“Good is the enemy of great,” says DANNY O’DONOGHUE as he explains how The Script have rebooted themselves with their new album, Freedom Child. Also on the agenda as he shares a sticky bun with STUART CLARK are David Bowie, Lemmy, Stormzy, Donald Trump and HRM, The Queen.
Rewind to a July afternoon in Windmill Lane Studios:
Danny O’Donoghue is air guitar, bass and drumming as Hot Press is treated to a top secret preview of the new Script album, Freedom Child. His band may have sold over 30 million records, but you can tell that the singer is anxious to get the seal of approval from the first magazine to have in 2008 stuck his impossibly photogenic face on its cover.
Mean-spirited bastard that I am I wait until the final bars of mega-ballad ‘Arms Open’ before giving him a job exceedingly well done ‘thumbs up’.
“Good is the enemy of great,” is the O’Donoghue-ian mantra as he reveals that Freedom Child’s 14 tracks are the pick of the sixty-plus they’d amassed before entering the studio in 2016.
“The sonic landscape has changed in the three years since we’ve been away, so we needed a reboot,” Danny proffers. “Freedom Child is a bit more extrovert and in yer’ face than No Sound Without Silence.”
This is no mere flogging the new album hyperbole, with The Script borrowing a sonic trick or three from the EDM brigade – “Yeah, there are some big techno builds in there,” Danny nods when the names Macklemore and Lewis are mentioned – and precision engineering choruses to sound awesome next to Ed, Justin, Bruno, Nicki, Jason, Ri-Ri, Kendrick, Yeezy, Drizzy, Bee, Pharrell et al on the radio.
“You’ve got to convince the gatekeepers who control what gets heard by people that that’s the sort of company you should be keeping. With things moving so fast these days in the music industry, you’re only as good and as relevant as what you’re doing right this second. So many artists don’t get past their second or third albums.”
Fast-forward to a late August morning in the Morrison Hotel:
Danny is enjoying a celebratory cup of tea and a sticky bun following The Script’s triumphant comeback show last night in the National Stadium.
“The stage we were on is amazing because that’s where Led Zeppelin played ‘Stairway To Heaven’ live for only the second time,” he enthuses. “Some of Thin Lizzy’s most legendary gigs were in the Stadium, and my dad sold it out 20 years ago with the showband he was in, The Dreams. I was saying to my mum, ‘Are you excited about tonight?’ and she was, ‘Ah, I’ve seen it all before with your father…’ Talk about being hard to impress!
“Having not played live for two years – which is an eternity for us – the adrenaline shot I got from the gig was amazing. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I got to say: ‘Freedom to do what you want to do/ Freedom to say what you want to say/ Freedom to love who you want to love/ Freedom to be what you want to be’ before we played ‘Freedom Child’. Last night no one outside of the record company and a few of you guys had heard it; by this morning it was being shared and RT-ed all over the world.”
Indeed, there’s probably someone having it inked onto their torso as we speak.
“It blows me away that people identify so closely with our lyrics that they get them done as tattoos. I’ve seen literally thousands of Instagram photos of legs, arms and backs with things like ‘You can move a mountain/You can break rocks’ written on them, which is really flattering.
“Twelve pop songs aren’t sufficient reason to tour for two fucking years. There has to be a message, which in the middle-eight of ‘Freedom Child’ is: ‘Put a flower in the top of a gun/ Put confetti in an atomic bomb/ It’s time to change, man, we’ve seen enough/ Instead of war we’re declaring love.’ I’m not saying it’s going to topple governments, but hopefully it’ll be an inspiration to people who are fed up with all the shit that’s happening at the moment.”
Somebody who did nearly topple a government by mobilising the youth vote at the recent UK general election was Stormzy.
“Theresa May didn’t see that coming, did she?” Danny chuckles. “I got into grime a year-and-a-half ago ‘cause I felt the same energy from it that you got in the old punk days or when Oasis were squaring up to Blur. It used to be drums and guitars, but now they’ve got computers and all this other technology to sit in their bedrooms and make music with. I love the fact that with Stormzy, Bugzy Malone and Skepta you can hear the council estate in their vocals. It happened through social media rather than some record company MD saying, ‘Here’s a good idea…’ Grime’s tough but it’s also funny and cheeky and brainy. I’m not saying we belong in the grime zone, but if we had a really good chorus I’d love someone like Bugzy Malone, who’s very street but has quite sentimental lyrics, to throw a verse over it.
“You’re excited by the fact that there’s all this new music, but also scared because you’re wondering, ‘Where’s our place in all of this?’” Danny continues. “A lot of our contemporaries aren’t around any more because they didn’t change their sound in order to get played on your Radio 1s and 2s in the UK, and the stations that have that sort of agenda-setting role in other countries. It really is adapt or die.”
Along with that metaphorical pushing up the daisies, the music world has lost some of its most revered names since The Script went on their break.
“The people who’ve died in the last two or three years are in the pantheon of the 12 or 13 artists that everybody says were an influence on them,” Danny reflects. “There are thousands of people who started bands or became solo performers because of Prince or George Michael or Leonard Cohen. I’m not going to lie and say I spent my pocket money on The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust or Diamond Dogs, but I majorly got into Bowie and appreciated what a genius he was when we supported U2 in Croke Park and decided that ‘Heroes’ was the perfect song to encapsulate how we felt about playing to 80,000 people in our hometown. I was able to wrap the Irish flag around myself and sing, ‘We can be heroes just for one daaaaaaaaayyyyyyy!’
