Lauded by the likes of Tom Waits and Bill Withers, Cork musician Jack O’Rourke talks to Edwin McFee about his debut album Dreamcatcher, his internationally acclaimed song ‘Silence’, and why he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.
At the time of going to press, Dreamcatcher, the debut album from rising Cork-bred tunesmith Jack O’Rourke is currently sitting pretty in the top five of the Irish album charts. The product of years of hard work, the award-winning writer (more on that in a bit) was understandably chuffed with his achievement when we caught up with him.
“I’m really fucking proud of what I’ve achieved this year,” he beams. “Dreamcatcher is the only independent release in the top 30, so it’s a great moment for me, my band and PR team. We’re at a grassroots level and are doing everything ourselves without support from any labels, so it feels good and I’m glad people are enjoying it.”
Another success for O’Rourke is his sterling new single ‘On The Downlow’. A sort of reimagining of Roy Orbison’s evergreen ‘I Drove All Night’, the singer tells us that the current radio hit was part of his plan to make his piano-based music as unpigeonhole-able as possible.
“Initially there wasn’t much adornment on the track and I told my producer [Christian Best] I wanted it to sound like an updated ’80s power ballad. I particularly loved the production of that Roy Orbison song and we took it from there.
“I’ve released a lot of different types of songs over the last year or two and I’ve made a conscious decision to try to avoid getting put in a box. We’re in this culture of people wanting to pigeonhole music and that’s only increasing, so I want to avoid that as best I can.”
Describing the recording process for his debut as “relaxed and chilled” (two words which are rarely used in relation to making one’s first ever album, in fairness), the songwriter credits the easy birth of Dreamcatcher to having confidence in his songs and a bunch of stellar musicians beside him to aid and augment his vision.
“The recording wasn’t as stressful as it could have been,” he offers. “Not to sound arrogant, but I had a high standard of what I wanted the album to sound like and I had – and have – some excellent musicians with me, so that took some of the anxiety away.”
One of the key moments on the album is a tune entitled ‘Silence’. A semi-autobiographical story of a boy realising he’s gay, the song has since become something of an anthem after it was adopted by both Amnesty International and Yes Equality.
“It was a proud moment for me but I didn’t really envision it becoming an anthem,” says O’Rourke. “I think the song goes beyond sexuality and could be about any type of suppression. I think everybody, no matter who they are, can relate to that. During the marriage referendum I was heavily involved in the Yes campaign and when I was out canvassing, people told me they were going to vote No until they heard that song and it changed their opinion, which meant a lot.
“I think it touched a nerve with a lot of folks because it wasn’t trying to preach something, or push a view on someone. It was a story of a child who was a little different, told rawly.”
And it wasn’t just the people of Ireland who were moved by ‘Silence’. None other than Tom Waits and Bill Withers were also smitten with the song, which fended off 80,000 other entries in the International Songwriting Competition to win first prize in the Lyrics Category.
“It was a great feeling winning the prize, especially as Tom Waits and Bill Withers were judges,” says Jack. “The fact that they liked the words of the song, particularly as there’s so many Irish-isms and Cork slang in it, meant it translated on a universal level which was good to hear.
“It’s a weird one because art should never be a competition. I’m always reminded of that Neil Young quote, ‘Competitions are for racehorses’, but the fact that ‘Silence’ received that accolade has certainly helped bring attention to my music.”
Dreamcatcher is out now.