The Irish singer/songwriter Declan O’Rourke found early success at home when his 2004 debut, Since Kyabram, went double-platinum. Big Bad Beautiful World, his 2007 followup, also fared well in Ireland. But his latest album, 2013’s Mag Pai Zai, was released in the United States, where O’Rourke has been working slowly and deliberately to build an audience. The following is his own words, as told to photographer Jacob Blickenstaff.
Nighttime is when certain things unlock. You’re chipping away at something and not getting much movement, then just as you’re falling asleep you hear something you’ve been looking for: a (chord) change, a different part, or a musical idea. Somebody explained it to me as the point where your conscious brain switches off and your unconscious brain takes over, there’s a small overlap there and that’s the window where you’re trying to capture some good things. Things happen once you begin that you didn’t expect—beautiful, creative surprises, really.
There are elements of Irish-ness in what I do, but I feel people are exposed to so much global culture that even though everyone has a national identity, it’s a global identity. It’s simply about stories that move you. I pride myself on being a lyricist and being able to relate a story in a way that conveys how it made me feel when I heard it.
When I brought my first record out, it was picked up pretty quickly at home and started to get a lot of radio play. I feel like it connected with a certain generation and people took it into their hearts a little bit. I’ve maintained that success at home and had a steady fan base since then. But I wanted to go to America. The management I was working with for the first three or four years, their plan was to go through the UK, which is a different market, and in my opinion they grate off one another. There’s sometimes a rivalry of who discovers something first. And Irish artists have historically always had a little trouble crossing into English markets. I don’t know why that is.
Since 2008 or so, I’ve been making small steps to come here. I did a couple of small showcases just to meet people and it built up to the point where we got the New York Times review. The likes of my kind of artist are a little stubborn. I mean, I don’t think I’m necessarily a stubborn person. But we have certain principles we want to keep to, a way to go that is in keeping with good living. Maybe it’s a longer road but hopefully it’s more sustainable. It will take a lot of hard work. I don’t want to eat the whole pie either—I just want a slice.
“Contact” is an occasional series of artist portraits and interviews by Jacob Blickenstaff.