Andy Rourke Talks New Band D.A.R.K., Says ‘Ship Has Sailed’ for Smiths Reunion

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photo: Jen Maler
photo: Jen Maler

The trio known as D.A.R.K. isn’t just another new band fighting for your attention. Rather, it’s a new act that features the bassist of one of the most iconic bands of the ’80s, alongside one of the most distinctive voices of the ’90s.

Those talents are Andy Rourke, best known as the bassist of the Smiths for the band’s entire run from 1982 to 1987, and Dolores O’Riordan, the voice of the Cranberries, who are still active. The trio is rounded out by Rourke’s friend, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Olé Koretsky. Science Agrees, the group’s debut album, is out Sept. 9.

The genesis of D.A.R.K. can be traced to Rourke’s move to New York seven years ago. It was there that he and Koretsky began to collaborate on music with a project that was initially dubbed Jetlag. Through connections with management and a shared publishing company, O’Riordan was recruited, and the trio was born. “We had a whole bunch of songs, but we didn’t really know what to do with them, so we sent them to Dolores and she really liked them, so we got to work on them,” Rourke explains. “Once Dolores came on board, it took a whole different dimension.”

Since the Cranberries rise to fame came in the early ’90s, after the Smiths breakup, Rourke and O’Riordan hadn’t previously crossed paths. But the two shared mutual admiration for each other’s work. “I was a big fan of her voice and the Cranberries,” Rourke says. “So I just knew it was going to work. We met up and we all got along.” Rourke also found that he and O’Riordan had the shared experience of surviving life in a hugely successful band. “I think we both had sympathy for each other, because it’s not as glamorous as you would think,” he says. “It can be quite exhausting and stressful when you’re in a huge band like that, so in that respect, we definitely did have a lot in common and a lot to talk about.”

While Rourke is proud of D.A.R.K., he acknowledges that the Smiths era was the pinnacle of his career. “I couldn’t really pick one moment of that time,” he says when asked about a personal highlight. “It was a five-year tornado. We never stopped. We never had one day off. If we weren’t recording, we were on tour. If we weren’t on tour, we were getting flown to Belgium to do TV shows. For me, the most fun was just playing gigs. Royal Albert Hall in London [in April 1985] was one that stands out, when all our families came out to watch. It was a proud moment. Obviously the Manchester gigs were all crazy. We did one at the Free Trade Hall and I think the audience broke the floor. It had a dance floor that had been there about 300 years, and we managed to break it. It was a crazy time, but a fun time.”

It was the Smiths’ honesty that helped them connect with fans, Rourke says. “We were a very honest band in the midst of all the bulls— bands,” he says. “We spoke to the common people. We didn’t have any gimmicks, and Morrissey’s lyrics spoke to the people. And we had a sound that’s aged really well. It’s kind of timeless. In that respect, we’re getting teenage fans and our records were made 35, 40 years ago. We’re still getting young fans who love our records, and it’s a great feeling for me and I’m sure for the rest of the band.”

Despite the massive changes in the music industry over the last few decades, Rourke still thinks the Smiths would have broken through today if they were a new band. “Just because it would still be something new and refreshing that would break through all the bulls—,” he says.

As for a much-hoped-for Smiths reunion, Rourke doesn’t think it will happen. “I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed,” he says. “Everyone is getting on with their own career. I’m sure the fans would love it, but I don’t want to build up anybody’s hopes.”

Although Rourke was part of a bitter lawsuit, spearheaded and eventually won by drummer Mike Joyce, against guitarist Johnny Marr and Morrissey over the Smiths’ royalties, Rourke is still friends with Marr. (He’s no longer in touch with Morrissey, although he did play on his early solo singles “Interesting Drug,” “The Last of the International Playboys,” and “November Spawned a Monster.”) “I was sending Johnny jovial messages back and forth on my phone the other day,” Rourke says. “I speak to Johnny a lot and I speak to Mike whenever I go back to Manchester, so we’re still friends.”

Actually, Rourke’s friendship with Marr dates back to childhood. “We were 11 when we first started to go to school together,” he recalls. “I brought a guitar to school and then Johnny brought a guitar to school. Then we stopped going to school and the rest is history, I suppose.”

