Internationally acclaimed singer songwriter Declan O’Rourke has confirmed an Olympia Theatre show on 4th December. Following a couple of years shaping a new batch of songs, Declan returned in April with his third studio album, Mag Pai Zai. Demand was such for his Irish Tour in May & June that he simply had to announce this Olympia Theatre date for his fans. Tickets are on sale now.
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 debut, 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.
“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.”
The songs on Mag Pai Zai came in a flourish following a bout of writer’s block, after an average of one song per month for about ten years, Declan didn’t write anything for almost 18 months. There were various causes for the interruption in creativity, but the primary one, he says, was the over-analysing of his songwriting process.
“It got to the point where I was censoring myself, or editing my ideas too quickly. I was too ready to say that this song wasn't going to work, or that song sounded too much like someone else. It got so bad that I ended up in a place where I wasn't writing anything at all.”
It took a while for Declan to climb his way out of that temporary but aggravating situation, but when he did he says he felt completely liberated. “I wrote more songs in 2009 than I ever did in any other year,” he beams. “Practically all the songs on Mag Pai Zai came from that burst of songwriting.”
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.
“Up to a certain point,” he reflects, “probably up to the second record and the aftermath of it, I felt I knew what I was doing. I had a system for songwriting and was pretty sure I knew the process. But when that stopped, I felt I had to tear up the rulebook. Perhaps I was scrutinising it too much… So I had to unlearn, throw away what I thought I knew, and admit to myself that I didn’t know how to do it. I just had to allow ideas through and see where they took me.”
Declan O’Rourke plays The Olympia Theatre on 4th December. Tickets from €23 including booking fee go on sale on Friday 1st July.