If there was a consolation prize now for most awkwardly-named band, Irish rocker Danny O’Reilly — son of Celtic-folk singer Mary Black — reckons he would win it, sanitized hands down. Time is on his side, though. Since it formed in 2003, his band has been christened The Coronas, and he currently has no plans to change it.
When he first heard of the emerging coronavirus in December, he instinctively reacted with humor.
“Initially, it was just like, ‘Aw, there’s another thing called Corona now?’ Because there were already so many things, like the beer, the eclipse around the sun, it’s ‘crown’ in Spanish, and there’s even a wine called Corona,” he says, adding, “When it started to get a bit more momentum and spread into the noisy news here in Ireland, I knew it was a serous thing. And when we tweeted Corona the beer, asking what their plan was on rebranding themselves, and we didn’t get a response, I really started to get worried.”
COVID-19 was no joke, nor was its attendant lockdown, which stranded O’Reilly and his girlfriend Dorottya Krizsan in the Black clan’s rural vacation home in Dingle, County Kerry. (His music-making uncles Shay and Michael Black are sheltering in place here in the Bay Area at the moment.)
At one point, the moniker grew so large and ominous that the singer toyed with not only changing, but giving up the group entirely.
With a new album finished as the pandemic struck — “True Love Waits,” which finally was released in July — he watched its worldwide backing tour get canceled date by date along with all the tandem promotional events.
Even The Coronas’ traditional summer-festival gigs in Dublin got axed, at which point, O’Reilly says, “Things started to get a bit grim.
“So I definitely had a moment where I realized that this was going to be tough. And then you throw in on top of that our unfortunate name, and I was like, ‘This is it, this is the end. We really need to just call it a day.’”
But after a few lockdown weeks, O’Reilly, 35, found his optimistic footing again and chose to defiantly double down on the Coronas tag, the same modus operandi of the brewery, which began running refreshing, seclusion-celebrating TV commercials for its product.
He had newfound confidence that the situation eventually would turn around, based on how shrewdly the Irish government dealt with the pandemic threat, and fresh, uplifting songs began occurring to him as the clouds parted.
And as Black Lives Matter protests spread globally after the death of Minneapolis native George Floyd, O’Reilly says, “We saw images that wouldn’t really happen over here, because Ireland is a very liberal country and 99.9% of Irish people are fully in favor the movement, it was strange looking from here at everything happening around the world. Because it’s a scary time, but it’s also a turning point of some sort.”
O’Reilly is counting his blessings. His mom is still doing fine. In May, he drove from Dingle to Dublin to share some socially-distant pints with her on her 65th birthday. He has his own imprint, So Far So Good Records, which pushed the last effort, 2017’s “Trust the Wire,” to No. 1 on the Irish charts.
Though Coronas guitarist Dave McPhillips amicably left the group last year, whittling it down to a trio, O’Reilly bounced back with quieter, more keyboard-centered tunes on “True Love Waits,” such as “Brave,” “Find the Water” and the Gabrielle Aplin duet “Lost in the Thick of It,” most of which analyze the McPhillips schism from a breakup angle.
“I mean, we still talk, but it’s not the same,” he says. “We roomed together, made music together, became successful together, and I don’t think we’ve said it all yet. But he just wasn’t enjoying the band anymore, so that was a very selfless decision that he made, I couldn’t help but write about it,” says O’Reilly.
The biggest difficulty now facing O’Reilly could be otherworldly in origin. After penning the gentle ballad “Haunted” — a term for Dingle locals that implies being lucky, not cursed — he says, “Of course, my one experience with the supernatural happened to be in this house in Dingle, when I woke up and thought I saw someone walk through a wall. I convinced myself that I was still asleep, but it seemed pretty real at the time. And it wasn’t scary. I think it was a friendly ghost!”