College boy with success in his sights

ONE OF the most popular home grown acts over recent years, there is a definite feeling that The Coronas are a band whose star is very definitely in the ascendancy.

This summer they will play the Marquee in Cork and tickets for their headline O2 concert look set to sell out.

In addition, their third album, Closer to You, has received considerable critical acclaim and lots of radio play.

More interestingly, perhaps, the band may just be on the cusp of a long-desired breakthrough in the UK and Europe and seem to have discovered a new appetite for the battle.

“I suppose at times we have become a little cynical when we watched other bands like Bell X1 or The Frames making that international breakthrough,” says guitarist Dave McPhillips. “We have always grafted from the bottom up, working the crowds and playing the college circuit, and in truth we haven’t always been media darlings. We used to occasionally have fun with interviewers by categorising our music as being on the cutting edge of moist rock and then express our considerable surprise that the interviewer in question hadn’t heard of this revolutionary category.”

Certainly the band seems to impress its audience rather than the critics, with a sound occasionally tagged as ‘indie heartthrob’ and which ranges between soft rock and catchy pop. Three of the current band members — Danny O’Reilly, Graham Knox and Conor Egan — met in Terenure College where they formed a band called Kiros with a friend. The band split and then reformed as Corona, later changing the name to The Coronas to avoid any confusion with the Italian dance outfit.

With the three original members the band released an EP which proved surprisingly popular with college students in particular and in 2006 they were joined by fellow Dubliner McPhillips. Their first full-length album entitled Heroes or Ghosts, which included their anthemic ‘San Diego Song’, was released in 2007, followed by Tony Was an Ex-Con in 2010. This album was nominated for four Meteor Awards and Won Best Irish Album against stiff opposition and cemented their huge popularity in Ireland.

So far so good, even though success outside their native country remained elusive. However, this may now be changing with the release of their third album Closer to You in Nov 2011. It was written in Dingle, but produced in LA by high profile producer Tony Hoffer, who has previously worked with Air, Beck and The Kooks. So what makes this album different from its predecessors?

“I think we are more confident and perhaps the experience of getting older brings more depth to the writing,” O’Reilly says. “This was also very much a collaborative effort and we were all pulling in the same direction. There were no arguments or real creative differences and it probably helped that Dave and I were competing on the lyrics and there wasn’t the same reliance on my song writing. We had previously approached Tony to work with us on our second album but he refused. The fact that he was now willing to work with us was a tremendous confidence boost and I do think we are better musicians at this stage in our career. On a personal level I am less dogmatic; in the past if I wrote a certain lyric I would tend to stick with it on the basis that it reflected how I was feeling when I wrote it. Now I am more inclined to rethink it and change it if it isn’t strong enough. One of the advantages of the loyal fan base we have developed is that they give us the benefit of the doubt and the space to try new things.”

Although the band are unpretentious, relaxed and affable in person, there is definitely a sense that they are more than ready for the next phase of their career, a certain coiled tension waiting to be released. Some of this new found impetus and energy is undoubtedly due to O’Reilly’s recent move to London.

“To some degree we wasted a year-and-a-half with Perfection Records — the management company we signed with in the US,” O’Reilly says. “They were very good to us, but they were waiting for a big record deal with a major label. We don’t feel that we are the type of band that looks for or gets overnight success. Now we are with an independent label in the UK, back at the base of the ladder again, but with some success in Ireland behind us. Of course potentially it is a much bigger ladder. We could have stayed in Ireland enjoying bigger gigs and lots of radio play and generally getting by. But moving to London has sharpened my focus and if we don’t give it a serious try now we may come to regret it in the future.”

Of course his move to London was prompted in part by his relationship with the very beautiful Laura Whitmore. Hailing from Bray, this journalist and former MTV presenter is probably best known at the moment for her role as a presenter on the spin off show from I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me out of Here. She also features in the video for ‘Mark my Words’ the new single from the album.

“I think Laura would be the first to admit that as yet she is a bigger deal in Ireland than she is in the UK,” O’Reilly says. “But I have learned a lot from watching the professional way she goes about making contacts and developing her career. The decision to use Laura in the video was not completely a commercial one; we were looking at models and we just realised Laura is great and looks great and why not just ask her to do it? I suppose one of the reasons for moving to London was to network and meet people and see how bands like the Script are able to harness their ambition.

“Certainly when I came here first I was intimidated by the size of the place and the vibe that actually no one gave a shit about me,” he notes ruefully. “As the egotistical lead singer of a band this took some getting used. Generally, if I am on a night out in Ireland and someone doesn’t come up and say hello I miss it. But coming to London really was the kick up the arse that I needed, it has pushed me out of my comfort zone and has really helped my writing.”

Of course as the son of Mary Black he has more experience than most of the vicissitudes of the music business. “In the early days I didn’t really broadcast who my mother was, but as we got some success in our own right I kind of relaxed about the whole subject,” he says. “Perhaps as you get older the relationship changes and you become friends with your parents. We were only 21 when we started out and we have grown up a lot since then. At 26 now, we have no mortgages or children and I think our writing is getting better all the time. I do believe that we have an album in us that will really turn heads next time ‘round. We don’t want to lose our Irish fan base, but it is time for us to just go for broke and hopefully we will bring them along on the ride with us.”

The Coronas play the Marquee in Cork on Jun 5 and play the O2 Dublin, Dec 14


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