Sharon Corr is one of the gorgeous Corr sisters, the violinist of and a vocalist in the Corrs, the great Irish recording act, which has sold over 26 million albums, and toured the world to sellout crowds. The Corrs and U2 are the reigning stars of Irish contemporary music. Sharon has recorded her first solo album and it’s simply wonderful. We had the good fortune to get to know her when we had an extended vacation in Ireland and she was kind to allow us to interview her in July of 2010 in Dublin. She’s charming, great fun, down to earth, and personifies class. As you will read below, Sharon has a full life as a musician, wife and mother. She’s married to the handsome, dashing, successful Irish barrister, Gavin Bonnar.
TM: Why are you doing a solo album?
SC: Because I make music, that’s what I do. I perform, write, sing, play, and I’ve always wanted to make a solo album. I’ve been working with the Corrs for about 20 years, and my family, been with them for like 100 years, and we all took a hiatus to have children and stop touring, get off the road and get some normal life going. But in the couple of years that I was having my children, I was very inspired and wrote a lot music, and that spurred me on to make an album. So it was a very organic, natural process.
TM: Is the music different from what you were doing with the Corrs?
SC: It’s different in that I’ve changed emotionally. I’m a little more mature. It’s not drastically different because for me to do so would be for me to deny myself, so what I wrote for the Corrs is what I was naturally inspired to do. What I write for me is what I’m naturally inspired to do. There’s a similarity as in it’s very melodic and the violin runs the whole way through. It’s my main instrument.
TM: Is it different instrumentation than what Corrs’ music traditionally has been?
SC: The Corrs’ music is your basic rhythm section, drums, bass, guitar, lead guitar, keyboards, violin. I’ve got the bodhran on the album, a single drum with a skin on it. It’s an old Irish drum that I hit with a stick which is actually called a tipper. It’s sort of fat at either end and makes a beautiful, very ethnically Irish sound. So, no, the instrumentation isn’t very different from the Corrs.
TM: In terms of songwriting style, do you consider this to be different in the sense that it’s more Celtic, pop, folky? Are there any strains of styles that are different?
SC: It’s a little rockier, it’s a little heavier. Violin-wise I wanted to explore my classical side on the album as well. I was brought up playing classical violin and then switched over to more traditional later on in my teens. I’ve explored variations on how to play the violin so it would feel more classical one minute, or more bluegrassy, and then the next minute it would be back to traditional Irish. I’ve wanted to explore myself vocally on this album and violin-wise and stretch myself more.
TM: On the Corrs’ albums, was there violin on most tracks?
SC: On the earlier albums, on every track. Later albums, there were maybe a couple of tracks without violin on it, but it is a very strong part of our sound. It is part of the intonation that I suppose identified the Corrs’ music.
TM: Who, besides Charlie Daniels of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” is both a vocalist and a violinist at the same time?
SC: Alison Krauss, and one of the Dixie Chicks, of course, but it is still a rarity and for that reason it’s very identifiable.
TM: Let’s talk about the songwriting process. How do you write these songs?
SC: Almost every song on the album was written on piano. What I basically do is spend a lot of time in and around my piano. If I’m making a cup of coffee, the piano’s nearby. Or minding the kids. I’m coming in and out of the piano all day. I don’t like to force myself to write. I like it to be just something I’m continuously doing, because I don’t respond well to a schedule. I like to have it as something that’s part of my organic day. I’m always writing, and I chose to do it that way because if I ever stop writing, I find it hard to get back on the writing horse, and grapple back what I knew from the last song I wrote, and it takes me awhile. I find a chord progression on the piano that inspires melody.
TM: Then do you come up with lyrics?
SC: Yes. Usually the lyric is something I will start singing while I’m messing around on the piano. I’ll find like a word like “butterflies.” I wrote a song called “Butterflies” – I kept finding butterflies in my life. Everywhere I looked there was a butterfly. At Christmastime, there was a butterfly around our table and it wasn’t the time of year, and it was sort of out of sync, so I was inspired to write something about butterflies, and it almost comes out before I think about it, and then I have to discover the lyric around what I’m thinking.
TM: Songwriting comes easy?
SC: Yeah. I used to find lyrics incredibly difficult. To really touch people, you have to create a lyric that you yourself understand, that you know that perfectly encapsulates the situation, and there are only certain writers that can really do that, that will say something in a way that puts you in the situation where you can touch it, you can feel it, and you can smell it – if the lyric is saying something. You have to feel it.
TM: Are they all songs about love?
SC: No. “Butterflies” is about that moment before you get on stage, butterflies in your belly. When I took time off to have my children, I missed the road desperately. I more desperately wanted to have children at that stage of my life, but I missed playing music and what happens before you get on stage. I was on tour for almost 20 years of my life so that was more my norm than the other … I wanted to get back out on tour and knew the only I could get do so if I created an album that created an interest, so that people would want to buy tickets.
TM: But you do write about love, I presume.
