Earnest troubadour Declan O'Rourke is back with another album intriguingly named Mag Pai Zai. I caught up with him for a few quick words with the Metro last week and though I haven't heard much of the new album, he'll always have my respect for songs like 'Sarah' and 'Galileo'.
What exactly does ‘Mag Pai Zai’ mean?
It’s a play on words. One of the songs is about these two brothers in New York who hoard everything and there’s a line that says 'He saw the whole wide world through the magpie’s eye' and I thought it sounded nice…and oriental.
How does this album differ from the previous two?
I think it’s a little bit more mature. I’ve always produced my own stuff so I know what I’m doing a bit more in the production side of things. It’s warm and sounds a bit more uniform - I had a lot of fun making it and it was quite an easy process.
You suffered from writers block in the time preceding the album’s creation - that must have been a challenge?
I had to take it for what it was. I was probably trying to refine my approach a bit too much so I had to stop stressing over why it wasn’t working or what was wrong. It was a great learning curve about how I can motivate myself to do these things and an insight into the key that turns the lock; I learned a lot and it won’t be happening again too quickly that’s for sure.
How did you snap out of it?
It’s very hard to describe, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t writing and it was about discovering what inside me was stopping me. You need a part of yourself looking back on the process and figuring out how your brain works. It was an interesting time - it wasn’t a lot of fun, it was quite scary actually, but it was all the more sweet when the release came and it was like ‘Yeah I know how to do this!’
Do you have a distinct method of song writing now?
You try to tell yourself all of these rules on how to do it but you just have to let yourself be free. You have to let your brain have some fun, let your imagination run wild and not be so critical of yourself - I had to act unlearn a lot of stuff.
You left a major label to form your own – why?
It just didn’t get me any where that I didn’t think I could get on my own. I have no control over the other records, so I do now and there’s also the propensity to make more money.
Do these big labels deserve the criticism they get?
They have a lot to answer for. They serve a purpose to a point, especially money wise but if it’s a case of them being just a bank then you’d get a far better rate on a loan from the bank. If you get a loan from the record company they own the records and you get a small percentage of the money made, so it’s kind of ridiculous. Functionally, they do have an infrastructure in place for getting it promoted but in the age of independent music, unless you’re in the top tier they’re not going to spend that much or take risk on you anyway. They also kind of kill individuality which is a huge drawback.
What’s the biggest challenge of doing things on your own?
Money. It was tough and it took longer than expected as we had to stop at certain hurdles and wait until we had the cash to jump over it but we got there and hopefully this one will pay for the next one!
So was this latest album produced on a shoe-string budget?
It was intended to be but we didn’t scrimp and we ended up paying whatever we needed to make it sound right.
You’re soon setting off for your first full-band tour in three years; do you prefer these to the solo shows?
I really enjoy playing on my own but I like to chop and change it. It makes it exciting for those going to the gigs and it’s also nice to present the songs in different ways. I’m really excited about playing on this band as the guys that played on it are really great musicians that I clicked with and they added something really special.
Was one of these musicians Paddy Casey? I heard rumours of collaboration?
Not quite, I just recorded one of the instrumental parts in his house but we’re great friends. We bounce ideas of each other and there was a couple of time where he came in and helped push me in the right direction, and I think we do that for each other. It’s good to have a musical head who can come in with a fresh pair of ears and suggest something.
And who would be your dream person to collaborate with then?
Cheryl Cole. I’d like to produce her doing some nice songs as opposed to her usual pop crap.