Danny O’Donoghue

Growing up, I was really fortunate to be raised in a house-hold where music was vitally important. My parents loved Bob Marley, OMD, Bronksi Beat, UB40, Erasure, Michael Jackson and of course, Joe Dolan. It was an eclectic mix!

Today, when you walk through my house, at any one time there could be five or six songs ebbing from the different rooms. It’ll be 30 Seconds to Mars from my brother Chris’ room, Ed Sheeran from wherever Natasha is working, Charlie XCX will be pouring out from Niamh’s space and Chloe will be singing Phantom of the Opera or listening to Taylor Swift.

Me? I’m probably in the kitchen attempting to lip-sync to Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’.

Danny O'DonoghueMy point is, music is intrinsic to all of us, it soothes us, is a vehicle by which we convey our emotions and is a powerful tool which invokes memories.

I assumed that this feeling evaporates when music is not only your passion but your profession. Surely musicians get sick of singing the same song, every night, in a different city?!

Last week, The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue convinced me otherwise. Danny was painfully honest and couldn’t vocalise enough how still after 20 million albums, he’s just some ‘fella’ from James’ Street in Dublin.

How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

Describe myself? Em, fun-loving – I like a good laugh. I’m emotional; I tend to feel things more than your regular ‘dude’ on the street and honest. I guess music is also a great word to describe me because it’s got highs and lows, it has tragedies and triumphs, it’s got a certain melody to it and perhaps maybe melancholic too. Unsurprisingly, I love a good melancholic melody!

‘No Sound Without Silence’ is the fourth album and whilst I’m not a musician, I imagine that after every album you learn a huge amount from the process and the audience’s reaction to the record but what have you taken from ‘The Script’, ‘3’ and ‘Science and Faith’ to make this fourth album?

I think I learned that the deeper you dig, the more gold you find which I think is also true of perhaps the more superficial songs. If you can imagine a song that you think ‘oh this will really work on the radio’, you create a melody and a lyric around this idea but you soon release that as a song, it doesn’t have any heart or true emotion in it.

What I have learned is that when listening back to our previous albums, the songs which I gravitate towards are the ones that I was the most honest on. By that, I don’t mean ‘oh I’m sad today’, but the themes and things that people don’t want to talk about; the passing of a parent and the times when you are painfully heartbroken. Within the band, Mark and I are the primary lyricists and we construct versus from difficult and brilliant experiences that we both have had. Also, when singing the songs live, there are particular lyrics that really hit you in the gut, the audience may not be aware of its meaning but you can’t help but recall that moment in your head, even when you’re on stage. So yeah, to answer your question – I think the most prominent thing which we have learned as a band is to be more open and honest as each album progresses.

For me, that’s the definition of music as an art, it’s being able to illustrate an emotion or a feeling that others can’t dictate in music but can relate to and experience.

In relation to honesty, is there ever a moment where you feel that you’re being too open in such a public forum like music?

The Script often gets caught in the division between critics and the people who listen to our music solely for enjoyment. Critics don’t like the fact that we are as honest as we are – that we wear our hearts on our sleeves. However, audiences love us for it. Unfortunately though, I think the critics mistake us for a band that gives a shit about all of that ‘stuff’, which really is to their detriment. Our aim with our music is to attempt to understand the human condition and by that, I don’t mean every single human being but me personally and interestingly, the most important lessons that I have learned about myself, appears to be what unifies the audiences that we play to.

You mentioned there that critics have a perception of what music should be. Is that something that needs to be amended or is it healthy for the industry?

No, I don’t think it’s a problem that needs to be fixed but perhaps it’s a change that needs to happen within the individual themselves. I don’t really understand this notion of a totalitarian society where one person’s opinion matters to everybody. I think it would be better if instead these people suggested something because I think to be so definite about something, particularly with a negative viewpoint, could be a hindrance. However, I do see a huge change within the industry – particularly within the past two years – if you go to iTunes or YouTube, beneath the song you could have five thousand people offering their comments and thoughts on the product. To a certain extent, everyone is a reviewer – the monopoly no longer exists or at least will cease to exist very soon.

After four albums, I can only assume that the answer is no but did that constant critical commentary impact upon the band in any way?

