Declan O’Rourke was a latecomer to the Dublin singer-songwriter scene. A native of Dublin, when he was ten years old his family upped sticks to Australia for a few years before returning to Dublin, where O’Rourke spent the remainder of his adolescence. Despite having a keen interest in music and singing from an early age, it was during his teenage years spent in Melbourne that he first got hold of a guitar. O’Rourke was exposed to a different cultural aesthetic at this point which, coupled with his own well-formed cultural identity, may account for his unique style of melody and melancholia.
Back in Dublin, his mid- to late-teens were a fun-filled stretch of busking and Commitments-like first bands, occupied by, he remembers, “endless rehearsals and charity gigs.” Somewhere along the way he accidentally stumbled on a brand new, never-before considered concept: writing his own songs!
The plan, however, was interrupted once again by his lust for life, and so he followed his older sister back to Australia. His life back then was captured, not just figuratively, between creativity and cement: as he slowly honed his craft as a songwriter, he worked by day on building sites. His hands became, “more calloused by guitar playing than by manual labour,” he laughs. By the time he was twenty-four, having still never played his own material to a live audience, he felt it was time to scratch the songwriting itch or forever regret it. Back to Dublin, then. Somehow, home soil felt like the right place to start.
Within a month, upon discovering Dublin’s bustling songwriter open-mic circuit, Declan found himself mixing and trading songs with the likes of Paddy Casey, Gemma Hayes and many other Irish singer-songwriters. “I went to as many open mic nights as possible and just played anywhere I could,” he recalls. “And it went on from there. Every step up was an achievement. I was always looking at the next step ahead of me and really enjoying it. It hasn’t stopped since.”
In 2004, Declan released his debut album, Since Kyabram. He regards the comfortably haunting debut as little more than a collection of songs and an introduction to the different styles he subsequently intended to use. “I was also trying to break the moany singer-songwriter myth – I definitely didn’t want to be put into that category.”
Such was the critical and commercial success of the album in Ireland that it opened the doors for him internationally, earning him plaudits from the likes of Paul Weller and Jonathan Ross, each of whom were rapturous in their praise of Declan’s deep-honey voice and astute song writing abilities.
His follow-up album in 2007, Big Bad Beautiful World, easily consolidated his appeal in Ireland as well as with his growing list of well-connected champions. Support slots followed in the UK and Europe to the likes of Snow Patrol, Teddy Thompson, The Cardigans, Paulo Nutini, Badly Drawn Boy, Divine Comedy and Paul Weller, and before too long major labels started calling, siren-like, for his signature on the dotted line. O’Rourke has since been through the major label mill and come out the other side – smiling (eventually!), we’re glad to say.
“I had a great relationship with the people who worked with me on the first two records,” he admits. “I’d been reading for years about people having control of their own music, so I felt it was time to start. I’m sure I’ve made the right decision.”
He’s a free man, then, with a free frame of mind, and a new record label he can, quite literally, call his own. And on his new record label he releases his third album and first independent offering, MAG PAI ZAI, which sees him maturing as a songwriter in ways he would, most likely, have never thought possible.
Word is getting out, slowly but very surely, about Declan O’Rourke’s songwriting skills. Don’t be the last to find out.