Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Sharon Corr was the violinist, vocalist, and one of the songwriters of the Irish family band, the Corrs. Best known in the US for their hit “Breathless,” the Corrs were mega-stars around the world, thanks to their unique blend of pure pop and Irish traditional music. Their album Talk on Corners was the biggest-selling album of 1998 in the UK and remains the highest-selling album ever in the UK by an Irish act (even outselling any album by U2).
The Corrs went on hiatus in 2005 to raise their families, but in 2010 Sharon Corr embarked on a solo career with her debut album, Dream of You. She is currently touring the US in support of her new album, The Same Sun, which comes out in April. Corr performed at the World Café Live in Philadelphia on Saturday, March 15.
The Daily Gazette spoke with her by phone during her concert stop in New York City.
The Daily Gazette: With the Corrs, you wrote most of your songs alone. On your new album, you co-wrote many of the songs. What made you decide to collaborate?
Sharon Corr: When I first launched my solo career, I thought the one thing you have to do is do things differently. That was how I set myself forward […]. I just really wanted to change things up because I thought it would inspire me; I thought it would help me grow as a person and as an artist. And I really wanted to be way more vulnerable because I think that’s when people identify with you, when you’re being truly vulnerable and you’re being utterly truthful in your lyric and in your music.
DG: One of my favorite songs is “Goodbye” because of how the music subtly conveys a sense of longing and loss. The obvious way to write a song about loss is to use a lot of minor chords, but you do something very different, emphasizing suspended 2nd chords. Could you talk about how you composed the music for this song?
SC: I’m much more interested in chords that are not straight. I like a lot of diminished chords and augmented chords; I like it when [the chord progression] twists and it takes you somewhere and you go “oh” and that’s a completely new feeling. It’s like you turn a corner in the song on each chord.
“Goodbye” was inspired by losing my mom, and you really have to pick up the pieces after losing somebody in such a dreadful loss. You’re in shock for so long. I felt I was in shock for about six months, and then I felt like I started to experience the loss, truly and in every sense of the word […]. There’s a poem by W. H. Auden, and he’s talking about packing up the moon and the sky, and that kind of inspired the lyric. I like interesting chords. I don’t like anything to be straight […] because nothing straight works out in life […]. There are just so many gray areas in life that I think the chords, if they are unusual, then they just represent that so much more than if they’re just straight.
DG: Your song “So Young” is upbeat, yet there are surprising hints of dissonance from the added 9th chords, and these harmonies and the violin give the song a poignant feeling that’s unusual in pop music. Could you tell us more about this song?
SC: “So Young” I wrote for and about my parents. I was thinking about the Oscar Wilde quote, “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.” And it just absolutely sums up getting older and being old. Because on the inside, you still feel like you’re sixteen. You still have hopes and aspirations and dreams and you still feel like a kid, but yet you’re sort of expected to act a different way.
My parents were a source of amazing inspiration, and the thing that they told us was to follow our dreams. And if I don’t pass anything else on, that’s the one thing I have to pass on to my children, is to follow your dreams. Because I think we dream of what we dream because we have the potential to be that […]. I think we dream things because they are possible. And I think it’s just a matter of keeping on trying and reaching for those dreams […]. My parents taught me that, and they were just young forever.
I think you should never give up on that because no one ever said that when you get older you have to lose your dreams. No one ever said it but somehow people feel that they should. And my parents never stopped, they never gave up, they never felt that they should […]. So I wrote it about them because they were just so inspiring, how they brought their youth into their older age.
DG: Your new album is a departure in that it has a retro feel, almost a Burt Bacharach vibe. What made you choose this musical direction?
SC: My mom and dad were listening to all the Burt Bacharach stuff, all the Carpenters records, the Dusty Springfield stuff, so that was like the soundtrack to my very early childhood. So I was greatly inspired by that, but probably hadn’t been using it. But once Mitchell [Froom, the album’s producer] started playing the piano, it was like it fell out of me, and my voice went into this place that maybe was closer to what Karen Carpenter would have done than what I would have done before. And it was just like my voice went, “Oh, I’m home.”
DG: What songs were turning points for you in your growth as a songwriter?
SC: All the songs on this album, to be honest […]. The title track of the album was inspired by my visit to Tanzania with the charity organization Oxfam. I was going over there to bring awareness to a campaign that they were running for women called Ending Poverty Starts with Women […]. I thought, OK, I don’t want to write a judgment song, I don’t want to make a speech, I don’t want it to be a song to tell people how to behave […]. I wanted to create a sense and feeling of the place and people.
We were traveling on a rickety bus on dirt roads […]. I was just writing down what I was seeing. Just images, like there was a shepherd boy and he was beneath a lone acacia tree and he smiled at me […]. I just wanted to create the atmosphere of the women and the people in Tanzania. I suppose the only statement in the song is that we’re all underneath the same sun, we are all dependent on this sun, we are all created because of this sun. And yet we live such vastly different lives depending on what part of this world under this sun that we are born in. I’m particularly proud of those lyrics.
Steve Wang is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and a longtime Corrs fan.
Susan Chang has a M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy and is a published poet and playwright.
Featured image courtesy of Sharon Corr.