SC: Oh, yes. A lot of it is love. “Butterflies” is about love of music.
TM: Have you done any covers or anything traditional?
SC: I have covered the The Corgis’ “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime.”
And I’ve covered “Small Town Boy.” Sort of flipped it on its head and made it really, very dark. It was an 80’s gay anthem, and I’ve just tried to focus on the lyric and turned it around. Traditionally, I have done “Mna Na h’Eireann” which is a piece by Sean O’Riada. It means “Women Of Ireland,” and it’s a hugely famous piece. I did a new arrangement of that with Jeff Beck.
TM: Is that in Gaelic, the song?
SC: The name of the song is in Gaelic but it’s an instrumental, and then there also have been lyrics written to it, maybe over the years.
TM: On the Corrs’ album, the songs say “written by the Corrs.” Is that really what happened? All four Corrs get together and write?
SC: All four of us are writers, but we didn’t necessarily all write together en masse at the one time, Caroline and Andrea wrote a lot together. I wrote a lot on my own. Jim and Andrea wrote a lot together. So we were each writing, at least a quarter of the album each, so we just went “The Corrs.”
TM: So it’s one for and all and all for one.
SC: Yeah, but if you picked out the individual songs, they would be different individuals writing. If we’re in an interview and somebody said, “Okay, who wrote “So Young?,” well everybody would say, “I did .”
TM: You mean “you?”
SC: Yeah, I did, and then if it was “Queen Of Hollywood,” we would say Andrea wrote it, so…
TM: How about “Breathless?”
SC: “Breathless” was Andrea and Mutt Lange.
TM: There’s no doubt that the Corrs have a tremendous pop aspect to them, but there’s also a folk aspect to them. When you got signed or started putting out your first music, was it as poppy or as, as near pop as it ultimately became? Or were you pushed in that direction?
SC: Oh, God, no, no, that was our idea. Originally, when we started writing together, before we were signed, it was pure pop. It was very electronic, very pure pop, and then we introduced the traditional Irish because I played the violin so we introduced it into the music. And then we developed our sound over a couple of years of writing. We got a record deal ultimately because we chased David Foster into a studio in New York while he was recording Michael Jackson. The edge of the Irish music really appealed to him, he really got that. The harmonies he loved. I think we got signed because of that combination.
TM: How did four siblings end up in a group with each other?
SC: I don’t know. I say our music was our life because it actually was; there was a lot of music in our life. My parents were both musicians. My mother had a voice like Karen Carpenter. My father was a keyboard player, piano player. They played gigs at the weekends. Mom was a stay-at-home mom and then a singer at the weekend, and then dad worked in the local electricity supply board and then played at the weekends with Mom. So it was our lives.
TM: What did your dad do for a living?
SC: He was the head of accounts in ESB. That’s Electricity Supply Board. So he was like an accountant.
TM: I take it he encouraged the kids.
SC: Oh, yeah. My mom and dad found their greatest joy in life was music. It was where they were most happy. And I think they found if you can be in the music business, you can have a very special life if you can be in the music business. Obviously, it’s a very precarious industry, a very difficult industry, but I think they really believed in following their dreams and certainly following their talent.
TM: When the group first began, what were the ages of the kids?
SC: We began in 1990, the oldest is Jim, my brother.
TM: How old was Jim?
SC: I was 20, Jim was 26, Andrea was 16, Caroline was 17. It sort of fell together. There was an idea to have a band. Jim always wanted to have a band with his sisters. I’m not sure how keen we sisters were actually, but certainly he was into that idea.
TM: What were you doing then?
SC: I was managing a record store. I was working in a pub. I had finished school. I was playing violin
TM: Where were you living?
SC: I was living in Dundalk, our hometown.
TM: And that’s up near the border of Northern Ireland.
SC: Yes, it’s about 15 miles from the border.
TM: What kind of a town is that?
SC: It’s a great town, and for music. Great traditional sessions, great players, there’s a great orchestra in the town. It got a bit of a bad rap because a lot of the Troubles (how the Irish refer to the conflicts between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), a lot of guys causing the trouble in the North would cross the border and move to Dundalk just to get away from the police over there, and it got a bit of a bad rap at stages but it was a good town to grow up in. We were very happy there.
TM: You formed the group with the intentions of getting a record deal?
SC: It was a lot more naïve than that. We formed a band. We really liked the implications of forming the band and trying to have a career. What actually happened was we formed the band almost by mistake because we wanted to audition for the film The Commitments, which was running open auditions in Dublin at the time. The guy who became our manager was MD on the move and he knew Jim, our brother, because Jim had done some recordings for him, and he said, “You guys, why don’t you audition?” So that’s when we first got together and started rehearsing some songs together. The first time we played together was on stage for Alan Parker, auditioning for the movie. That day, the casting director for that movie, who was a good friend of John Hughes, said out of the blue to him, “You should manage them,” and to us, “You should let him manage you,” and that was it. It was fate.
TM: Then what happened? Did it take of quickly?