Rourke eventually moved to bass after Marr got him a fretless model. At that point, Rourke was a big fan of Japan, the British glam/electronic band fronted by David Sylvian, whose bassist Mick Karn left a lasting impression on him. “I suppose when I started playing on a fretted bass, I kind of took that mentality with me,” Rourke explains. “That’s what made some of the Smiths’ basslines quite melodic.”

While the Smiths are mostly remembered for Morrissey’s singing and lyrics and Marr’s adept guitar-playing and songwriting, Rourke, too, was a crucial part of the band. His melodic basslines are a key ingredient in such Smiths’ classics as “Hand in Glove,” “This Charming Man,” and “What Difference Does It Make,” heard most prominently in the band’s Peel Sessions recordings. “It was only me and Johnny making the music,” Rourke says. “Mike was playing the drums, Morrissey was singing, so I found myself — as Johnny did — overplaying to try to compensate and make ourselves sound big and that kind of became our style.”

As for Rourke’s new band, instrumentally D.A.R.K. doesn’t sound like the Smiths or the Cranberries, despite his background and O’Riordan’s. Instead, at times the music recalls another Manchester-spawned act, New Order, supplemented by O’Riordan’s distinct vocals. One track on the album, “Steal You Away,” sounds as if it was lifted from the soundtrack of the Netflix sci-fi series Stranger Things, only it was recorded months before the series was released. Rourke points to the album’s closing track, “Loosen the Noose,” as a personal favorite. “Dolores wrote the lyrics to that one, and it’s a bit different than the other songs on the album. Actually, all the songs are kind of different. It’s an almost schizophrenic record.”

Rourke adds that the album’s opening track, “Curvy,” was inspired by the Stone Roses from the late ’80s/early ’90s Manchester scene. “It didn’t quite work out like that, but that was the inspiration,” he says. On the album, Rourke primarily sticks to bass, but also plays some guitar, while Koretsky also played some guitar, wrote the lyrics and melodies for much of the album, and handled the programming.

Most of the music for the album was already recorded by Rourke and Koretsky, but once O’Riordan joined, they had additional sessions to add vocals by her and Koretsky, as well as additional guitars and live drums in sessions in Canada and New York; they mixed the album in Los Angeles. “This is a well-traveled record,” quips Rourke.

Rourke first met Koretsky, the least known of the trio, in Washington, D.C., at a gig he was DJing. “We just got chatting and when we got back to my room, he started playing me his demos and some of his early ideas.” When Rourke was considering leaving Manchester for New York, he contacted Koretsky for help because he didn’t have credit history in the U.S., which made it difficult to find a landlord who would rent to him. “Luckily, his landlord was an English guy who was a Smiths fan, so immediately he gave me the apartment above Ole’s,” Rourke recalls. Koretsky’s basement apartment also doubled as a home studio where the pair laid down the basis of Jetlag tracks, which eventually evolved into D.A.R.K. Initially, the pair appeared as Jetlag DJs, playing clubs in New York and holding a residency at the Beauty Bar, while they were simultaneously working on new music of their own, eventually stockpiling up to 50 songs.

photo: Jen Maler
photo: Jen Maler

The band has some dates lined up in Europe, including a show in Ireland in mid-September, but it’s unclear if the combo will make it to the U.S., since O’Riordan is still pulling double-duty in the Cranberries. Rourke is also spending some of his time DJing — but don’t call him a DJ. “I do occasionally, but I’m not a DJ per se. I’m just a bass player from a famous band that gets asked to DJ,” he says. “Some people get that confused. ‘Hey, what’s it like to be a DJ?’ I’m not a DJ. Everybody calm down.”

Aside from spinning in clubs, Rourke also hosts a weekly show on Internet station East Village Radio, available through Dash Radio, where he spins old-school favorites from his library. “I find it hard to keep up with a lot of the new bands because there’s so many,” he admits. “When the Smiths started, there were probably only around five serious bands in Manchester and there was only one rehearsal space. There was Joy Division [then New Order], the Buzzcocks, the Fall, and there was a couple of other bands that didn’t make it. Now in Manchester there’s probably a thousand bands, so I get a little overwhelmed trying to keep up with the new bands.”

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