It’s been a tough start to 2020 for most artists, what with the entire live music industry upended by a global pandemic that shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon. Tours and albums were delayed across the board, but with no end in sight, most artists are now looking for alternative ways to still release the projects they’ve been working so hard on.
There’s one band in particular for who the novel coronavirus is an absolute nightmare, considering its name– Irish band The Coronas. They were all set to release their sixth album True Love Waits, but had to push back the date to July 31st due to COVID-19.
It’s unfortunate that they now share a name with a deadly virus, rather than the much more innocent typewriter they’d actually named themselves after. “When we were just starting our band, we used to watch one of our favorite movies called Almost Famous all the time. It’s a Cameron Crowe-directed movie and has some amazing music in it. So we were watching it, and we were thinking of a name, and the typewriter used in the movie was called Corona Smith Deluxe, and so we thought – ‘ah, we’ll just call ourselves the Coronas!’ It means a few different things, there’s the beer, in Spanish it means crown, it can be the solar eclipse, there’s wine – everything!”
And now there’s a virus to add to the list. When I spoke to their lead singer Danny O’Reilly about this development, he tells me they’re still not sure what its impact will be on the band, although they definitely won’t be changing their name. “It’s a strange thing because we’d normally want to almost take the piss out of ourselves, and joke about it. But since it’s such a serious issue, we of course can’t do that, really. It’s just a very unfortunate name at the moment, but we’re hoping that going forward once the world comes out the other side of this pandemic that we can turn it into a positive.”
He takes a moment to think about how that’d take shape. “Maybe we can remind people of how they got through it, I don’t know. To be honest, all we know is that we’re not gonna change our name, we’ve been doing it too long. It’s one of those things – it’s strange, it’s a bit like everything else is uncertain at the moment – we don’t know if it’ll have a negative or a positive effect on the band post-pandemic, no one knows.”
In a strange twist of fate, it might have put them on the radar of people who’d never heard of the band before – despite the fact that they’ve been around for twelve years and have been lauded by many, including Niall Horan, as the “torchbearers of Irish music.” O’Reilly suppresses a surprised laugh at that moniker, because while he’d describe himself as “a very Irish person,” he doesn’t think their music necessarily fits the bill.
“We hold maybe some of the traits of Irish people – the storytelling & emotion. And as you know, there’s a really rich history of Irish music right back to U2 and Thin Lizzie, the number of amazing music acts and artists that’s come out of Ireland for such a small country and have success on a global scale is amazing, really – actors, artist, and everything. I think we have a great tradition as storytellers, and musicians and singers and songs. I grew up around music as well, my mother is a singer.”
It’s clear that the band, despite their success, try to stay grounded as much as they can. O’Reilly talks passionately about their experience with touring all around the world, in all sorts of venues. “I suppose we consider ourselves lucky to do what we do and we love our job, and we’re definitely grateful to do this as a job. We’re in a great position in Ireland and now we’re probably one of the biggest national bands here, and we can do big shows and arenas and theatres. But when we go tour, we’re still building it up in different territories. But we love that, we love playing different sizes. We go to Australia and play big theatres there, and we go to America and in the big cities we’ll play big venues – it’s different everywhere we go.”
Not just his words, but also the new music betray just how much they’re a band meant to perform live. True Love Waits is filled with songs that rely heavily on acoustic instrumentation, and are begging to be played live. O’Reilly agrees with this assessment, “100%. To me, playing live is my favorite thing in the world, it’s why I do what I do. Even when we’re working on new albums, in the back of my mind I’m writing songs that I know can improve the set and I know that may work well live. I’m not sitting down to write an album that’s just a piece of work that’ll stand the test of time and is an artistic piece. It’s not about that, it’s about writing songs that improve the live experience and the feeling that you’re getting from playing live the songs that you’re enjoying. They’re the ones that tend to lead me down the next album and the type of music I want to write.”
