Danny O’Reilly, frontman with The Coronas told David Hennessy about living through the unfortunately named pandemic, the uncertainty about the band’s future when friend and guitarist Dave McPhillips left the band after 13 years and why he’ll always be a North London Shamrock.
“It’s a strange strange time for everyone,” The Coronas’ lead singer and guitarist Danny O’Reilly says of the current pandemic of a virus that unfortunately shares its name with the band.
“Talking to my other mates who are in bands and they’re all telling me about their tours being cancelled and I always just finish the conversation with, ‘Could be worse, could be named after the virus’. And that always get a good chuckle out of ’em.”
The Coronas tweeted Corona beer brand to ask how they were dealing with the disastrously named coronavirus with one reply telling them to tour with The Vaccines: “That was a good one, someone said The Cure as well.
“Initially we started to get a lot of whatzapp and memes and people saying jokes. We wanted to joke along with them but it’s hard because it’s a serious thing and still, it’s an ongoing serious thing. It was difficult for us to make light of it.”
The band released the latest single off their forthcoming album, Lost in the Thick of It, last week. A duet with Gabrielle Aplin, the song was written with the English singer-songwriter and her Dublin boyfriend Alfie from Hudson Taylor at their home in Brighton.
“The fact that Gabrielle has such a big following in the UK and overseas, we were delighted she agreed to feature on the song. We wrote it with her and Alfie and fair play to her, she’s very hands on. She’s helping us out with promo, she’s going to be in the music video which is going to be released next week which we recorded from isolation but it’s not really an isolation video as such. She’s been deadly.”
The song has a message about taking some time for yourself although Danny is very conscious of how funny that message now seems in the times it is being released.
“I think it’s about needing to sort your own head out before you’re able to talk to other people about things that you’re going through. Sometimes you know that there’s something wrong but you’re not sure exactly what it is yet and you’re not ready to discuss it with anyone.
“Ironically, because it was written before all this madness, It’s almost a yearning for isolation and that’s really what it’s about to me: Sorting things out for yourself before you’re able to talk to people, even the people that you care about about what’s going on, sort of apologising to people you love but you just need your space.
“We wrote the lyrics together, initially in Brighton and then we worked on them online literally through text message going back and forward and it was really cool. Both of them are so talented, talented songwriters and really good people so it was a really easy process.”
True Love Waits will be The Coronas’ sixth studio album but it is their first as a three-piece. The band was a quartet since they were formed in 2006 when Danny, Dave McPhillips, Graham Knox and Conor Egan were still in school. However last year guitarist Dave McPhillips amicably left the band.
“It was a shock. Initially when he told me last summer, I thought maybe I would try talk him out of it, talk him into staying and we would maybe just release this album and maybe take a break from the band for a while but I realised Dave had made up his mind.
It was not a simple case of finding a replacement or even continuing without Dave as the Coronas had always been a group of friends as well as a band. In fact the four lads had been playing together in some form since they were 13.
“It would be too weird, I think. The Coronas was always about our group as friends. It was never talked about for more than a brief second that we would get someone else in.
“We’ve been together too long I think to look for a full time replacement. It was never really an option.
“And I hope that Dave comes back and plays with us again when we have a big Dublin show. If he’s up for it, I’d love it if he got up onstage and did a few songs with us. He’ll always be a Corona.
“Sometimes people say a change is as good as a rest. I just got a sudden burst of creativity and I started writing with different people and instead of saying, ‘Oh, the Coronas won’t be the Coronas without Dave’. It was like, ‘We could be whatever, we could work with different people’.
“He wants us to keep going, we want to keep going and we love it. Maybe this change will actually help us and give us purpose and direction on the next album.
“Between last summer and November, I wrote 70% of the album and recorded it in that time as well. We had a lot of songs in our back pocket from before Dave left but they didn’t feel right anymore. Only a couple of them ended up making the album.
“After he told us, Dave played on a couple more songs. He’s so supportive and he made the transition very easy. It is a different kind of album already and we’re already starting to think about the next one. I’m starting to write a few songs now.
“This is a different kind of album. I’m more proud of it than any of our other albums. I think it’s our best work yet. I think it’s different for us but it still has moments and I think that’s what the Coronas are about, moments in songs and moments in gigs. I think it has a lot of it which is good. We enjoyed making it. It feels so good. I’m proud of it.
“All you can do is put it out and see what happens. I think we’re evolving as we get a little bit older but we’re still enjoying it and thankfully the crowd are still into it and people are liking what we’re doing so why would we want to stop that? When Dave first said he wanted to leave, I was thinking, ‘Well maybe this is the end..’ But I still thnk we’ve got something to say and something to do.”
But Danny says if it had been the end, it would have only been the end of a chapter and not the whole book.
“I don’t think we’ll ever break up as a band, ever. We’re together too long. We were friends before the band started. We appreciate what we have. We’ll always have the Coronas, I think. I hope.
“I realised that Dave, by his own admission, hadn’t been enjoying it for a while before that and had sort of withdrawn himself a little bit from being a fully involved member of the day-to-day band stuff.
“Without us knowing it, we probably felt, ‘Dave’s not really into it anymore’. But then when he left, we had three members who were really into it and it was almost a weight lifted off us to a certain extent so once the shock and that initial concern of ‘what now?’ faded, I began to see possibilities of how we might survive and move forward without him.
