Being Courageous

Róisín O told David Hennessy about her second album coming ten years after the first, Steven Spielberg recording her on his phone and why being Mary Black’s daughter doesn’t mean she was destined to be a singer.

Already a number three hit at home in Ireland, Róisín O releases her second album Courageous to the UK this Friday 1 July.

Róisín comes from a famous musical family as the daughter of revered ballad singer Mary Black and sister of lead singer of The Coronas, Danny O’Reilly. This means she is also niece of ballad singer/ senator Frances Black and a cousin of the folk singer Aoife Scott.

Although it is her second album, Courageous comes a full ten years after her debut offering, The Secret Life of Blue, in 2012.

At the time of her debut release, The Sunday Times said it was ‘evoking the likes of Joni Mitchell, Joanna Newsom and Kate Bush’.

Since then, she formed the duo Thanks Brother with John Broe and when that came to an end, Róisín was not sure what the next step was going to be. She thought about starting a new group or starting a new project on her own.

But her manager appealed to release music under her own name once again, saying an audience was there.

She was right.

When the album was released in Ireland earlier this year, it was only kept from the top of the album charts by global superstar Ed Sheeran.

A personal record, the album deals with loss, heartache, breakups and letting go.

Róisín told The Irish World: “It was a lifetime ago (I released the first album).

“I was thinking about doing album two. I kept putting it off.

“And then I started Thanks Brother with John Broe and that was going for a while.

“That came to an end.

“You know, I was thinking about starting up a new band, or maybe going by a new name.

“I met my manager Adele and she was like, ‘What the hell are you talking about, Róisín? People want to hear your voice and want to hear your music’.

“So I released an album and they obviously did, which was mind blowing.

“It couldn’t have gone better for us.

“Yeah, I was really blown away by the response and getting such amazing chart positions.

“I think the way I wrote this album was very heart on my sleeve.

“I was leaving nothing to the imagination.

“I was very much, ‘This is what he said, I was absolutely devastated. This is how I’m feeling now, this is how I felt then’.

“I think that connected with people a lot, that there was no looking with a magnifying glass what this song’s about, it’s there for everyone to see in each song.

“I’m feeling that connection with fans.

“That’s the whole reason I’m a musician, to write music and perform music and feel that connection with the people in the audience.

“So once I started writing in that way, getting that feedback from fans has really pushed me to want to do it even more and keep up that drug of connection.”

Róisín says that after writing the first single Heart + Bones in 2020, the songs just poured out of her and the time finally felt right to release her second album.

“Releasing an album has always been a daunting thought since my debut, something I kept putting at arm’s length. The pandemic affected so many people in different ways and for me, it really gave me the time to take stock and reassess why I was doing this in the first place. I do this because I love performing, I love writing songs and seeing people connect with them or move them in some way.

“I’m so proud to be releasing my second album Courageous.”

What made her want to call the album that? “The song itself is about having the courage to realize that a relationship has come to an end.

“Sometimes it can be hard in those situations where you still love someone, but things just aren’t going right.

“You can feel it in your gut and you need to be courageous to get through that hard time when there’s a lot of different things to weigh up.

“I wrote that song with Danny in Dingle during a rough period in lockdown for myself, and then when I was going to pick the title for the album, it just really stood out to me.

“A lot of the songs on this album deal with themes of courage and bravery and getting through difficult times or getting through heartache or looking forward to more positive times, standing up for yourself and having faith in yourself.

“When I was picking the title, that was the first thing that came to me and there was nothing else that could really top it for me.

“At the start of lockdown, Thanks Brother sort of came to its natural end.

“John was doing other work and I was working with different people.

“And as I said, I met my manager Adele and she was pushing me.

“She was like, ‘There’s an appetite for what you do’.

“And I started reconnecting during lockdown.

“I was putting up covers of songs that people were absolutely loving.

“And I started reconnecting with my fans online a lot more.

“Because there was nothing else to do.”

I think when I released a song, Love You to Love Me, a cover of a Selena Gomez song, and that went massive.

“And I was like, ‘Okay, maybe, yeah, maybe this is the time to start doing Roisin O stuff again’.

“Even when I was doing the songwriting during lockdown, I wasn’t really thinking about an album, I was still not sure what my project would be.

“I wasn’t writing it for something, I was writing for myself and very much doing it for cathartic reasons, my own self care and getting through a lot of emotions that I wouldn’t usually have talked about so openly in my songwriting.

“When I released that first track in 2021, Heart + Bones, the response I got to that from people saying how much that song meant to them and how it moved them sort of cemented my whole idea, ‘Okay, now, I’m going to do an album with these songs’.”

Heart+Bones would be followed by Still Gold, her top 20 hit 2023 and her most recent offering which was co-written with Gavin James Stolen- which soared straight to the top spot at No. 1 on iTunes.

Has seeing her singles and indeed the album achieve such high chart positions been a highlight of her career so far? “Definitely.”

It was only the release of her album coinciding with Ed Sheeran’s massive Irish dates that robbed her of an Irish number one album.

“I was a bit raging to be fair that your man, whatever his name is, Ed something had those 75,000 Stadium gigs around Ireland the week of my release,” she laughs.

