IT IS probably Friedrich Nietzsche’s most famous quote: “What does not kill me makes me stronger,” and it holds true for Delorentos who have came through a gruelling couple of years to re-assert themselves in 2012 as a great indie-rock band delivering their finest album to date.
“I don’t know what will happen in the future, but right now this band and this music feels like the most exciting thing in the world,” Delorentos’ vocalist/guitarist Kieran McGuinness tells me during our Tuesday morning interview and what a far cry it is from just three years ago when the band were on the verge of imploding.
Give it up now?
Delorentos’ 2007 debut In Love With Detail and their energetic live shows, established the County Dublin quartet as a band with serious potential but by 2009 things started to come apart.
A potential record deal in Britain fell through and the company which distributed Delorentos’ albums and EPs collapsed. The band became disillusioned and despondent, culminating in Ronan ‘Ro’ Yourell’s decision to leave once work had been completed on second album You Can Make Sound.
The news came as a shock and disappointment to both the public and music critics, but it seemed that was that, the band was folding.
Yet, while making the album and during the subsequent tour which had been billed as the band’s ‘farewell shows’, the members regained confidence, Yourell decided to stay, and at a gig in the Róisín Dubh later that year, Kieran announced to a delighted audience that they were not breaking up.
Following that decision Delorentos played some high profile festivals in Ireland and the continent, and then took 2011 off to work on their third album. Looking back on that turbulent period, Kieran now feels the band are better off for having gone through it.
“I think it has been vital. It had to happen the way it did,” he says. “We started out wanting to be creative and independent and enjoy what we were doing but it had become a bit complicated. We put ourselves under too much pressure, we took our eyes off the ball.
“We would be saying ‘Why wasn’t there 1,000 people at the gig?’ rather than ‘Did we play well?’ It took the break up to help us remember what was important and the next time there were differences we were able to have proper adult conversations about it, come at it more maturely, and be a positive force in each other’s lives. A thing I also learned was that if things are hard, you don’t have to stop.”
The experiences of the past few years and the maturity which came from it resulted in Delorentos regaining their fire and entering a period of intense creativity which has resulted in their new album, Little Sparks.
There has long been a feeling among fans that, given the potential the group always possessed, we had yet to see Delorentos truly hit their stride and deliver an album which properly displayed their talents to the full.
Then it came. In late January the band unleashed Little Sparks. Here are up tempo pop-rock numbers (‘Did We Ever Really Try?’ ), rough hewn, anthemic, folk-rock (‘Bullet In A Gun’ ), acoustic balladry (‘Waited For You So Long’ ), expressive, atmospheric, and ambitious pieces (‘Swimmer’ ), and high energy, death before dishonour indie-rockers (‘Give It Up Now’ ).
Easily their finest work to date, Little Sparks contains an energy, emotional intensity, and a variety of mood, tone, sound, and style, unheard on any of their previous releases. In short, this is a major artistic evolution for the band and sets the bar for other Irish albums this year.
“We always had it in us,” says Kieran, “and we had a producer, Rob Kirwan, who expected us to be interested and passionate and he wasn’t going to take conservatism as an answer.”
The band also took more time than before to develop the new songs.
“We did a lot of pre-production this time,” says Kieran. “Before we would just book a day or two somewhere, give a run though the songs, and then record them. This time we booked two weeks in a studio in Wicklow and two weeks in a studio in Dublin.
“In Wicklow we were on a farm and we had to keep the doors closed to prevent the cows outside getting in. If you listen very closely on the record you might hear some mooing! In Dublin we were close to a shelter for junkies and alcoholics and we were told we were making too much noise and disturbing them and to turn the sound down.”
Not only did Delorentos take more time to rehearse and record the album, they also took a longer period of time than usual to develop the songs, such as ‘Bullet From A Gun’.
“There were five or six different versions of that song before we got the right one,” says Kieran. “Ro brought it along, it’s a fable about trying to understand how people act the way they do. It was hard to play and then Niall Conlan came up with a new way of playing it that sounded good. We recorded it with Rob and he brought it in a new direction that was like The Clash meets Bruce Springsteen!
“Then we were in Madrid where a blog site had asked us to play for them and that’s where we perfected it. We just hammered away at the song and stripped it down, then we thought, let’s bring handclaps into it and that worked for everyone.”
Another highlight is the majestic ‘Swimmer’, which came to Kieran at an unsociable hour of the morning. “I woke up from a dream with the basis of the song in my head,” he says, “so I sang it into my phone at two or three o’clock in the morning, went back to bed and worked on it the next day.”
Certainly Delorentos are bursting with ideas at the moment and a combination of renewed belief in themselves and the effects of the recession inspired them to create the multi-media events of the Little Sparks EP and accompanying magazine (with contributions from the band, Jape, artists, writers, and designers ) and the pop-up shop events in Galway, Dublin, and Limerick, in the run up to the album launch.
“You are not just in competition with other bands but with TV, movies, video games,” says Kieran. “People don’t have much money so if you are encouraging them to go out to a gig you have to make it worth their while. You can’t just turn up, give the finger, and walk off.
“That was why we did the acoustic tour, and often in unusual places like old churches. That allowed people to hear the songs in a different way and at the gig they could get the magazine with the EP, which contains songs they had not heard before, and that makes it a unique experience.”
Another important learning curve for Kieran and the band was when they volunteered to work in Haiti, following the devastating earthquake in 2010, building homes with the Haven Partnership.
“I had always been interested in doing volunteer work and I was driving home one day from practice and the news of the earthquake came on the radio,” says Kieran. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s my decision made for me.’ We went over and worked for a week and it was very, very, hard. We also played a couple of songs from the new album for the first time over there for locals.
“There was an amazing scene as we were coming into the town. We were on the back of a lorry with hundreds of bottles of water and all these children started running towards us to try and grab them and we fighting over them, and then we saw the mothers staring to grab them by the shoulders and telling them to wait their turn and behave themselves. That will stay with me.
“I know it is tough here for people with the recession but we really are privileged and have little to complain about in comparison to what they have to suffer and put up with and the poverty in Haiti.”
Delorentos play the Róisín Dubh on Friday March 9 at 9pm. Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and www.roisindubh.net