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Irish Connections (Noël 2000)

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The Corrs – Family values

From the beginning, this Dublin quartet knew that the family that plays together stays together. The Corrs have followed this edict to success.

In an Irish music scene where polarities in passion and posture vary markedly from Bono’s diplomatic forays into world debt to the less altruistic antics of the playboy bands such as Westlife, the Corrs have consistently combined musical integrity with their own unique brand of effervescent pop. Reminiscent of anything cut from Paula Cole’s or Sarah McLachlan’s stable or even that of an earlier pop generation such as the Carpenters, the Corrs are establishing their own recognizable catalogue. This quartet of siblings’ signature blend of the classical, Celtic and contemporary sounds has captivated global audiences since the release of their first album “Forgiven, not Forgotten”, five years ago, Now their millennial offering “In Blue” – produced by noted vets Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Mitchell Froom – has already hit number one in 10 countries: Ireland, the UK, Australia, Germany, Austria, Spain, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore with the success of the latest single. * Youngest sister Andrea is lead vocalist and, (she also plays a mean tin whistle); middle sister Caroline plays drums, bodhran, piano and sings vocals; the eldest one, Sharon, carves out her niche as both violinist and vocalist. The oldest and lone brother Jim carries much of the instrumental chores switching between keyboards and guitars while adding a male husk to the vocals. * The story of their signing is the stuff of folk (music) lore as well. Jean Kennedy Smith happened to witness their first professional gig at Whelan’s in Dublin and subsequently invited them to Boston to play at a VIP function. During that trip, the sure siblings somehow managed to charm their way into the waiting room of Atlantic Records boss David Foster and gave an impromptu gig which was rewarded with Foster asking them for four autographs at the end of a recording contract. * From there this familial team has done a quartet of albums ranging from those with a greater dependence on their Irish roots to a release like this current one with its surefooted foray into international pop on such songs as “Breathless” – much like their earlier international hit “Only when I Sleep”. Of course their roots were never more present than on a recording such as their MTV-originated “Unplugged” document. The last five years have seen the band play and sell out tours in all (shall we say) corners of the earth. Indeed, if today’s world is truly a global village then this quartet from Dundalk, County Louth, have headlined the local for their fair share of nights. From their early days playing the pubs and nightclubs in their home country to establishing a solid footing in Europe, the Corrs still have challenges ahead – such as establishing a similar presence in the States. So as if to emphasize the point, they decided to make this video here in New York. And that let to this interview. * We met them in their tour bus parked on an avenue off Times Square as they took a break from shooting the video for their second single, “Irresistible”, and talked about the family business. First Caroline came to the back of the bus (best placed for journalists?) then Sharon joined us. Caroline was most playful; Sharon seemed most independent. Then Jim came to the rescue and enforced a little family-speak on all matters. Bust it was Andrea who best puts forth the Corrs party line. * There were things we wished we had discussed – about their Irish music roots; who influenced them as far as Irish music goes and learn a little more about their playing regimen or other instrumentalists they favour (or would like to work with). * But hopefully someday we’ll re-convene to get a shot at these questions; this interview took off at a furious pace because of their pressured schedule – the video shoot was running days late and there were endless demands on their time. Luckily we got this glimpse into a special universe called the Corrs. – Brad Balfour.

Is there a direct statement being made about shooting in Times Square, New York, as to the more mainstream sound of the album?
Sharon: We’re not really making any sort of statement. All we endeavour to do is make great albums and hope that people will like them. So far the rest of the world does, and that’s really it. It’s a fantastic location – the most famous square in the world. It’s just superb and looks brilliant on camera.

Have you ever thought to relocate here?
Sharon: At stages we thought of maybe getting an apartment here, because there is such a wonderful vibe to this place. It’s just really exciting !

You guys function as much as a unit, does it ever get exasperating, and do you ever wish “I don’t want to be a Corr for this week”?
Caroline: Definitely. You spend a lot of time talking about yourself, you’re totally immersed in the music; you do the record and you start touring and it’s “Corr’s this and Corr’s everything”. That’s all you can think about. It’s hard because sometimes you really want to get away and do other things. And we do, we try to take breaks as often as we can.

Does it reinforce roles within the family, or do different people take different roles?
Jim: Certainly within the band our roles are clearly defined, it was obvious that Andrea was going to sing lead vocals. Sharon was the only person who played the violin; our roles were fairly defined from the outset.

How about in terms of how you deal with eachother, in terms of decisions that you make?
Jim: The only way that this would work, we are a family after all, is that everything has to be democratic. We’ve got a very good manager, John Hughes, and between the five of us we make all the decisions.

So he’s the referee?
Caroline: He had done it in the past, but I think we’re a bit more mature now!

