Let’s hear it for the freshly minted independent artist, the ones that have shaken hands with the devil that is the corporate music industry, and then decide to go it alone. Declan O’Rourke is one such independent artist.
“Maybe I knew what I wanted too much. I’ve learned from experience that there are certain things that are very valuable about having a record company. But I felt it was time to start owning my own music. I don’t own my first record (Since Kyabram, 2005), and have very little control over that and the second record (Big Bad Beautiful World, 2008) in how they get into the shops, how they’re packaged, presented, and so on.”
Needing control over his artistry, his own work, was of primary concern to Declan, and this assertive characteristic permeates throughout his music.
His début, Since Kyabram, proved to be a perfect calling card for a struggling songwriter who had been feverishly plugging his wares since early 2000.
His follow-up album, Big Bad Beautiful World, easily consolidated his appeal in Ireland, but his sense of independence inevitably conflicted with music industry norms, and eventually the singer-songwriter was out on his own again.
Following a couple of years shaping a new batch of songs, Declan returned in April with his third studio album, Mag Pai Zai. Not only is the record yet another intriguing stage in his creative life, it is also a collection of his best songs to date.
“If it weren’t my own record,” he reasons, “I’d say it blows the other two albums out of the water. The second album was a huge learning curve. I listened to it recently, almost by accident, and I kinda liked it. But I feel as if I wandered off the path with it. Whatever the reasons, I found it difficult getting up on stage, with just a guitar, and holding onto an audience’s attention.
“I went for more of a band-oriented sound on the second album, more robust music. I was having fun, for sure, but the songs definitely weren’t built as solidly as they were on the first album, and as they are on the new one.”
From Since Kyabram to Mag Pai Zai, Declan has matured as a songwriter in ways he would never have thought possible. While it must be good for the creative ego to know that singers of the calibre of Eddi Reader and Josh Groban have covered his songs, it’s a salutary lesson, surely, to realise that what had been considered the correct way to do things was, in fact, wrong.
That Declan O’Rourke is in a new, different and more elevated place as a songwriter is proven by the sheer quality of the material on Mag Pai Zai.
From the deceptively simple opening song, ‘Slieve Bloom’ and the heart-wrenching tale found within ‘Langley’s Requiem’ to the life affirming ‘Be Brave And Believe’ and the tear-inducing poignancy of the closing track, ‘The Hardest Fight’, he has fortified his talent with a firm mixture of intuitive lyrics and pure melodies.
The album, which was mixed at New York’s world famous Platinum Sound Recording Studios, features contributions from violinist Steve Wickham (who worked with Declan on Since Kyabram) and internationally renowned arranger Fiachra Trench (who collaborated with Declan on the orchestral arrangement of ‘The Hardest Fight’). Allied to all of these plus points, though, is the manner (and, indeed, the times) in which the album was created.
Declan O’Rourke with live band comes to Backstage Theatre, Longford as part of his nationwide tour tonight Wed 1st at 8:30pm. Tickets €20 available in 043 33 47888, from Farrell & Coy or online on www.backstage.ie