SC: No, no. It took us four years to get a record deal. We had to start writing. We really started learning our craft, started writing and understanding the whole process of writing, just feeling our way through it and making it up as you go along. We spent four years doing that. We pursued a lot of different record companies over the years, none of them were interested, and the same guy who turned down the Cranberries, also turned down us, so we knew it wasn’t that bad. Eventually we played a gig in Dublin and the then Irish ambassador was Jean Kennedy Smith. She came to the gig with a friend of ours, Bill Whelan, who composed River Dance, but that was after this. She then invited us back to the Kennedy Library to play for the World Cup. So we went out there, and John, our manager, obviously thought, “Well, this is a prime time to hit the American record labels.” So we did. We went over to L.A. and hit all the labels over there, and were just total fish out of water. L.A. was just so terrifying to us, and New York was so big and so scary, and we were just these little country bumpkins with our violins and tin whistles. And it was bizarre but it’s where the chances happen in life when you take yourself completely out of your comfort zone and land yourself in somewhere you don’t understand and you’re just trying to make your way through it.
It was the last day before we were supposed to go home and no record company was interested. John, our manager, had the wonderful idea of gate crashing the Michael Jackson session in the Hit Factory in New York, because he knew David Foster was producing. He’d been told by Jason Flom, who was with Atlantic Records at the time, that this guy was their in-house producer and he was amazing: “You should get to meet him.” So John didn’t wait for an invite. We went. We arrived at the date. Big burly black guys are minding Michael Jackson. We said, “We’re here to meet David Foster,” and they thought we had a meeting. So we arrived, and we looked official, we had all the instruments, so we could have been there – although we looked probably a bit oddly dressed. David come out and he because he was curious, and we just said, “Can we play for you?” So we got round a piano in the studio. Jim played piano, I played violin, Caroline bodhran, and Andrea tin whistle, and we all sang harmony, and three songs that we had written. Then we played him some pretty well-produced demos, and we were signed the next day.
TM: Are you doing harmonies on this album?
SC: Yeah, and interestingly, I have used some male vocalists for harmonies on this album as well because I wanted to explore the more male sound on the album as well and see how that worked with my voice, because I know my voice with my sisters works amazingly, and I wanted to try it out with other people.
TM: Were you singing lead on Corrs’ product?
SC: I sang lead on one song on one album, but we liked to keep our roles fairly defined, so not a lot.
TM: You write the song, then how do you judge whether it’s record-worthy, whether you want to take it to the recording stage?
SC: I pretty much know straight away.
TM: Do you play for your husband, your producer, for an A&R person?
SC: I play it for my husband and then I tell my producer, “We’ll go into the studio to record another song.”
TM: How do you get your musicians together? Do you rehearse before you go in or lay it down first in the studio, your basic track?
SC: It depends on the song. For the initial recordings on the album, I was actually rehearsing for the Isle Of Wight Festival last year and also for Glastonbury. In rehearsing those, they started to sound so good that we just went, “Okay, we need to start recording these immediately,” because we just knew we had the right five. Probably the best way to record is to rehearse first. It depends on the track. If it’s only me, piano and vocal, well then, obviously, I don’t need to.
TM: When you played Glastonbury and Isle of Wight, were these Sharon Corr performances, or performances with the group?
SC: Sharon Corr, yes.
TM: You’ve been going out and performing individually?
SC: Yeah, I also released a single last year as well,
TM: Those are pretty big gigs to play, aren’t they?
TM: Have you been playing any other places or you just only play for 100,000 plus?
SC: (laughs) I was very aware that if I told people I was doing an album, because I didn’t sing lead in the Corrs, they would think I’m doing a violin album, an instrumental album. I knew I needed to identify myself as singer/songwriter, as a vocalist. Even though I’ve always been that, the public didn’t know that because they were Corrs albums and seeing me play violin and sing background vocals. So I knew I had to introduce myself to them as I know me. How I did that was I took some high profile festivals. I asked the guys that I know, “Can I play them?” I did. I went in with a bang. I took a big band with me and it was scary for me because I hadn’t played live in a couple of years, but I loved it, and I was exhilarated, and it got my name out there, and people went, “Oh, yeah, Sharon Corr,” and then they just started immediately identifying me as a solo artist.
TM: And how did it go, the shows?
SC: They went great, really well. I was so sick beforehand, ill with nerves on the Isle Of Wight, because I hadn’t played a live gig in five years, but I wanted to do it more than anything that could pull me back.
TM: And who was the band?
SC: The band is Anthony Drennan, which also played with the Corrs.
Fantastic guitarist, Keith Duffy on bass, Jason Duffy on drums, Gerry O’Connor on mandolin. I had two backing vocalists with me. I had another guitarist, Conor Brady, so it was a really big band, because I was very aware that because I’d left stage at the height of our success, for me to come on in like an any way small with a tiny band, and “Here’s me and my violin,” was not gonna cut it. I needed to go on and out there big so people wouldn’t have to start wondering. They’d just go, “Oh, yeah, that’s Sharon Corr, the solo artist, and she has a big band.”
