Following the release of their latest album, Borrowed Heaven, The Corrs spoke to Louise Carroll just before they started their largest North American tour.
Who could imagine that a group of siblings from Dundalk, County Louth would fuse Irish traditional music with modern pop, sell over 30 million albums and gain worldwide attention and acclaim? Young, rich, and gorgeous, The Corrs have taken the mantle as the representatives of the new Ireland, where massive success is a possibility and life is good. Very good.
It all began almost fifteen years ago, long before they broke through in America with their 2000 smash hit “Breathless” off the album In Blue. In Dublin in 1990, there was a casting call for a musical comedy called The Commitments. Jim Corr decided he and his sisters should audition together as the band from Roddy Doyle’s novel. Although none of them made the cut as the lead characters, Andrea was cast as Sharon Rabbitte, sister to the band’s manager Jimmy. But more importantly, they met the film’s musical coordinator John Hughes, who is still their manager today. So important to The Corrs is Hughes, that when they are split two and two on a vote, he casts the tiebreaker.
The Corrs haven’t changed their roles since those early days. The exception is that initially Jim was the leader of the band, being the eldest in the family (he’s now 39). But before long, the others were also taking charge and now they make decisions together. Jim plays guitar, and Sharon plays the violin and fiddle. Caroline plays drams, and is one of the few highly successful female drummers in the music industry. Andrea, the youngest, is the lead singer and plays the Irish tin whistle. The band writes and arranges the songs together, and Sharon and Andrea pen most of the lyrics.
Given that their audition for The Commitments launched them into a wildly successful music career, you might think that the band would credit the movie as being their big break. But you’d be wrong. Jim displays the cool confidence of a talented artist who was bound to be discovered in time. “The Commitments was the catalyst, I suppose,” he says. “But I think we had the determination and the ambition to make it work anyway, no matter what was going to be the catalyst. It could have been lots of other things.”
This confidence, rooted in optimism, is a quality that The Corrs credit to their Irishness. “Optimism is really a very Irish thing,” says Andrea. “That and a belief in people rather than to rage against them.” And Sharon adds, “The Irish have a natural optimism. We’re not as stressed-out as other nations.”
Their music reflects the upbeat nature of their personalities, and their new album Borrowed Heaven explodes with exuberance. Even their songs about personal tragedies have a positive aura. Andrea wrote “Angel” for their mother Jean who died in 1999. Andrea says of the song, “It’s very hopeful; it’s very optimistic. I have an absolutely blind faith that she is in a better place.” And Sharon wrote “Hide Away” a lovely ballad, to encourage a friend of hers who was having a difficult time. She explains, “Sometimes people need to realize their potential and not hide behind other people; because that always leads to frustration. You have to grab the bull by the horns and be what you can be. `Hide Away’ is really just about taking control and using your potential.”
The Corrs are good at following their own advice. With the new album, they have taken their sound in a different direction, making it more guitar-based and less overtly pop. You could say it’s their most rock `n’ roll album to date. “It’s slightly edgier and I feel that’s because we are older,” Sharon says. “And as you get older you get a little bit more confident. I think that maybe it has a little bit more depth to it.”
Deep it may be, but it has lost none of The Corrs’ trademark ebullience. The melodies and production have a distinct 1980s flavor, most obviously on the album’s first single, “Summer Sunshine.” “In the 1980s, I was in my teens and music was very important,” says Andrea, who wrote the track. “I think subconsciously it’s there.” Then she adds as an influence, “I love Prince.” Caroline says, “It wasn’t a conscious effort, though. It wasn’t like we said, `Oh we’re going to make an 80s record.’ It just happened. But we’re happy with it.”
Not all of Borrowed Heaven is a throwback to the 80s. “Time Enough for Tears” was written by Bono, Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer for the 2003 Jim Sheridan movie In America and doesn’t echo any specific musical era. It’s a timeless, delicate ballad that captures Andrea’s voice at its best. Nominated for a Golden Globe award, “Time Enough for Tears” is the only song on the album not written by The Corrs, which explains why is doesn’t sound like the rest of the album. In addition to Bono, other collaborators on the record include the South African band Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who sing on the title track, bringing African chants and a prayerful tone to the song.
In contrast to that reverence, the song “Humdrum” exhibits a modern techno influence and Andrea depicts married life with more than a touch of irony. “I want to take you for granted/forget your birthday/drift while you’re talking/and shrink all your clothes,” she sings. The song is the opposite of her romantic relationships, she says, which are anything but domestic. “In my life, everything is very high intensity in love; because I’m always moving and it’s never domestic and mundane.” Andrea and Jim are the only unmarried Corrs, and collaborated together on “Humdrum.” They enjoyed poking fun at settling down with the kind of dry wit you’d expect from the Irish.
Although the album permeates with disparate influences, its polished sound and upbeat lyrics tie it together as a cohesive work. Throughout all the songs you know you are listening to an Irish band with the occasional fiddle, tin whistle or even the bagpipe. “It’s important to us to have a real Irish flavor on our albums. Part of us would be missing without it,” says Sharon.
