Despite the fact that they share a name with the virus casting a dark shadow over 2020, the Ireland-based pop-rock band The Coronas are having quite a year. After 12 years of playing together, they are putting out their sixth studio album True Love Waits on July 31 via So Far So Good Records/ Blix Street Records.
A glossy, no-frills record, True Love Waits captures the power-pop essence of the band’s songwriting sensibilities. Originally a four-piece group, guitarist Dave McPhillips departed from the band right before they went into the studio for this record. In response, the remaining trio sought to revamp their sound and their energy, bringing in friends and guests to fill out the record sonically and to breathe life into it. As a result, True Love Waits captures a new side of The Coronas.
Currently, the band is finally rehearsing together again after being separated for several months. Last week after one of their rehearsals, American Songwriter caught up with frontman Danny O’Reilly to discuss the band’s new sound as well as the long journey it took to get this record from conception to release. Traditionally viewed as a “live band” first and foremost, O’Reilly has been focusing-in on the meaning and role of music in his life amidst this global pandemic that his band shares a name with.
When did you start working on this record? What inspired it?
We had four songs by around February last year. We decided to go to a studio in Los Angeles with an amazing producer named Rob Kirwan, who worked with U2 and PJ Harvey and Hozier’s two albums. He produced four tracks for us and we released one of those songs. But, then we came back and our guitar player told us that he had been thinking about it for a while and that he wanted to move on. He wasn’t really enjoying it anymore, he wanted to take a break from the band. So, that changed things and shook up what we were going to do. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise in a way. Not because Dave left, but because it gave us a new vigor, a new sense of direction. We knew that it was going to sound different without Dave anyway, so we decided to embrace that. We ended up going in a new direction for the album. So, only two of the four songs we recorded in Los Angeles ended up on the record. We wrote and recorded the rest of the album in a couple of months after last summer. We’re really happy, we’re really proud of it.
After Dave left, we changed our recording technique. Instead of making the band smaller with his departure, we made it bigger. We invited a lot of our friends to collaborate with us. I wrote with a lot of different people. We had several guest guitar players. We have friends doing stuff like singing backing vocals and playing trumpets and stuff like that. It was a really fun process, we enjoyed it a lot.
We were all set to release it and go on a world tour when this thing happened. Then you add on the additional weirdness of the virus name being almost the same as our band name, that’s a whole different level of strangeness. But, we’re getting on with it. It’s a strange time for everyone, but we’re really proud of this album and we wanted to put it out there. Our audience was still engaging with us and it seemed like folks were hungry for new music, so we said ‘you know what? This album is ready to go, let’s just release it.’ If gigs don’t come back, we’ll just start working on the next album. It felt like the right thing to do.
So, this record has gone on quite a journey over the past year and a half — how has your relationship with it changed in that time?
I think it’s been strange for sure, especially since it’s been finished for a while. We were all set to release it and go on a world tour right when the pandemic hit. In a way, I do look at the songs differently… I think I look at everything differently. Music, movies, whatever, there’s a new perspective now. There’s an unnerving, self-questioning attitude to everything now. So, that makes you listen to the music differently. People have been saying that some of the songs sound like they were written in quarantine, they’re about isolation and stuff. But, we wrote them all last year. Songs sound different depending on what’s going on in your life and what mood you’re in.
In a way, the experience has reaffirmed the songs’ meanings. Especially since it got delayed… we were a bit unsure how long we’d be waiting around. It definitely means more to us now coming back every day and promoting it. Especially considering how much I’m enjoying the promotion and the rehearsals. There’s definitely a newfound happiness to be releasing music, for sure.
What has it been like to reunite with the band after the past several months apart?
It’s actually surprisingly cool. I used to not really look forward to rehearsals — they always felt like pre-season training before the season actually starts. I didn’t dread them or anything, but it was definitely something I took for granted. So, getting back at it this week and seeing the guys felt good. We’ve been together for 12 years and this break has been the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other. It’s strange to think about. So, it was really good to see them and it was really good to play music again. We’re working up versions of the new songs. It’s cool to feel like we’re “back to work,” even though mass-gatherings seem like they’re still far away, even here where the numbers are doing pretty well.
Does it feel different than it did before?
Well, straight away we went into the studio and everybody was wearing masks and there were constant efforts to make sure that we were all social distancing, so in that way it was interesting. But, once we got into the room we were able to rehearse as normal. Even though we were a little rough — don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that we sounded great straight away — it was definitely like “oh wow, this is fun.” It’s nice to be able to walk around while playing guitar, even if it’s just because it allows me to pretend that I’m on stage. It was great to dance a little bit. It felt fresh, but it also felt like we were just picking up where we left off. I guess that’s the thing about this lockdown; everyone’s just gone on pause, as opposed to missing things entirely. We decided to release the album at the end of July regardless of what happens, so we’re making the most of it. We’re playing on.
Do you feel that the experience of releasing this record amidst the pandemic has brought your relationship with music into sharp focus?
I think so, yeah. In the past couple of years, I’ve personally made an effort to acknowledge how much I love this and how lucky I am to call this my job. So, I wouldn’t say that I’m an ungrateful person or that I took it for granted. Especially if you look at my lyrics from the past couple of years — I’m really trying to live in the present and enjoy the journey. But, I have that feeling even more so now. I’m grateful for everything that’s happened to us so far, I’m grateful for this job. I hope that doesn’t change, I hope we don’t have to look into doing other things.
That is a concern. We don’t know when mass-gatherings are going to come back. Over here, it doesn’t look like anything is going to happen this year. We’re hoping that we can ride it out and get back to it next year. But, the thing about it is: live performances is the thing I enjoy most about being in a band. Anything else just supports that — even albums. I love recording, I love making our music, I love albums, but I’m not the kind of person that sees them as a piece of art while touring is meant to promote it. It’s more that I want to release music because I love being in a live band. Releasing new music supports our live show more than the other way around. Playing live is something that you cannot compare anything to. Hearing a crowd sing your words back to you is an amazing sensation that you just can’t describe. I think that’s why the live music industry has thrived in the past few years despite the fact that the recording industry has been turned upside down due to streaming. If anything, there’s a bigger demand. There’re more people going to concerts than ever. I think we’re going to be really, really grateful when live music comes back.
So, the elephant in the room is that the name of your band is The Coronas — what has it been like to share a name with the virus?
It’s such a strange thing. Initially, the dynamic was different. Early on we got a few WhatsApp messages from fans and friends joking about it, but we couldn’t joke about it because it was such a heavy, scary thing. But, now I think that everyone is aware of what’s going on in the world, so we can poke a little fun at the similar names. It really just puts an extra level of weirdness on the whole situation. We’ve been called The Coronas for 12 years, so when people asked if we were going to change our name we were like ‘well, we already have five albums out, so I don’t think so.’ It’s one of those things. Someone told me that our Spotify numbers are higher than ever, so who knows, maybe it’s helping in a way. If it gets our music to just a few more people, then I don’t care. It’s just a name.
The first thing we did when the pandemic hit was tweet at Corona beer asking “well, what’s your plan?” They didn’t respond, but I think our followers got a kick out of it.
Listen to “Light Me Up” by The Coronas below: