- 27 Oct 21
In one of his most intimate and revealing interviews yet, Danny O’Donoghue talks personal epiphanies, love during lockdown, family, magic moments and, as they release their greatest hits album, The Script’s place in the pop scheme of things with Stuart Clark. Photo: Westenberg
I don’t know how long adrenalin remains in the bloodstream, but three days after saying, “Transylvania we love you, good night!” to the 70,000 people attending Romania’s Untold festival, Danny O’Donoghue is still on a high.
Asked to put into words what it felt like being back on stage after nineteen loooooooong months, he enthuses, “I was elated, I was mesmerised because I never thought I’d be doing something that size so quickly without there even being a warm-up. We played to 16,000 people in Aberdeen, Scotland on March 13, 2020, came home and, boom, locked up for a year-and-a-half. We reckoned times were tough then, but they just got harder and harder for everybody. I didn’t think I could recapture the emotion of the very first Script gig, but driving to the stadium the other night in Romania it felt exactly the same as it did fourteen years ago. I was in the van going, ‘Shit, what’s the second verse of that song? Should I write it on my hand just in case I forget it on stage? Fuck, what if I open my mouth and nothing comes out?’ There were all these triggers. I felt really young, I felt really humble, I felt really grateful. When we got to play ‘For The First Time’ to that crowd – ‘All these times are hard, yeah, they’re making us crazy…’ – I was like, ‘Woah, this is what I’ve been dreaming of all the way through Covid!’ It was fucking amazing.”
As unrelentingly grim as it was – “People have died, lives have been turned upside down,” he notes forlornly – lockdown gave Danny time to take stock of his life and recalibrate.
“We’d been on the treadmill and would have been for another two years if all this hadn’t happened,” he resumes. “One of the only good things to come out of Covid – and I know I’m saying this from a place of privilege – was the chance to reflect because all you’ve got in a situation like that is your four walls. I got to sit back and actually say, ‘Do I fucking like myself?’ And the answer was, ‘No, not really.’ I realised that I’d learned to fake loving my life. My whole time in The Script I’ve actually been fucking terrified of the day when it naturally starts slowing down or stops altogether. It’s like Usain Bolt; there’s a day when you realise you’re not as fast as you used to be. It’s nothing to do with being ‘relevant’ because that’s such a stupid word to apply to music and it’s never mattered to me. What scared me shitless was waking up one day and seeing that natural decline. I didn’t want to be the guy in the bar going, ‘Oh, I used to be in a band…’
“Suddenly that fear I’d had was realised by Covid,” he continues. “I was like, ‘It’s over for you, it’s over for your fans, it’s over for everybody.’ I was so fucking angry because I couldn’t rush out again with the band, but what was I rushing back out to? Who was I? What was I doing? Forget love, do I even like what I’m doing? So I met myself and, to be honest, it took me a while to get used to who the fuck I was.”
You won’t be surprised to learn that there’s a woman involved.
“We’d spent maybe nine months dating and I thought, ‘We should absolutely move in together at this point because there’s something special here’,” Danny says with a loved-up look on his face. “So we did, in London, a month before the second shutting down of everything and it’s been brilliant. A lot of people have the opposite story to me. Both of them lost their jobs and they turned around and said to each other, ‘I fucking hate you!’
With us, it got to the mad, magical point a year in when I realised we’d actually lived in lockdown longer than we’d been out in the real world together. We were both like, ‘This is fucking mental!’”
Lockdown life actually being far closer to normal than the one Danny had previously been living.
“Now you have it!” he exclaims. “Since 2005, I’ve been recording for a year, then touring for a year. Even when I was off for a few weeks, I was still ‘Danny from The Script’ if I went anywhere. Sometimes you just want the mundanity of waking up and thinking, ‘What am I going to do today? I might clean the house. Actually, no, I’ll sit in the garden with a cup of tea and stare at the clouds!’ For the first time in my entire fucking life, I got to potter!”
Having turned forty last year, Danny admits that he’s broody and hoping to start a family with his partner. You’re doubtless wondering who the mystery woman is. Danny told me earlier that, “I’m an open book, you can ask my anything,” but I’m not going there because he’s already had two serious relationships picked apart by the tabloids.
“One of my brothers is living in Australia,” he says. “We often have these conversations where he’ll ask, ‘What the fuck was it like standing on stage playing Croke Park?’ Because that was his dream and my Dad’s dream. We all talked about it growing up. I’m like, ‘It was amazing’ but he’s raised these four amazing kids and I’m thinking, ‘Maybe he’s the one who got it fucking right. Maybe I’m the one who’s fucked up. Oh shit, maybe I’m going to be the one with the regrets.’ I’ve come to that realisation at just the right time before it gets too late.”
