Declan O'Donovan
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Declan O'Donovan

Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | INDIE

Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2012
Solo Folk Alternative




"Broken Sky - A gift that keeps on giving"

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Declan O’Donovan about his new album, “Broken Sky.” Even on a first (and second, and third) listen, I knew I loved the album, but as I’ve listened to it again over the last few weeks, my enjoyment has only deepened.

The project as a whole paints a scenic atmosphere of what a broken sky might look like – for O’Donovan and indeed for all of us. The need for love (even if broken), the need for relationship and emotional sustenance – all are themes that meander through the songs here.

The album opens with “Let It Rain,” a bluesy, soulful tune that sets this album apart from its predecessor (the jazzy, eponymous “Declan O’Donovan”) simply by the absence of O’Donovan’s fabulous piano styling. Never fear, however: the piano appears on the second track, “Down to the Bottom,” a slow ode to a friend going the wrong way in life. (And don’t we all have those?)

The title track, with its foray into what sounds to me like 1970s prog rock (one of my preferred musical genres), probably remains one of my favorite tracks on the album after multiple listens, especially as it’s a great example of the ways in which Declan is stretching himself in this project. Whereas his first album could be classified fairly consistently as jazz or blues, this project digs more deeply and takes more risks – which, with Declan’s talent, is no bad thing.

“Reckless” speaks to the carelessness with which we all occasionally treat our loved ones, while “The Boatman” is a delicate and delightful surprise instrumental in the middle of the album – a fitting divider between the two halves of the project. “Something to Run Away From” is a bluesy, slow-burning exploration of the mixed feelings – the push and pull – for someone who simultaneously draws and repels. (I dare you not to dance a bit in your car with this one cranked up.) “Keep Me In Mind” starts as a ballad, but quickly evolves into an evocative, assertive tune – Declan’s piano playing is superb throughout the album but I particularly enjoy it here… part stride piano, part delicate butterfly notes around the main chord structure. (Would that all my students could hear this as an example of just how great piano can be, even when it’s part of the whole!)

“When I Wasn’t Looking” provides a gorgeous meditation on how we can so easily – and without even noticing – turn into someone we didn’t expect to be. (Another piece I want my students to hear as a sample of gorgeous playing.) In true prog rock fashion, the seven-minute-plus “Out of Mind” closes the album with a gradual build-up to a powerful finish that reminds me more than a little of some of my favorite Pink Floyd tracks.

I haven’t often revisited albums from our interviews for reviews, but this particular project really compels deep and repeated listening. I’m really excited to see how Declan’s musical career will evolve over time; I think this album is a terrific indicator that he’s not only willing to stretch his wings, but also to excel as he flies.

~ L - Great Dark Wonder

"Broken Sky Review - Declan O'Donovan"

Album: Broken Sky
Release Date: June 2, 2017
Genre: Folk/Contemporary

His name makes him sound like an Irish Rover but his voice it that of a true balladeer.

This Yukon-based troubadour has just released his second album, Broken Sky, and it’s true, winsome folk.

With a voice very reminiscent of Cat Stevens, O’Donovan plucks at the nostalgia of our youth and caresses the nuances of maturity with songs that sound like they could have been B-side on Tea for the Tillerman.

I found it to be a great, relaxing album; easy to work to, read to, hum along to. My favourite song would have to be “Reckless”. The smooth percussion, in combination with lightly dancing piano and O’Donovan’s morose tenor voice makes for a well-balanced piece.

The piano features fairly heavily on the album but never weighs it down. The instrumental piece “The Boatman” is a short, simple piece – luminous in style with echoes of Chopin’s “Clair de Lune”. O’Donovan isn’t afraid to change it up a bit though, a gravely guitar and jazz-inspired beats poke their heads out in the flavour of a groovy, blue-light drenched club. “Keep Me in Mind” and “Something to Run Away From” are the best display of this. “Keep Me in Mind” particularly shows this off as probably the most unique song on the album – a noticeable departure from his balladeer pattern– it’s his riskiest song, feeling bluesy and sassy.

The album doesn’t take a whole lot of chances, but it is enjoyable. If you are someone who finds solace in Cat Steven’s you will find Declan O’Donovan a suitable stand-in. - Canadian Beats

"The Globe And Mail Feature Interview"

Next week, the bluesy singer-songwriter-pianist Declan O’Donovan plays a secretive loft concert, but it’s hardly the strangest gig he’s ever had. We spoke to the Yukon-bred artist (who in 2012 released his lived-in, charismatic, self-titled debut) about shows in woodshops, private homes and places with pews.

