The Coronas' Danny O'Reilly on new album Time Stopped, Irish shows and performing with mum Mary Black
As Dublin band The Coronas prepare to release their seventh album Time Stopped, the follow-up to 2020's Irish chart-topper True Love Waits, David Roy quizzes frontman Danny O'Reilly about the new album, performing with music legend mother Mary Black at last weekend's Electric Picnic, their legendary end of year gigs at Dublin's Olympia Theatre and returning to Belfast's Ulster Hall...
HI DANNY, did you enjoy playing at the Electric Picnic on Sunday?
It was amazing, it was such a buzz. The weather was perfect and the crowd we got was incredible. We had such a good slot, 6.30pm on the main stage and I just couldn't get over it – I've never seen so many people. They really welcomed us and sang along with us. It was just brilliant, a total rush.
:: And your mum Mary Black made a cameo appearance as well?
That's right. It's something we never do and said we never would do, but she said to me a couple of weeks ago, "Oh, I want to go down to that Eclectic Picnic" and I was like, "OK why not – and sure, if you're coming, you might as well do a song with us".
She was up for it, so we were rehearsing with her all week. The band were freaked out, I don't think they'd ever been so scared as they were at the prospect of having to back Mary Black – the pressure was on.
So we played A Woman's Heart with my mam and I played a little bit of No Frontiers with her as well. It was a really lovely thing to do. Róisín [Danny's sister and Coronas backing singer, also solo artist as Róisín O] obviously plays in the band with us as well, so it was really one of those once in a lifetime things that I don't think we'll ever do again.
But it was great, it just worked really well with the big crowd there. You forget the effect she's had on even the young generation, it's just incredible. Everywhere I go I still get people saying, "Oh my god, I love your band – but your mother is amazing". So it was just nice to be able to do it and thankfully the rest of the band were up for having her. She's like a mother to us all, really. It was a really nice moment.
:: You've had a really busy summer of live shows and are about to release the new album Time Stopped before an extensive autumn and winter tour. Does it feel like things are back to normal now after such a long period of uncertainty for live music during the worst of the pandemic?
It really does. We were just talking about this the other day, how it feels like things [gigs] have actually been back at full capacity for longer than it really has – things only came back to full capacity at the end of February when they [the Irish government] suddenly made the decision. But nobody really had anything planned at that point, so it actually took a wee bit longer to get things organised to get back out there.
This weekend in particular, there was definitely an atmosphere at Electric Picnic where Covid was really in the rearview mirror for everyone. It seemed to me that people have just moved on, like it wasn't even on people's minds.
Touch wood, obviously, that nothing like that ever comes back again, but the amount of tickets we've been selling has been surprisingly great. So we're loving being back to a bit of normality.
:: Are you looking forward to releasing an album you can actually tour behind after having to release True Love Waits with no live gigs in 2020?
Yeah, that's the next step, putting out a record and promoting it normally. We did what we could for True Love Waits but now we're just starting the proper merry-go-round of promo and launch gigs. So the next few months are going to be really busy but I'm just so excited about it.
I actually enjoy all that: because we're our own record label, it actually makes us work harder since we've no-one else to blame if things don't go right – you've only the mirror to look at.
So at the moment I'm really buzzing, although by the end of it I'm sure I'll be looking forward to locking myself away in the studio again.
:: Was Time Stopped mostly written during the lockdowns?
Yeah, though I also had one song written that I really liked before True Love Waits actually came out, which was [recent single] Strive. So that felt good, to have a single ready. And then I was living in Dingle during a couple of the lockdowns, where I was lucky enough to have a small, simple [studio] set-up, so I just started getting demos together and doing bits of co-writing with different people as well.
I was kind of lucky in that the lockdowns just kept getting longer so I was like, "Ah, I'll just work on another song here". Eventually, somewhere around early summer last year, I got all the demos together and sat down with Knoxy [Graham Knox, bassist] and Conor [Conor Egan, drummer]. There were about 15 or 16 songs there and the lads were like, "This is great, we have an album ready to go here for when things come back". So we recorded it in January with the plan of releasing it around now.
:: What's the new single If You Let Me about?
If You Let Me is a firm declaration of support, about those times when you see that someone you care about is going through a tough time and even though you know that you should wait until they ask for your help, you can't stop yourself from telling them how you feel. Lyrically, it's our answer to the Jackson 5's I'll Be There.
:: The songs released so far - Strive, Write Our Own Soundtrack, Don't Say You're In Love, At Least We'll Always Have LA and the new single - all share a kind of 'strength in the face of adversity' vibe. Is that representative of the album as a whole?
It think thematically 'defiance' is a great way to tie up the album – obviously, there's a couple of songs that are a bit more specifically about the uncertainty of the lockdown and what the hell's going to happen to our livelihood and this sort of stuff, and then the effect that can have on friendships and relationships, and the creative process as well. I always tend to lean back on that – sometimes people think I've written a love song but it's actually about writing songs, or about me trying to be a better writer, a better person.
There's still a couple of other even better songs on the record which I'm really excited to get out there, I'm really proud of it as a whole. It's a really strong collection of songs and, having played a few of the new ones live already, I can already see that they are really working – that's always a great start.
:: You've the annual Ulster Hall show in Belfast along with four (soon to be five) sold-out shows at the Olympia coming up in December. The latter has become your traditional end-of-year 'residency' – how many times have you sold it out now?
I honestly haven't been keeping count but someone did tell me that it was over 50 times now. Knoxy said to me the other day, "If those gigs were in April, we wouldn't sell the same amount of tickets": it's definitely the Christmas vibe that makes the difference.
They're always special nights – and the Ulster Hall in Belfast is becoming that as well, it's one that we come back to do again and again. We love it and the crowd up there is always incredible, so we can't wait.
:: The Coronas, December 4, The Ulster Hall, Belfast / Olympia Theatre, Dublin, Dec 14 to 18 (15 to 18 sold-out). Tickets via ticketmaster.ie. If You Let Me is out now, Time Stopped is released on October 7. Pre-order via thecoronas.net.