When it comes to the lyrical content of the album, O’Reilly takes inspiration from his own personal experiences. This album is the first one without former band member Dave McPhillips, whose exit from The Coronas of course affected the band’s dynamics and creative process as well. He stresses that there are no hard feelings, though. Rather, O’Reilly seems appreciative of the honesty his friend displayed. “Unfortunately he wasn’t enjoying it anymore and he wanted to do something else. He told us last summer he wanted to take a break away from the band and do other things, go back to college. We totally understood it, and I actually really respected him for doing that as opposed to continuing on in the band when he was really unhappy. He could’ve done either, could’ve stayed with it and picked up his paycheck, and just not really wanted to be there which wouldn’t have been good for anyone.”
He compares being in a band for that long to a relationship or marriage. “If one person in the marriage isn’t happy, it makes the whole marriage sad. I think that when he told us that he was going to leave and he left, initially we were sad, but then we were like, you know what – this is like a weight lifted off of us. Because he wasn’t enjoying it as much and it had become a bit of a struggle for him and that had an effect on us. So it almost lifted a weight off our shoulders.”
Nevertheless, his departure did mean the closing of a chapter for the band. Particularly when you consider that Dave was “probably the second-most creative person [in the band],” according to O’Reilly. “He helped me with a lot of lyrics and he’d be very much hands-on with getting involved in arrangements and parts. Initially, when he said he was leaving I thought it was going to be the end of the Coronas. It was always the four of us and our manager, and it was always a collaborative effort. But it was only when I talked to the other guys in the band, again as I said – the older we get the more appreciative we are of what we do, especially from a personal perspective, playing live. I still think it felt like we still had something to say, something to give.”
Originally, The Coronas was a three-piece, with Dave joining them later on. O’Reilly says that in a way, “it almost felt like we’d come full circle.” They decided that Dave leaving did not mean the ending of the Coronas, but rather signified a new beginning. “The guys were like, you know what, we definitely still got an album or two. Maybe this is something that‘ll make us different, give us a little edge and it’ll be something that sparks us forward and moves us forward to a different chapter. And even if it affects our sound a little bit, that’ll be good, it’ll be an evolvement, it’ll be something different.”
O’Reilly ended up writing more than ever, experiencing a renewed rush of creativity. He muses that maybe “sometimes you need to shake the foundations of your band or whatever you do to get that [burst of creativity]. I wrote most of the new album after Dave told me he was going to leave. We got him to play on three or four songs, and a couple of songs made it from ones that we’d written with him early last year. But for the most part, it’s the three of us together working on it without him, and it was a lot of fun. We collaborated with different people, we have an amazing singer and friend Gabrielle Aplin on the single [“Lost In The Thick Of It”]. We got different guitar players playing with us and different producers. You know, the rulebook was out the window when our guitar player left, so we just did whatever felt good.”
Of course, the record’s now tinged with a new layer of wistfulness for a release cycle that never came to be. As such, it’s thrown a wrench in the band’s long-term plans too. “Initially we were meant to release this at the end of May, we were meant to be in America right now – but obviously everything’s pulled back now. We still wanted – we felt like this album needed to be released. I’ve already started writing the next one, so we’ll going to release this anyways at the end of July and we’re happy with that decision. Even if we don’t get to promote it properly until next year with touring, we will promote it then with possibly some new songs.”
In that respect, the album’s name True Love Waits is very aptly chosen. The band is their true love, and it’s sticking around. More importantly, their music is worth it, despite the wait. O’Reilly grins when I note this, saying he hadn’t considered that yet. “It’s funny because the song is sort of about that. It’s about ‘if it’s right for us, it’ll be there when it’s there,’ that’s literally the lyrics of the song. So that’s quite poignant, really. If it’s right, it’ll work out no matter how long it takes.”
The title track truly is a stand-out song on the album, with wonderful production and uplifting, trusting lyrics. But while it may sound like a love song, that doesn’t mean it was necessarily inspired by a romantic relationship. When I ask about the choice to name the album after this one track, in particular, O’Reilly explains that the themes in the song are reflected throughout the album at large. “The album ended up being very much focused on – I don’t know, a lot of my lyrics sound like love songs even though they’re about the band and the relationships in the band. There are songs about trying to be better, the best writer or friend I can be. Trying to be the best version of yourself and not being too hard on yourself, those are some themes I was writing about. And then you throw in the mix that Dave left the band; there was definitely a cathartic vibe in writing about that whole relationship. There was nothing bitter about it, more ‘best of luck’ type of vibe, but I ended up writing a lot about that as well.
