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Going his own way

Ro Yourell, well known for fronting acclaimed Irish indie band Delorentos, told David Hennessy about his debut solo album and what their Irish World Award meant to the band so early in their career.

Ro Yourell, well known for being part of Choice Music Prize winning band Delorentos, has just released his debut solo album, Commencer.

Recorded and mixed at Attica Audio Recording Studio in Co. Donegal, the record was co-produced by Yourell and Tommy McLaughlin (Villagers, Ailbhe Reddy, Bell X1, Soak).

Commencer was born of turbulence, as Yourell’s own starting a family coincided with a global pandemic, an escalation in political violence and the recognition that climate change is not just real, but in the here and now.

Commencer contemplates all these issues.

You have released albums before but does this feel different for being your first solo offering? “Yeah, it’s very different.

It’s a different kind of excitement.

“I suppose you sort of feel more vulnerable without the blanket of Delorentos, so it all feels like there’s a sense of vulnerability, maybe more excitement too.

“As a solo artist, I’m starting. It’s a whole new thing. It’s starting again so it’s very exciting.”

You said with the album you struggled to find your voice initially..

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“Yeah, I suppose I’ve grown up in bands since I was only 16 or 17.

“Not that we Delorentos  we would agree what the record was going to be about or anything like that, that you were particularly restricted: Do write about this, or don’t write about that.

“But you’re aware of the other’s involvement.

“In Delorentos, there’s four songwriters and everybody is always very actively involved in the songwriting process.

“So this was just a very different thing, I suppose.

“I suppose I probably overthought it, you know?

“I suppose initially that sense of freedom that I felt, ‘I can do anything’ turned to, ‘Oh my God, I can do anything. What should that be? What’s my singing voice? What’s my genre?’

“All these sorts of things that for a little while probably held me back a little bit.”

How did you put those thoughts out of your head then?

“I think really when I first shared the work with somebody else.

“I worked with Tommy McLaughlin who’s a great producer  and friend who’s up in Donegal.

“I sort of sent some stuff to him more in kind of desperation than hope, just kind of as an ear that I trust to say, ‘I don’t know where I’m going with this…’

“And he said, ‘I think you’ve got the core of a body of work here’.

“I would travel up to Donegal for a couple of days and I think it was just being in the studio and having conversations with somebody else about the music.

“I suppose that’s something that I would have taken for granted working in a collective, that you have those ready ears to go, ‘Oh yeah, I like this’, or ‘I don’t like this’, or ‘what if you tried this?’

“And in the absence of that, I think I was kind of just going around in circles a little bit so going up to Tommy and him saying, ‘this sounds cool’, ‘I think that’s crap’.

“And to get somebody to challenge me, I kind of got passionate about the songs themselves rather than what they meant in a wider scheme of things for me as a human being.

“That was really the catalyst, beginning to share the work for the first time and then it flowed more readily from there.

“I was writing the songs before COVID and sort of thought I had the album finished, did one recording session in February 2020 and then the world shut down so I had 18 months in between.”

The album, as it exists now, took shape over these 18 months.

“I suppose we were maybe living less in the world watching kind of more passively looking at what was going on, and watching things through TV as COVID evolved, and then coming out of that, things like the war in Ukraine.

“And seeing what was going on in Dublin even in terms of with COVID and the experience of people who are kind of experiencing homelessness and how COVID brought some of these things that maybe we would have otherwise ignored to the fore.

“I think the album became a lot wider in its world view than it would have been.

“There’s six songs on the album that weren’t there when I went up and did that early recording session.

“We had miscarriages over COVID so there was a lot of intense kind of emotion that I hadn’t anticipated but the writing just helped me really process turbulence close to home and in the wider world.

“Writing for me has always been just my way of processing feelings

“I’m not a great talker so I don’t kind of sit down and say, ‘Well, I’m gonna write a song about the war in Ukraine’.
“Or, ‘I’m gonna write a song about miscarriage’.

“But a line comes into my head or I get a bit of a melody or something and I sit at the piano, I sit at the guitar and I just kind of meditate over it.

“That’s always the way I’ve written and then, over time, ideas develop and flesh out.

