes with launching Lifelines, her new album of cover versions. There is a slight tremor in her hands throughout the conversation and she has a habit of raising her arms up and fixing her pinned-up hair when we stray into trickier topics. These range from potential motherhood, through her husband, Brett Desmond, to her brother Jim and his well-aired global-conspiracy theories, but she is not the eyes-downcast, retiring-to-the-point-of-reticent character you might anticipate from TV appearances, either.
Instead, Andrea Corr is probably more able for herself than she imagines, and what she might claim to lack in confidence she makes up for in warmth. She's someone who laughs easily, often and contagiously, and someone who slaps your knee as well her own while doing so. That Andrea is, by her own admission, at a very happy place in her life helps, of course, and this not only boosts her personal self-confidence but has given her the confidence to venture once more into the music business.
"I was quite disillusioned with the whole business after my first album," she says. "I really loved the record [Ten Feet High], but the record company didn't, obviously, and they didn't support it, and that's fine, but you do end up trying to push something very heavy up a hill, and that's hard. I suppose I just lost my enthusiasm for it then."
Having come from the massive success she enjoyed with siblings Sharon, Jim and Caroline as The Corrs, Andrea had, by that time, spent most of her life singing. And had spent all her adult life being feted for it.
She was only 15 years old when the band's manager, John Hughes, took them on after they had auditioned for The Commitments. She was 21 when they had their breakthrough hit album, Forgiven, Not Forgotten and still relatively young, at 32, when they went on hiatus. Singing, it's fairly safe to say, was Andrea Corr's life and after the commercial disappointment of Ten Feet High, it must have been difficult to decide that she didn't want to do it anymore. And sad, even.
"No, not sad," Andrea says with a smile. "It was kind of liberating. I learned French for a year, I did a film, did some acting, I just did other things. I just lived. I lived. We never had any time to just live before."
Looking back at who she was and how she was when fame first found Andrea and her family, she smiles and even shakes her head in disbelief. "We worked so hard," she says. "I mean, we worked non-stop and there was one point where we did four continents in three weeks. It was insane. When we had our first number one in the UK, we were in Detroit, doing a signing that was literally straight out of Spinal Tap. Nobody, I mean nobody, turned up. Our parents were in the kitchen at home, listening to the countdown and dancing around the kitchen. They got a real kick out of it; they really enjoyed it, but it was like we were never really in the place where the success was happening. We were always moving on to the next place.
"But that might have been lucky, too," she concludes, "because we never got to wallow in it."
Watching The Corrs back then, one's first thought often was how incredible it was that one family could produce several stunners, while the next was to wonder how they didn't kill each other, being stuck together so much and so intensely. There were moments, Andrea concedes, when, of course, they fought, but mostly, the Corr siblings looked out for one another.
"When there was tension between us it was hard to keep everything else working," Andrea explains. "So, gradually, we learned to respect each other as non-family, just as bandmates. Because you can't survive if you're going, 'That's typical of you; that's what you always do,' or whatever. You can't do that pigeonholing that people do in families.
"But for most families, that pigeonholing only happens on Christmas Day, not every day," she says with a laugh, recalling then a Christmas when they all returned to the family home in Dundalk and never stopped bickering and fighting. It was like they breathed a sigh of relief on home ground, she recalls, and slipped back into their old roles. Their late mother Jean, who died November 1999 while waiting for a lung transplant, could only look on in horror. "I'll never forget the shock on her face," Andrea says, "wondering what had happened to us."
As the baby of the family, you might think it was odd for Andrea to be the one out front and, inevitably, winning the lion's share of the attention. From childhood, she had always been the singer, Andrea says, and, so, it didn't feel strange and she didn't shy away from it.
When the Corrs decided to take a break from being a band, it was primarily to do with life getting in the way -- as indeed it should, Andrea points out. Before they finally called it a day, Caroline had already stepped down and left the others on the road, shifting her focus to her husband and two small children, having worked and toured through both pregnancies. Sharon was also married by then and has since had her own children, while Jim has become a parent too.
"It was time," Andrea says. "I remember when we were on tour and Caroline was pregnant with her second baby and she was under all this pressure all the time, understandably, to never be away from home and her little boy for more than two days, and we were in our dressing room and I was putting on my make-up and she was on the phone to her husband. And then, suddenly, she just said, 'Did he just talk?' And when she got off the phone she started bawling crying and I started crying just looking at her and I thought, 'This isn't good. This isn't right.'
"That just showed that it wasn't worth it," she adds. "You only get one shot at life and you have to make time for the important things."
What the important things were might have seemed less obvious for Andrea, however, than for her siblings. She did some acting, doing a film, The Boys From County Clare and keeping very busy, until she decided to start work on her solo album. Ten Feet High was a very personal album, for which she wrote the songs and on which she worked closely with her good friends Bono and Gavin Friday. The title track was concerned with the break-up with her actor boyfriend of four years, Shaun Evans, and she really put her heart and soul into it. And then, when it didn't work out, commercially anyway, Andrea believed that she had reached the end of the road with singing.