“‘True Love Waits’ is a love song itself, it’s about not questioning yourself and not overthinking things if something feels right – there’s no rush, but you can go for it if you want. And regardless, it’ll be there and it’ll work out. It’s that sort of self-trust thing, and even though it’s more a straight-up love song, it did have certain themes and lyrics that reflected the whole album. It sort of made sense.”
He pauses for a bit, then adds with a smile that there are also aesthetic reasons at play. “It’s also one of those things when you’re finished and you go through all the songs and you just think ‘which title sounds like an album title, which one looks good?’ Plus, it’s inspired by an amazing Radiohead song that I love, ‘True Love Waits,’ that’s where I got the phrase. It’ll look good on the album,” he finishes with a laugh.
What’s interesting is that the tight-knit collaboration of the remaining trio extends beyond just the music, but also stretches to other creative dimensions of the band. “I have to give credit to our bass player, Knoxie, he’s super involved in the design, sleeve design, and a lot of what we do online. He puts a lot of the imagery and artwork together. It was his idea to call the album True Love Waits. He was working with an American designer and he sent me a clip with that as the title, and I thought – yeah, that looks like an album.”
A song on the album that reiterates the importance of friendship, and being able to rely on one another, is the track “Light Me Up.” It’s an early favorite, with the sound swelling into a major anthemic song with a choir in the background. O’Reilly seems to agree, as he tells me that it might be another single. “I co-wrote it with a friend of mine, Keane. He’s in a great Irish upcoming band, True Tyde. We went and wrote the song together. Again, it’s sort of – that self-doubt thing of okay, technically I’m successful and I’ve got a great life and everything is going well. But why doesn’t it feel right, why am I still down? A lot of people put their happiness on things, ‘If this happens, then I’ll be happy,” but if you get that, you’re not happy, you want something else. So it’s that thing of trying to remind yourself to enjoy the journey and not just put your happiness on that. The most important thing is to have people in your life that light you up, whether that’s family or friends or a girlfriend or whatever it is. They’re the important things, more so than getting frustrated or worried about job, career or success or any other terms.
It seems rather topical – there’s nothing to remind you of the importance of human connection quite like a dangerous virus prohibiting touch. O’Reilly argues it only goes to show how life imitates art, but also that art imitates life – it’s all about interpretation. “A lot of songs have taken on a new, different meaning for people and that’s something we’ll see out of this whole crazy time. Music will mean as much if not more to people than ever, it’s a reminder of the things that are important.”
In that respect, True Love Waits has something to offer for everyone. The songs are bittersweet, cathartic, and melancholic, but the album is also optimistic, hopeful, and warm (despite the fact it features a song called “Cold”). The closer of the album, “LA By Night,” is a real contender for the best song of the album. It’s a piercing, haunting power-balled that grows stronger with every bar of music. Though it sounds wistful, it’s meant to also inspire hope in heartbreak. O’Reilly tells me that he wrote it based on a weekend he spent in LA at the end of their American tour two years ago. “A friend of mine invited me to stay on for a couple of days in her apartment, I was just in town for two nights. She was like – stay for a couple of days, change your flight, I’ll show you around. I was like ‘why not,’ and we had a lovely weekend. She showed me her favorite places, it was a lovely weekend, we got to know each other. That was it, we had both just recently come out of relationships as well, so we were just there for each other, talking about our stories. It was a true representation of the few days in LA, which were really lovely.”
The song includes the lyrics “Who wants to fall in love, all the cynics stand up // It never seems to be enough, you couldn’t make this shit up.” O’Reilly comments that the idea is that “despite the fact that we had both been hurt in the past, we hadn’t lost – we hadn’t become cynical. The idea of that pre-chorus is that we still do want to find love. We released a bit of it online and it’s gotten a great reaction, I’m happy with it. Oftentimes the slower sort of ballads can be more difficult to get across, they can sound a bit contrived, ‘oh I’m so heartbroken,’ it’s hard to find an angle on it. But I think the reason that song works is that it’s a very honest representation of a couple of nights in LA, all the lyrics are real.”