Thematically, Borrowed Heaven delivers a carpe diem message. “The album’s title is the time that we have, the place where we are,” says Andrea. “Right here and now — that’s heaven. All that is light and dark, all that is beautiful and ugly, all pleasure and pain are transient. We have to live for today.”
With their confidence, new songs and a reputation for fantastic live performances, The Corrs are hoping to really break big in America this summer. Says Andrea, “We have got a following in America. But really, in the scale of things, it hasn’t touched what it could be. The reaction we’ve had over the years with audiences over there would lead us to believe it could be so much bigger if people just got to hear our music. And I do think that it could explode over there now.” Sharon concurs, “And the signs are really good. The tour is selling really well, and that’s really positive. I feel like it’s our time.”
Jim is pleased that despite a four-year break, American fans are still interested in the band’s new material. “It’s surprising that we can come back after all this time and have this,” he says. “There is an increased audience for us in fact, and that’s very encouraging. Would we like to do better in the United States? Yes. We’ve done very well, but we certainly would like to do better.”
Although large-scale commercial success in the U.S. takes a fair amount of luck, The Corrs have a distinct business-savvy that has served them very well over the years. Jim explains, “We’ve known intuitively what is going to work for us and what isn’t.” Aside from good instincts, it has only helped their appeal that the sisters are as photogenic as they are.
But being good-looking does not a music career make. Real talent is a requirement. And The Corrs are unique because there is no other group that sounds like them. Whereas Jessica Simpson could change places with Christina Aguilera tomorrow; no other band could fill the shoes of the Corr family. They are true musicians who take their craft seriously. The diversity of their musical skills and their ability to play various instruments enables them to create a unique sound. “We can call on both the classical and the traditional Irish music, and that’s part of the secret of our success,” Jim says.
Their success has led the press to dub The Corrs the icons of modern Ireland, an association that makes them proud. “It is very nice if people do say that about us, it means we’re representing the country in a positive way, which is always a good thing,” says Sharon. And Jim says, “Some people would say that we are ambassadors of the country. I don’t think we see ourselves as that! (He laughs). But it’s very flattering, it’s certainly a very nice thing to hear.”
The Corrs are happily following in the footsteps of U2, who when they burst on the music scene almost 25 years ago, brought forth a new representation of Ireland. As well as collaborating with U2 as musical peers, The Corrs deeply admire the band. “One of our greatest influences would have to be U2,” says Sharon. “They sort of allowed us to believe in the dream, because it became possible for them. They were the first Irish band to make it globally. For that reason, a lot of Irish musicians felt better about themselves and went and took the risk of getting out there.”
Like U2, The Corrs are intensely proud of being Irish, which they never exploit by the cliché of shamrock and leprechaun Ireland. They truly value their country and its history. “I love old Ireland,” says Caroline. “I love the traditions of Ireland. I would like to keep them in my life and have my children understand Irish culture and traditions.”
The Corrs may have houses in France and Spain, but they all live in Ireland and call it home. “To have a background and a bond with a culture is one of the most important things you can have.” Jim says, “I love this country and I think it’s a great country to live in. I live between Dublin and Belfast and I wouldn’t change that.”
Looking forward to their conquest of the United States, The Corrs are as ambitious and confident as ever. With 15 years in the music business under their belt, they still see a long musical future before them. Jim says, “We love what we are doing and we’ll continue doing what we’re doing as long as we love it, and as long as people love listening to it.
In addition to being the band’s lead singer and tin whistle player, Andrea is the family thespian. Her first film was The Commitments, and she was cast in another Alan Parker film Evita, playing Peron’s mistress and Madonna’s nemesis. Her upcoming feature is her most significant role to date and combines both her acting and musical talents. Andrea plays Anne, a fiddle player living in County Clare in the 1970s. The film is going to be retitled for its March 2005 release, but so far has been called The Boys and Girl From County Clare.
Andrea admits that she hasn’t had the time to focus on Hollywood. “Music has been completely all-consuming,” she says. “And I mean it in a good way. But then this script came along by Nick Adams and I thought it was beautiful, true and honest. It’s very true of Ireland. This film is a comedy and at the same time it is very dramatic and it can be very sad.”
Andrea felt that she related very closely to her character in the film. “The thing is I believed everything that was in the script that the girl said and what she went through. I believed it. And that’s half the battle.” Andrea had a particularly unusual coming-of-age herself, becoming a famous pop star as a teenager. And a few years ago she was voted the most beautiful woman in the world in a UK poll. Asked if she has adjusted to all the attention paid to her beauty, she says it has become less and less important as she gets older. She happily says how much she enjoyed turning 30 this year. “You’re very vulnerable anyway as a woman, and in those adolescent years it’s more difficult. Now I have the spectrum of seeing how little it matters. I feel just the same as everybody but more exposed because I’m in the public eye,” she says. ♦