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New Chapter: The Coronas Discuss Their Sonic Reinvention on 'Time Stopped'

Friday, 07 October 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

It’s often said that a change is as good as a rest. In recent years Irish indie-rockers The Coronas more than proved the validity of the proverb, having come through an eventful period that saw them split with a key band member and temporarily lose the ability to tour. Using those situations to their advantage, both 2021’s ‘True Love Waits’ and this year’s ‘Time Stopped’ have seen the now three-piece outfit boldly leap into fresh pastures with excellent results.

In the 15 years since Danny O’ Reilly (vocals/guitar), Dave McPhillips (guitar), Graham Knox (bass) and Conor Egan (drums) released their debut album ‘Heroes and Ghosts’, The Coronas have expanded their horizons with each record. Even when the quartet’s brief flirtation with a major record label was unceremoniously cut short after one album (2014’s ‘The Long Way’), and McPhillips amicably departed the group two years later, they remained true to their principles and refused to hit the repeat button.

During the onset of an unfortunately named, at least for this outfit, virus that wreaked havoc with their touring schedule, and left them kicking their heels at home, the new look threesome decided to shake things up with even more vigour than usual. As such, those aforementioned records have seen their sound transition into an anthemic pop rock aesthetic that’s added new colour to O’ Reilly’s soulful, personal tales.

We spoke to the band’s frontman and principal songwriter about their latest music, that commitment to artistic evolution and why, when the viral shit hit the global fan, they reached out to an American beer company, with tongue firmly in cheek, for some much needed guidance.  

You’ve broadened your boundaries with each album, but ‘True Love Waits’ was a big jump into different territory and a reinvention of sorts after Dave’s departure. How does ‘Time Stopped’ build on that?

This feels like the first one completely without Dave, because he was involved in writing a couple of songs on ‘True Love Waits’ and then we asked him to come over and play on those. So this feels like the full, fresh new chapter with this line up and a new approach from the start. With ‘True Love Waits’ the three of us sort of widened the band and got more of our talented friends involved. So we had all sorts of musicians and co-writers, people who were in the Coronas family, who either play with us live or are friends of ours, or family, and it’s worked well. 

Going back to George Murphy, who produced the last record, and putting it altogether was a joy. It was never hard work. We always consider ourselves a live band, first and foremost. The main purpose of each new album is to improve our live set and keep evolving. And now we’re almost promoting both albums, on this world tour, because we never got to play ‘True Love Waits’ outside of Ireland. It’s an exciting time. It’s gonna be a tricky set list to pick. 

Can you tell me about the genesis of the songs for ‘Time Stopped’, because I believe a lot of the material dates back to around, or even before, the time of your previous album?

Yeah, there’s a couple of songs that did. Strive, for example, we wrote before ‘True Love Waits’ came out back in January 2020. It was nice to have that in the bag. We tend not to try and write singles so when you get one you think has a bit of radio friendly ability it takes the pressure off. And it’s done amazing on radio over here. 

Anyway, there were three or four lockdowns here. Two of them I didn’t write any songs at all and two of them I wrote lots. I wasn’t being too hard on myself. I was just like ‘when the songs come they come.’ I tend to lock myself away in County Kerry in the west of Ireland when I’m writing. Eventually the songs started coming and, all of a sudden, I turned around in the summer of ‘21 and had all the demos in one big folder. I sent them to the band and they were like, ‘These are great, we’re ready to go with an album, we just need to flesh them out and finish them off.’ It was a good way to pass the two years. 

What can you say about the ambient intro that opens the album?

That was a song I worked on with Cian [McSweeney] from True Tides, a good friend of mine who I do a lot of co-writing with. That was gas because we were walking down the street just around the corner from where I am now and saw this Hare Krishna man playing a drum. Cian was like, ‘That sounds like the same tempo as the song we’re working on.’ He walked over with his phone and recorded three bars of this Hare Krishna. We went back to the studio after lunch and fired it up and, not only was it the exact same tempo, but the drums were in the same key as the song. We got one bar of the perfect loop and that’s on the album. It sounds like a sample, but that was part of its charm.                             

You’ve said the album is thematically about defiance, so what was happening in your life, and maybe the wider world, that made that topic come to the fore?

Initially, I was like, ‘I’m not writing about the pandemic. Everyone’s gonna be writing about it.’ And then you sit down to write and, well, everything else seems so futile. The world is pretty much ending, it affects everything, it affects everyone, how can I not write about it? So what I ended up doing was writing about what was going on in my life, friendships, relationships, being in a band, trying to be the best singer I can be, the best brother, best friend. But every song had the framing of being in this weird time of a pandemic, so there’s some little mention of, ‘Oh yeah, and the world is fucked as well. Don’t look at the news, whatever you do.’ 

That felt natural because it would have been weird to ignore it and weird to embrace it and write an album about fucking lockdown, because I wouldn’t have as good an insight as other people. All I can do is be honest. My lyrics tend to be about what’s going on in my personal life, but it comes from defiance in ‘things aren’t that bad.’ I kept trying to see the positives in everything and be, ‘You know what, it could be worse.’ We’re lucky we have each other. I’ve got a good family. I’ve got a good life and I’m blessed to have a great band around me. That was the defiance. 

Did the record’s themes, which also incorporate unity, togetherness and optimism, influence the uplifting, ‘80s-esque anthemic direction of ‘Time Stopped’?

