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Feature from THE SUNDAY TIMES written by Mick HeanyRead More...
As far as Myles O’Reilly is concerned, when it comes to performance, it’s good to talk. The front man of the Dublin band Juno Falls has long been afflicted by a crippling nervousness when playing his folk-tinged, pop-inflected songs. Once, in front of a tiny audience in a west Cork pub, he had to stop the show in order to be sick, such was his anxiety. But when, last year, he was invited by Travis’s singer, Fran Healy, to support the Scottish popsters on their British tour, O’Reilly found a way to overcome his fear and make the most of the opportunity. He made himself, rather than his songs, the centre of attention.
“I went on stage and immediately told the audience, ‘Listen, I’m dead nervous, I don’t know what I’m doing here, I’m just going to throw some songs at you.’ I actually found that talking worked better on stage than singing. It was a soother for me, because if I got a reaction from the audience between songs, suddenly it didn’t matter how good or bad I was playing, it was a good vibe.
“So that did huge things for me. To stand up in front of huge numbers of people and face up to who I was, with all those faces looking at you, it really focused all my energy into one spot. And I totally have that confidence after that.”
It seems an odd admission for a man who is the singer, guitarist, songwriter and occasionally sole member of Juno Falls : throughout his career, 33 year-old O’Reilly has frequently left behind those who hampered his musical vision. Yet to hear the tall, quietly spoken O’Reilly tell it, such self-belief has been hard won. “I’m not a confident person at all,” he says. “I’m a mouse. And a tiny bit agoraphobic as well, so it’s a terrifying situation for me to be on stage. It has taken me a long time to resign myself to the fact that I have a purpose when I’m up here.” And all the while, O’Reilly has been propelled by bereavement and calamity.
O’Reilly has long done his own thing : Juno Falls’ winsomely tuneful new album, Weightless, is a band effort in name only. O’Reilly contributes most of the instrumentation and is the only remaining member from the line-up that recorded the groups previous disc, Starlight Drive. “We were so sick of trying to flog that record and getting nowhere that we took a bit of a break,” says O’Reilly. “But I wanted to retain the name.”
For all his professions of self-doubt ----- “I’ve always had a little battle as an artist as to which direction to go” ---- O’Reilly’s mind-set is one of stubborn self-sufficiency. When he wants something, he does it himself. It is an instinct that he traces back to his upbringing: the son of the late RTE sports broadcaster Brendan O’Reilly, the young Myles spent his early years moving around the country.
“I had a pretty lonely childhood,” he says. “I kind of grew up on my own because my parents separated quite early, when I was one, so it has been ingrained in me. And I still have trouble today working with other musicians, because I want to let them in on the project, but it’s just so difficult for me to do that.”
As a teenager, now in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar, O’Reilly wrote “awful” songs on his guitar, though his first ambition was to be a painter or photographer. (He designed the artwork for Weightless.) But while studying at the National College of Art and Design, he preferred to hang out in a city-centre music store: “I learnt that there were other people like me in the world.” O’Reilly dropped out of college and concentrated on his new-found passion for music. In this, he says, he was following the advice of his father.
“My dad was quite a talented actor and a singer and a writer, very involved in everything creative ---- I think that’s where I get it. But he always said he wished that he had focused on one thing and not tried to spread out, because that was how he had landed up working in RTE for 25 years. He was always moaning about it. So that’s what I’ve done, I’ve taken his advice : go on, pick one.”
O’Reilly threw himself into his new-found vocation, albeit unconventionally, spending three years in a covers band in Lanzarote. “I wasted a lot of time – it just flew by, it was like Groundhog Day,” he says. Even when he returned to Ireland to form a rock band, Blotooth, he drifted through the next few years. Then, in April 2001, everything changed.
“The catalyst was my father passing away,” says O’Reilly. “He actually tried to phone Pat Kenny (to ask for a slot on The Late Late Show) – this was the last day of his life – because he just wanted me to do so well. He was always the one saying he could do this or he knew that person, but I always brushed it off.
“He got through to the secretary, and he wasn’t making a lot of sense, because of the morphine. So that was the moment where I picked the phone up off him, and spoke myself and said, “Yeah, my dad is Brendan O’Reilly, he was trying to phone you there, but I’m wondering is there a slot on The Late Late Show you could fit us into ?” Then I realised: He’s the one dying, I’m the one living. I can be doing this every day. He wishes so much that things could happen for me and all I have to do is pick up the f***ing phone.”
For the next two years, O’Reilly obsessively pursued contacts, landing a publishing deal with Sony in the process.
“That’s how I got to make a little mound out of nothing and build on it, through that time of grieving and anguish and desperation and focused energy.” He says. Blotooth became Juno Falls, swapping their hard-rock sound for O’Reilly’s preferred folk-pop sound. “Starlight Drive was an album of many influences, and the lads (fellow members Dara Diffily and David Shakespeare) were just tagging along then, much as they loved it.”
When the first album misfired, O’Reilly went his own way, moving to Dingle to lick his wounds. “I had resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to be a hermit here, and I’m going to write songs for myself.”
His idyllic notions were dispelled when he crashed his ageing BMW convertible, rolling the car over after catching the wheels in a ditch: “I remember the glass shattering and the sound of the road over my head, I could feel it through the thin roof. And when it was over, where I had been seated was fine, but the rest of the car was just crumpled.” Once again, circumstances spurred O’Reilly into action.
“I should have died. It made me re-evaluate a lot of stuff – things I thought were pressure at the time became trivial. And having just moved to Dingle and launching myself into that environment, music just flew at me from all directions.”
His Kerry sojourn yielded the diverse songs that make up Weightless. Produced by Ken McHugh, the album is by turns longing and playful in tone. But O’Reilly’s prospects are similarly mixed. Even as Weightless is released in Ireland, V2 have been taken over by the major label Universal, leaving Juno Falls’ deal in some doubt.
“It’s a very hazy area,” he admits. “If I’m released from V2, at least I get to keep the album and move on with it myself.” But O’Reilly does not seem too perturbed at the prospect. As always, just being himself is enough.
“I always think in a worst-case scenario anyway, just to be prepared. It’s just the way I am --- I don’t let myself get too engaged with my Walter Mitty side. Maybe it would be good to dream, but I don’t really know how to do it. It’s not real life.”