The Script released Freedom Child, the band’s fifth album — and first in three years — on Sept. 1 and is currently traveling around the country in support of the new record. One of the stops the Irish lads (lead singer and keyboardist Danny O’Donoghue, lead guitarist Mark Sheehan and drummer Glen Power) made was to the Billboard headquarters in New York City to play some tunes for fans on Facebook Live and chat about how Freedom Child came together.
But while the Script is primarily focused on its latest collection of music, the trio is also coming up on 10 years as a band — a career marked by five straight No. 1 albums in their home country (and four in the U.K.) and countless hits known worldwide, including “Breakeven” and “Hall of Fame.” How have they managed to craft so many catchy, memorable songs? Simply by observing the world around them.
“It’s always about just listening to what’s going on — to yourself, because a lot of our music in the past has been quite introverted,” Sheehan tells Billboard. “I think this record is quite extroverted. A lot of these stories have impacted us: the news penetrating the studio, people penetrating our lives, and it was kinda time to talk about those things. Stories while sitting and pounding a few whiskeys, and that’s what you get, you know?”
Because the Script has delivered so many great songs over the past 10 years, Billboard wanted to hear the stories behind some of the band’s biggest hits and newer tracks. Take a look at the stories behind the songs, and watch our video interview with them below.
Sheehan: We’d all been through massive breakups at this time. Massive, catastrophic ones. We realized there wasn’t a song out there that kinda spoke from the guy’s perspective on an actual breakup. There’s a lot of songs that do talk about it, but none that really give you the guy’s side and talk about when that person has the best days of her life, it’s your worst days of your life — it absolutely destroys you as a person. We came up with the idea of “when our heart breaks it doesn’t break even.” Someone’s always left with the lesser piece of the half and someone always gets the most. And we thought that was a really cool concept, but we weren’t trying to write the best pop song in the world. But suddenly, we now get calls from folks at Berklee who teach this as a song to people about how to write songs.
So “Breakeven” just ended up being one of those songs that kinda grew legs and started running away from us, because we didn’t really even know what we had. We knew we had a great song, we knew we really liked the song, we love playing it as a band, but we didn’t really know if it was gonna be as big of a song as it was, of course. Now and then, a song connects with the audience. I think that was the first lesson for us, where a song really resonates with an audience and becomes their song, not your song. A lot of people say they didn’t know the Script until they broke up with somebody — we’re like the soundtrack to people’s bad times [laughs].
Sheehan: This is probably gonna be a little cheesy, but I kept looking at my wife and my wife’s friends who were mothers on their own that are raising children, and I just thought to myself, “They often just want to get it all off their chest and talk to somebody.” And everybody listens with the intent to reply all the time. They don’t listen with empathic listening where we just listen, we always listen with a solution in our fuckin’ heads. Sometimes it’s just nice to listen to someone, open your arms and just hold them for a second and say, “It’s all gonna be good.” You just need an ally sometimes, so I kept thinking of all these words — ”I can’t uncry your tears,” “I can’t change all those things about your issues,” and we just got talking and that song just formed.
We kinda discounted it even from the record. One day in the studio we were kinda talking about all the songs, and I was just saying, “There’s something bloody about this song that, I don’t know, as far as knowing about songs that connect people, we’ve stood on stage now a million times and we sing these songs that connect to people. There’s something in this one, because I think it really speaks to people, right now particularly, when we’re talking about Freedom Child the album, right now people just need an ally out there. So we said, “Okay, let’s record it for real,” and we went in and just did it up again and that’s the version you’re hearing. It’s all still a demo. We captured a thing that day that we can’t re-record.
“Hall of Fame”
O’Donoghue: Around the time we were writing it, the Olympics were happening in the U.K. And we were kind of seeing the tandem of there isn’t a hall of fame for doctors and nurses and there should be. There are awards shows and there are award ceremonies for people who already have awards, you know? There’s the Oscars for people who are already incredibly famous and already incredibly rich, and so we just thought, “You know what? We want to throw something for those people,” the people who weren’t always thought of.
We wanted to write something that meant the same thing for doctors and nurses and people of the community, preachers, teachers, single parents… people who were going through hell, but are coming out the other end learning from it. We started writing the song really quick from conception to completion — some of the best ones are, I guess, they just come flying off the top of the head. We just thought it was such a great mantra for us to put out. And we did get asked, “Can we use it for the Olympics?” And it’s not what it’s about! You know, a person who won the gold medal has the gold medal. He’s already a trained athlete, you know? But we did use it for the Paralympics. Still to this day, we get a lot of people asking if they can use our music behind really encouraging things — Disney [used it in] Eddie the Eagle and they put it as an inspirational piece for young girls.
