Their do-it-yourself approach has won many fans and helped Delorentos win the coveted Choice Music Prize. Now with a major label on board they tell Ed Power about exciting times ahead.
The story of how Delorentos became one of Ireland’s biggest bands is full of heartbreak, quirks of fate and unlikely coincidences. Above all, it is a story of survival and brotherhood, of how four Dublin friends stared failure in the eye and refused to give up.
With a new album en route, there are a few chapters yet to tell but already Delorentos have done enough to make you want to root for them as they set out to emulate Kodaline and Hozier and conquer the world on their own terms.
If you’ve heard of the band, it is probably via their 2013 single ‘Petardu’. One of the quieter moments on their third album, Little Sparks, Delorentos hadn’t expected the track to create a fuss. ‘Petardu’ was understated and, frankly, rather downbeat; hardly a song to set the airwaves alight.
Two things conspired to change this. Firstly ‘Petardu’ featured on a TV ad for AIB, accompanying footage of central Dublin as seen from a commuter train slouching into Connolly Station. The commercial was strange, haunting: not what you expected to come across on your sofa waiting for the second half of Fair City.
Around the same time, details emerged of the circumstances that inspired the tune, written by singer and guitarist Kieran McGuinness. “I’m adopted,” he says. “That song was about trying to find out who my birth parents were. It took a lot of effort to get right. It’s the only song I’ve ever written about the subject. I thought, ‘well if I’m going to put it all in there, I have to do it properly’. The night I finished, I played it to my wife and she cried.”
He pauses, as if hesitant on how much personal detail he wishes to share. “That wasn’t a song I could have written as a younger man. You have to have lived a little. With the support of my wife and the lads in the band, I tried to contact my birth parents. The first time they, along with my half brothers and sisters, saw me, I was on the Late Late Show – performing ‘Petardu’. I was so nervous. Beforehand, I literally couldn’t get a word out.”
A rolling mix of hope and heartache, ‘Petardu’ spoke to people (the title, incidentally, is from graffiti McGuinness saw on an underpass in Spain – the word petardu struck him as odd and poignant). Among those wooed was British director Richard Curtis, who put ‘Petardu’ on the soundtrack to his 2013 rom-com About Time.
Their momentum was fueled further as, several weeks after the movie was released, Delorentos won the Choice Music Prize for Little Sparks. Somewhat insider-y, the award, for best Irish album of the year, doesn’t always translate into wider publicity. In Delorentos’ case it added to a buzz that was already building.
Around this time Kodaline, purveyors of a similarly emotive brand of rock, were garnering attention internationally. Though Delorentos, weren’t quite so accomplished at pouting moodily in their photoshoots, their songs were arguably deeper, more nuanced. In Dublin music industry circles, people started to ask: could the band, scrappy outsiders through their decade-long history, transition to the mainstream?
If so, it would be a remarkable reversal. In 2009, Delorentos had actually broken up – scarred by a record deal turned sour and a sense of ever decreasing circles. “The album we recorded in that period was the sound of a band coming apart,” says guitarist Rónán Yourell. “You’re not aware of it in the moment. You listen back and it’s so obvious. It was a difficult period of us.”
Luckily they never got around to calling it quits. A ‘farewell’ tour promoting their second LP, You Can Make Sound, was a hit with critics and drew large audiences. Maybe the band had a future after all. Within a few months, they were back in the studio, putting together Little Sparks and, with it, ‘Petardu’.
“We knew we would get some shit over [continuing on],” McGuinness told me when we spoke about the break-up-that- never-was several years ago. “We knew people would say ‘you can’t tell everyone you are going to break up and go back on it’. At the end of the day, we said we would try and hammer it out. We agreed on a couple of rules: that we were gonna be there for each other; we were just doing it for the music and we weren’t going to worry about the future.”
Then, out of the blue, something remarkable happened: without really trying they achieved what the majority of Irish groups find impossible and began winning audiences abroad.
Not in the UK , the fad-obsessed rock upon which so many hopefuls from this country perish (overflowing with unsuccessful musicians, Britain has no need for reinforcements from Ireland). Looking further afield, Delorentos instead broke through in Germany, Russia, and, especially, Spain.
This changed everything. Although in the throes of a recession, at least as severe as Ireland’s, Spain is nonetheless a major music market (ranked tenth globally). For the first time in their career, Delorentos began to sell serious numbers of records. They were also booked for major festival slots, appearing shoulder to shoulder with groups such as The Kaiser Chiefs and Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Spanish equivalents of Oxegen and Electric Picnic. In Madrid and Barcelona, fans would stop them in the street, asking for photographs, telling Delorentos how much their music meant. They still loved Ireland but this, they realized, was what a real career felt like. The taste of success was sweet indeed.
Two years later, they are about to release their fourth album, Night Becomes Light, with the backing of Universal Records, the world’s largest label (you may have heard of some of their acts: U2, Lady Gaga, Eminem). The track record of Irish artists and majors working together is, admittedly, not happy: typically a debut LP is assembled at considerable expense, sales fall short of expectations and the love affair is off.
With Delorentos, though, there are grounds for believing the outcome might be different. For starters, the band are not wet behind the ears. They self-financed Night Becomes Light , agreeing to work with Universal only after the LP was completed. Moreover, they have an established audience – on their last tour they packed Dublin’s mid-tier Academy and it is reasonable to expect that, on this cycle, they can step up to 1,000 plus rooms such as The Olympia in Dublin and Cork Opera House.
In a way, Universal needs Delorentos as much as Delorentos need Universal. The band have their homegrown fanbase and their growing international following. What Universal lacks is an Irish group that can challenge Kodaline and The Script (signed to rivals Sony). The deal makes sense.
“We can concentrate on the music and not the business aspects, which was the case when we were an independent act,” says Yourell. “We used to have to think about press releases, photographs we should put in our media pack … all of that. We are so familiar with that side of things that having someone else come in and help … it exceeded our expectations. Our schedule for the next two years is already planned out – it’s crazy. I’ve seen it … tours, festivals, the lot. We’re very, very excited.”
Night Becomes Light is out now. The band plays Cyprus Avenue, Cork October 24.
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