Declan O’Rourke talks music, philosophy and songs he hates

Declan O’Rourke hails from Dublin, Ireland.

He’s been performing for well over a decade, and he’s not slowed down since he began; he’s set to release a new album, “In Full Color,” on Oct. 28, featuring brand new songs and fresh recordings of old classics, all backed by a full orchestra. This will be his fifth studio album. His work has reached great acclaim both at home and abroad – his song “Galileo (Someone Like You),” has been lauded by musical luminary Paul Weller as the greatest song written in the past 30 years, and has been recorded and rerecorded by other musicians as diverse as Eddi Reader, Jacqui Dankworth, and Josh Groban.

We caught up with him on a sunny Irish afternoon (here, of course, it was an overcast and absurdly humid morning, but so it goes) to talk about audiences, ego annihilation and why he won’t do weddings.

E: You released your first album in 2004, over a decade ago. What on earth keeps you going, keeps you performing?
D: Really, I just love what I do, and I was loving it for a long time before that even. I guess the craft of what I do is what pushes me. If I was dependent on world domination, I would’ve given up a long time ago. It’s a great lifestyle, it’s a great hobby – I’m very lucky to do as well as I do independently. I pinch myself most days.

E: Do you find that rerecording classics, as you did for much of your upcoming album “In Full Color,” gives you a new perspective on the songs?
D: Yeah, yeah, it definitely… I mean, some of these songs have just been stalwart companions and they’ve traveled with me throughout my professional career, and I never get tired of singing ‘em. But it’s interesting to see how they evolve and kind of go with you for different ways of performing ‘em, like with the orchestra. They’re kind of maturing with me as I get a little older, certainly the better ones… have a life of their own, almost independent of you, you know?

E: So is there a song that you just internally wince at doing, where you’re thinking, “yikes, why’d I write that?”
D: There’s the odd one that people may request from time to time and you’re like, “oh, my god, why do you even want to hear that one?” I don’t have many of those, though, thankfully. I find that if they don’t hit the mark, they fall away quite quickly. It’s almost like if you meet someone, and you get on well, you become friends, but if you don’t… you forget about them.

E: You often tour across Ireland and the UK, and you’re performing at Tellus360 here in Lancaster soon. Do you find crowds any different from place to place?
D: I would say every crowd is the same, kind of. I guess I’d like to do the same thing for them and get the same reaction. It’s the simple process of trying to push people’s buttons and make them feel something or think something. Generally, people are quite receptive to something that’s going to be hopefully moving for them. It’s not exactly a science, but it’s – playing to the humanity in them, in people. There are quirks in certain cultures. You can play in Germany and people appear to be extremely quiet during a show, and you might almost think they’re not enjoying it, but time and time again you’re proven wrong. They’re being quiet because they’re listening. But it can be disconcerting at times. But that’s an inner dialogue that I’ve learned to fight past, it’s just part of unwanted ego.

E: Do you find that you’re present on stage, or do you kind of go into that performative space with the audience?
D: I guess while you’re working on the other things, you kind of forget. All of a sudden you get to the end of the song and you’re like, “whoa, I’m back now.” Something somebody taught me along the way may in part have something to do with that. When I was a younger performer, there was an older guy who said to me after a concert one night, “Hey. I can see that you’re thinking too much about hitting certain notes when you’re singing, and I saw you before when you were not well-known, and now it seems like you’re trying too hard. Just open your mouth and let it out! Stop trying to control what comes out, just let it come out!” It really stayed with me, and it became a useful tool and I developed it to the point that, if I’m tense because I’m watching my tuning with the voice or something, I switch my focus from being somebody behind the voice to almost being in the air in front of my mouth, or just listening instead of trying to control it. It instantly kind of frees you, and you forget what you’re doing. You become a passenger.

E: That’s incredible. Do you find that this kind of ego annihilation –
D: You know, I only heard that term recently and someone asked, “is that what you’re doing?” And I said, “well, I hope so, that sounds lovely.” I keep meaning to look it up, so, thank you for reminding me. There’s so many instances where there’s a part of you – I’ve heard it described as the inner censor – and it keeps telling you, oh that sounds like somebody else, oh that’s not good enough. Learning to ignore that and to just do what you’re doing in spite of it is something that I’ve worked on for a long time, and, you know, time and time again you forget and have to reteach yourself how to do it.

E: Switching topics completely inorganically to something utterly different, but – do you have a favorite venue, or type of venue, to play?
D: I do like the smaller ones and I’m always careful of saying that because I hope it’s not something that keeps me in smaller venues. I like audiences up to a certain size where you can feel that connection more and see the whites of people’s eyes. Saying that, it’s really nice to play even in a small space where you can’t see the people, you’re almost a little bit freer. Once an audience goes beyond a certain size they start to feel more distant.

E: If you had to pick a song of yours that’s less well-known, and have folks listen to it, what would you pick and why? I know that’s asking you to choose between all these hundreds of beautiful creative works.
D: [laughter] Well, my favorite of mine is a song called “We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea.” But I’m not a hundred percent sure that what’s on the record is what I’m talking about. When I play it every night, I go, “that’s my favorite, that’s my favorite.”

E: So playing it is transformative?
D: I think so, yeah. I hope I’m not shooting myself in the foot here, but personally, I’m not sure I’ve ever put on record what happens live. A record is an approximation of that. Like, my records have done me very well, they’ve done me very proud and I’m very proud of them, but when I hear it live, that’s what I want, I think, “I want that on the record.”

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Ed Hirtzel is the Summer 2016 Fly intern. She’s currently an English Honors student at Millersville University. Her hobbies include scribbling, writing both fiction and nonfiction, and compiling useless information about cryptids.

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