An interview with Sharon Corr of the Corrs, part 2

by Steve C. Wang and Susan Chang

posted April 8, 2014

Sharon Corr was the violinist, vocalist, and one of the songwriters of the Irish family band, the Corrs. Best known in the US for their hit "Breathless", the Corrs were mega-stars around the world thanks to their unique blend of pure pop and Irish traditional music. Their album Talk on Corners was the biggest-selling album of 1998 in the UK and remains the highest-selling album ever in the UK by an Irish act (even outselling any album by U2).

The Corrs went on hiatus in 2005 to raise their families, but in 2010 Sharon Corr embarked on a solo career with her debut album, Dream of You. She recently toured the US in support of her new album, The Same Sun, which comes out in late April.

I spoke with Corr by phone at a concert stop in New York City, shortly before her performance at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on March 15. Part 1 of our conversation appeared in an article published by the Swarthmore Daily Gazette [link]. Part 2 appears below.

photo of Sharon Corr What songs were turning points for you in your growth as a songwriter? [continued from part 1]

"Upon an Ocean" was a turning point because my voice just found its home. I just went, OK, now my voice is sitting perfectly in this place. From a lyrical point of view, I'm really proud of all the lyrics on this album [The Same Sun]... and it's something I really aspired to do. I did in the early days quite struggle with lyrics. I think I did a good job. I wanted them to suck you in and almost envelop you, and make a person who's listening feel like they're the person in the lyric.

"Upon an Ocean" I was imagining myself on Santa Monica pier, which I spent a lot of time on during recording this album. I was imagining it in the 50's and being in a ballroom there and meeting a guy. But the guy is in for the summer because he's got summer work -- maybe he's with the circus or maybe he's a traveling salesman. I fall in love but he leaves, and he never comes back. And it's that kind of unfulfilled thing that I love. I love the hope and the death of the hope of the same time. It's very tragic, but very beautiful and very romantic.

Sometimes it's not telling the story, it's creating the atmosphere. You're creating the feeling of the feeling rather than saying the feeling. I feel very much on "Edge of Nowhere", I got that real sense of [being] on the outside, the loneliness, the starkness, and the sort of quietness of being on your own and on the road and constantly passing towns and looking in at warm houses and normal lives, being an outsider and wondering if you're living the right life... I like the juxtapositions that run in that song. I like when things contradict themselves but make perfect sense.

You've toured this album in Europe and Brazil, and now the US. Have you noticed any differences in how the audiences respond to your music on each continent?

Yeah, very much. The Brazilians are a giantly enthusiastic audience. They're singing all the lyrics, they're right up at the front of the stage; there's just no holding them back, and you would never want to. It's very beautiful; it's very joyful. The European audiences, depending on where you are -- Spain is not reserved, Italy is not reserved. France -- a little, not so much. But Holland and the more northern territories can be a little reserved. They're totally loving it, but they're just not as vocal. The Americans, I love, because they have such a rich history of jazz, and country music, and bluegrass, and rock and roll really was born here. So I think that the internal knowledge of music here is giant from an audience. They wholeheartedly join in, and I love that. They really appreciate good music and recognize good music, and more often than not if I ask them to sing with me, they do. I love that they're not afraid to do that.

I've read that when you were with the Corrs, you often composed on the guitar, but now you mostly write at the piano. How has that affected your writing, and how does writing on guitar differ from writing on piano?

quote by Sharon Corr I did write "So Young" and "Radio" on guitar, but I have three chords on guitar; I'm the worst guitar player in the world. My husband taught me three chords one day, and the next day I wrote two songs, and then he was annoyed because he thought I was then better than him. It was a liberating process because I was so remedial on guitar, it allowed the melody to soar, so there was many places to go. Sometimes if you're a little bit better on an instrument, the bases that you put down musically can dictate the melody before the melody's had a chance to grow. But piano is an instrument that I have a great passion for. I absolutely love it; I've been playing it since nothing, and it's where I go. Whatever mood I'm in, the piano is the right place to be for me. That's where I write most of my songs and I'm comfortable, and where I get all of my inspiration. Because it also sounds so beautiful, and you can accompany yourself so well on it. I didn't write anything on guitar on this album; I wrote everything on piano, except "We Could Be Lovers". A number of tracks I wrote with a great Irish singer/songwriter called Don Mescal. He's written for people like Celine Dion and Rascal Flatts. We got together and we started "We Could Be Lovers" on guitar, but that was him playing, not me. I find the piano really inspiring.

