not a member? click here to sign up
Esprit de Corr
Soul-searching at the end of a poignant year with the girl from the north country. The Andrea Corr interview: Niall Stokes
Niall Stokes, 06 Dec 2001
It’s been a strange and interesting year for The Corrs. At the end of 2000, they were ensconced in the upper regions of charts all over the world with their fourth album In Blue. The record went on to sell close to six million copies – but its mightily impressive success in some 15-plus territories notwithstanding, it didn’t quite make the breakthrough in the US that the band and their organisation had been hoping for.
No one can put their finger on precisely why. The United States is a huge and difficult market – but then anyone releasing a record there is faced with that reality. Black music – what the Americans call R’n’B, and rap music in particular – has a stronger presence in the States than anywhere else in the world and that militates against bands like The Corrs, when it comes to high profile radio and TV exposure.
And then there’s the influence of MTV, videos, and the obsession which that has tended to engender with what can be crudely labelled T’n’A. Destiny’s Child may be a great vocal act – but would they have been half as successful if they hadn’t been prepared to flaunt it? Almost certainly not.
While the Corrs strategists were just beginning to puzzle over that one, a different kind of crisis interrupted the forward momentum of the outfit. In February, Andrea came down with a serious illness, forcing the cancellation of the South-East Asian leg of The Corrs’ ongoing world odyssey. For Andrea Corr herself, it was a shocking and frustrating experience: it put her out of action for a month, and at one stage she feared the possible loss of her hearing. It was a concern that was ultimately to prove unfounded – but while it lasted, there was an extra degree of soul-searching to be done.
Soul-searching is something that comes naturally to Andrea. For most of the ten years of the band’s existence, she has been the quietest – the shyest even – of the four siblings. She has never been a forceful talker – but her frequent reticence is a kind of shield, masking the reflective and poetic aspects of her character. She is not analytical by nature – but there is an enigmatic, bohemian quality about her that suggests an unusual depth of feeling and imagination, that makes her special.
While the rest of The Corrs had been involved in various relationships that were public to one degree or another, Andrea had been conspicuously single during the entire period that the band have been in a position of musical prominence. That changed during 2001 also, a development that will have broken the hearts of male fans all over the world – not to mention dozens of would-be suitors on the Irish scene (who shall remain nameless).
Against that background, and the fact that The Corrs Best Of album has sold over 2 million copies in the first two weeks of its release, it is a noticeably relaxed, vibrant and healthy-looking Andrea, who enters the room in the Herbert Park Hotel in Dublin, to undergo the hotpress cover treatment. There are times during the interview when it is quite clear that she is conscious of the way that what she says – or what she had been thinking of saying – is likely to be used and possibly abused in the tabloid press. But she is impressively honest and direct throughout – and humorous in a way that it is next to impossible to communicate in print.
The previous night, the band had flown to London to appear on Parkinson. We have a laugh about the scale of the entourage brought along for the same occasion by Jennifer Lopez, a battalion, I had been informed earlier, that included not just a battery of minders, including one for each member of the band, but also the outfit’s own catering crew. Worrying through the post-September 11th blues, no doubt.
The Corrs didn’t even bump into Lopez, who was determined not to mix it with the rest of the guests. “That’s just the way some of these American artists do it,” Andrea says.
And then I press record...
Niall Stokes: So what has the last year been like in the life of Andrea Corr?
Andrea Corr: The last year – it’s been good. It’s been extremely busy, touring the In Blue album. I got sick, so that led to a month off which was weird – it was actually nice to have a month off, but then it wasn’t. The rest of the family went out and made a video in Mexico and on the last day the ear specialist said ‘no, you can’t go’. So it was kind of weird when I saw them going off doing things. But, yeah, while we were touring, it was good.
NS: So what stands out as the highlight for you?
AS: It was great touring South-East Asia. That was a highlight musically. We were in certain places for the first time. It was quite scary actually – but playing to people out there and seeing the Philippines and Indonesia, it was very interesting. And it’s that kind of thing, I think, that makes what we do worthwhile, in that you get such a broader perspective of the world. And you get really minuscule: the more you see, the more unimportant you get, and I love that. We’re all important in our own way, but we don’t mean anything to so many people – and that’s right, that’s the way it should be. All that’s begotten is born and dies. And that’s it!