That honesty is reflected throughout the album, describing the complexities of various relationships– always trying to remain hopeful even if honesty hurts. However, writing such lyrics means involving other people as your subjects in song. It’s a one-way street, a fine line to walk – what is respectful, or acceptable by the other party, without leading to a censored depiction of reality that inhibits the creative process? O’Reilly takes a moment to consider this, immediately acknowledging that it’s always a danger. However, he doesn’t think he’d ever want to write differently. “It’s just the way I am, the lyrics I’ve always loved. I’ve always written really honest lyrics. I find the more true to myself that I am, and honest, even the more specific I am about something in my life, they’re the ones people relate to more than anything else. When I’m trying to write something really clever and have a metaphor – they’re not the ones that hit people. It’s the ones where you’re just super honest and put yourself on the page. So I have tended to write like that for a long time. Perhaps it is hard for other people, maybe that’s why I’ve never had a longer relationship than a year and a half. If you want to be in my life, you have to roll the dice and I might write about it, see if we’re just friends or whatever. That’s just the way I am,” he laughs, before emphasizing that it doesn’t mean he never writes metaphorically. “Don’t get me wrong, sometimes things are exaggerated, sometimes they can be totally developed. Oftentimes I’ll write about something that isn’t completely honest and true, but the ones that people seem to connect to the most are the ones that are really honest.”
But crafting honest songs requires you to trust the people you’re working with, allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Working with people you know very well can make that process a lot easier, O’Reilly says. “I always find when you co-write with people it’s much better if you’re genuine friends and you’re not forced to work together with the clock ticking. The co-feature with Gabrielle [Aplin] was one that came together very quickly. I went over to spend a weekend with her and her fiancé who’s also in a band, Hudson-Taylor, in their house in Brighton. Gab, Alfie and me were just chilling out and we wrote a song, it was really easy and we loved it. We recorded a demo there and then that we ended up keeping a lot of stuff on. We just went into the studio and recorded it pretty much as is, in one take, and it came together very quickly. Everyone was bopping away and happy with it. It was just one of those easy listening type of songs.”
Nevertheless, the demo is not the version you’ll hear on the album – in fact, the song wasn’t meant for the Coronas. O’Reilly confesses he asked Aplin specifically to make it a feature. “The song we wrote, initially it was her just her singing on the demo. And we all loved it, but I loved it so much that I asked if we could make it a duet, and she was very good and let me. And then we thought “I think this should be a co-feature, the two voices sound good together.” So I asked if she was up for being on the album, and she was – and she’s been great about being part of pushing the song as well, which is lovely because she’s doing very well for herself.”
Referencing the track “Light Me Up” again, O’Reilly explains that sometimes it will take a while before he’s happy with the song they’ve crafted. “I had the chorus for it initially. But then I was working with Keane and wrote the verse bit, and then we were trying to write a chorus – I brought up what I already had, and we changed it slightly. We did a lot of production and layered up vocals, a lot of different grooves and vibes, and so it took a lot longer but I think it was worth it in the end. It sounds big and it grooves along nicely. It still sounds authentic even though it probably was more difficult to record in the studio.”
Given the fact that he’s gotten more involved in the writing and production, particularly now that they’re a trio once more, it’s interesting to compare the band’s growth and change over time. O’Reilly that it’s only normal that their music has matured, just like they have as individuals. Nevertheless, he’s thoughtful when he expresses that “there’s a sort of charm to the naivety of our first album that I look back on with envy.”
