Jack O’Rourke is somewhat of an Irish musical treasure and with comparisons made to Bowie, Kate Bush, The National and Peter Gabriel, it’s clear to see why.
Last year was a phenomenal year for Jack, after releasing one of the most critically acclaimed debut albums of the year titled “Dreamcatcher”. The Cork native’s debut included cinematic torch songs, noir folk and Baroque pop creating a singular sound, delivered in a plaintive baritone around the piano. The album went on to reach #5 in the Official Irish Album Charts – just below none other than “Drizzy” Drake himself!
Jack just blew audiences away at Electric Picnic last weekend on the Other Voices Stage and Pure M’s Garreth Browne got the opportunity to chat music, his big feet, and the affect his song “Silence” had.
You released “Dreamcatcher” almost a year ago now, what have you been doing since?
I’ve pretty much been playing the album live in different contexts – solo, with a string quartet, with my band and even with an orchestra. Playing my songs in different ensembles keep the songs fresh. I think there’s been 67 gigs and concerts – here and in the UK since September, so I’ve flaaad “Dreamcatcher” to death! I’m psyched how it’s been received, so just writing songs now for the “easy” 2nd album!
How was the recording process of “Dreamcatcher”?
I began recording with my friend John Burke in Claycastle Studios in Youghal. He taught me alot. I assembled my band and we arranged the songs and then Christian Best (O Emperor, Mick Flannery) took over the helm and he produced it. The songs musically are quite eclectic but he brought a lot of natural flow to the sequence. He’s a God.
You’re lyric-writing is so “story-telling”, is that a conscious decision you make writing or do you just have an idea and see where it takes you?
It depends. I like stories. My lyrics can be explicit or vague. With “Silence” it was raw and laid it all out there and came from me – and it’s a subject that isn’t written about a lot in pop music. With “Iggy” it’s vague and evokes many interpretations from people. There’s a stigma attached to the term singer-songwriter but essentially, regardless of genre, we’re all fucking songwriters! Writing about the same stuff but hopefully giving it a new voice with interesting accompaniment.
You did a fund-it campaign to help with the recording, how did it feel that people all over wanted to help you pursue your dream?
It was gratifying. There’s alot of fans and people who believe in my work. I’d love to say, I write just for me, but when you get acclaim and support, it does make it worthwhile. Everyone’s ego needs a little stroke now and then!
You charted in the Top 5 in Ireland on release week, how did that feel?
Bit mad seeing my name just below Drake on the charts! Considering it was released independently, I was proud.
As you look back now, have you learned anything about yourself or the music industry in the last year? Any particular highlights that made you pinch yourself?
I learnt watching myself play live that my eyebrows go up like Elton John when I sing! You’re really aware of ticks and habits. Stagecraft is important. I like how Father John Misty moves his hips and ass when he dances. I tried to emulate that but looked like a menopausal Olivia Newton John.
I realised that musical trends come and go and it’s futile to chase a sound. Either carve your own or stick to what you know or hopefully do both simultaneously! I think honesty is vital – writing what you see and how you feel and not trying to be too clever. There’s a fine line between being clever and pretension.
Lots of pinch yourself moments – hearing “Naivety” on RTE Radio 1, 2fm, Today FM and the BBC for the first time. Playing the Late Late Show (watch here). Supporting The Staves and Sinead O’Connor. Playing the album live with an orchestra at Cork Opera House (watch here). I also recorded harmonies with The Frank and Walters and got to sing live with them on 96FM and Red Fm and being from Cork, that means you’ve made it!
Your song “Silence” was the track used by Amnesty International in the “Yes Campaign” in 2015’s successful Marriage Referendum in ireland, how did that come about?
Colm O’Gorman heard it and loved the sentiment. I didn’t set out to write something overtly political but it obviously touched a chord. It’s just a story about a kid who realised along the way he was a bit different to his mates. I think it could be about any kind of suppression. It’s obviously autobiographical. I did love Maria Callas and feel those “goosepimples” and I had many girlfriends but I was compensating for a lot! The idea of being “silent” is universal. It spoke to many on the no side too. I got letters from people who heard the song and voted yes. I think because it’s written from the perspective of the inner child, it cuts through the “us and them” mentality.
“Silence” was part of a historic event in Irish history that made the news worldwide, and almost paved the way for other countries, how does that feel?
I’m proud that the song touched a lot of people and perhaps changed opinions and viewpoints. You can’t argue with truth and “Silence” is my experience in song but millions can relate. I hope it’s a domino effect and other countries get on making marriage available for everyone. As Dolly Parton says, “why should hetrosexuals be the only miserable people.
The song “Silence” has a wonderful autobiographical narrative, but also makes a powerful statement and sheds light and hope. What exactly did you want to say with this song? How did that song happen? Or was all just organic?
I often toil over songs. Changing chords, melodies and lyrics. That literally poured out. The muse was there. As I was saying, I wasn’t trying to be political, as much as I admire Pussy Riot or Joan Baez. It was organic. The fact it became a bit of a radio hit is great, as it’s slow, sad and has many chords! But, there’s hope too amongst the darkness obviously. I’m glad you can hear that.
You just played Electric Picnic this year, were you excited/scared?
I’m just recovering and I was back teaching in my secondary school on Monday morning – talk about leading a double life. I played the Other Voices stage to a full tent. I was really excited and nervous. I’ve grown up watching so many of my heroes play in Dingle and on tv, so even to be associated with Other Voices is incredible. I feel gave it our all, and I even got a pair of boxers thrown at me!
Have you been working on new music since “Dreamcatcher”? Any new projects you’re excited about?
I played a new song at the Picnic – it’s called “Lover” or maybe “Myth.” I’m always writing and doodling on my piano. I’ve also collaborated with freezerRoom on two tracks on their 2nd album. Wallis Bird, Joe O’Leary (Fred) and Tracey K are on it too. I loved hearing my voice over a more electronic sonic space. I also will be writing with Hattie Webb and Marlene Enright. I plan to write an opera at some point and I’m thinking about my 2nd album.
What (if any) artists would like to collaborate with? Your dream collaborations?
I’d love to work with Father John Misty. I fancy the ass of him, but think he’s like a modern Randy Newman. John Grant – I love his honesty. I want Emmylou Harris to sing harmonies on my songs. Or Kate Bush or Bjork – I’m not asking for much! I’ve a weird country song and would love to ask Nancy Sinatra to duet with me. I’d love to work with Conor O’Brien or The National or Willie Nelson. At the picnic, I sang with Wallis Bird so that’s one off the bucket list.
Can you tell us one thing about yourself that people may not know?
I have monstrously big feet.
Tells us five words to describe yourself/your music.
folky, bluesy, orchestrally, dark, goofy.
Finally, what do you want your legacy to be? How would Jack O’Rourke like to be remembered?
For being big in Japan. Naw, just being true to myself and pushing the boundaries out musically, while being true to my roots.
Jack O’Rourke has had an eventful couple of years and the future looks increasingly bright for him. With a lot of new projects up his sleeve he continues to write the next chapter in his music journey.
In between gigging, writing, recording, and collaborating Jack is also a teacher. I know I wish I had a teacher like him growing up to help inspire the next generation.