Fortunately, it didn’t. From the very beginning, we refused to allow what people said about us, stop us from achieving our goals. However, for upcoming bands I think it can be really damning for them. To have someone listen to your CD, when they’re having a bad day – they give your album a shit review just because they weren’t feeling it at the time or for an EP to come across someone’s desk and for them to destroy another’s livelihood just because they needed column inches filled, I think that’s wrong. I guess that’s why I got involved with The Voice in the UK; I was so sick of seeing television programmes like X Factor berate people for what they loved to do – even if they did it badly. Who gives a shit? Humiliating people on national television for your own personal gain is disgusting.

We’ll come back to The Voice a little later and perhaps we should leave the critics alone, for just a second, but you recorded ‘No Sound Without Silence’ on a bus whilst touring the US with One Republic and Train. Did their constant presence influence the sound of the new album in any way?

We’ve known One Republic and Train for a long time – I love both of their styles of song writing. I mean, ‘Drops of Jupiter’ is perhaps one of the best pop songs in the past ten to fifteen years! Also, Ryan Tedder is incredibly talented and is almost a contemporary Rick Ruben; he’s so in-demand to collaborate with artists. Spending so much time with them, it’s hard not to be influenced by them but I think we emulated more of their ethos rather than their sound.

One Republic are an extremely hard working band, they got their break through consistently gigging at the smallest of venues – Train too. I think the differences in musicality between the three of us is evident but we’re each very similar in our ideology of being in a ‘band’ which is simply that your sole concentration is the music and if people find that boring because we’re not falling out of nightclubs, doing drugs or wearing dresses made of meat, that’s their problem not ours.

You do have a meat dress though, right?

Of course, but it’s salami.

 And there was me thinking it was Denny bacon.

Sorry Denny’s – I’d wear a Superquinn sausages hairband though!

Shout-out to Superquinn!

Right, before we lose the plot completely – back to the album. You’ve described this new album as a prequel to the first and I can only begin to imagine what it was like for the three of you before the release of ‘The Script’, your first album. I bet you were extremely nervous, you had invested so much time and money into it and you really weren’t sure if it would succeed or not. Today, however you have sold 20 million records but how does a sense of complacency not set in?

 That’s a tough question and a difficult one to answer honestly because it doesn’t set in and that makes me sound greedy. It makes me sound egotistical to think that the best has yet to come but I genuinely believe that. I mean, what we have achieved in four albums, I can only imagine what we will achieve in another four albums. That’s always me though, I don’t feel happy or content within myself unless I have written a new song. You can give me all of the money in the world but if I haven’t been able to write a new song in six months, I more or less won’t be able to function. That sounds so dramatic, I know but it’s the truth. I have an inherent love for music and as strange as it sounds, I think it can change the world – I’m waiting to write the song that does – much like every other song writer out there, I know.

This life-altering song, is that what you continue to be hungry for?

 Yes, I’m still hungry for trying to write the perfect song. What we have produced so far has been the by-product of mine and Mark’s vicious appetite for song writing. I mean, it’s a challenge to write a great thought or lyric but to have embalmed in music in such a way that it can be placed in today’s music industry machine, is a huge feat.

Much like making BBC Radio 1’s playlist!

Yes. It’s really hard to do! No band is guaranteed airplay on Radio 1 – not even U2. Robbie Williams is deemed too old to be played on their station and it really makes me question our own longevity with them, I mean I’m not far off it!

I mean, if you look at what happened with BBC’s The Voice. The winning single didn’t make BBC Radio 1’s playlist, it made the Radio 2 playlist but it was aired so infrequently it was extremely difficult for it to attract an audience. Competing stations such as Capital FM saw the track as a BBC product and didn’t want to endorse the competition – which from a business perspective makes sense.

I’m so glad you spotted that. It’s a bit of a dodgy area for me because to criticise BBC Radio 1 is to criticise someone who backs me but I wish the record labels did more to encourage those radio stations to play the single.

I completely understand that but my question would be why a BBC television product is not automatically also a BBC radio product?

Exactly. X Factor is a television programme run by the music industry whereas The Voice is a music show run by the TV industry. I think their vision was that giving someone a platform of 14 million people on television would results in record sales but in reality, you need a cut-throat business plan of how you’re going to bridge them from the show finale to Christmas, the Christmas number one etc.

 I’m only an outsider looking in but surely it has to umbrella-like in nature – it has to span all forms of media. It can’t just be television because those who watch the programme are probably not the bill-payer, but they are on social media so encourage discussion about the artist on Twitter, or have a Snap Chat account offering behind-the-scenes footage from their video shoot – it needs to be clever.

Absolutely. You’re competing against the music industry at large, you can’t encroach in on their territory – particularly unprepared. It takes a long time for you to establish a reputation for yourself within this industry – X Factor has perfected that.