NS: You mentioned there that it was a bit scary playing in Indonesia. What was the problem?
AC: Well, September 11th had happened about four days before we were due to fly to that side of the world. That shocked everybody and made everybody rethink what they do in life and why they do it, and what situations they put themselves in and how far they are away from their loved ones and that kind of thing. So, as was the case with everybody else, we did that and the excitement of going on tour, of getting on a flight, that we would usually feel, was kind of gone. It was very tense.
NS: So why did you go ahead and do it?
AC: We had already cancelled Indonesia two years ago because of the struggles within Indonesia and we had postponed that whole South East Asian tour because of my illness back in January, February. So we felt we had to do this and it was the right thing to do, but we also decided that we would have the situation monitored everyday. And going into Jakarta was pretty scary. Everything was supposed to be OK, but we literally… you could feel the tension, you actually could. It was weird for me looking down at the audience and looking down particularly at some women – now not all are like this, but some were in the whole [muslim] dress – and looking and knowing that I encompass everything that she isn’t and that she can’t be. You know, I stand for the opposite. It was quite weird to play there.
NS: Was there any stage at which there was a direct threat to you, physically?
AC: We got out by the skin of our teeth, really. The fighting started literally the day we left. And everybody that was western had to stay inside or get out of the country somehow. It was really one of those situations where you asked yourself: ‘should we have taken that risk?’. I still don’t know. But the gig was great.
NS: Was Indonesia anything like what you expected?
AC: You know, Ireland has suffered from the reputation we have of war-torn island. I remember looking at the news in America going ‘God, I wonder where that is, that place looks like it’s having an awful time?’. And it would be Ireland. And thinking about the fact that that was the representation, and knowing that the reality here is that it’s a lovely place to live. It’s fantastic. And knowing that that deterred artists from coming to play here or in the North – I think we felt extra sensitive then. There are people who want to hear your music. We’ve been No.1 so many times in Indonesia. It’s not fair to rob these people of entertainment, in a place that needs more escape than anywhere through music. So that was more prominent than other things. And a gut feeling that it was going to be OK.
NS: So what would you think of as the low point of the year for you, personally?
AC: It was scary when I got sick. Everybody knows that, with pain, it’s a completely subjective thing. But I was very frightened. I couldn’t hear. My ears went completely and the pain was excruciating. It happened suddenly. I woke up at three in the morning and I could actually hear things you don’t want to hear. You hear your body working. I heard my heart beat in a way I never had before. And it was really frightening with everybody around talking to you and you can’t really hear them. It was awful. And then it was ‘get the ferry home’ and then it got more serious, with everything being cancelled. I love my sight a lot, but God, my hearing… there was a fear that my ears might be ruined and if that happened, all my music would be gone. It would only exist in my head, to the rhythm of my heartbeat, that I’d be hearing very clearly. It was quite frightening.
NS: And what was the cause of it?
AC: It was an abscess on my eardrum, in my right ear. And then my left had an inner-ear infection also. It was just too much work really. My immune system was down and obviously the relentless flying, up and down, took its toll. I noticed it with my in-ear monitors a few days previous. I said to the monitor guy ‘is it possible that, some days, your ear can feel smaller?’. It was a silly question, I know. But it did. My in-ear monitor didn’t seem to fit so well. It seemed like it wanted to come out. It was obviously because I had a haemorraging cyst on my eardrum. So that wasn’t the best point.
NS: Did it give you a sense of your own vulnerability or your own mortality?
AC: My thoughts on mortality are really based on Mammy’s death. My ear didn’t make me feel that I was going to die or anything. But it made me aware that life can change completely in a moment. We all know that, but it’s hard to realise that yours can. Then there’s a complete mind shift – what do you do? What are you? So it just made me more careful in a way. We’ve got to make the most of every day that we have.
NS: Is there any sense of disappointment in the band that In Blue didn’t make that breakthrough onto the very highest level in the States?