“And certainly the writing helped me through that kind of 18 months for sure and I think changed the record in a very positive way ultimately.”

As he says Ro and his wife had numerous miscarriages.

“As I said, I’m not a great talker.

“I don’t say it for sympathy or anything like that.

“I just want to be honest about the things that were going on at the time.

“I didn’t talk about it initially and then I think I sort of had to eventually.

“And I actually felt when I did talk, others kind of opened up and I realised that I was far from the only one who’d experienced that.

“That was a really comforting thing.”

The album has been described as a ‘coming of age’, would you agree it’s a mature record?

“Yeah, I think so.

“And some days, I still don’t know how mature I am.

“But yeah, certainly in terms of things like my influences growing up as a kid.

“For example, I grew up as a Roman Catholic.

“I don’t prescribe to that now but I was thinking about kind of the different structures and things that that we inherit and the belief systems that we inherit as young people.

“I suppose, as a middle aged man now, to be able to stand back a little bit and go, ‘Well, where am I in relation to that now? And what do I what do I think about it? And I suppose having kids.

“After the miscarriages, we kind of thought we were probably done.

“We got pregnant and we ended up having a little girl who just turned one so that was really nice particularly after what went before.

“I suppose there’s looking back and then having the kids kind of forces you to be very present and to think about the wider world and think about the future again in a less selfish way.

“So yeah, there is a lot in there.”

Freedom was the very first single off the album so the first piece of this solo project that you shared with the wider world so it was a song you had a lot of faith in..

“I was sort of reflecting on how fortunate I felt at the time.

“I shot the video during COVID in Skerries when all we were able to do was go for a walk in the field.

“I suppose I felt very lucky to have somewhere safe and open to be and also to have a home that I could leave and come back to.

“I was thinking about things like direct provision in Ireland where people who are maybe fleeing conflict or famine and are in a situation where they’re waiting to see whether they’ll be allowed to stay in the country: You’re kind of in these spaces where you’re not necessarily able to cook your own meals or have the freedom to come and go as you please.

“And again with the situation with the war in Ukraine.

“In Ireland, a lot of Ukrainians came this way and I think in the main were generally well received but just sort of very conscious of somewhere like Ireland that’s a relatively safe place in the world, how we just take that safety and that security completely for granted.

“And with the way things are at the moment, that’s really something that we shouldn’t do but I guess it’s one of the privileges in a comfort zone.”

The album contains a song called Forest Gate, is that about Forest Gate in London?

“It is, yeah.

“We have some friends there and I’ve never actually been.

“I’ve been to London lots of times, but never been to Forest Gate.

“Again harping on about the COVID time but you were obviously missing friends and family.

“And I just loved the sound of the words, Forest Gate.

“And then I just had this kind of fantasy or created this fantasy of this place.

“It was just a really simple little song.

“Yeah, I’m kind of romantic in that way.”

If you get there the real Forest Gate might come as a disappointment now..

“Yeah, my pals have certainly gotten a kick out of the song.

“I’ve got a lot of nice messages about it since the album’s come out.”

When You Look At Me is my favourite song off the album..

“Yeah, it’s one of my favourites too.

“I wasn’t born into an era of social media, I find the whole phenomenon fascinating: Joyous at times, terrifying at others.

“And everybody’s living their best lives.

“But I suppose When You Look at Me was about trying to challenge that idea.

“There’s a serious point behind it with social media in particular.

“I’m a teacher in my other life so I work with a lot of young people and see the how stressed out they are because of that sense of that expectation, that they’re constantly feeling that they have to sell themselves, and that they need to match up to these crazy ideals.

“As we know, 99% of what’s on Instagram is altered in some way.

“Everybody’s putting their best foot forward a lot of the time.

“I suppose we like to consume a lot, but we’ve become kind of products in ourselves.

“If you asked a young person what they want to be, even young kids now- I’ve nothing against anybody who’s making their lives as an influencer but just the idea for a young person it’s kind of basically the metaphor for ‘I want to be famous’.

“It’s almost like, ‘What do you want to be famous for?’

“So it’s kind of questioning that.