“I’ll never forget Conor saying to me about how much he loves touring and he doesn’t want that to end. We had a couple of songs we thought were really good. The live shows were going great so he sort of reminded us of how much we love touring, we love seeing the world.
“Even though Dave hadn’t been enjoying that part of being in a band as much the rest of us, we’re still enjoying it so why should we stop? I think once I talked to the boys, it was case of, ‘If they want to keep going, let’s keep going’.
“They were all straight away, ‘Let’s keep going’. I think that coincided with a creative burst. We were away. It was a new chapter. It felt right. It felt really good straight away.”
If Covid-19 hadn’t hit, the band would have been playing to their UK fans last week. Since the virus made that impossible, they have rescheduled those shows for late October.
“When the lockdown first happened, we were about to release this single and It just didn’t feel right to be self-promoting things. It didn’t feel like an appropriate time. We wanted things to settle down.
“I know it’s still a serious situation and it’s far from over. We realised it was going to be more of a long term thing. It wasn’t going to be a case of, ‘This will pass in a couple of months and we can then pick up where we left off’.
“Once the initial shock of everything going on wore off, I wanted to do something but it didn’t feel right be self promoting in the climate, I started singing other band’s songs.
“We decided to go ahead and release the album this summer anyway even though there probably won’t be any gigs. We’re not sure when gigging will come back. It definitely won’t be in the summer but we’re trying to think of different ways we can promote the album andif we can do small maybe socially distanced shows when it comes out. Hopefully we’ll get back to some sort of gigging before the end of the year.”
Danny paid tributes to those on the front line during the crisis with the help of other singers like his sister Róisín O, Gavin James and Hudson Taylor with the track Real Hero that saw everyone recording their parts from isolation.
“We wanted to do something creative. We wanted to do something a bit different. We encouraged people to donate to front line workers or whatever charity they wanted to but it wasn’t officially in conjuction with anyone.
“We did it more for fun for ourselves, to see if we could put something together from isolation. We asked a few of our mates if they wanted to get involved. We didn’t put any pressure on them. We said, ‘Give us a line if you want, a bit of craic, nothing too official’. Thankfully I think we got the right tone across and it did well for us. It was a nice thing to do.
“We got a lot of personal messages about it. It’s funny what music can do for people who are in a tough position whether it’s working on the front line or struggling with lockdown or mental health or whatever.
“I’ve been getting messages from people saying, ‘Your music has really helped me. That song did get a great reaction and a lot of personal messages from front line workers saying, ‘Thank you so much, this really cheered me up after my long hard day’.
“It was mainly for us but then to see people reacting to it, it’s a cool feeling. It’s like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing’.”
A former Dublin minor, Danny spent two years with North London Shamrocks when the band made the move to London helping the North London side to an intermediate London county championship in 2014.
Is he still in touch with the lads? “I am. I’m in a whatzapp group with all the old lads. Great guys, lifelong friends. I still bump into some of them now and again. If I’m in London, I always make an effort to meet up with some of the boys even if it’s just to say hello and a lot of them will still come to our show whenever we play in London.
“Honestly It was a couple of the best years of my life playing for that team: Meeting those people, winning games, enjoying my football and great nights out as well.
“It was definitely a chapter of my life that I look back really fondly on.
“If I ever bump into any of them it’s always the same. I think you get that when you have a good group with any sport, when you have a good team, a good group of people and you go on a journey together.
“We got promoted from the intermediate championship and it’s a big deal. I know it’s only sport at the end of the day but when you put a year of your life into training and you set a goal at the start of the year and you achieve it.
“I think that’s really why I love sport so much and I always have. When we go home to our house in Dublin, all we talk about is GAA. Of course there are more important things in life but to be honest in this pandemic I miss sport than anything. I think that’s why sport’s important. It distracts you from real life and that’s why I miss it more now. God knows we need a distraction. I love the Shamrocks. I’ll always be a shamrock.”
The Irish World put Danny at right half-forward in our team of Famous Faces to play GAA in Britain just a couple of weeks ago and word had reached the singer before we even got to tell him.
“I saw it. Some great players in there, some really interesting ones in there that I didn’t know. Chris O’Dowd for example, I didn’t know he played. It was funny to see. What was the other one? Tinie Tempah. I was proudly sending it to my father and a few people I knew would be impressed by it.
“It’s funny because I love football. The lads are always slagging me, ‘You get more excited when you’re talking about your GAA days than you do when you’re trying to sell Coronas’.
“I’m still playing a little bit in Dublin now, playing a bit of junior football for the craic. Hopefully we’ll get back playing before the year is out.”
Danny has played minor for Dublin in 2003 and senior level football with Templeogue Synge Street. He hopes the this year’s All-Ireland can still go ahead in spite of the current health crisis.
“Fingers crossed the championship will come back this year. Personally I’m of the opinion if they could play it behind closed doors, it’s better than nothing. I wouldn’t rule it out yet. You never know. September and October is a long way away. Fingers crossed we can all bounce back and I’m the same way about gigs. I’m hoping gigs will happen before Christmas.”
The single Lost in The Thick of It with Gabrielle Aplin is out now.
The album True Love Waits by the Coronas is out on 31 July.
The Coronas play London, Manchester and Glasgow in October/ November.
For more information, go to their website here.