As a young, independent musician in Canada, how selective can you afford to be when you’re offered a show? Do you worry about the details?

I think some mystery is always kind of cool. For this gig next week, the Loft Airshow Concert, I still don’t know any of the details beyond the time and the lineup. But I kind of like that idea.

You know the people who are putting on that concert, so you’re not worried. But have there been strange gigs that gave you cause for concern?

I did a gig a year-and-half ago at the Frostbite Music Festival, which is in Whitehorse, in the middle of winter. It’s my hometown, but I’d never played the festival before. Turns out my show took place in a woodshop. The stage had been built that day, the room was littered with sawdust and woodchips, and the soundboard was on a table saw. But we filled the room and handed out safety glasses and ear buds. It was a blast.

Did they even have a proper piano for you to play?

No. In fact, the night before the show there was a huge snowstorm. I couldn’t drive all the way into the cabin where they had put me up. So I had to hike out with my keyboard, which was wrapped up in a blanket in its case and strapped to a toboggan. I hiked through the woods for about two kilometres to get to my car.

What about house concerts? Musicians touring Canada often use them to fill up the tour schedule, in between club dates or festivals.

This past month I did a string of dates with another artist who booked us into a house concert. We showed up in this small, southern Alberta town, and when we got to the house, the hosts had been drinking. They had also finished the dinner that was intended for us, and had forgotten to invite anyone. But once we got playing, a few of their friends showed up. We ended up having a blast, despite the fact that we played during one of the most frightening thunder and lightning storms I’d ever experienced.

So, I’m wondering. When your parents were paying for your piano lessons, they might have had visions of you playing at Massey Hall or Carnegie Hall. Are they worried about your fingers, what with you playing frostbitten places with buzz-saws around?

I’ve been doing well, playing shows in support of my latest CD. My parents and anyone who has supported me seem to be digging it. There was a gig I did earlier this month at the Artswells festival in British Columbia. The show was in a small church, and my very Irish Catholic family, who had travelled to the festival, was sitting in the front pews.

And how did it go?

My dad had named me after a saint. He had the idea that I would grow up to be a priest. So I found it very surreal and appropriate to be performing at a church on a Sunday with my parents in the front row. I pulled out all my songs about saints, which I have a few. It was a great show. As for Carnegie Hall and Massey Hall, I feel they’re just around the corner.

Declan O’Donovan (and Peter Elkas and Animals Parts), plays the Airshow-Loft Concert, Aug. 28, 8 p.m. PWYC (suggested donation $15), at a secret location near Trinity-Bellwoods Park, tickets at - Globe and Mail

"Rocky Mountain Outlook Feature Interview '14"

Declan O’Donovan, the Yukon native garnering attention for his skill at tickling the ivories and being able to spin a well-crafted yarn along the way, is hitting Good Earth Coffee House, and you have a good chance of laying witness to some of the songsmiths new material he’s been tinkering with if you catch him.

O’Donovan spent most of the spring on tour, but managed to find the time to take part in a two month residency stint at Toronto’s Cameron House, where he wrote, made new friends and told hundreds of late-night crowds about the vivid characters he’s able to bring to life through music and song.

“It was the first one I did actually,” O’Donovan said. “I’d never done something like that before and the intent was to spend some time in Toronto. A lot of what happens in the Canadian music scene happens in Toronto, so I sort of wanted to get my feet wet hanging out in that area of the world and a residency seemed like a good idea. You get some notice around the city both in an industry sense as well as people who love music, and met some great players who recommended me and started working with some new people.”

He found the residency was great for trying out new material, trying out a new band and really getting some work hours in, specifically in building a fan-base in a city.

“I did eight shows, two months of a weekly gig and by the end of it a lot of people who would come on a weekly basis in the beginning started to come back near the end and it’s a different kind of way of building a crowd,” O’Donovan said. “At a festival you just show up and you get to do your thing and everything’s promoted and you know what’s going on beforehand.”

He’s been making waves in the music community for his gift at bringing characters to life with his music.

“There’s guys that come out and they do a show and half their show might be coming out and telling stories in between songs and genuinely doing a storytelling kind of a set, whereas myself, I write storytelling into the songs but not so much in between the songs,” O’Donovan said. “I like to let the songs do the work for me and at least explain things or leave things open to interpretation.

“It gives myself the opportunity to write stuff that’s not autobiographical, I’d rather create things right down to the character that’s involved and the story that’s going on as opposed to doing songwriting that is specific to my own experiences. Your own experience informs the music inevitably, but I find it’s a lot more fun to put a character in because you have a lot more freedom – you can do what you want with the person you made up.”

