Declan O’Rourke hits a happy note at last

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

DECLAN O’Rourke is a happy man. The usually reserved, often cagey, Dubliner has been released from the shackles of corporate music industry hell, and is celebrating the release of his first ever independent album, Mag Pai Zai.

DECLAN O’Rourke is a happy man. The usually reserved, often cagey, Dubliner has been released from the shackles of corporate music industry hell, and is celebrating the release of his first ever independent album, Mag Pai Zai.

A gorgeous album that bears string arrangements by Fiacra Trench - who scored Nothing Compares 2U and who has worked with Paul McCartney, an appearance by the Irish Film Orchestra, and the first ever co-written song with his brother, Declan overcame a period of immense frustration to release possibly his finest album to date, the album he was born to make.

Following an intense period of writer’s block, O’Rourke wrote the songs for Mag Pai Zai in a rush in late 2009, he tells the Limerick Leader.

“I did indeed. It wasn’t very different (to my usual process), but I was a bit more free with myself, a bit more open to ideas that I would have been a bit dismissive of before,” he explains. “It was a very liberating experience and it was quite a truthful experiment and I am delighted with the results,” he adds.

The songs were borne out of a period of intense frustration for the singer songwriter - a flirtation with the mainstream record industry has left him in a situation where he doesn’t own 2005 debut Since Kyabram, and has “very little control over that and the second record”, Big Bad Beautiful World, released in 2008.

Put simply, he wanted control back.

“That is right, that was the whole idea - I wanted control over where my music was available and how much it cost, rather than it not being available at all and somebody saying to me, I can’t get your record and not having an answer for them,” he says passionately.

“I didn’t want to be caught in that situation again. But I think it is the age of independent music anyway - the current climate in the world lends itself very well to people being a bit more organic about things, certainly the people I worked with on this record were a lot more opening to contributing for less dangerous reasons like money. It made the whole experience much more friendly and the people that I worked with made it magical and the memory of it will stick with me for a long time,” he says.

Since writing Mag Pai Zai, O’Rourke has been overcome by a flourish of creativity, and says he already has enough material for two follow-up albums. It was all about changing his process, he explains.

“I think I was over analysing what I was doing before - I think I thought I knew what I was doing too much!” he laughs. “Do you know what I mean? They say you can’t teach a man what he thinks he already knows, so I had to unlearn stuff, which was interesting - and that is what paid off. Taking the fact that I was brave enough to do that, paid off.”

The album is more mature, less bombastic, a tad more introspective than his previous work, which has been covered by Eddi Reader and Josh Groban, and admired by Paul Weller.

“There are songs in different veins, some love songs, songs about growing - I think in your early 30s you start to re-evaluate a lot of things in your life, so there was a bit of that and some kind of healing, life changing stuff,” he says.

“I think I knew a little bit more about what I was doing production-wise - I always produce my own stuff, so third time round I think it formed a little better. I am very proud of all of the songs, and I think it is a good consistent bunch of songs,” he adds.

You can’t mistake the note of happiness and pride in his voice as he talks candidly about the album and the impending five-week national tour to celebrate its release, accompanied on most of the dates by a full band.

“It is fairly substantial, five weeks around the country, so it is going to be great - we will all love each other or hate each other by the end of it,” he laughs.

“I have probably never done one that extensive around Ireland, so it is very exciting. We are playing a lot of lovely venues - I know them all and am familiar with the terrain, they are tried and tested and really good places to play.”

O’Rourke speaks glowingly about Dolan’s Warehouse, which will be a “highlight”, he says.

“I can’t wait to play there, I’ve been telling the boys about it. The Warehouse is one of my very favourite places to play in the country, a combination of good vibes, a great atmosphere and being looked after the minute you walk in the door.”

He will be welcomed with open arms having always been popular in these parts, and his army of fans will be pleased to note that trademark grin has returned to his face.

“Yeah, and I hope people take that from it when they listen to the music, take some of that positivity, we all need it,” he laughs.

Declan O’Rourke plays Dolan’s Warehouse on Friday, May 27. Mag Pai Zai is available now.