Jack O’Rourke Interview: “I didn’t have to compromise”

jack o rourke interview

Jack’s debut album Dreamcatcher is out now.

Cork based singer songwriter Jack O’Rourke is an unusual talent in 2016. Able to combine the melancholic with the wryly humourous, his songs, brought to life by his rich baritone and tempered piano playing, are more like collective recollections rather than isolated vignettes. At the heart of his music is the personal, but its presented in such a manner that transcends specificity to become something more universal entirely. He is both a story teller and a song writer.

To celebrate the release of his debut album Dreamcatcher, we got on the blower to Jack and discussed finding the universal in the personal, feeling a bit punk, and Chris Martin’s ass.

Pick up Dreamcatcher here.

Live Dates:

Nov 3rd Whelans Dublin
Nov 4th Hotspot Music Club , Greystones , Wicklow.
Nov 11th De Barras, Clonakilty
Nov 12th Dolans Limerick
Nov 17th Mike The Pies Listowel
Nov 18th Duncairn Arts Center Belfast

Overblown: Dreamcatcher reached number 5 in the Irish Album Charts.

Jack O’Rourke: Just below Drake, I never though I’d say that, and above Bon Iver.

O: Is it satisfying to see it succeed in that manner? Obviously, it got lots of critical acclaim too.

JOR: Yeah, sometimes you see good reviews and a band in a niche market, but obviously the public appreciate it too which is nice to get the double whammy. Especially since I don’t have a record company, just a lot of great PR, a good producer and wonderful musicians. The fact that it was independently released… It’s just a great feeling that it got that far.

O: I saw you did a FundIt campaign.

JOR: Nearly three years ago now. I suppose that was the catalyst. A lot of these songs are really old. It’s good to finally get them out because I probably have another two albums worth of material to get down on record. I just released singles every three months and I think that was a really good way to do it. It wasn’t at all premeditated. I think a lot of people when they are releasing their first album have the album cut and it’s very organised. They have the first single which might not even be their favourite song but it might be considered the most commercial track. If the single doesn’t do well or the album, you could have eleven great tracks which are just lost. I’ve been lucky in that fact that 6 or 7 of the tracks have been released so far.

O: I saw you offered a pub crawl on Barrack Street on the campaign. Did that end up happening?

JOR: No, that was €1000. People did end up donating €500. People came out of the woodwork who I’d never met who are music fans, and in the greater scheme of things, patrons. I was actually talking to someone in the Opera House today about that. Songwriters and composers and all types of creative people kind of went through a phase during the recession of almost apologising for seeing this as a career. People would ask, “What do you really do?” I think the fact that people who have are in business and aren’t musicians but just have a great love of music and the arts that are willing to provide patronage is a lovely thing.

O: I would be hopefully that the record label industry will die a death and the power could come back to the individual artists.

JOR: Yeah. Dreamcatcher isn’t a punk album but there’s a certain sense of “screw the man” when it got to number 5. I felt that I didn’t have to compromise. It just was. I had great support from family and friends too. People were so generous.

O: It seems to me that you use a lot of Irish slang in your songs, and mention a lot of places around Cork, and refer frequently to Irish culture. I find lots of Irish bands maybe distance themselves from their Irishness. And your music itself does not sound particularly Irish, but lyrically Ireland is a focus.

JOR: Maybe I did that subconsciously. A lot of the songwriters I listened to growing up… People like Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Paul Simon, or Joni Mitchell did that. ‘Silence’ uses slang and Irishisms and Corkisms. When it won the International Songwriting Competition, it was amazing to me that words like ‘sliotar’ could have a universal quality. Or that they could see past the colloquialisms.

O: I think they add character. For instance, in ‘Nostalgia’ you mention Barrack Street. So for someone like me, a Corkman, listening to it, it becomes a lot easier to visualise the lyrics, but I think for other people from other countries maybe it adds a mystical nature to the song.

JOR: Totally. I think that’s true. I hope that’s true. It could be a ‘Gotham’. One of my favourite albums is Pirates by Rickie Lee Jones and I was doing a gig for Culture Night in Dublin and Paul Brady was playing at it. And we just both happened to start talking about this album. It is one of the most remarkable albums. It’s a fictional city, but the whole album is about city streets and rooftops. There’s a certain unabashed romanticism about it that I really gravitated towards when I was younger. So as you say, Dreamcatcher will be familiar to Corkonians, but there could be a mystical quality if you’re not from Ireland. There is a worry that if you only write about your own city then maybe it will only be relatable to Cork people.