It’s to do with the fearless, brash self-confidence that most people outgrow as they get older. It can be blissful, not to worry about the consequences and complexities, he explains. “I envy that young writer that didn’t really care what he was writing about and would just write a song in a day. I think it’s human nature that as you get older – we’re in our early thirties now – you tend to get self-critical. You can overthink things. Musically I prefer the stuff we’re doing now, but there is a part of me that looks back with envy to the naivety of our youth in the first couple albums. At the time, I’d write a song in a day and say ‘that’s it’ and I wouldn’t change it. Even if it wasn’t how I felt or what I wanted to say in the grand scheme of things, I’d think ‘well that’s what I was feeling yesterday, so it’s fine’ and I’d just put it out. Whereas now, I’ll overthink things – ‘am I sure of that? Let’s refine that. This layer’s not right, that’s not right, this is not right.’ And that can be a good thing and a bad thing. Sometimes I need to remind myself ‘what would 20-year old Danny do” and think well ‘fuck it,’ and just do what’s right.”
When I ask what 20-year old Danny would be his favorite song of the album compared to Danny now, he laughs. “Twenty-year-old Danny would probably like ‘Light Me Up.’ I’m definitely really proud of the whole album, I love ‘In the Thick of It,’ and there’s a moment in ‘We Jinxed It’ that I think is a special moment and I’m really proud of it. It’s a tough one. We’re proud of the album, young Danny would approve.”
Most of all, The Coronas are itching to get back on the road and perform the album live. It’s how they got their fame in the first place, and how they constantly push themselves to evolve and improve. “Because we’ve built ourselves up through the venues in Ireland, we were never an overnight success. And it helps us when we’re touring outside Ireland and we’re playing different size rooms because we’ve played them all before and we’ve been doing it for a long time. I definitely think we’re a better live band now than we were in the early days for sure.”
They’re grateful to be able to perform, to find their music is appreciated and understood by fans across the world. “And again,” O’Reilly adds, referencing the pandemic, “something like this happens and you even appreciate it more. You’re hoping it turns back around and everything works out okay, you take something away and you realize how important it is. Fingers crossed we’ll be touring and it’ll all be over soon.”
Not just the band is eager, so is the album– upon first listen, you’ll immediately hear that it begs to be performed live. O’Reilly agrees wholeheartedly. “Absolutely, we’ve been talking about the moment where we’d play the big build of ‘True Love Waits.’ Even to just go into rehearsals, I’d love to actually play it properly.”
Who knows how the situation will develop for the live music sector, though. With venues on the verge of collapse, and no vaccine in sight– a live version of True Love Waits may be quite a wait itself away as well. But, there’s one idea O’Reilly puts forward towards the end of our conversation that is both a great example of his creativity, as well as his optimism. “There’s a drive-in cinema in Dublin that’s opening, we’ve been thinking that maybe we can perform on stage there and have people just come in with their cars.”
If only I lived in Dublin.
For the foreseeable future, O’Reilly has to make do with a little home studio he’s set up in Dingle, where he’s located. “I’ve been writing some new stuff. I’m happy with the work I’ve been doing. Initially, I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, I’ve been doing some covers on the Coronas page every night. Everyone kept saying ‘oh this is fine for you, you can just go and write, you’re an artist’ and then I suddenly started feeling this pressure, as if people expected to already write the next album. So I decided to do the cover thing, to have something to do and have structure to my day – without having the pressure of writing.”
His approach has since changed, especially now that the lockdown has been extended – although some measures have been lifted. “I’ve started doing a few sessions and now I feel like the studio is calling me in to write. It makes it better. If I try and force it, it’s not going to happen. Thankfully, I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, and I think that was a good thing – I’m a bit more productive if that makes sense.”
Of course, while nobody in their right minds would ever object to even more new Coronas material, it’s tinged with bittersweet feelings. It’s a bit like a consolation prize when you know you’ve missed out on a great live experience – for both the band and fans. Still, O’Reilly remains optimistic and reiterates that good music is worth the wait, regardless of what happens. “Even if the tour doesn’t end up happening, we’ve got plans to start work on the next one. So we’re hoping maybe by next summer, we’ll have a new single that’d be the first one of the next album. Maybe we can promote this album and a bit of the next album during the tour when it does come together.”
Either way, it’s clear that True Love Waits is only the beginning of a whole new era of The Coronas, in which everyone’s patience will be more than rewarded – one way or another.