Yeah, it definitely did. I always find that there’s a song from the album that just passed that maybe leads us, sonically and stylistically, into the next one. It might not even be the best on the album, but there’s something that sonically turns us on. I remember on ‘Trust The Wire’, the album before ‘True Love Waits’, there was a song called A Bit Withdrawn that we liked the production on and that led us to how True Love Waits, the song, ended up sounding. It’s quite synth heavy but also big, loud, bandy and positive. And on ‘True Love Waits’ there were a couple that were dark but still defiant and powerful. That might have led us to songs like Time Stopped, the title track on the new album. 

What drives you to keep evolving when you could have easily carved out a successful career within your early niche?

It’s the key to continuing and keeping it interesting for us. For the first three albums I was the main songwriter. I would pretty much finish a song on the acoustic guitar and piano and bring it to the band. We’d work on the arrangements and flesh it out. Dave would help with some of the lyrics and we might change bits here and there. That was how The Coronas worked for the first couple of albums. But after a while I felt I was going back to my tendencies, as a songwriter, to things that had worked before. I realised I needed to start doing other things. 

We were co-writing when Dave was in the band but I embraced it even more when he left and said, ‘Let’s just open this thing up and use all our talented mates.’ Lyrically I’ll still be the driving force on the co-writes but it was more, just sonically and musically, trying to push songs to places my brain wouldn’t go to. That’s one thing that’s helped us evolve over the albums. We’ve learnt about ourselves. I know what I’m good at and what keeps us excited. That’s why we try to evolve and keeping the thing moving is key.

Being the main songwriter, have you ever felt under pressure to keep delivering the goods?

My biggest struggle was probably after we got dropped by Island Records after ‘The Long Way’. We were doing ‘Trust The Wire’ and it was the first time I had writer’s block. I was shook up after the disappointment of what happened with Island, living in London and signing a big record deal, hoping we were gonna be the next whatever and it didn’t take off. I came back and I’d start writing a song and be like, ‘That’s shit, that’s terrible.’ I wouldn’t sit with it. Whereas the key is to sit with your terrible ideas for a couple of hours until you get one little moment of magic and that leads you in a different direction. 

But I struggled with that album. I was taking all the burden on myself. Thankfully, with my back to the wall, at the 11th hour I wrote Give Me A Minute and We Couldn’t Fake It. If it wasn’t for those two songs that album would be shite. They are arguably two of my better songs. After that, when Dave was set to leave, I realised I didn’t want that to happen again where I was like, ‘We need an album in two months’ time and what have you got?’ I was with Cian yesterday writing for the next one. That’s something I’ve learnt is good for me. To have one eye on the next one.

Every successful band usually has fans who just want them to remake their early albums again and again ad infinitum. Yet the majority of your followers seem to have gone with you and accepted your progression.

A hundred per cent. And the trust they give us never ceases to amaze me. I’m always half expecting our new album to flop. Thankfully, touch wood, our last two have gone to number one here, have gotten radio play and people are coming to the shows. It’s really great. And listen, if god forbid a new album was a flop, we would have no qualms about being the band who sings the early stuff.

There’s nothing wrong with that at all. But for our own sake and enjoyment, it’s amazing to be able to continue and develop creatively. At the end of the day we’re a pop band but we have something to say and something to add. I’m proud of the fact we’ve continued to write our own music and when we go up on stage now and play something new and the whole crowd are singing, it’s just like, ‘That’s amazing, they’re still singing stuff back.’ It’s a really good spot to be in.

I did laugh when you said you should probably do a joint headline tour with The Vaccines. Has that interest in your name finally started receding now we’re moving out of the pandemic?

Yeah, I think so. It was just another weird fucking angle on an already bizarre and weird situation. It was funny because we wanted to make a joke and blag ourselves, and that’s why we put out tweets like that with The Vaccines and tweeted Corona beer like, ‘Hey guys, what’s your plan? Are you gonna rebrand?’ It was a perfect opportunity for a funny tweet but they didn’t get back to us. Anyway, it was one of those things where we wanted to make a joke but it was a serious thing as well.

I say to people now ‘worst named band in the world’ and they’re like ‘Oh yeah. Coronas.’ They almost forgot, whereas when it started I was getting messages off people going, ‘Have you seen this thing, man? Is that going to affect you? What are you gonna do?’ I was like ‘I dunno.’ But it was almost like the bigger coronavirus became it took on its own meaning and people stopped noticing. For the majority of interviews up until Covid, it was like, ‘So, are you named after the beer?’ And now, forevermore, there’s gonna be some conversation about the virus. It is what it is. It doesn’t bother us. Thankfully, touch wood, it didn’t seem to have a negative effect.

You’ve often said playing live is like a drug for you. What was the rush like when you returned to action following the extended, enforced hiatus?

Without trying to sound cheesy it was emotional. Coming back when we did and realising demand was still there for our shows was a complete relief. I always felt we never took it for granted. We always appreciated how lucky we were to do it as a career, but the pandemic just heightened that so much.

The Coronas’ ‘Time Stopped’ is out now on So Far So Good.

The Coronas Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun December 04 2022 - BELFAST Ulster Hall
Tue December 06 2022 - CORK Cork Opera House
Wed December 14 2022 - DUBLIN 3Olympia Theatre
Thu December 15 2022 - DUBLIN 3Olympia Theatre
Fri December 16 2022 - DUBLIN 3Olympia Theatre
Sat December 17 2022 - DUBLIN 3Olympia Theatre
Sun December 18 2022 - DUBLIN 3Olympia Theatre
Wed December 28 2022 - KILLARNEY Gleneagle INEC Arena

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