Before you jealously start cursing him for having his Covid shit together, the singer admitted elsewhere recently that, “I’m not going to lie, I was drinking, I had Deliveroo on speed dial.” So the man who wrote ‘Superheroes’ is mortal after all…
“I normally have – or pretend to have – the answers, but like everyone else I didn’t have a clue what was going on,” Danny admits. “When me Da was alive, I’d call him in situations like that and say, ‘Dad, what the fuck is happening with the world?’ and he’d go, ‘Right, sit tight. Something like this happened when I was younger’ or whatever. But you’re looking at leaders of countries stumbling their way through sentences and saying to yourself, ‘I can smell a bullshitter because I’m one myself… and that's a bullshitter!’
“I was trying to be super-positive but basically I got fired from my job and couldn’t work for fucking two years like everybody else. All of my friends and family are in the music game, and they got fired too. Some of them will never return to the industry because they’ve all got new jobs now. There’s an amazingly skilled workforce that we built up and cultivated over nearly fifty fucking years in Ireland, you know…”
I do. Like me, Danny was incandescent during the first few months of lockdown when the government line was more or less, “You’ve worked your entire adult life as a guitar tech so, okay, you can retrain now as a plumber.”
“My brother’s a grafter who worked in the Sugar Club as a soundman and now he’s a bricky. You’d think being my brother he’d get a bit of a better job but the opportunities aren’t there. Our in-ear monitor guy’s company let sixty people go. What the fuck are you going to do? ‘Right, let’s flip burgers at McDonald’s.’ What? ‘Let’s go drive for Amazon’.
“So like I said,” Danny continues, “I used the opportunity to really examine my life and go, ‘What am I doing?’ Number one, life’s too short. Number two, it’s going so fast that I’m taking things for granted, which I said I never would. I tell you what, I don’t take them for fucking granted now! On the plane over to Romania I was like a child looking at the clouds. Soon as we landed, I drank my cup of tea and went, ‘Wow, it’s different milk here, isn’t it?’ A few hours later it was, ‘Look at the way the sun sets; it’s a totally different light to back home.’ My sense of being grateful to be alive is very heightened at the moment.”
Having identified where he’d been fucking up in life, Danny set about trying to repair some of the damage.
“I rang people and apologised for shit that I probably didn’t even need to apologise for,” he explains. “‘I’m sorry I missed your fucking birthday’; ‘I’m sorry that I felt that gig was too important at the time to be at your wedding.’ I wasn’t there for my own family even. My nieces and nephews: they’re all grown up now. I called all the people that have been there for me and said, ‘Thank you so fucking much’ and used that as an opportunity to just shed all the really negative stuff. I got back into my Muay Thai kickboxing – those pads really took a beating – and tried to channel my anxiety because the second lockdown for me was awful. I only have a certain amount of happy in me and it was all used up by the time last Christmas came around.
“To make matters worse, we’d promised nurses and other frontline workers a free show in February that we had to cancel, so now on top of everything else I’m letting people down.”
I can’t help feeling that Danny is being overly harsh on himself. An American psychologist recently described a type of Covid survivors’ guilt affecting those of us lucky enough not to have suffered some sort of profound loss or hardship during it.
“It’s been devastating, bro, for so many people,” he sighs. “What I’m trying to do now is concentrate on No-Vid rather than Covid. Start capitalising on the positives that have happened to me. Another one being that I cut everybody out of my fucking life who wasn’t meant to be there.”
We’re a good half-hour into our chinwag and have yet to mention the main reason for us spending quality Zoom time together – I’m in HP Central, Danny looks like he’s on the bridge of the USS Enterprise in his state-of-the-art London studio – which is the release this week of their Tales From The Script greatest hits.
What strikes me looking through the all-killer, zero filler track-listing is just how many of the songs have becomes anthems for the masses. Can Danny get his head around what songs like ‘Superheroes’, ‘Hall Of Fame’ and ‘For The First Time’ mean to people?
“I reflect on it an awful lot, yeah,” he nods. “I just got hit up on Instagram by this girl whose father is dying from throat cancer. He’s a Script fan and got really excited when tickets went on sale for our tour, but he’s just been given only three to six months to live and won’t be around for it. His favourite song is ‘Superheroes’ so I’m going to ring up and do a mini-concert down the phone for them. I’m sitting there watching the fucking Superbowl and the song comes on: the Paralympics too. I know why I wrote it, but seeing the meaning that other people invest in them never gets old, bro. I love music with all of my heart and DNA, so when someone says a song of mine changed their life, I’m genuinely humbled.”