Your song "Radio" has a key change at the transition into the chorus, going from a modal verse to a major-key chorus. The result is that the harmonies perfectly convey the mood and the emotions of the lyrics, which go from the pain and longing of missing someone to the fond remembrance of better times. Could you describe your creative process and how you created the structure for this song?

photo of Sharon Corr Well that's an interesting one because "Radio" I wrote in a hotel room in Dublin. I remember I wrote it in the Dylan Hotel, on the guitar with my three chords. I could hear the chorus: [sings] "So I listen to the radio". But I couldn't find the chords because I can't play guitar.

So what I did was, I wrote the song knowing what the chorus was and recorded it into a Dictaphone; in those days I used this tiny little Dictaphone to record into because we didn't have GarageBand and iPads and all these other things. And I had the verse completely covered from a recording point of view, and I had the bridge covered, but the chorus I just didn't know where I was supposed to go there, but melodically I knew what notes I was going to singing-wise. So I brought it into the studio the next day, and our guitarist at the time was Anto Drennan, and then I said, "Anto, can you please find the chords?" Because I don't know what it is and there's no piano in the hotel and I couldn't find it. And he immediately found it, but it was kind of great, because I just found the melody and then added the appropriate chords; it let the melody live.

The funny thing about that song was, it didn't go on the album it was recorded for, because I think the producer at that time didn't quite get it, didn't quite understand it. And then we did Unplugged, and we worked with Mitchell [Froom, who produced The Same Sun], which was my suggestion because I absolutely loved what he did on Woodface [by Crowded House] -- the music was so intelligent, it was so organic. We sent him stuff and he goes, "Why haven't you done this song, 'Radio'?" And he found its home; he made it work. Because I knew in my heart that song was working; I knew it was a good song. But people didn't know what to do with it, if you know what I mean. Mitchell was just like, "I loved it, I completely know what to do with this." And from that moment then, I knew that Mitchell was the guy for me, just for the way that I write, and I know that we really got each other musically.

What kind of music do you listen to today? Is there anything surprising that I might find on your iPod that people wouldn't expect?

quote by Sharon Corr Right now I'm listening to Nick Drake, Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin, Jose Gonzalez, just getting into Sufjan Stevens, whom I've totally fallen in love with. He's amazing; I love what he's doing musically. I'm listening to the Mighty Oaks, which are a Berlin-based band. One guy is from the Pacific Northwest, and another guy is from Italy, and another guy is from the UK, and what they're doing is stunning. You should listen to it. If you like what I do, I think you're going to love what these guys do, because their harmonies are amazing, it's extremely interesting musically, very raw and very organic. Beautiful -- it's so stunning. I went to this great concert in Carnegie Hall last night for Tibet. There was Patti Smith, and The National were playing; they were absolutely wonderful. Iggy Pop was on; that was an amazing gig last night. Philip Glass -- incredible stuff.

Since you're interested in chords yourself, when you hear other people's music, is that something that you're immediately drawn to, if they have interesting chord progressions or interesting chord choices?

Yeah, I am. I'm very interested in people who are doing something that really touches me and that takes an unexpected turn. There's a turn in a Mighty Oaks song, and you don't expect it to go there, and it's just so beautiful. You'll recognize it when you hear it. Anybody who's doing something that's beautiful, that's melodic and chordally very interesting, I'm into. I'm really sick of listening to overproduced stuff. It almost feels like an assault. When you peel it back, there's barely any song underneath, which kind of disappoints me. So yeah, I look out for really great music.

Can you offer any advice for aspiring songwriters given your experiences in the music business over the years?

I think you have to write from the heart, never be afraid to express an emotion that you truly feel, be utterly vulnerable. Draw from your toughest times and your best times; use those and make them something that's positive for you by writing a song. And just keep getting back up, because you're going to get knocked down a hundred million times. And when you're on stage, just fall into every song, and the audience will fall in with you. As long as you're in it, they're in with you.

photos courtesy of Sharon Corr