“Divided States of America”
O’Donoghue: We were in L.A. at the time we were writing that song. We were just working in the studio, and the climate in America — I guess for you guys to understand, coming from Ireland, we’ve always loved everything that’s come out of America, like I absolutely love this country. I always have, ever since I was a kid. And it was always like “United States of America,” you know, “united we stand, divided we fall.” Around that time, Trump was having his inauguration. And we were down in the studio, and I remember the day before [Mark] was like, “Look, careful on your way home because there could be riots with the result.” And I was like, “Nah, come on! Is it that big of a deal?” And turned out it was! There were riots going on just down the road from where our studio was, and for us, we’re a pop band, so for us to turn around, we’re not trying to get political, but we have to write about what’s going on in ourselves, and I just felt like I was really disgusted by how divided America was. We all sat around and we talked about it, and we were like, “We don’t know if this song is gonna make the record or not, but I have to write about it.”
For us, we’re not trying to point at a side, we’re not trying to say what we believe is right and wrong, we’re that little line down the middle. We’re the ones that start trying to pull people together and say, “You have to listen to each other. You can’t just keep shouting at each other in an echo chamber, you know, backing up your own views.” And “Divided States” is a calling for us to say to people, if they aren’t building bridges, we’re gonna fuckin’ knock ‘em down.
Sheehan: It was the last straw at that point for us, to be honest with you. That’s why we wrote the song: because Brexit had happened, massive things in Ireland had happened, massive things around the world happened. That was just the last straw that happened. So you know, we say “divided states of America, divided states of the world.” And we didn’t want people over here to think it was just about America, it was just that this is the last frontier and it’s like, “Oh my God, if it’s happening in America, we’re all fucked!”
“The Man Who Can’t Be Moved”
O’Donoghue: We were kinda thinking, “You know what’s really missing right now? The real, true sense of that crazy love. That Forrest Gump kind of style of that, no matter what, him and Jenny had to be together. I think he would’ve done something like that, I think he would’ve went back to the corner where he first met her and just sat and waited. And we just started to write the story and it kind of took on a life of its own.
When you’re writing a song, you kind of take on that personality yourself. The essence of love should be that. And I thought at the time particularly, in 2008, there wasn’t really that many songs like that on the radio. And I think it really, again, like “Breakeven,” it was another song that kind of solidified us as a band that’s willing to tackle emotional issues — it’s not just one song on the album. We don’t care, we wear our hearts on our sleeve. We kind of let the whole world wear that jacket.
Sheehan: When we write a song, we’re all adding our perspectives and it’s always tricky when you’re collaborating on a song. “Man Who Can’t Be Moved,” we were all drawing our motivation from it, and I remember thinking, “I just want her to drive her car to work and hopefully hear this on the radio, and go ‘Fuck.'” Because it was revenge. And the way to do it was to write a song about a metaphorical guy going back to the corner because I also didn’t wanna give her the plaudits of saying that I would literally do something like that for her, you know what I mean?
In the middle the line is, maybe I’ll get famous as “the man who can’t be moved,” then one day she’ll see me on the news and all that. And that was, to me, the real meaning of, it’s the first time the song steps out of the metaphorical world and goes into the literal sense of it.
O’Donoghue: It’s really funny, because the song kind of fulfilled its own prophecy. She did see this, and I’m sure it was kinda bittersweet. Sweet for us, hopefully bitter for her.
Power: Oh, it was bitter.
“Love Not Lovers”
Sheehan: My wife would watch a lot of these dating shows — all these people constantly dating each other and going through different people. It had a kind of profound impact on me as a songwriter. I have a best friend since I was a young boy, she happens to be a girl… people used to think she’s my girlfriend or my sister, but we’ve just been best friends and we’re still best friends to this day. And for some reason, she’s a beautiful girl, but she’s never found somebody, and it annoys the shit out of me to no end. Me and my wife were just talking to her, and she started telling me about, “I was with this guy, and suddenly it turned out that he had three kids and a wife.” She ended up meeting this other guy on Tinder, and when she got there he got so fucking drunk that she had to get him home. She started telling me all these things, and I’m just floored. But as a songwriter, it’s gold! So I’m just kinda writing them down, and I didn’t have the chorus. We were sitting in the studio one day and I said to Dan, “You keep going under the covers, you’ll find lovers, you won’t find love. You’ll never find love, you’ll only find lovers.” And he’s like “That’s an awesome concept!”
We’re proud of it because it still has the Script sort of storyline element to it and it has the sound that we call our classic sound now after 10 years, but lyrically it feels really modern.
The Script is kicking off a North American tour on Sept. 28. For dates and ticket information, visit the band’s official site.