Thursday, 28 August 2008

Hot Press magazine feature

They’ve been heralded as the biggest thing in Irish rock since U2- a prediction that proved prescient when THE SCRIPT romped to the top of the charts with their debut album. Here they talk about their boyband past and explain that their infectious soul-pop is tinged by personal tragedy- and is all the more heartfelt for it

The buzz started when their first single, “We Cry”, reached the Irish top ten in April. In July, the second single, “The Man Who Can’t be Moved” did even better and peaked at number three. By August all the escalating hype was reaching fever pitch- and sure enough, their debut album shot straight to the top spot in both Ireland and the UK in the first week of it’s release. Since then the noise surrounding the band had become an all out frenzy and The Script have gone viral – as in something thoroughly infectious!

Over the past few weeks they’ve been everywhere- radio, television, newspapers, magazines, message boards, you name it. The truth, however, is that The Script are an instant success story about 10 years in the making. It’s a new twist on an old rock ‘n’ roll fable. Vocalist Danny O’Donoghue and guitarist Mark Sheehan grew up together around the James Street area of Dublin. They formed MyTown, a boy band whose career was orchestrated under the Principle Management umbrella- who also, of course, handle U2.

After that unsuccessful stint attempting to outdo Westlife and the Backstreet Boys, the pair worked as a songwriting and production team, with considerable success, working with Teddy Riley and The Neptunes, among others. But when they met drummer, session musician and fellow Dub, Glen Power, the three clicked socially, personally and musically – and thus The Script was born.

If the media hype, a number one album, a show in Marley Park and an upcoming tour wasn’t enough to content with, the afternoon we chat, Mark is anxiously waiting for his wife to give birth “at any moment”. Ah Bless. Nobody told them there’d be days like these!

The Script are a little bit pop and a little bit R ‘n’ B. They are bright, polished and write songs that have a knack of insinuating themselves into people’s heads. They call it ‘Celtic Soul’. Yep, I’m not quite sure what that is either, but this much I can say: their music is hugely accessible and radio friendly, like an Irish OneRepublic. But that’s never stopped the local snipers from taking pot shots: if the success seemed quick, the attendant begrudgery has been even quicker.

We can’t ignore them, so let’s have a look at the criticisms that are being slung about like snuff at a wake.
Criticism number one: despite the Celtic Soul tag, The Script have been accused of not sounding Irish. Like The Thrills before them, they’ve been derided for sounding too American, specifically for being Maroon 5 the 2008 edition. It’s a familiar old refrain, alright….
“We may have an American, polished sound,” says Mark, “but we lived in America for ten years. That’s where I learned to produce records. What was I going to do? Take all that experience and then reverse it?”

In any event, he isn’t going to be boxed in by other people’s narrow horizons.
“What is Irish music anyway?” he asks. “I love Christy Moore. To me he’s a rapper - he’s one of the best rappers in the world. I love Aslan – they express themselves with great accuracy. I’m really into the Coronas and I think the Blizzards are really good as well. But in the middle of that you have the Republic of Loose – I love what they’re doing. Is that ‘Irish’? Mary Black hits me in the heart. I love that kind of stuff as well and I love the differences between all those artists.”

Mark sees what The Script are doing as very much a product of modern Ireland. His attitude on the subject is impressively bolshie.
“Everyone I know in Dublin listens to pop music. They love their Coldplay, their Kanye West, Justin Timberlake or their U2 –they love all that stuff. I think we’re absolutely a reflection of that new Ireland. We’ve been compared to all kinds of people – U2 meets Timbaland, Kanye West, Coldplay and yeah, Maroon 5, fair enough – but when people listen to the album they’ll change their minds. At least we’re not being compared to Val Doonican, or that kind of shite!”

Criticism number two is that Danny and Mark’s boyband past in My Town casts a long shadow. Mark is unapologetic. In fact he isn’t remotely concerned with how the MyTown afterburn might affect The Script’s credibility.
“People don’t take us seriously to begin with” he says. “We write pop songs. We write love songs. We write songs about breaking hearts and what we’ve experienced, and that’s it really.

But that past experience of the pop genre is fascinating nonetheless. Marketed as R ‘n’ B in the States and a pop boyband in the UK, My Town fell between two stools and failed to capture the public imagination. But here’s the rub: they may have been sucked into the belly of the beast – but they made it out the other side because they are musicians first and foremost.
“You get into the industry and you have an idea of what it’s going to be like and it’s nothing like you think. We thought that we were going to be able to express ourselves musically with My Town, but that didn’t happen. Of course there’s a formula and that’s fine, there’s a place for that, but when Danny and I saw what was happening we bailed.”

The lads don’t regret the experience. At the time, Mark says, they were desperate for success. Having grown up poor in working-class Dublin, all they wanted to do was get to America. With that out of their system, they are back fresher and stronger. If My Town were an R ‘n’ B boyband, Mark sees The Script not so much as a change in musical personas, but a progression – and in a sense The Script represents a serious step forward musically.
“I wouldn’t change anything. We learnt so much in those years. And so what? You know the Ting Tings were originally in girlbands and boybands. So was Duffy.”
Having said that Mark’s not keen on the music of manufactured acts created by shows such as The X-Factor.
“I don’t watch it, I don’t read about it. It’s not something I’m into. I’d prefer if it was more about songwriting, or real artists – but I suppose it can’t be. It’s about spring-boarding people to pop success and it has it’s place, just like Westlife and Shayne Ward have their place.”