“That was in 2009. Four years later we got to perform it again at the request of the Queen – that’s Elizabeth II rather than Brian May and Roger Taylor - who was opening the new BBC building at the same time as we were doing a Radio One Live Lounge. Of course, there were a few naysayers in Ireland who said, ‘You shouldn’t have done it’, but I don’t give a crap about that. She shook hands with Martin McGuinness and paid her respects at the Garden of Remembrance so time to move on. Anyway, she was sat ten feet away as I sang, ‘I, I will be King and you, you will be Queen… just for one day!’ Of course, in her case, it’s been a bit longer than just one day!”
Proof of The Script’s Royal Command Performance can be found on hotpress.com.
“Seriously, it doesn’t get any more fucking surreal than that! Another big one for me was Lemmy because Paul, his son, played bass and guitar on our first album and told us all these amazing stories. Paul lives in a predominantly Jewish area of LA and Lemmy would arrive for Sunday lunch in full stormtrooper regalia. Walking up to the door, ‘bing bong’, whilst the neighbours were having a seizure…
“Dave Grohl gets it spot on in Lemmy The Movie when he says: ‘Fuck Keith Richards. Fuck all those dudes that survived the ‘60s, flying around on Lear jets, living up their gunslinger reputation as they fuck supermodels in the most expensive hotel in Paris. It’s like, y’know what Lemmy’s doin’? Lemmy’s probably drinkin’ Jack n’ Cokes and writing another record.’”
Worried that he might not be fully conveying the poetry of the Foo Fighter-in-chief’s quote, Danny asks us to check the quote but needn’t have worried because he’s almost word perfect.
“It’s one of those tour bus essentials that gets watched over and over again. We were also on the phone to each other going ‘fuck, no!’ when George Michael and Prince died. When you’ve grown up listenng to someone the loss seems very real and very personal.”
Having elected to shoot their ‘Superheroes’ video in a Johannesburg township because they wanted to send out a strong anti-racism message, The Script must have been sickened by the recent events in Charlottesville and Trump’s response to them.
“The hair on my arms stood up – this time for the wrong reason,” Danny nods solemnly. “After all the hate and pain American went through during segregation, and the sacrifices made by people like Martin Luther King to stop the lynchings and the other appalling acts of racist violence, how the fuck did those people get a permit to march? Traditionally it’s the President that unites and inspires the country after something like that, but what we got from Trump was disgusting.
“We’ve always been a socially conscious band rather than a political one, but this is a simple case of Right v. Wrong, Good versus Evil.” The battle lines weren’t quite so clearly drawn last year when Danny & Co. penned another of the album’s standouts, ‘Disunited States Of America’.
“That’s a comment on people nowadays living in echo chambers. There was a time when you could have a very heated debate – my opinion, your opinion – without savaging each other. If you hate Trump you’re going to sit there Googling things, which feed that hatred. If you love Trump, which clearly a lot of people still do, there’s that whole alt-right network to tap into. You need to hear someone else’s side of the story.”
As part of the reboot that Danny was talking about at Windmill Lane, Freedom Child finds The Script rubbing pens with Nasri whose credits include the aforementioned Messrs. Bieber and DeRulo, Toby Gad who supplied Beyoncé with ‘If I Were A Boy’ and members of Max Martin’s Swedish Hit Factory.
“The guy’s totally taken over the charts,” Danny reflects. “There’s nobody better than Max Martin who started as a heavy metaller, hence all of the stuff that comes out of the Hit Factory being so dynamic. We weren’t too sure at first about us collaborating with his team, because we’re very self-sufficient and write our own songs, but we went to his compound in LA and within the first five-minutes of just chatting with him, I was like, ‘This guy knows his shit!’ While he set the tone, the people we actually worked with are the eight young writers and producers he has who are known as the Wolf Pack. Tove Lo is one of them, and the energy and enthusiasm they radiate is amazing. There was one guy in particular we took a shine to, Oscar Görres, who wrote this brilliant song, ‘Deliverence’, with us and also produced the ska/EDM/danchehall number we have on the record, ‘No Man Is An Island.’ When I heard the finished song, I just flipped out ‘cause it’s exactly what I had in my brain but wasn’t able to capture myself sat at the mixing desk. It was a bit of a ‘eureka!’ moment because it’s got the lyrics and melody you expect from a Script record, but can be put between Justin Bieber and Drake on the radio.”
The Script drifting into dancehall territory isn’t as surprising as it might seem.
“Years and years and years ago, I had a hit in Jamaica,” Danny laughs. “I sang a version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Part-Time Lover’ for what they call a ‘clappas’ album, which is all these different people performing the same song. The way it works in the dancehalls is you have one singer going on after the other, and they keep the same beat going, sometimes all night. They were one short of what they needed, so I recorded it in Orlando with these guys Alex G and Riprock who rechristened me Irish Man, sent the track down to Jamaica and got in contact a few months later going, ‘It’s a massive dancehall hit!’ There were requests for gigs, but nobody knew I was white and I was worried in case they thought I was trying to pass myself off as a Jamaican. Tom Jones told me that the same thing happened to him in the ‘60s when he was starting off in America. Everybody assumed from the voice that he was a black artist, and in some cases were a bit put out when he turned out to be this white guy from the Welsh valleys! We’ve played ‘Part-Time Lover’ since with Kelly Rowland so I’ve got good mileage out of it.”
What precisely they have planned for us they won’t say – boo! – but 2018 is going to be a massive year for The Script on the live front.
“There’s no point trying to top our Croke Park gig or upstage the Pope in the Phoenix Park – I’m joking! – but we’ve something really special up our sleeves for Ireland next summer!”
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