O: I wanted to talk a bit about ‘Silence’. I did an interview with an LGBT punk band from New York and they said to me that LBGT people can’t be protagonists in their own stories. You know on TV LBGT people are the hairdressers or the quirky best friend. In ‘Silence’, the character is very presented as the protagonist.

JOR: It is and obviously it is very autobiographical, but it is also universal too as it is about oppression and even beyond sexuality. I think by putting the lyrics in the third person, that there’s a certain amount of removal. It was easier to write ‘Silence’ maybe because I was writing in the third person. With that song I was definitely reflecting on part of my experience.

O: I think it definitely succeeds in also having a more universal appeal. For instance, I’m straight but in school I was a long haired, grunger guy who was terrible at sports.

JOR: You were probably called a faggot too!

O: Very frequently!

JOR: I tried to be a jock in school. I played football and had girlfriends. You can sometimes almost become a caricature of what you’re supposed to be.

O: It’s like you’re ‘passing’. When I listen to that song there’s a line about Christmas and kitchen toys and I would have been getting guitars and CDs and whatnot. Then I’d go into school and get shit over that so the song has a universal appeal too.

JOR: I think, even though it’s not a Christmas song, there’s a certain amount of pathos and sadness to it. Like how ‘Fairytale of New York’ is often number 1 at Christmas. A lot of people don’t go there as writers.

O: There is something very melancholic about Christmas. It’s another year gone, things are changing, some people are gone.

JOR: Absolutely. They’re the Christmas songs I gravitate towards anyway.

O: There’s a quote from High Fidelity where the main character says, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

JOR: I can only be honest. I love listening to Nile Rodgers as much as the next person and having a dance, but I love that quote from Emmy Lou Harris when she said, “Townes Van Sandt once said there’s only two types of music: the blues and zippity doo-da”. For me music is for dancing but it’s also for thinking. A lot of my mates sometimes are almost afraid when you’re listening to Leonard Cohen or John Martyn. They kind of don’t want to go there. They see it as a negative thing.

O: Growing up I loved, I still love, Radiohead.

JOR: Ah that scene in Father Ted…

O: Yeah. That’s hilarious.

JOR: I always find Thom Yorke kind of uplifting. Maybe misery breeds company. But the chord changes are so stunning. I think it depends on the kind of person you are.

O: Yeah, I mean people say Morrissey is very depressing but I think his lyrics are hilarious.

JOR: He is. It’s hard to write a love song that’s celebratory or happy without being cloying. Very few people can absolutely nail that. It’s easier to be dark. Or else you turn into Coldplay (laughs).

O: Jesus, yeah. They should have stayed miserable.

JOR: They should have. Although as a gay man, Chris Martin seems to be improving with age.

O: Like a fine wine?

JOR: I don’t know about him. His ass is like a fine wine!

O: I’ll take your word for it!

JOR: Filter, Jack. Filter (laughs).

O: How did the gig in The Everyman go recently?

JOR: That was amazing. Full house and the full band. It was just a brilliant night. It makes it all worthwhile. You have vision in your head of what the launch will be like and that surpassed it.

O: And do you have plans to go further afield?

JOR: I was in Newcastle actually at the weekend. It was quite a mixed crowd. Old people, the Irish diaspora, Newcastle gays, and my own friends. A strange but lovely mix. I was on my own without the band. I played jigs and reels and then a lad up the front asked for a Seal cover.

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O: Must be nice to play by yourself sometimes. You can be more off the cuff.

JOR: Totally. When you are on your own you can take it to a place you never envisioned. Bob Dylan just won the Nobel Prize, not that he gives a fuck. But sometimes magic can happen when it’s just a voice and piano. Suddenly ‘Diamonds and Rust’ by Joan Baez, which she wrote about him, came into my head so I played Bob Dylan and ‘Diamonds and Rust’ side by side. It wasn’t pre-planned; it just happened.

O: As ‘Nostalgia’ is about getting nostalgic, I was wondering what you get nostalgic about?

JOR: I think for that song, I grew up in Cork, went to college here and teach here. With that comes a lot of good memories but also a lot of ghosts. At the least expected moment you might see your ex. As you were talking about getting older, I met some friends recently and I said, “We should go out for the Jazz like we did last year” and then realised that that was four years ago that we had gone out on the tear for the Jazz. Time seems to be speeding up.

O: It’s a great song to start the album with.

JOR: Thank Michael Carr for that. I didn’t really have the courage and he said I should. It’s just me and the piano and doesn’t have a hook. It’s not really a concept album but there is a bit of a theme and the characters you meet along the way. It’s about the end of a relationship and the present going into the past.

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