“He had two albums in the top three so I was number three.

“It got number one Irish album, number one independent album, number one physical sales that week in stores and online.

“And yeah, I really couldn’t imagine it to be honest, after not releasing an album in so long there is that fear like, ‘Maybe it’s too long, maybe I’m not relevant’. All these self-deprecating thoughts come into your head.

“I put so much work into it and to see people’s response and to see that many people actually buying your record and the music you made, it’s definitely a highlight of the career I have to say.”

It is not her only highlight.

In 2016 she was invited to perform in Los Angeles at Star Wars director JJ Abrams’s Oscars party, in front of stars including Steven Spielberg, Idris Elba and James Corden.

“That was completely bizarre walking the red carpet with loads of paparazzi shouting my name

“I played the gig. It was myself and Snow Patrol and right up in front there was this little red rope cornered off section with Steven Spielberg with his phone recording us playing.

“It was one of the most bizarre moments of my life but such a great trip, it was very cool.

“I’m very much a person who’s like, ‘I don’t want to go and bother that person’ if I saw a really famous person, especially back then.

“I probably didn’t take advantage of it as much as I should have.

“But it was great. It was absolutely surreal.

“There have been other moments that were just just really special gigs at home and abroad.

“Even recently, at my Dublin gig, it was only a few days after the album came out and the place was absolutely rammed.

“There’s people singing back words to the songs that haven’t even been out a week.

“I’m like, ‘How? You must have been listening to this for the last few days non-stop’.

“That connection is what it’s all about that for me and that connection with that crowd that night was magic.”

Roisin says this is what was missing for the last couple of years.

“Obviously, Covid was tough.

“It wasn’t until we had some of our first shows last December, even when it was half capacity.

“When I got off stage, I was like, ‘Oh, this is what has been missing. I’ve missed actually being in a real room with real people and actually seeing and hearing their response and playing with them in the room’.

“There’s nothing like it and there’s no substitute for it no matter how much you love being in studio or songwriting.

“For me the reason why I’m a musician is to perform live and connect with people in a live setting.

“It was what was missing for me these last few years big time.

“I love live performance.”

Much of the album is produced by Roisin’s brother Danny O’Reilly.

This is a skill that Danny acquired through the necessity of lockdown.

“Working with Danny through lockdown, I was sort of witness to it.

“He became such a great producer because he couldn’t get into the studio, he had to do everything himself.

“He became so good at it in such a short amount of time and gets better all the time.

“He’s definitely got that career ahead of him if he wants it.”

It was in 2016 that Roisin, Danny and their cousin Aoife released a special version of Grace to mark the centenary.

“That was really special to do.

“Obviously we wouldn’t often do stuff like that together but it was for such an important occasion.

“We couldn’t have imagined how amazingly it got received, the response to it was crazy.

“We still get asked to sing it now.”

Is it fair to say she and Danny were always destined to be singers coming from the family that they do? “I don’t know if we were destined.

“I think me and Danny, from a very young age, always were drawn to it a bit more.

“Our older brother Conor was very musical as well but he just decided to have a normal job or a real job you might say and never pursued it.

“Me and Danny maybe I don’t know if it was just in us more or we wanted it more.

“Or maybe we had less sense than him.

“I think everyone’s different.

“Obviously, growing up in such a musical household definitely influenced our love if it and our idea that we could do it as a job because we had people in our family who were doing it for a job so it didn’t seem so out of grasp for us. It might have for other people who didn’t grow up with families like that.

“Yeah, you never know.

“I’m not sure about destined but yeah, definitely ingrained in us for sure.”

Did you ever make a decision or was it always there? “I think it was always there.

“I remember from a really young age I used to say that I wanted to start a record label when I was quite young when I was about 12 that age.

“And I don’t know why I used to say that.

“I think maybe even at that age I realized saying you want to be a singer is a bit silly.

“It wasn’t until I got older I was like, ‘No I actually really do’.

“I went to college, my parents were always very adamant like, ‘Look, you can do whatever you want, we will support you but you need to get a degree so you always have something to fall back on’.

“And there was no doubt in my mind, I was getting the degree. I wanted to go to college anyway.

“I got the degree and the second I got out of college I was like, ‘Okay, now it’s time to do this properly’.

“And I’ve been doing it ever since so it’s going good so far.”

Roisin O
Roisin O

Roisin will be over this side of the water in September as she plays support for Ryan McMullan on his Ireland and UK tour and also opens for The Coronas.

“I’m going to be getting over a good bit in September. I can’t wait.

“I love it. I haven’t got over in so long.

“It’s been far too long.

“In the UK I have done a few gigs

“I did Liverpool Irish Festival and once off gigs but I’ve never done a whole tour on my own over there yet.

“I’ve definitely got big plans for the UK in the coming months and next year for sure.

“I can’t wait.

“Hopefully once I get off the back of these support tours, I’ll be able to set up my own mini UK headline tour.

“That’s the plan.”

Courageous is out now.

Róisín O tours the UK and Ireland supporting Ryan McMullan from 27 August and throughout September. She also opens for The Coronas on their UK dates in late September.

For more information, click here.