Are there times when you want to see the world by yourselves, out of the public eye?
Jim: We certainly can still do that, when we’re not dressed for the job. I think we’re lucky that, in a sense, we can have anonymity when we want it. Obviously, when the four of us are together we’re more likely to be recognized. If we’re out on our own that tends not to be the case. If we want to get recognized we do, if we don’t, generally we don’t.

I am curious about the family dynamic: does working together in a family environment affect relationships in any way?
Sharon: Between us, we have spent a lot of years trying to make it work. Even working at the family dynamic because I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules about it. If you really love what you do, you try to make it work. You try to communicate as best as you can with people, whether they are family or not. I think we’ve grown up an awful lot in the last 10 years, I think in the beginning when we first went to the States and recorded the first album in L.A. we were very much like fish out of water. That kind of feeling can be quite frustrating and I think it can cause tension. It certainly did for us, at stages. The success that we’ve had over the last few years has brought a great feeling of contentment amongst us. None of us have ever felt we’re doing something that we didn’t want to do. We all actually would have chosen this career with or without the family; we all would have been in music without a doubt. I know it is a curious one, and I know it is hard to understand the family dynamic; it’s basically like any other relationship, you have to work to make it work.

Does the Irish family background enhance group’s cohesion?
Jim: It’s hard to tell, all we can say is that from our own perspective, it works. We’ve made a success of the situation – it’s not the easiest of situations – this probably would be hell for a lot of other families, but we’ve learned to cope with it. We’ve worked with it and we’re getting better as years go on. That’s not going to negate the fact that there’s going to be rows from time to time. There always will be rows – that’s the thing about families; you just learn to handle them better. You learn not to press the wrong buttons with each other.
Caroline: We know each other very well, and families will always say things to each other that strangers would not say to each other. I think we’ve learned not just to treat each other as family, but also as members of a band. In working professionally together we have our own individual opinions and ideas. We all understand that we are individuals. We were brought up quite close and it’s hard to get the “individual” out sometimes.

Does the band ever fall into sibling hierarchies?
Jim: We endeavour to insure everything operates as democratically as possible so there really isn’t that sort of situation. We are all very aware that we are individual parts in the band and it’s the team that has created the success that we’ve had. We have great respect from everyone’s position in the band.
Sharon: It’s very hard to understand a family. I think even people in families find it very hard to understand their family and why they don’t necessarily get on with their brothers and sisters. It’s very complicated and complex and you really can’t get to the bottom of it in an interview. But we’re different because we’re actually working together professionally and doing something that we individually love and would have chosen; so we endeavour to get on. I think if you only see your family at Christmas you’re not going to make too much of an effort. We make a huge effort because it facilitates our career and what we genuinely and instinctively want out of our lives, which is music. So it is a complicated dynamic but the good thing is that we’ve actually managed to do it because I think it’s pretty rare.

How does the song writing process work?
Caroline: We try and go off ourselves or maybe one or two would go off together and then go into the studio and put it down. The decision process goes down to the actual song and we decide together, with our manager, what do we think is the best selection we’ve got there? There are a lot of songs we’ve written which haven’t made the cut on our albums, but that’s just the way it goes.
Sharon: It’s really very simple. I generally write alone but on this album I’ve written a little with Jim. Caroline and Andrea generally write together because that’s a good dynamic there and Andrea and Jim generally write together too. So it really is about moments of inspiration. If you’re inspired to write a song at a certain time you usually go with that yourself. There’s no big complex theory to it. When it comes to selecting a song they are generally obvious, you know if you’ve written a good one or a bad one. It would be really petty for any of us to say ‘I want to keep this song on the album because I’ve written it’, it’s either good or bad.

Now how did each one of you manage to pick up your specific instruments?
Sharon: Well there was a priest in our town and he taught violin. He was a really great violin teacher, and he had an idea that he would take pupils very young, like they do in Japan with the Suzuki method when they start them at three. So he started with Caroline, because she was three years younger than I was, but she was too interested in how big his ears were and stuff like that ! Then he said to Mum and Dad what about the other one, which was me, so then I started it and just kept it going.
Caroline: When we first started the band I originally played the piano with Sharon. At 17 or 18 I had a boyfriend who played the drums. He was playing with his band one day in the back of his house and I just started playing and he taught me my first few beats and then I went for lessons. The rest of my family came to see and that’s really how I ended up being the drummer. It was in the very early stages of our career, we hadn’t yet performed, so it was perfect timing really. The first thing I ever did was a live TV show, I was up there and I just had to do it. Then we went on tour, playing, and that’s really where I learned, on tour.
Jim: The instruments I play relatively well are keyboards and guitar, I like dabbling with other instruments and the technological side of music production too.
Andrea: It seemed natural that I’d be the lead singer in the band. I love singing; I can play the piano but I dossed learning it ! I just was always singing and I always wanted to.

