Jack in the Box: Interview with Jack O’Rourke

Jack in the Box: Interview with Jack O’Rourke

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Following the success of his debut EP, ‘The Other Side of Now’, Jade Milburn caught up with Cork-born Jack O’Rourke to chat about his passion for music, marriage equality, and of course, what’s on the cards for the rest of the year.

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If you haven’t heard of the creative and capable Corkonian, you soon will, as he is about to burst onto the scene with his touching lyrics and heartfelt songs – some of which discuss social equality.

O’Rourke achieved something amazing this year when he released a song called ‘Silence’ on April 17th, in support of Amnesty International’s ‘Let’s make history’ campaign for marriage equality. Following his debut EP, ‘The other side of now’, he is getting ready to launch his debut album. I spoke to the man himself to ask what drove him to participate with Amnesty International, and to find out more about this tuneful wordsmith.

J.M: “When did you first realise that you were musically talented?”

J.O’R: “Apparently I kicked my mam’s tummy when my dad played Pavarotti and The Rolling Stones when she was pregnant! I remember being four and messing with a friend’s piano and being fascinated with it and composing little tunes. My parents got me a piano soon after. ”

J.M: “How would you describe your songwriting process. What comes to you first?”

J.O’R: “It depends. Melodies and chords come first usually, being a piano player. Lyrics come secondary. Sometimes it’s vice versa. Other times, I’ll hear a rhythm or bang something out and a groove will pick up from that. I’m trying to write more with guitar. Depends on my mood completely. I write what I know and every songwriter should, I believe, otherwise, we sound phoney. Sometimes I’ll hear Joni Mitchell or Dylan writing about primal stuff I haven’t even experienced, but it’s impossible to emulate that. Write what you know and be honest. If something real has happened to you, or if you feel strongly about an experience, those songs just fall out. They’re the reward for getting into the cage with other tunes, where you’re trying to be clever and find the right word or phrase.”

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J.M: “You have released a song to promote marriage equality, ‘Silence’, Can you describe, in your terms, how music is an important medium in social justice?”

J.O’R: “It was a great honour to have ‘Silence’ used by Amnesty. I wrote it about growing up gay. I got a lot of very moving messages for that song. It spoke to the human condition in many Irish men and women. Again, I didn’t set out to be worthy or to write for a cause. It was my experience and others could relate. Everyone can empathise with oppression – hopefully that’s changing now. I’m very proud to have it as an anthem for such a pivotal part of Irish history. There’s always a worry that you’re going to be seen as a do-gooder or worthy. I hope people don’t see me as the gay Joan Baez now! Then again, Joan Baez is a hero of mine. I know it’s wishy-washy to say, but I really believe music can change perception, opinion and bring about change. I think if you write something from a personal place and it’s used in that way, all the better, because it becomes universal. ”

J.M: “You are a versatile musician, in that you have also composed music for Irish theatre, what did you like about this process?”

J.O’R: “I love writing for theatre and film. It would be great to have my songs in a television series, for all your producer and directors reading! When something of yours becomes part of the narrative of another life – that’s what you want. Sometimes, being a songwriter can be lonely; you’re often looking inward. To write for another project other than your experience is refreshing. It takes you out of your own head! I need that! I write about all kinds of people and situations and sometimes it’s just instrumental music, without words. That can be even more powerful, because it stirs different emotions, depending on the listener. It might evoke nostalgia for someone, and regret for someone else.”

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J.M: “What is a song of yours that you feel really connects with an audience? Why? How does this feel?”

J.O’R: ‘Naivety’ – it’s a rocking break up song. I love performing it live because it’s cathartic and dramatic and you feed off your audience. I relive it again and everyone can relate to that. I love the beat and the energy. It’s got great female backing vocals too, which is fun live. I feel like Diana Ross with my Supremes.  It’s my Diva song!

J.M: “When and where are your next gigs in Ireland?”

J.O’R: “I support Joan Armatrading this week. She’s a total hero of mine. I can’t even imagine what I’ll say when I meet her. She’s on such a pedestal as a songwriter. I’ve got to play sets with Sinead O Connor, The Staves and This is the Kit this year and I got to sing Galileo with Declan O Rourke. I can die happy! I also play the White Horse in Ballincollig on 1st October with my band. In September, I’m playing Coughlans with John Blek and The Rats. There’s a Barracks Street Festival too approaching and I get to play St. Finbarrs Cathedral. In between, I’m recording my debut album with Christian Best and that’s really exciting.”

For more info on Mr O’Rourke head over to jackorourkemusic.com/