As far as Mark is concerned, The Script are a world away from the likes of Ireland’s two big boyband exports, Westlife and Boyzone.
“There’s a demographic for those bands. It’s not something I’d listen too or enjoy, but if my son grows up listening to say, Shayne Ward, I’d prefer that than him listening to Eminem talking about chopping his wife up, putting her in the boot of his car and driving her over the fucking bridge. It’s music for a demographic – it’s like when kids grow up they love Barney, or Bear in the Big Blue House. That music is for younger people, and I think there’s a place for it.”

Unfortunately for the MyTown graduates, their boyband history mean that they got lumped in with the likes of those manufactured pop acts. Despite the fact that they had some high-profile fans and collaborators, there was an assumption that they were a bunch of talentless robots, stuck on the road to nowhere. Wrong, it turns out, on all counts….

After MyTown, Danny and Mark stayed on in America writing songs and producing music. This was mostly a hand-to-mouth existence, as Mark describes it, but it allowed them to work with some pretty heavyweight names and the lads learnt their craft with the likes of Dallas Austin, The Neptunes, Rodney Jerkins and Teddy Riley.

“Meeting Teddy was amazing,” Mark grins. “From when I was a kid I wanted to meet him, just to say thank you for all the music. We went around and he was watching “The Sopranos” but he invited us in. We were chatting, then Danny and I were playing guitars. He gave us the confidence that maybe we could do something. I mean, who were we? Just a bunch of lads from Dublin, and having someone like that interested in us opened a lot of doors.”

The third criticism is predictable: that the songs are shiny, emotionless, middle–of–the–road numbers. While there’s no denying that on first sight The Script look like pop-by-numbers, the songs and music were written by the band as a response to what were difficult personal circumstances – money worried, unemployment and bereavement – and that they have something to say about those thornier than average themes in a pop context. Within the space of just over a year Mark lost his mother and Danny’s father died of a heart attack. That their songs are genuinely written from the heart is, according to Mark, what the fans like about them.

“I think the songs are really honest and that’s what people have picked up on. When we were writing them we were in a dark place and I think that comes across, that genuine emotion.”
For Mark, songwriting is all about accessing an emotional response.
“I always say that our formula is like no formula. Sometimes Glen will have an idea or Danny will. It’s kind of like divining – when I feel the hairs on the back of my neck then I know we’ve got something.”

Criticism number four is that The Script are a bunch of pretty boys, an accusation – or rather a compliment! – which Mark thinks is hilarious.
“I look in the mirror and think, look at the state of that!” he laughs. “I’m 28 years old and I’m losing my hair. We admire people like U2 and Coldplay – not as heartthrobs – but because of the way they carry themselves through the industry with great dignity and I guess we try to act like that.”

Err…I think it might be the fact that Danny – the photogenic dark haired singer- looks more like a young Fergal Sharkey beautifully re-imagined as a noughties teen idol.
“If girls want to like Danny, because he looks a certain way, they’re welcome, but I know what he’s really like. He’s a messy bollocks!”

And finally, criticism number five is that The Script got signed before paying their dues on the live circuit- success being unacceptable until you’ve hauled equipment in and out of venues such as Whealan’s or the Spirit Store the requisite number of times. But in the past few months, the lads have been touring with the likes of The Hoosiers and The Zutons, did the summer festival circuit including a headline spot on the iTunes festival and a well received at this year’s Oxygen.
“The Irish shows are always the most important to us,” Mark asserts. “Before we went on stage, there were maybe about 200 people in the tent at Oxygen, and I thought ‘Oh no, Ireland hates us’! But then about five minutes before we went on, the place filled up and they were turning people away.”

Next up is a tour around Ireland, the UK, Europe and Japan, with plans to conquer America slotted in for next year.
“We always say the only place success comes before touring is in the dictionary. You have to tour in order to get the music out. We’re getting released in America on Paddy’s Day. We’re doing gigs in New York and Boston on the same day, which will be a big launch for us. In the meantime, we’re promoting the album here and our tour kicks off, which is huge for us. We’ve been in the shadows of other bands in the past while – and now it’s time for us to step out.”

If their success in slamming straight in at number one in Ireland and the UK seems almost indecently easy, the band aren’t taking anything for granted. The industry, as Mark notes, is fickle and the pressure to deliver one commercially successful album after another can be overwhelming. But for the moment, he’s not worrying about that.
“I am really just happy about being employed, you know,” says Mark, in a way that is genuinely disarming. “That’s all I focus on. I could be digging holes, I could be out there working on building sites with my brothers, but I’m so lucky that I’m working in an area that I love and I’m able to be creative in.”

The Script write pop music. They don’t pretend it’s anything grander and nobody seems more surprised about their current popularity than the band themselves.
“We made this album in a shitty shed on James Street and the idea of it being played on the radio, and the music getting out there, and people coming to see us, we’re like – “Holy shit, this is great!”
And it is. The begrudgers may carp, the reviews may be ambivalent, but the public have spoken – and the public have anointed The Script as this year’s success story. Teenage girls may get their knickers in a twist over Danny and the videos may take advantage of that fact, but writing The Script off as a cynical A&R concoction designed for nothing more than to extract the maximum amount of disposable income from our wallets is unfair in the extreme. Their ballad-y sound may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but so what? They do what they do well – heartfelt tunes, lush singalong choruses and shiny American production values. Chillax man, don’t be a hater.


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