AC: Em, yeah. I’ll always be frustrated until it’s done. ‘Breathless’ was a huge single out there, huge. And the album sold over a million, which is fantastic. But we haven’t done it on the scale that it can be done. I feel it’s there. I feel it’s not a problem. I feel, you know, that once one album sells, they will all sell. And I feel that will happen. I know that our music will touch them like it has seemed to around the world.
NS: Why hasn’t it happened yet?
AC: It’s a tough bloody place, it really is. It’s just so big. Mad tunes can become No.1 out there, just off-the-wall, mad tunes. Then you’ll never hear about them again and that’s fine. It’s actually nearly worse for the poor artist. You know, being flung up into the heights of stardom and then next thing it’s ‘who?’. That’s nearly worse. With us, it’s a kind of steady build. I have faith and I feel everything is for the best.
NS: One school of thought is that it’s quite early for The Corrs to have released a Greatest Hits album. To take one example, U2 waited 20 years.
AC: Best Of is not a profound statement. It’s not a heavy deal. It’s a compilation of hits, of songs that are taken from our albums. I despise this kind of cheating the fans argument. That’s ridiculous. Does anybody go to people and put a gun to their head and say ‘buy our album’? It’s there to buy, if you want – or not to if you don’t. It marks a decade for us and it’s quite retrospective. Also we’re going to go and make our new album in February, and we’re going to be a long time away. So we wanted something there in the meantime. And we wrote ‘Would You Be Happier?’ which we wanted as a single and ‘Make You Mine’ also, so it just felt right.
NS:Thinking about your own songs, if you were asked to say ‘this is the one so far that I’m most proud of’ or that you think is the best song, which one would you pick?
AC:Lyrically, I’m very proud of ‘Queen Of Hollywood’ and ‘No More Cry’. I like it when songs are just honest and say things in a very… Feelings aren’t really that eloquent. We make them eloquent, and that in a way is eradicating feelings or erasing feelings sometimes. They’re like flamenco music, the way they go ‘aaaaah’ – you don’t understand the words but you know there’s pain; you know if it’s funereal, or whatever, even if you don’t understand it. That’s why I love the Cocteau Twins. I don’t have a clue what’s she’s singing, but I do from the sounds. So the fact that ‘No More Cry’ isn’t eloquent, to me, makes it really real and honest. That is what it is. I’m proud of that. ‘Runaway’ is very special and always will be because it was our first single. We were embarking on something and we had no idea what it was going to be. I really had no clue. And there’s a naivety to it. I think it’s a good song.
NS:You must often feel like running away at this stage.
AC:(Laughs) Right, yes, sometimes!
NS:What would be the inspiration for that most often?
AC:Sometimes tiredness can make you feel like… there’s an island, you know, or some little village somewhere, in a completely different country, where people think about completely different things that you’d like to escape to – something like that. I think everybody feels like running away these days. I think everybody should chill out a little more. I think we should enjoy life more.
NS:Does the fact that Sharon got hitched during the year affect your sense of where the band is going?
AC:No, because in a way it makes you more aware we’re people in a band and that’s part of life’s path for that person – in this case for Sharon. Of course we all affect each other. But we went on tour afterwards. I mean she’s been committed to Gavin for seven years. They just weren’t married, but they were in their own minds. So it wasn’t like, ‘OK, now you’re staying at home’ or anything like that. Even for her. It was just a real celebration that her life is moving that way. It’s wonderful.
NS:Rumours are that your own love life has taken a positive turn.
AC:It’s just that I have a boyfriend for a change! And it’s true! (laughs).
NS:So has that affected things for you, personally?
AC:It’s great. To me everything’s nicer if you feel like you’re in love. It’s better. I probably have more energy for what we do. I’m probably more relaxed. He brings me back to being Andrea Corr, in Dundalk, in my garden. That’s the way I feel. I don’t feel like Andrea Corr who does interviews in hotpress, you know. And that’s just so wonderful. That is Andrea Corr as well – but just to go back to that is lovely. So I go to work and do what I do and everything and I love it. I really love singing. And then to leave and do different things – it’s nicer. Before him I didn’t really leave. I’d go home to a hotel room and I would be thinking of the next day or of what happened that day. I never really did read schedules – things are going to happen, whether you worry about them or not. But particularly now, I just forget about it. We do Top Of The Pops and leave it – and go out to dinner. And I’m sitting there at dinner and the stress just goes. Being with him is like reading Harry Potter (laughs).