TM: Did the Corrs intend to go on a hiatus as long as they have?
SC: I don’t know what we intended. We knew we needed a break; we’d been on the road a very long time. I certainly knew my biological clock was ticking very loudly and I needed the opportunity to have children. It was getting late, we had huge success, we had toured the world a couple a times over and it was time to find our own identities and our own lives.
TM: What are the plans now for the Corrs?
SC: I think we’ll do something next year, another album next year.
TM: Then tour again.
SC: We’ll see. It’s harder to get everybody to agree. Some people want to tour, some people maybe don’t. I think we’ll do gigs. I don’t know if it’ll be in a standard tour.
TM: Did you have children?
SC: I had a boy first, Cathal, we call him “Cal” after the lovely piece Mark Knopfler wrote, “Cal,” and Flori is our second born. He’s four, she’s three.
TM: How’s that been, motherhood?
SC: Frantic. Certainly a huge eye-opener. I never realized I was so vulnerable in this world until I had children, so it’s been scary, wonderful, exhilarating, really hard work, harder than touring, and I’m just delighted. They’re great, terrific little kids and they are my world.
TM: And your husband supports you as a musician, doesn’t he?
SC: He loves it. He really gets, he gets a huge kick out of it, and I think he could see me when I wasn’t playing that I wasn’t quite myself, that I didn’t feel good, that although I had my children, I wasn’t expressing myself, and I really need to do that.
TM: What is your background in music, how have you been trained?
SC: I started playing piano from probably as soon as I was tall enough to reach the keyboard. My dad gave me a couple a lessons and then I taught myself, and I then started violin lessons at six. I was classically trained up until about 15, and then I just wanted to explore it myself, and wasn’t really into the incredible discipline it took to be a top classical musician – and I also wanted to play music as I interpreted it, not as Beethoven wrote.
TM: Did you go to university at all?
SC: I went to college. I did science for about eight months and then left. It just was not me.
TM: When did you first realize you could be a professional musician?
SC: I suppose I always thought I could be a professional musician. I was playing music almost all my life, so I could have always gotten a gig. There was never a time I thought I couldn’t be.
TM: When the Corrs started playing, during that four-year period before you got signed, what kind of gigs were you playing?
SC: We did a couple of small tours. Went though Ireland where it would be one guy and a dog there and then you’d get the complete opposite at the other end of the country, and all of a sudden they’re totally loving you and then you’re coming offstage shaking because people adore you. When you were new, a young band and people don’t know you it’s just from gig to gig, touch and go. We did every gig there is to do.
TM: Are you surprised at how successful the Corrs became or have become? You’ve sold 30 million albums and toured, played stadiums and gotten great reviews besides U2, the biggest band in Ireland.
SC: We’ve outsold U2 in a lot of territories as well, which a lot of people wouldn’t know, but am I surprised? You’re always going to be surprised because that’s just something that mostly all of the time nobody gets, that sort of success, but we certainly worked for it. We worked, we worked, we worked. We sold every album door-to-door…
TM: And did all the promotional activities you had to do.
SC: I was just speaking with a guy from the Times yesterday and he did our bio years ago. He became a great friend of ours, and he said, “You were the hardest working band in the world.” And we were. We sold every record. That’s the only way you do it.
TM: But you enjoyed it, too, right?
SC: You have to have the talent and the music. We loved it but it was exhausting. If you were doing 18 hours of interviews in Taiwan for like six different territories on the one day, that was exhausting, but we always respected the fact that we were getting a chance to do this. It’s remarkable. It’s remarkable that anybody experiences that much.
TM: It’s been tremendous fun, hasn’t it?
SC: Incredible, brilliant fun, the laughs I have with my sisters and brother, talking about old stories and manager and stuff we used to get up to. Experiences all over the world.
TM: Can you think of any disadvantages to the fact that you were in a band with you family?
SC: It was hard to tell each other just to go get lost, because they’re your family. They don’t get lost. They stay with you, and we were at quite a tender age, the days where you’re developing your independence, your sense of yourself, and at that age we got all immersed in a sense of ourselves, of a unit, rather than a sense of our own personal identity, so it was very, very difficult to bring out and form your own identity within, and as, for the sisters, even more difficult because we’re so alike.
TM: That’s one of the reasons probably why taking a break has been good.
SC: Absolutely wonderful.
TM: If not absolutely necessary.
SC: Oh, totally necessary. I mean we would have had total burnout and I’m very grateful, and respect getting that chance, because I would have been maybe so immersed in being together too long.
TM: Was there pressure from the outside, the record company, the promoters, the manager to, “No, just stay together. Do one more tour, one more album? How can you stop now?”
SC: Absolutely, but we worked with a team. Our manager got us our record deal. He worked with us from the really early days, so he was also a parental symbol, he knew us all very emotionally, and that we were jaded, wrecked. He couldn’t for his own conscience force us to have stayed in that mode, although there would have been many other tours to do. Caroline already had a child at this stage. He got it.