“Ultimately it’s about just being loved for who you are rather than what you are achieving or the old likes.”

You play Whelan’s soon which is where Delorentos launched so many years ago so it’s a full circle/ new journey moment, isn’t it?

“Yeah, I don’t know that I necessarily thought about that in the planning or the deciding.

“It’s only actually since the album has come out and I’ve been having conversations with people that they say, ‘Will that be emotional? That will be you kind of starting again in the place where you started..’

“I think it will.

“I played a secret gig.

“I had a little party on 24 May to celebrate the album being available and it was just me and an acoustic guitar.

“It was magic.

“I talked about it at the beginning, that kind of sense of vulnerability that you feel. It doesn’t get more vulnerable than that just sitting with your guitar and it was lovely.

“The songs are very intimate, there’s a lot of very personal subject matter in there so it was really nice to share it in that way and feel it connect.”

What is going on with Delorentos? You are on hiatus but will return at some point?

“Yes, our last show was December 2019.

“I can’t believe it.

“Delorentos had been going for 15 years and we just had never really taken our foot off the pedal at all.

“People had partners and were starting to start their families and because the way the band writes with the four of us writing together, it takes a lot of time to make Delorentos music and a lot of investment from everybody.

“So it was just getting too difficult at the point in time where people were at to give the commitment that was required to do it, that is required to do it the way we need to do it.

“So we just said, ‘This feels like the world is telling us to take a breath.

“They’re my best buds and I absolutely miss them particularly times the last few years working on Commencer.

“I was crying out for them but I think that this space was needed and it is nice to be able to get together every so often and not have the pressure of a record to talk about.”

What are your highlights of the band’s journey?

“Oh, gosh, there’s so many.

“We’ve had some great shows in London.

“Outside of Dublin, London would have been our first port of call.

“I can’t wait to come over and do something myself in the near future, I hope before the end of the year.

“We got to support Bruce Springsteen which not many people can say they did.

“We travelled to Mexico which was incredible to do some festivals over there.

“Lots of gigs all around the world, I love to travel and we were never flying first class and staying in five star hotels.

“It was always being put up by local promoter and hanging out where they hang out and going to local restaurants.

“I love that aspect of how we’ve made our way in music and just meeting so many interesting and inspiring people and seeing how bands around the world manage was very inspiring too.

“I got to meet Noel Gallagher once who was one of my heroes as a kid.

“I met Mick Jones from The Clash once at Benicassim.

“I am a big Clash fan.

“I’ll finish with the name dropping there.

“It’s hard work.

“It’s not a get rich quick scheme by any means but it’s certainly a wild ride in that respect.”

You played the Irish World Awards in 2008 and received an award at the Galtymore, didn’t you?

“Yeah, that kind of support means so much, especially at that stage.

“We were really just kind of starting out and it gave us a sense of recognition.

“I certainly don’t make music for recognition.

“I make it for my own sanity really.

“When we started out we didn’t have a lot of experience and we rehearsed five or six days a week.

“We were working our arses off and something like that so early in our career was kind of an acknowledgment of, ‘Okay, we’re doing something right here’.

“It was encouragement to keep going.”

Will you keep going now and do another solo album? “Yeah, for sure.

“I suppose the first one had to happen the way it happened.

“I think I just relearned the process of getting out of my own way a little bit.

“You had to do that when you’re in a band, particularly one like ours.

“With Delorentos, everybody wants to be involved all the time and if you were doing nothing, you had no guitar part for a particular section of a song it could be, ‘Oh God, I’m not being part of this’ and get in a huff.

“We had to learn that it’s about the song and it’s not about individuals or what you’re doing at any point in time in the song.

“If the right thing for you to be doing for the whole song is nothing, then that’s the right thing.

“And I had to relearn that again as a solo artist in terms of just getting out of my own way a little bit and letting the song guide me.

“So having done that, gotten through that I’m looking forward to keeping on going and continuing to let the music guide me wherever it may take me.”

The album Commencer is out now.

The single When You Look At Me is out now.

Ro Yourell plays Whelan’s on Saturday 24 August.

For more information, click here.

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