Danny goes on to recount another poignant story that couldn’t have been any closer to home.
“My Mum had a brain aneurysm and wasn’t responding to anybody or anything,” he recalls. “She could move her hands but that was it. I was sat at her bedside flicking through my phone, I needed to check the ‘Hall Of Fame’ video out because it was premiering that week or something, and as I did she started mumbling along with the words: ‘You can be the greatest/ You can be the best…’ So we made these CDs of music we knew she liked, brought them into Beaumont Hospital and she kept reacting to them like that – it was her way back in. It’s funny, one of her favourite songs when she was on her deathbed was ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ by Queen. Like, fucking comical.”
We’ve all had songs – The Lightning Seeds’ ‘Pure’ and Kirsty MacColl’s version of ‘Days’ being mine – that have helped us survive those long dark nights of the soul.
“Music can dig right down into your soul, can’t it?” Danny agrees. “My Dad, who also passed away a few years ago, found it hard to say ‘I love you’ but could melt stone hearts with his piano playing. I’m talking four o’clock in the morning, pissed up and he’s still there brining tears to your eyes with the way he touched and felt the keys. That was his way of expressing himself.
“I’m from a family where if you’re not doing music you ain’t worth a shit,” he continues. “To reach the top of the music mountain is the fucking golden dream, man, and I had my family there helping me up it.”
Just in case it comes up in a future music pub quiz – they will be back! – Danny’s brothers Ian and Dara respectively played in Revelino and The Big Geraniums, two ‘90s outfits who were adored by fans but failed to achieve commercial lift-off. Pop acts using hip-hop beats and production techniques are ten a penny (or 11.7 a cent) nowadays but when The Script started out in 2005 they were genuine trailblazers. A lot of this being down to the time, after the break-up of the boy band they were in, MyTown, that Danny and Mark Sheehan spent hanging in the States with people like Boyz II Men and Teddy Riley.
“That was pivotal, man, 100%,” he nods again. “I lived in Orlando for four years, spent two years travelling around the States producing and writing for all sorts of people and then spent another four years in Los Angeles. This was when rap, R&B and hip-hop was becoming really dominant. We married all that together on our first album. ‘We Cry’ is almost a rap song. ‘Before The Worst’ is half rap verses, but the things I’m talking about in it are, ‘Dublin city on a Friday night/ With vodkas and coke/ I was Guinness all night.’ The American acts I loved sang about their hometowns, so we did the same.”
Played to death by radio on both sides of the Atlantic, their self-titled debut’s pair of monster hits, ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’ and ‘Breakeven’, were a very obvious influence on the next wave of fresh-faced pop hopefuls.
“I’m super-proud that I’m the grandaddy of all that,” Danny beams. “We were two years and two albums ahead of the likes of Ed Sheeran in terms of blue-eyed soul and having a verse where you’re kind of singing/rapping. But look, I borrowed it from other bands like 1 Giant Leap and Thirsty Merk. They had rappers rapping over rock tunes, rockers singing over rap beats, this whole mishmash. We just came up with our own slant on it.”
The last fourteen years have been a mad fucking ride for The Script, but what are Danny’s highlights of highlights?
“Oh man, where do I start?” he mock groans. “Opening for Paul McCartney on his fucking world tour when he was playing Beatles songs for the first time in thirty years. I heard him warming up every night and he gave me a bottle with his name on it: I’ve got the picture to prove it. U2 were heroes of ours growing up and then we got to support them in the most Dublin venue ever, Croke Park. I met and played for the Queen who told me she was a fan of The Voice.
“We were sat in the back of the bus necking Jack Daniel’s when we got a message saying, ‘You guys are amazing custodians of Irishness, you’re ambassadors, we’d love you to come and play for the President of Ireland in Áras an Uachtaráin.’ Fucking what?! Having six number ones in the UK. Going from selling out the Sugar Club to selling out Croke Park ourselves. Navigating our way from physical sales to streaming. Every one of those things has been a milestone. But what I’m most proud of is making it out alive.”
We could end the interview there, but Danny is eager to repeat his new mantra one more time before he returns to today’s studio chores.
“Dude, life is too short. If you want to do something, don’t procrastinate, just fucking do it or else you’ll be on your deathbed going, ‘What if…’ I have what I call ‘a funeral state of mind.’ I’m not going to wait till I’m standing over your dead body to tell you how I feel about you. I’m gonna look you in the eye and tell you right now. Call me a cheesy bollocks and tell me to ‘fuck off’, I don’t care.
“I thought success was seven billion streams, but during Covid I was just as fucking broke on the inside as I was before I started The Script. That’s going to change now, bro.”
• Tales From The Script greatest hits album is out now