NS:There’s this idea that people have to have pain or tragedy in their lives to produce great songs. Do you subscribe to that view?
AC:No. I kind of hate that view because I hate people who splash their own pain on covers, like the whole world should hear about them. Why are we all supposed to be interested in one individual’s suffering? If they’re going to help other people to get through stuff, that’s OK. But I just can’t stand indulgence and people being indulgent about their own pain. I can’t stand it. I sympathise but I don’t understand. I believe that when pain is true it’s silent. It does not want to be in a newspaper with a red masthead at the top of it…
NS:And yet some great music does derive from painful experience.
AC:Before Mammy died I definitely would have subscribed to that thought completely, that pain is silent. I don’t want to be indulgent myself, but I do think that I found something different in music after she died. And it was cathartic to write. Things just came out and it was expressive and therapeutic and just gave me a whole new view of it all. In some ways it does seem to be an important thing, that you have something to give to an audience and that, in some way, they can relate to you. But I just loathe indulgence. I hate it. I hate people coming out like ‘now I’m interesting because I have this pain’. That doesn’t make a person interesting. Life happens. That’s all that means.
NS:There’s a kind of victim culture that’s developed where people love to not just talk about it, but to find someone else to blame for it as well.
AC:Absolutely. Life takes its path and sometimes there are people to blame. Of course there are bad people in this world. Good, bad, it happens unfortunately. But in a way I think if there was more focus on the good, more good would happen. If we focused more on love, or on the sun shining, it would be a better place. Everybody’s different. I just think sometimes it’s used as fodder to make excuses for a person’s inadequacies or bad points. Why do singers think that they should be understood by the whole world? ‘Nobody understands me?’ Why? That is so egotistical. All I care is that my family, and my loved ones, understand me. Or that they understand me to a degree – I don’t understand me very much. And I don’t need the world to understand me. That is the most egocentric thing.
NS:But is there a possibility that it becomes harder to write songs that reach people in the context of being happy and comfortable within yourself?
AC:You see, the thing is, who is comfortable in themselves? Musicians are probably the most uncomfortable people in themselves in the world. Happiness, I think, only exists when you’re a child and once you go past 11, unfortunately it’s gone. Pure happiness, where all you care about is that Mammy and Daddy love you and you’re OK. That’s pure happiness. Discomfort comes anyway. Nobody’s existence is painless.
NS:When you’re out on the road would you be prone to jealousy, thinking about him back somewhere else?
AC:No, not at all. I wouldn’t have an ounce of it because he’s just not that way, you know. I always have this sense that people have to always remember that they were strangers once. It’s probably my ideal on love – remember the stranger. Years go by and people are together, but there was an individual there for 26 years, or whatever, who was absolutely fine, coping without you. So why do you assume that the person is not strong enough to take the truth? I just feel that if somebody happened to fancy somebody else, well then I should be a friend that he can say it to. I mean I’d kill him (laughs), but I don’t see it happening. So I wouldn’t get jealous anyway.
NS:Has being in love changed what you want from life?
AC:We’re all the same. We all want the same thing in life. Everybody going around like ants and we all want the same thing. And it’s not one queen. It’s not one queen with the wings.
NS:What is it that we want?
AC:We just want love. We all want love; we want a life. That’s really it.
NS:And how important is sexuality in that as an expression of love or as a part of love?
AC:Well in an “in love” relationship of course it’s very important. But in a platonic, brother/sister relationship it isn’t at all! ‘(laughs).
NS:Do you think the fact that you are in love and that you’ve got someone to share things with, will that affect your reputation as a party girl?
AC:Have I a reputation as a party girl? (laughs)
NS:Well, you tell me!
AC:No, I don’t think so. I wasn’t aware of my reputation in the first place.
NS:Dolores O’Riordan said an interesting thing recently. She was talking about rock’n’roll and being on the road and the way in which drink had become a factor in things for her – and that she hadn’t understood it as a drug and she was looking at it in a different way now.
AC:I think music is definitely a different kind of life in that way. It does take away perspective. I would agree with her in that no day is Saturday, but every day is Saturday. When we grew up in Dundalk, through school and discipline, you knew when the weekend was. Now sometimes you complain about it – ‘I don’t know what the weekend is’. But that doesn’t mean that Monday night you can’t have a party. So perspective does go in that way. But right now we’re kind of young and it’s not really that bad a thing.
NS:And have you ever stepped back and thought ‘I’m over-indulging here’; or ‘Maybe I shouldn’t drink so much’?
AC:Sometimes, yeah, especially on a hangover. Who doesn’t? I hate it. But life is too short to keep giving yourself a hard time. Everybody gets too drunk sometimes; and even if everybody didn’t, I have gotten too drunk sometimes. I haven’t hurt anybody. If anything I’ve hurt myself or maybe amused some people, but generally they’ve been in the same boat. In Ireland we drink a lot. It’s part of our culture. I like drinking. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
NS:So what’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?
AC:I wouldn’t have it written down. Or spoken!
NS:There’s been a bit of controversy in the newspapers recently about this change in the treatment of cannabis in the UK where they’ve introduced legislation where people who are caught in possession won’t be charged. What are your thoughts on that?
AC:It isn’t proven that it does any harm and, in fact, it’s proven that it helps some people that are ill. It should be available for them. To be honest, I think it should be legal like alcohol is, but with education. Because I do think people can become complete stoners and years go by and they’ve achieved none of their goals. And I do think we do have work to do, while we’re here in the world. And we’ve got our own destiny to fulfil in certain ways and I think that too much smoke can get in the way of people realising their destiny. I know it for a fact. I’ve seen people and life has just gone by. But as an occasional thing I don’t think it should be a crime. Drink can bring out a much worse reaction in people, in violence, stuff like that. You never see anybody violent when they’re stoned.
NS:An impression I got talking before was that you’d see yourself as a bit of a dreamer. Is that right?
AC:Yeah, I suppose I am. Everybody dreams really. I love reality. I love the world. I love the smell of it. I love it. So the dreams would be based on it. Sometimes I just dream I’m somewhere else.
NS:It’s a very interesting aspect of human experience, what goes on in people’s heads that you don’t see. The feeling that, in some way, we are all disconnected. There are aspects of people’s minds that are completely unfathomed.
NS:Definitely. There is a feeling and I do get it sometimes. Today is quite like that I think. It’s very still, quite surreal in a way. There is always the feeling that something else is going on. There is something else going on. It’s like the world is not a deadened room, it reverberates. That’s the way I feel it.
NS:And have you a vivid, recurring dream?
AC:I do have the teeth one where all your teeth fall out. Because I had braces for years. So that’s awful. Recurring dream? I used to have the one that I could fly. And that’s a lovely dream sometimes. Then other times… one night I hovered all around. I left my bedroom, hovered down and went and hovered around the Redeemer Church and it was so real. It was really weird. I like those ones. Some of them are to do with what we do as a job and it just shows that it’s gotten in there.
NS:Give me an example?
AC:I had one where I was sick and this can often happen where you feel ‘oh God, this is too much, I need a break’. I got really ill before doing a show and it was to be filmed for Sky – that one before Christmas last year. And I felt I was getting an awful cold, a virus, and the flu was coming on. I felt so bad. I woke up in the morning and I rang Henry, our tour manager, to get a doctor and so he said to me on the phone ‘right, OK, you’ll have to tell me what it is or write it down for our insurance, in case you have to cancel the gig’. And I said ‘that’s fine, I’ll be up in a while’. Then I fell asleep and I was in the hotel robe in the bed and I had this dream that the doctor came in, but a whole film crew came in behind him! He said ‘say aargh’, and the whole film crew was there, filming it!
NS:Have you ever had what you think was a paranormal experience?
AC:I think paranormal experiences are very personal again, if they are that. Yes, sometimes I’ve felt that some things I would personally believe enough for me to take action on it… like, you know, I felt something happen in a hotel once that made me never stay there again. I actually left and for the first time in my life – I didn’t want to do it – I stayed in a different hotel from everyone else because I knew I couldn’t stay in that hotel again. And I never have. And I hadn’t been drinking or anything. It wasn’t induced by anything.
NS:Was it that you felt there was a presence in the place?
AC:It seems so farcical written down that I’d prefer not to describe it.
NS:You talked about your experiences in Indonesia. What’s your reaction to what’s going on in Afghanistan?
AC:I think, like everybody else, it’s extremely frightening. It’s extremely wrong, the way people are being hurt and are dying. It’s just a horrendous situation. As I said earlier on, sometimes good does come out of these terrible things. And I think it did make people go ‘wow’ and reassess and question what they’re doing with their lives. ‘Is it right I’m commuting every morning at six o’clock, and get in late at night, and I don’t see my kids?’ That kind of thing. In a way it changes the world because it’s changed people’s perspective on their own lives. But when the news comes on television, it’s pretty hard to watch. I said it recently, it’s kind of like the time for Harry Potter. These are the times for Shrek and Harry Potter. We need to become childlike again. Not in a way that we don’t take care of our responsibilities, but there’s pure love in children, if the world would just remember it.
NS:Do you have a hero of 2001?
AC:I’d nominate my Dad. I actually would. There are people who have done amazing things for the world, of course. But he’s my personal hero for 2001. He’s amazing.
NS:And what about a villain?
AC:I’d nominate my brother (laughs). No, I’m joking. A villain is almost comical… Who’s annoyed me? I don’t know!
NS:Jim has previously talked about the way in which he originally felt obliged to take on the role of the father-figure on the road. Was that a difficult time for you all?
AC:No, I think everybody had difficulties with that dynamic, turning the family into a band and being constantly together. So everybody, as individuals, had things to sort out. We were all younger than him. So it wasn’t easy for Jim, because our parents would worry, you know, ‘is Jim looking after things?’. It wasn’t a bad thing in itself. We’d bad times together because we were a family trying to do something and it was taking everything out of us and also we had that whole family dynamic – every Christmas, every family has a fight. We won’t fight now because we’ve done all that. But it’s that whole thing. That’s going to happen in everybody’s house. We were all guilty and we were all victims of it.
NS:Do you ever look at stuff about The Corrs and about yourself on the internet?
AC:Sometimes I have, yeah.
NS:What’s your reaction?
AC:It’s quite weird. It’s hard to conceive that it’s me they’re talking about. If you go through some things where they’re talking about you, it can be quite weird. And Dad has seen some and that’s not nice. It just doesn’t seem to be me really who they’re talking about. It’s like I’m looking at a one-dimensional cartoon character.
NS:It’s a whole new medium in terms of what’s said about people. You’ve talked before about how the tabloids invade people’s privacy and so on. The internet has another dimension again to it, doesn’t it?
AC:Yeah. I think it really seems to try to get right into the person, in a way. I don’t know. The internet is quite dangerous, I think. I think it’s wonderful in some ways, but it’s obviously very dangerous, you know. Anyway, I actually think young people looking at screens so much all day is bad. Years go by.
NS:And have you spent any time getting to grips with computers?
AC:No, I’m still illiterate, completely.
NS:One of the guys who works with me said ‘I think in a way Andrea is really a country girl at heart’. Is that right?
AC:I kind of am; but in a way sometimes I’m not. I love walking among people and in the country you don’t see enough people. I love watching people and that’s what I do; just go for a walk at about 4 o’clock, and go down a busy street, where you see people coming out of school and you get a glimpse of their lives, what they’re talking about. You know, people coming out offices going in to have a sandwich somewhere, all that kind of stuff.
NS:Can you get away with watching people any more?
AC:Yeah. They don’t know I’m watching them. I put a cap on and I walk very fast. I’m sure people have seen me, but often I’m too far away for them to really grasp it. I’ll dress in a way that I won’t be seen or I’ll walk in a place that it’s just too unexpected that I’d be there anyway, that’s incongruous. Nobody puts you together with that. If they walked into The Ivy or the Met Bar, then if they saw someone remotely like you, they’d imagine that is you. But people are so busy anyway they don’t see you or recognise you in the street.