Andrea believes that when you do something, you do it wholeheartedly. That's why The Corrs decided to take a clean break, and not tip along at it part-time; that's why she didn't just get a Linguaphone French CD, but committed a year to learning the language; that's why she gave up singing after her first solo venture and why she split with Evans in her early 30s, when friends and family were starting to settle down.
She felt a bit like "the odd one out", Andrea concedes, when her friends and siblings were easing into domesticity and she was suddenly single and wondering if and when the right thing would happen for her. "But I'd felt like that all through the band," she says. "I didn't have a boyfriend a lot of the time and the papers would be like, 'Why Can't Andrea Get a Man?' and I'd nearly stop things from even starting just in case anyone got hold of us and had us married off before we even went on a date.
"I think, fortunately, I was strong enough to wait until it was right, until it was the right person," Andrea adds. "I would have chosen to be on my own rather than be with the wrong person."
In retrospect, she says, it helped that she was somewhat out of the spotlight when she started going out with Brett Desmond, son of Dermot, and now her husband of nearly two years. He's "allergic" to any public attention, she says, her delicate hands going protectively to her throat as she describes his aversion, though he supports her utterly in what she wants to do. "He respects and admires what I do," she explains, "And that's what you need in a relationship, that respect. I think we all need to challenge ourselves and make the most of what God gave us. You can't hang back forever. There is a moment when you need to use what God gave you and it's wrong to throw it away."
The notion that she was wasting something by not singing any more came to Andrea slowly over the past three years. She was very happy "living" and acting to some acclaim in Dancing at Lughnasa and, more recently, in Jane Eyre at The Gate, which was a dream come true for her. Three years ago, however, after her involvement with the Ronnie Drew tribute song, she was approached through mutual friends by producer John Reynolds. He said he loved her voice and thought there were some interesting songs out there to which she could bring something special.
Andrea's first reaction was to decline. That's her first reaction to a lot of things, she says self-deprecatingly. Then she went away, however, and thought about it. And, gradually, as Reynolds would suggest songs, she started going to his home studio in London and singing. Then, without anyone knowing or any record company involved, slowly but surely, Lifelines took shape.
The album is an interesting mix of interesting choices, including songs originally sung by The Velvet Underground,
Kirsty MacColl, George Harrison and Billie Holiday, among others. Andrea brings something of her old style to it, but also something clean and more grown up than we might remember of the girl who once blithely sang about being "so young" all those years ago.
She still feels a bit strange and lonely going out and talking up the work on her own, Andrea admits. She guesses that Sharon must have felt the same last year, while promoting her own solo venture. But but then, she says, Sharon was always the best talker in The Corrs and so was probably better at it. And Jim, then, well, Jim has his own singular solo profile.
"I don't share his views at all," Andrea says, fidgeting with her hair, on the topic of Jim's global conspiracies regarding aliens, 9/11 and, recently, the death of Osama Bin Laden. "I disagree, categorically, but I do respect his right to have them. And I respect that he's genuine, whether he's right or not, and I don't believe that he is.
"We've parked it," she says, when it comes to whether they fall out over Jim's beliefs and public pronouncements. "And now we can even be funny about it. You know, if you're with him and the coffee doesn't come, the global elite has stolen it. And he laughs, of course he does. I respect his beliefs, but what can you do? You share the same genes, but you don't, fortunately, share the same brains."
The Corrs will share the same recording studio and stage again, some time, Andrea says, but it will have to be the right time, the right project, the right music for all four. There will be no half-measures or half-baked comeback tours just to keep the fans happy, for which she apologises to them.
"It'll be good, when it happens," she says, laughing, "but we'll need better lighting, softer lighting." It will be different from before, she concedes, because they are all different now, not least for the fact that they will not be coming from the family home of Gerry and Jean Corr in Dundalk anymore, but from their own homes and families of their own. And they will all have changed, in their own ways, and, perhaps, Andrea won't be the one to hang back now, having grown and grown easy in herself since they last squeezed onto a sofa as a foursome.
"I'm happy," says Andrea Corr, "and I think that when you're happy in your personal life it makes you feel you can do more, rather than inhibits you. I'm happy to go out now and do what I do because I'm happy in myself."
'Lifelines' is out now. Andrea Corr plays Vicar Street, Dublin, on June 5
Photography by Barry McCall
Post-production by Paul Canning
Styling by Liadan Hynes
Assisted by Jen O'Dwyer and Karen Griffin
Hair by Rebecca Friday, make-up by Kate Synnott, both at Dylan Bradshaw, 56 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 671-9353, or see www.dylanbradshaw.com
Shot at the Kitchen in the Castle Cookery School, Howth Castle, Howth, D13, tel: (01) 839-6182. For more information on the school's Barbecue and Salads cookery class, starting on June 11, and other courses, see www.thekitcheninthecastle.com
Sunday Indo Life Magazine