TM: Are your mom and dad still alive?
SC: No. My mom passed away in 1999. My father’s still alive.
TM: Your mom must have been so proud of what happened, right?
TM: She was thrilled, right? And dad is, was thrilled. Is still thrilled?
SC: Delighted, yeah. It gets me every time. (tears up remembering her mother)
TM: Dad doesn’t work anymore?
SC: Dad took retirement, and many years ago while mom and him could still have a bit of fun. It was a really beautiful thing because we hit the big time and Mom and Dad had been our inspiration our whole lives. We booked them first class tickets to Australia to come see us in concert and put them up in five-star hotels. And from where we came from, that was dramatic. I remember buying her a Donna Karan skirt for Christmas and that was a huge treat. Mum saw the biggest concert we ever did, and the following November she passed away…
TM: What was the biggest concert?
SC: The biggest concert we did on our own right was here in Lansdowne Road and it was 45,000 people. Other concerts we did were for 100,000 but they were with other bands. We toured with the Stones which was insane.
TM: You toured with the Stones?
SC: Yeah. It was fun.
TM: How did the Stones audiences react?
SC: They loved us because they didn’t see us coming. You would never put the Stones with this sorta sweet Irish band, family band, and it worked because the minute we launched into the Irish stuff – and they could see we knew our stuff, so they loved us.
TM: Did you get to meet the Stones?
SC: Yeah, for sure. We hung out with ‘em . Very interesting bunch of guys. (laughs)
TM: Tell me about this concert you played for 45,000 people.
SC: That was 1999. It was in July. We were the second Irish band ever to do it. I think U2 did it and then we did it. It’s a traditionally a rugby venue called Landsdowne Road. Our promoter said “You guys can do it. You can sell it,” and we did and it was phenomenal. To do a gig that size in a country this size, on your home turf is pretty spectacular. It’s amazing to get that many people from your own country turning.
TM: That must be one of the great joys of being a musician is to get the recognition and the appreciation from fans, which I take it you get all the time, don’t you?
SC: Yeah. It’s certainly something I missed while was having my children was getting feedback. You’re sitting at home on a piano. You’re getting no feedback except from your husband, which is lovely but I was used to a lot more feedback than that.
TM: When you go to the supermarket, do you get recognized and stopped, or do people leave you be?
SC: They’re pretty cool in Ireland. Very often you’re hanging out and somebody says, “Are you one of the Corrs, Ma’am?” I go, “Yeah,” you give an autograph. But they’re really nice about it. Ireland is a small country. They’re used to seeing the likes of Bono and Aiden Quinn and Liam Neeson showing up and down the street and they don’t bother them. They say, “Hi, how’s it going? How are ya?”
TM: The story of you and your husband needs to be told from your perspective.
SC: Oh (laughs). Okay. The Corrs hadn’t released an album yet. We were about to release an album and we were recording our first video to our first single “Runaway” in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, where the zoo is and where the president lives. The L.A. girl who was the stylist for the shoot begged us to stay in Dublin that night, and said “Don’t leave me. I’m stuck in Dublin.” So we booked a room in the Shelbourne Hotel, three of us girls into the one room with a single bed because that’s all we could afford, and we went out with this girl. Then she decided to go home and she left us because she was tired.
I had just broken up with a guy a couple a weeks before and I was like, “I’ve had enough guys. I’m not goin’ out with them anymore.” Same old story and it’s not happening, and so I just was not looking for a man in my life at all, no interest. And I’m standing in this bar at the Gaiety Theatre, which is a very famous theater in Dublin, and this guy walks up to me and I’m like, “Okay.” I couldn’t really hear him because the music was very loud so I said, “Well, do you want to go outside and talk,” and that was it.
TM: Didn’t you stay up all night talking to him?
SC: We sat outside on the bench on Stephens Green until 7 in the morning talking about everything, and it was just one of those nights where you said, “So do I,” about 150 times.
TM: Did you know that night that you were, he was the one?
SC: Yes, I went home to Dundalk the next day and I remember opening the back door and my mother had her head stuck in the oven, cleaning it, and I went, “Mum, I met the guy I’m gonna marry.” She just took her head out of the oven and went “Aahh, really?,” and I said, “Yeah. We both knew. It was just instant. Absolutely. And I used to say to people, “How do you know? What are you talking about? How could you possibly know that that’s the person?” and they could never give me an answer, and I know why, because you just know.
TM: And your mom said something about it, too, when she met him, right?
SC: He arrived up in his morning gear which is what the barristers wear into court, and he’s obviously run out of court in Belfast to come up and see me, and he rides up in his car, he is walking up the driveway, and of course my mum’s got the squinty windows going. She goes, “Oh, I’d like him for myself.” (laughter) To which my dad said, “No way!”
TM: Do you go to legal functions then with him sometimes?