Yes, the artists on X Factor may not have professional longevity after their Christmas number one, but that’s not the point of the programme.

Nope, the point of it is to launch a star, but they have so many outlets in which they can successfully promote their brand and their artists, I worry for programmes like The Voice. There is such a vast amount of talent each series and they really do deserve and audience and more importantly, to be heard. I loved my time on the programme but I think we left when it was right to do so.

I can sense the defamation letters from the BBC already, which means it’s definitely time to move on. The new album narrates themes such as society’s notions of fame, the effervescence of life but what do you want the main talking point of the album to me?

I really just want them to say that it’s a better album than the last one we wrote; a continuous arc of music development almost. I also just want them to see that we are still passionate about music, it’s not just something that we do to make money from but it’s an innate part of our being. One of the most personal tracks on the album is ‘Without Those Songs’ and what we attempted to do was lyricise the songs and musicians who impacted upon our childhoods and shaped the musical interests and tastes that we have today. Within the song, we question who we are without music, both in a spiritual sense and in a very literal sense, I mean without music, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you. I’d just be some regular bloke from James’ Street.

I don’t think you’d have that hairstyle either…

No, probably not ha!

I’m always very impressed by The Script’s ability to illustrate such a powerful narrative in your music videos – whether that’s introducing the world to Eve Hewson or having an impromptu concert in Johannesburg, but do those music video discussions take place in sync with the song writing or do they occur two weeks before you go on set?

That’s tough because some of it happens instantaneously whilst others we really mull over. For example, the video for ‘Energy Never Dies’ is virtually done. It’s not recorded nor is plans in place but we know exactly what and how we want it to look – it’s just a matter of hiring the appropriate director. In comparison, ‘Superheroes’ was one which we all had different ideas for but none were overly impressive so we looked to Vaughan Arnell (who also directed Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’) and he made us question our notions of superheroes.

Instead of Marvel or DC, we wanted to promote the extraordinary in the ordinary, I guess you could say. We grew up in homes with parents and siblings who did as much as they could for us, regardless of how tough times were – they never let it known to us, their children – and in a sense that’s heroic. That experience really fuelled our desire for ‘Superheroes’ and Vaughan really helped us to portray that.

The album is released on September 12th (in Ireland) and the following day, you’ll be performing to a sold out audience in Dublin Castle. It’s your first Irish date in over seventeen months but what do you envisage will be running through your mind whilst you’re standing in the wings, waiting to go on stage.

It’s such a Dublin thing to say but ‘I hope they like it!’ The date in Dublin Castle will be one of the first times that we perform the songs live since recording the album and for us, it’s really important that these moments happen at home. The Irish people are those who supported us at the very beginning and they gave us our start. We are so grateful for that and it means so much to us, as three Dublin lads, to be the first band to play in Dublin Castle in ten years etc.

When artists perform in Ireland, audiences consistently hear that the Dublin crowd is the most reactive and sometimes you think, ‘I bet they say that in Dusseldorf too’ but is there a tangible difference for you in playing to an audience at home?

I really don’t think it’s just ‘talk’ when they say that. When you’re at a concert in Ireland, the atmosphere is almost euphoric. Music is instinctive to us, if you look at our passport alone – our emblem is an instrument, it’s in our DNA. For an Irish band, playing at home – there’s nothing like it and it’s a memory that stays with you eternally. In saying that though, I am a little nervous as to how the Irish crowd will react to the new music later this month. If all else fails, we’ll crack out ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’…

That always gets an auld flag in the air but before I get kicked out, how will you determine the success of this album? I imagine from our earlier conversation it won’t be based on critics’ assessment but will you quantify it by the number of downloads or social media interactions etc.?  

For me, it’s in the conversations that I have with fans after a show. Songs are a vehicle for me to express something that I can’t talk about aloud – typically it’s at times when I feel most alone – and to speak with people afterwards and for them to say that your words helped them in some way, it’s incredible and unifying to think that even when we feel the most isolated, others are experiencing the exact same emotion. For me, that’s success.

Thank you so much to both Danny and Aoife for all of their assistance in putting this interview together. You can download Superheroes from iTunes now and ‘No Sound Without Silence’ is available in Ireland from September 12th. To find out more, you can follow Danny on Twitter here.

Written by

Sinéad Burke is an academic and a writer with an obsessive interest in fashion, education and 'Extraordinary Women'. She is an ambassador for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Women's Council of Ireland.