After an extended layoff due to nodules on Danny O’Donoghue’s vocal chords, the trio are back with a new album and tour, writes Ed Power.
On stage in Dublin recently, The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue looked like he was holding back tears. “It’s great to be home,” he told the audience. Rock stars spout this sort of guff all the time. O’Donoghue, though, appeared genuinely overcome.
It’s just over two years since the Dublin chart-toppers headlined Croke Park. Playing to 80,000 fans, with millions more watching via a live webcast, should have been the highlight of their careers. Instead, it plunged the three friends into the biggest crisis in their decade as a band. Once you’ve scaled Everest, what do you do for an encore?
“It was like slaying a giant,” says the group’s Glen Power, over coffee in a city centre hotel the morning after The Script’s sellout performance at The National Stadium — a gig that doubled as curtain raiser for the release in September of fifth album, Freedom Child. “I remember we did a gig a few days later, in Finland, I think. And there was a real slump.”
Singer O’Donoghue, drummer Power and guitarist Mark Sheehan had never had a serious falling out up to that point. But they suddenly found themselves disagreeing furiously. Eight years on the road was taking its toll.
“We definitely went at it,” says Power. “Doors had to be closed so that people couldn’t hear. There were moments like that. But none of it made it onto the stage. Afterwards one of us would make a cup of tea and it would be all out of our system. “
As the tour finally wound down, they recognised they needed a real break — their longest yet. The initial plan was to take a year off. Then O’Donoghue was diagnosed with nodules on his vocal chords. He had undergo surgery twice and was unable to speak for two months. The twelve-month break became 24.
“It was huge to take away my main form of communication. At the start it was more difficult then it turned into more of a spiritual thing,” O’Donoghue said last month.
“It was more of a head mess because you don’t know if you’re able to sing, you the first thing to do is be able to talk because if you can talk then you can probably sing but you’re not allowed to and even straight away I could [only] speak for five minutes every hour for the first two weeks.”
“We had never taken any time off before that,” says Power. “We were afraid that if we didn’t keep going it would all be taken away from us. But that extra year stood to us, I think. It gave us the appetite to get back into it.”
That The Script have been through a long dark night of the soul is in no way obvious from the new album. If any thing, Freedom Child, is their most ambitious and anthemic yet.
“With the way music has gone now with Spotify you really have to stand out,” says Power. “Things are very competitive. We’ve always written pop songs with an element of guitar. That’s what were about. Some bands complain about selling out. We want to reach as many people as possible.
“When I was studying drumming, my tutor said ‘do you want to be a jazz drummer and play to 80 people or do you want to play to a huge audience’. I’ve always wanted to communicate with the biggest possible audience.”
Endless touring can ring a death knell for creativity, he acknowledges. How can you connect with fans if your days are spent dashing between soundcheck, stage and tour-bus? For that reason going back to normality, was hugely inspirational.
“Don’t get me wrong — I love being in a band. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. There is an element of sacrifice with that. It was great to be able to go back and re-solidify your life. We should have stopped a long time before we did. It is important to sleep in your own bed, to see your family. You need to “fill the pot” so that you have something to write about that is personal to you.”
O’Donoghue and Sheehan first worked together in the Nineties when their group Mytown was signed at the tail-end of the boyband boom. After their debut single flopped, their record label scrapped plans for an album. They were still teenagers.
“The pressure was enormous,” Sheehan said a few years ago. “I remember going through Dublin airport and seeing a rolling news ticker and it had something about an Irish boy band singing a record breaking deal. And I was like ‘oh man, we’re really setting ourselves up here’. What I’ve learned out of that whole experience was to take nothing for granted and to always keep your business head on. We’re in this because we love music but you’ve have to have an awareness of the commercial side of things as well.”
Some people would have given up. O’Donoghue and Sheehan licked their wounds and started over. Having recruited Power as drummer, they went to the United States and struck up a friendship with super-producer Pharrell Williams. Hanging around his studio, they gained invaluable technical experience — but had to move back home after their meagre savings ran out.
Their new digs were a shed near St James’s Street in Dublin, where O’Donoghue and Sheehan grew up. There, they wrote the bulk of their 2008 debut album as The Script. A deal with Sony Records followed. Within three years they were playing to 50,000 people at the Aviva Stadium.
I’ve met The Script on several occasions and they’ve always been extremely grounded. They’ve had to endure their share of criticism — the chief complaint being that their music is frothy and emotionally vacuous — but they’ve never tried to please the naysayers (a fatal error committed by too many bands). Along the way they’ve become arguably the second biggest Irish group after U2. It’s a comparison with which they are comfortable, at a certain level.
“They were always people we looked up to,” says Power. “They carry themselves so well. They’re ambassadors, never in the press for the wrong reasons. All their crew have been with them for years. We try to be like that. They’re nice guys and we work hard at being that way too.”
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