SC: The odd time, oh yeah, I do. Over the years I was permanently on the road so I would always miss the one thing he needed me to go to, which was hard on him. But, yes, I’ve gone to a few over the years.
TM: Do you like those?
SC: Depends on the people involved. It’s all about personality. Everything you do. I find what he does very interesting. He’s in libel, and I find his perspective on it very interesting. Certainly from somebody in the limelight, these guys are just so necessary and can change your whole world when they get it right, so I think it’s a lovely combination that we have.
TM: Jeff Beck is on your record. How and when did you first become interested in Jeff Beck?
SC: I knew about Jeff Beck my whole life, but I didn’t know him. This last year my manager invited me to see Jeff Beck play Vicar Street, a small venue in Dublin, about 1,000 people. The audience was full of guitar guys and it was an amazing gig, and he had Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and he had a girl called Tal (Wilkenfeld ), a bass prodigy, about 19 and an incredible player. The gig was mind blowing and I know most of the guys in these venues because I live here. So I said, “Can we go back and meet Jeff?,” so we went back and it was really refreshing. He’s so young at heart, very happy and cheery, and goes, “You know a friend of mine, Rod Stewart,” because we sang on a record with Rod Stewart before and we just got talking. Walking out of the venue with my manager and I said, “Wouldn’t it just be amazing if Jeff could play on the album.”
We knew it was an incredibly long shot because Jeff’s very choosy about what he works on and it’s never about commercial success It’s about a love of what he’s doing. We knew we’d kind of have to inspire him to get involved, to give him a piece of music that he just wanted to play on. So we came up with the idea of doing “Mna Na h’Eireann,” the arrangement of it, and we knew when we started working out the arrangement that we were onto something pretty special, and that if he got it and heard it, because the thing is to get the track to the person, he’d want to do it. It’s hard to get tracks to people but we got it to him eventually and as soon as he heard the track he wanted to play on it. He recorded it in his studio. I gave him the track, said “You do what you want on this, Jeff,” and he come back with dazzling work.
TM: You put out your own record, didn’t you?
SC: I financed my own record. I started up my own record company, which is basically just a company that finances your record, which is basically just my money.
TM: What’s the name of the company?
SC: Bobbyjean Records.
TM: What is that from?
SC: Jean’s my mom. Bobby is my father-in-law. I put out a single, “It’s Not A Dream,” last year. I was finding it very difficult to get a record deal. The credit crisis happened. I was offered a new record deal the year before and Lehman’s – Lehman’s Bank – collapsed and then the record deal was un-offered the following week! So then I was in a limbo. I was tied to the record company, negotiations went on and on and frustrated me recording, but eventually I got it sorted was able to record and then I just went “Okay. Forget this. I’m putting it out. I need to get myself out there.” So I put out a single. I employed independent pluggers in the U.K., and it got great rotation and it got the A-listing on BBC Radio 2 — the highest you can get! It was phenomenal, and I knew the public liked it. I knew the radio guys liked it, and I thought, “Well, just because you don’t have a record deal at the moment doesn’t mean the public shouldn’t hear your music,” because at the end of the day they’re just bankrolling the project. That’s what they do. So I bankrolled it myself. I did the whole thing myself, and now I’ve just been picked up by a record company.
TM: And it’s a major and there’s gonna be a big push.
SC: Yeah, it’s Warner Bros. U.K. And the album is called Dream Of You.
TM: Desert Island Discs. Name me five CD’s you would take.
SC: Nick Drake, Treasury. Joni Mitchell, Blue. It’s really hard! Oh, Paul Weller, Wild Wood. Jose Gonzalez …and maybe Stanley Road by Weller too.
SC: Stanley Road, it’s a really great album. I’m missing other classics, because you know when you ask that question, you go blank. I would like to take some individual songs. Sarah McLachlan, “Angel.” Such an amazing song. And I would take Billy Joel’s “Lullaby.” I would take “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.
TM: What are two or three memorable thrills, moments you’ve had in your career?
SC: Playing “Long and Winding Road,” in front of Paul McCartney. That was tough, and the sound was really difficult. We had nothing in the radio monitors and it got slower and slower because we were tryin’ to catch up with each other. That was a painful, a memorable moment. Playing for Nelson Mandela and his getting up and dancing to the Irish music.
TM: That was in South Africa?
SC: No, it was actually in Galway, because he got an honorary degree at the University in Galway and we played for him that day. Meeting the Stones, my gosh, they are just legend, those guys. That’s ridiculous. Now you just see those guys walking around you like, “Uuuuh. That’s Keith Richards!”
TM: How scary is it to play in front of a big audience? And do the other Corrs also have jitters?
SC: They do. Jim less than all of us, I think. It’s less scary to play to a 100,000 than it is to 100 people, because when you’re playing to 100,000, it’s a sea of people. You’re not identifying individual faces, and then you don’t feel like they’re seeing into your soul while you’re playing, so you can act it even if you’re not feeling it. But when you’re sitting in a club, a small club, and your audience is there, they can see if you’re scared, or they can see if you mess up, because you’re whole face reacts to a wrong note or a lost lyric, and so I find it more scary to play to a small audience.
