A towering achievement for Jack O'Rourke

Soul balladeer Jack O’Rourke’s new single, ‘Ivory Towers’, is more pop than his usual songs, but it’s also one of his best, says Don O’Mahony
A towering achievement for Jack O'Rourke
Jack O'Rourke. Picture. John Allen

It’s the day after the release of Jack O’Rourke’s spanking new single, ‘Ivory Towers’, and I remind the soul balladeer of a joke — at least I think he was joking — he made to the effect that the next record will be a techno one.

“Well, I was [joking],” he says with a chuckle.”

Granted, ‘Ivory Towers’ may not become an anthem anytime soon in the warehouses of Detroit, Belgium or Berlin, but it’s the most thumping and groove-tastic thing O’Rourke has done, which might prompt one to consider the influence of recent collaborators, such as Cork electronic act Freezer Room and Dublin’s DJ Kormack.

“That stuff was more electro in vein, even though [Freezer Room head honcho] Graham [White] hates using the word electro. But, I suppose, touring, and all that kind of stuff, you meet different musicians and people from different genres and my manager looks after Kormac, as well, in Dublin, and he’s an interesting dude. He’s a composer, as well as being a DJ. We did a song last year that was light house, I suppose, with an orchestra. Yeah, it was cool to sing over that track.”

It was O’Rourke’s manager who suggested that he and Kormac pair off and see what came from it.

“Kormac sent me a track,” says O’Rourke. “He was working on an album with the Irish Chamber Orchestra and he just thought it would be cool to work with different types of singers. So Loah, my mate Loah — Sallay [Matu Garnett] — did a track with him and I did a track with him. The one we did was really cool live. We did a big show in Vicar Street, at the launch of that project, for him.”

The track in question, ‘New Day’, was picked up by the telecommunications company 3, who made a video promo to accompany it, for their Made By Music series.

“It was used as an ad for 3 in the UK, so people were texting me from London, saying, ‘I just heard you before The Great British Bake Off,’ which was kinda cool,” O’Rourke laughs. “But it’s a really cool track. I wrote the melody, like, in two minutes. You know, you can never tell what’s a hit, but it’s a great song to do live. People can sing along with it. It’s just a catchy pop song and that’s what pop should be, sometimes. You know, it doesn’t have to be so literary, like a lot of my songs.”

As a self-confessed sad song junkie, he is taken aback by ‘Ivory Towers’ and its exuberant pop-ness.

“It sounded like a pop song when we played it, so I said, ‘Ah, cool.’ It’s horrible to say that could be the single, but you know you have to be realistic about it, too.”

Its first airing, at the Right Here Right Now festival, last May, provoked a great reaction from the Opera House crowd.

“There’s a great energy to it when we play it live,” he says. “You feel a lot of conviction with certain songs, you know, and then you can feel naked with others. You know they’re very personal. But this is a bit of a banger, I think. I don’t drive, but I imagine it’s a good driving song.

“A lot of people have been saying, including DJs, ‘Oh, it’s your best work; it’s really happy.’ O’Rourke pauses before emitting a mocking laugh.

“I don’t know if it’s a compliment or, ‘Oh, you’ve become really beige’,” he wonders.

“But I think there’s even a bit of darkness in the lyrics. It’s up to people what they make of it, but, for me, it’s just about letting go your inhibitions. There’s no great metaphor to the ivory towers part. I think it’s more I loved The NeverEnding Story as a kid and that symbol of the ivory towers in the film, with the Giorgio Moroder soundtrack, it’s kind of this apparition of beauty and something to strive for.”

‘Ivory Towers’ is the lead track off a new mini LP O’Rourke is about to release in March. It also includes previous single, ‘Myth’. He describes the release as being a more sonically cohesive than his debut album, Dreamcatcher.

“Because I wrote the songs around the same time period, whereas, with Dreamcatcher, they were all written over a 10-year period, with lots of different influences and sounds,” he says. “Even Christian [Best, producer] did a brilliant job at making it cohesive production-wise, but there was a lot of different types of songs there, whereas these are all quite poppy and maybe a bit lighter in mood than some of the heavier stuff on Dreamcatcher. But it ends with a piano version of ‘Ivory Towers’, because that’s how all the songs start. So that hasn’t changed. It’s how you dress them up, you know.

“But, for me, it does stand as a work, so that’s cool. And the next thing I do will be an album, definitely. I’m not going to say I’m going to make a jazz album,” he quips.

Jack O’Rourke plays Cyprus Avenue, Cork, with his band, on March 1.

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