Do you find when you get home you’re not expected to slip into the rock star mode?
Jim: I think you can be yourself to your own closest friends, because they understand that it’s not bragging. With people that are successful, no matter where you go there’s always going to be a fraction, a percentage or people, who are, unfortunately, begrudging. I think this character type is everywhere. No matter what neighborhood you grow up in, anybody who sort of excels is a reflection on the other people who haven’t done well and there always is a slight element of begrudgery. But thankfully we’ve been very lucky in Ireland, and we’ve experienced nothing but pride from the majority of people that we meet, and they tell us that. And when we do experience begrudgery, it’s very very rare. This is not up to me to say but I don’t think that we got carried away with our success; we endeavor to keep our feet fairly flat on the ground.

Do you have other creative projects than music that you all would like to pursue?
Jim: We have all our own individual dreams, but unfortunately we don’t have the time to work on them now.
Andrea: We’re really really focused on this album right now. We just finished it and we want the world to hear it just as we are hearing it. That’s our vision for the moment. These future dreams, what will be will be, but we love this album right now.

So how do you see this album different from the others?
Sharon: It’s quite diverse. I think, different influences came to us. We wrote it at home and then just went into the studio so it feels very natural. We didn’t feel under pressure and it felt good doing it. I think it’s very honest – they’ve all been honest – but this one is, I think, even more vulnerable, and it’s just more mature. We’ve grown up a little more; this one is just that step taken further.

There was a longer gap between this one and the previous one I believe?
Andrea: We recorded an “MTV Unplugged” program between this and our last studio album. We were touring, as once you create an album you’re touring for two years after it. So we haven’t actually had a rest. I believe that people think there’s a long gap, but with us we tour and release an album in many different parts of the earth, so sometimes, after Ireland, it takes off five months later, say, in Taiwan or the like. For us it’s not like that because we never stop touring, and we don’t feel the gaps.

Do you feel pressured to be the glamorous group the media portrays you to be, like when you graced the cover of “Marie Claire”?
Sharon: I think there is a misconception because such promotion is the initial exposure we’re getting over here, and our music hasn’t had great airplay yet. We haven’t really broken here so far and the majority of promotional work we have done probably leads you to seeing us as you’re seeing us in those magazines. People want to photograph us, it’s part of it, but the really important thing to us is the music.
Caroline: I think that it will only help though. We try to look glamorous and have always tried to be so. We haven’t ever tried to do it in jeans and t-shirts. It’s part of the whole package; what we do well. We naturally have been like that, even when we were kids. It wasn’t something we decided that we were going to do. I am comfortable with both: concentrating on the music, and if we have to do a bit of glamour here and there, we’ll do it. But we go home, slip into the slugs and sit by the TV. We don’t look glamorous.
Sharon: This music is all about how much you want to give to it. Generally if you want to be very successful in the music business, you have to give your all to it… I’ll you something about touring; it is the most rewarding part of the whole business because you get to see you audience, mingle with and relate to them from the stage. You get to play which is what we were brought up doing. It is what we do, we are musicians and we should play and write music. That’s the most fun part of it. If you’re all the way over in Australia and you would really like to be with your loved one, that is very difficult but if you want it you really have to try and work at it.

Do you find yourselves inclined to go out with people who are in the entertainment business?
Caroline: None of my real friends are in the entertainment world. Generally the ones from home are my real friends. You do hang out the odd time because you are in the same business, you have a tendency to talk to each other about the business but they wouldn’t be your closest friends by any stretch of the mark. You can go out and have a good time. Sometimes they can become close friends, but generally your friends are from way back.
Jim: I agree with what Caroline said. You would have a natural affinity and understanding with people in the business, but it’s very important to hold on to your old friends. They’re the only ones that, when you do stop riding the waves of success on that roller coaster, they are the people you can rely on for truth and genuineness.

I can’t imagine the Corrs being reported for throwing a piano out of a window?
Andrea: (laughs) You just haven’t seen us do it !
Sharon: And it’s too precious of an instrument as well.

Are there certain songs on the album you’d like to highlight – that are more important than others?
Andrea: No. I think the important thing about music and the reason why it’s sometimes hard is that you have to be vulnerable and honest and only in that way will it relate to other people. There is no new loneliness, no new feelings and the important thing about music that I’ve always been drawn too is that it romanticizes every aspect of life. It romanticizes pleasure, pain, loneliness, tragedy, and it also sits out there and lets other people know that they’re not alone with these thoughts. The album as a whole can do that and that’s what’s important. I like the whole lot of the album, all the songs.

Is making the music about realism or about fantasy?
Andrea: I think it’s both. I think that you can embellish, but I think there’s got to be truth at the core of it. There’s your caption for you, I think I’m writing the article here !

Transcript: GaëlleF

Le 02/06/2006 à 02:53 par GaëlleF

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