TM: Why didn’t the Corrs continue with Foster?
SC: Well, we did. We did two albums with David, and we wanted to do different things. On the second album we also worked with Glen Ballard and Oliver Lieber, so we had three producers, and then we produced some ourselves. We worked with Mitchell Froom then. As you get on and you get your credentials in the music industry you want to explore more, other areas.
TM: Who’s producing the album now?
SC: Billy Farrell, who has worked with the Corrs for years. He’s from here in Dublin and I’ve worked with him forever. He’s worked with the Corrs as well. We understand each other musically incredibly.
TM: Describe the experience of working with David Foster and Mutt Lange.
SC: David has a really big personality. He is quite cheeky, quite bold. He’s has this glint in his eye, which is great. Very, very attractive, very, very fun. One of the first things you notice about him is his gift. He’s so unbelievably talented. He has perfect pitch. If somebody plays something, he’ll play it immediately on the piano exactly. He is just perfect. He was our first real producer and we learned everything from him.
TM: And you cut in L.A.
SC: We cut in L.A. Yeah, we did, and Jim co-produced the album with him.
TM: You like L.A.
SC: I like L.A. but I didn’t like it then. It was too much of a shock for me culturally. I didn’t really know how to negotiate it. I didn’t understand what the people meant when they said something to you. The way to approach L.A. is to expect very little, and it’s a city you use for your own ends, and you can meet some great people there, but it’s quite transient.
TM: Mutt Lange, what was it like to work with him?
SC: Incredible. Mutt is very focused, probably the most focused person I’ve ever met in my life, like a train running in one direction when he’s doing an album. I know there’s no sidelines, there’s no nothing else, and he would work 24 hours a day. He would do a vocal 20 times, 50 times. He would do background vocals again, again, again and again and then to infinity until he gets exactly what he wants. His techniques for backing vocals I find very interesting and have used it, taken it with me, some of the techniques.
TM: Where did you cut with him?
SC: Most of “Breathless” was cut in Switzerland in his home there, and some of it, lthe violin, the backing vocals for “Breathless” were all cut in Dublin. And the other stuff that we did was cut in Dublin. Mutt always writes with you so that’s his deal. If he’s workin’ an album, he’s writing the album with you. He did two songs, we cut half in Dublin, half in Switzerland.
TM: What’s his instrument? What does he play?
SC: That’s a good question. I mostly just saw him behind the desk. I think guitar. He’s got a beautiful voice. You can hear his voice on Shania Twain’s records. Really beautiful.
TM: What do you do in your leisure time?
SC: I don’t have much leisure time. (laughs) I look after my children. I read. I run, and I love dinner and wine. That’s great. Socializing is one of the best things you can do. Friends. I love friends.
TM: What are the other Corrs doing now?
SC: Caroline has three children, she’s very busy with them. Jim has one child, a boy, and everybody’s doing a little writing, for maybe gearing up to do something next year. Andrea got married last year, so she’s in the middle of wedded bliss at the moment and having a real good time.
TM: Do you stay in touch with your siblings?
SC: All the time.
TM: You’re talking on the phone, you’re seeing each other.
SC: Yeah, we’re always talking. We need each other to talk about every situation.
TM: You were Miss Twitter, U.K. What was that about?
SC: Twitter is only something that came about maybe a year and a half ago, and Gavin (her husband) said to me,“You should get into that,” and I was like “Yeah. Why?” and he said, “Steven Fry is doing it”, and (I said,) “Okay, well then it must be cool.” So I started trying it out and…
TM: Steven Fry?
SC: He’s a very famous comedian/actor. Friend of Hugh Laurie. You know Hugh Laurie, House? I got into it. I was tweeting and then I found all these fans all over the world would come on and start asking me questions, and it was great way of interacting with people in Indonesia and Brazil and in the States and wherever they would come in from. And it was funny, I started to see the depth of the Corrs’ fan base and then my own fan base emerging from it. It’s literally 140 characters. It’s like a text message but it goes out simultaneously to everybody who’s following you. So then they see it and then they can reply and you can reply to whatever you want.
For me, it’s a brilliant thing just to go, “I’m on radio, BBC Radio 2, in five minutes, tune in. I’m doing the Wogan show tomorrow night. I’m doing this or that.” It’s a great way of sort of self-publicizing, and it’s also a great way of having what you say undiluted. So it doesn’t go through somebody else’s filter, you know, so I like it. It’s fun. People talk a lot of crap on it and that’s great fun too. Anyway, they had a Twitter competition for Miss Twitter U.K. and my fans kept voting for me. They would go to sleep for 20 minutes, and then vote again when they could vote, and they just kept voting on rotation, and then I won Miss Twitter U.K.
TM: And what kind of a ceremony was there when you were awarded…
SC: There was none. (laughter) I’m disappointed. I’m still waiting on my crown.
Cindy Johnson (my wife): Can I ask a couple? Cal and Flori, are they musical?
SC: Funny, I was driving the car yesterday and I was singing the ABC’s to Cal and Flori, and Cal started to sing and I could hear that he was almost in the right pitch and then pitching to the next note quite well, so I can see it’s coming. Flori, yeah, for sure. They love music. She starts crying. I covered “Danny Boy” as well. That’s one of the tunes I did on the record and, not vocally, I did it instrumentally, and she cried. She doesn’t want me to play it because it’s a sad song. So I know she’s very musically in touch
CJ: And you encourage them as you were encouraged?
SC: Big time. I want it to be a very organic thing for them. There’s a piano, a violin, guitars in the house. So they will just be part of their everyday thing. I want them to start messing around, and then I’m not gonna get them formal lessons for quite awhile, and I may teach them myself up to a certain point. But most of all, I just want them to enjoy music because I think it’s the greatest therapy in life. I want them to have that, what I had.
CJ: Do you have any other plans for other writing? Like a book, or a musical?
SC: I toyed with different ideas over the years. I’ve been quite attracted to doing maybe scoring for movies, maybe the incidental work on movies, but that takes an awful lot of time, and for the moment I’d probably just rather pitch a song for a movie. But I have written an awful lot of instrumentals over the years and I did write a piece called “Rebel Heart” for a BBC series called Rebel Heart and it was nominated for a Grammy, which was really cool. So I love writing instrumental music. It’s always been part of what I do.
TM: Will you ever do a bluegrass album?
SC: I don’t know, I’m not trained in bluegrass, so for the purists, they’d probably go, “What the hell’s she at? That’s not bluegrass,” but I’m very interested in all forms of music.
TM: Maybe a straight, straight Celtic Irish roots album you might do someday?
SC: I could, but you know what I’d probably more likely do is a country album.
The funny thing is is because it’s just that I know my voice suits it, because every time I sing like a country song, people go, “Well you sing country music.” I sang “Jolene” recently, and what a great song. The lyrics are phenomenal. She (Dolly Parton) is some writer, that woman. She is incredible. So I sang that recently and everybody was going, “You should do a country album,” and I’ve always kind of known that about me that there’s something country going on inside me.
CJ: Two more things. Now you’re going to Spain. Can you talk about that?
SC: I’m shooting a video in Spain for the single, in the Alhambra palace, which is an old Moorish palace And they’ve never done anything like this before in the Alhambra, and it actually made me worried that they agreed because I thought, “This is just too good to be true,” because I’ve waited a long time on a record deal. I’ve waited a long time on getting things done, and now things are happening, I’m almost a little scared. But I spoke to a guy in the record company months ago, just happened to be talking about my favorite spot in the world, which is the Alhambra in Andalusia in Granada, and I said, “I always wanted to launch a record there,” like they would ever do that. And he said, “You never know. Let’s look into it.” So they have agreed that I can shoot a videoI’m absolutely stunned. I mean it’s so beautiful and it’s so spiritual, and mystical, and such an incredible place, and the history is enormous.
CJ: Advice to new artists?
SC: Write, write, write, write, write, write. Keep writing and write more. Try to control your own music. Try to write it yourself because it’s very hard to make money from records nowadays, and at least if you can get songs published, you can make some money, but stay true to yourself. Be very open to every idea that’s pitched out to you, because it could be just the one that tips you like John Hughes saying to us, “Let’s just go to the Hit Factory.”
TM: Your fans. All race, creeds, colors and ages, right?
SC: Yes. It’s a beautiful thing, and I think we were most surprised when we hit Japan. Because it was our first experience in Asia and the Japanese audience just responding like crazy to traditional Irish music was a huge thrill. They are so quiet while we’re playing. So respectful, and then we started to pick it up as, “They don’t really like the show, do they? They’re not enjoying it, and actually it was like the quieter they were, the more they were enjoying it. But I remember when the Irish stuff came on, they went nuts.
CJ: A dream team of who to work with in the future. Just one name. Someone you’d like to sing with.
SC: Oh, to sing with. Oh my gosh. Robert Plant. I’ve met Robert. He’s a cool guy. I’d love to sing with him.
TM: People that you’ve been excited to meet as other than the Stones and Jeff Beck. Any other musicians?
SC: I was very, very excited to meet Neil Finn.
SC: Because their album Woodface..that would definitely be a Desert Island Disc for me, you know, something you never tire listening to. Desert Island Disc without a doubt. I just think he’s an incredible songwriter I love him, and the reason we worked on In Blue with Mitchell Froom was because he had worked with Crowded House on Woodface. I did meet Neil Finn and I actually wasn’t really able to speak because I was too star-struck. It was, it was embarrassing, because all the guys were looking at me, “He’s your favorite. Will you get on with it.” And I was like, huh?
For more information about Sharon Corr, visit her website at http://www.sharoncorr.com