O’Donovan says circumstance; an experience or a story concept he has in mind is his usual launching pad with writing. “Then I create the character to fit it or create a character and see what the character does with the circumstance, and the process changes all the time – every time,” O’Donovan said. “I show up everyday and try to work everyday and sit down in front of a piece of paper at the piano. These days, more than not, I don’t even use a piano; I try to write on a guitar. (Guitar’s) always been part of it, lately more, but I always get back to the piano, but I find when I sit down at the piano because I’m much more capable on a piano than a guitar, if I sit down at the piano I start to be a piano player and being clever with a piano as opposed to writing. When I sit down with a guitar all I’ve got is just the chords, I play some chords and focus on what the song is and writing the lyrics for it; it simplifies it, I have less options which makes it more focused.”

Over the last year O’Donovan says he’s had great opportunities to play with some fantastic people that are spread out across the country.

“People based out west, in B.C. back home in the Yukon and most recently some guys in Toronto, every way it’s a fantastic business model,” O’Donovan said. “If I had a band based in Toronto and one in Vancouver and maybe one in Halifax as far as touring Canada, which is a beast of a country to tour, that’s a good way to do it and it keeps things fresh for the tour.”

O’Donovan’s been in journeymen mode this last year, with media having trouble keeping track of him.

“They definitely get it wrong on a regular basis, but fair enough, I don’t think there’s a right answer, maybe I’ll just leave it that way and create some mystery as to where the hell I am,” O’Donovan joked. “I like to be on the road and I like to travel and those are two things I want to do with my life – play music and travel.

“A lot of these dates, including Canmore I’m going to be doing solo … which I haven’t done when I’ve toured, it’s a whole different night and a whole different set, playing on my own the songs get a different interpretation and I’m excited to try some new material. Some of the tunes I’m going to be doing on the tour is new material I’m gonna play around with.”

Declan O’Donovan plays Good Earth July 21. - Rocky Mountain Outlook

"Bucket List Music Review, April 17th @ Divan Orange - Montreal"

Declan O’Donovan from Toronto started things off with his one man bluesy piano act. With his raspy and defined voice, O’Donovan immediately had the audience’s attention. I could not help but be reminded of “Piano Man” by Billy Joel. After his first track, he had to adjust the snare drum which was a few feet away as it had been vibrating. One audience member was heard yelling, “more snare!” The crowd chuckled. By the end of the second song, there was already a mounting standing crowd clearly captivated and enjoying what they were hearing. And I think the ladies had a particular interest, a certain photographer had to keep her jaw from dropping to the floor. Towards the end of his set, O’Donovan covered a Bad Uncle track called, “Hangman and the Criminal,” claiming that, “In another life I wrote a Bad Uncle track and Santosh stole it.” He did a great job covering the track and making it his own. Not only does O’Donovan have a tremendous command of his piano, but also knows how to tell stories. “Things That You Lose” stood out for me as a melodic, thought-provoking song, and I encourage you to check it out and the other songs available on his website. - Bucket List Music Review

"October 3 – Jeff Monk – Uptown Magazine - Winnipeg"

Somewhere up there, north of British Columbia, something good is going on musically. Yukon Territory singer/songwriter/pianist Declan O’Donovan’s bittersweet premier self-titled album is concrete proof that living somewhere that’s not the recognized heart of Canada’s music scene matters not when it comes to creating poignant, listenable songs. O’Donovan has a knack with melodies to be sure. His music is unfussy and modest yet it manages to coil into to heart and soul in a way that makes perfect sense. From the opening, jazz-tinged, almost-swing of "Unquiet" to the somber, funereal march of "Outro" O’Donovan and his trio of mates cast a mighty spell and if moody yet hopeful is your bag then this set will please you to your core. - Uptown Magazine

"October 5 – David Farrell – New Canadian Music"

The Whitehorse native’s album debut is a seductive Tom Waits, Randy Newman-inspired nine-song collection lofted by a brilliant sounding ensemble and seasoned with Jesse Zubot’s gypsy violin, Declan’s cabaret keyboards and a brushwork of horns. - New Canadian Music

"Rocky Mountain Outlook Feature Interview '13"

With kids back in school, the weather cooling down and the Rockies wearing white, now might be a good time for a double dose of post-summer blues.

Luckily, Canmore’s Good Earth Café provides that opportunity Monday (Oct. 7), when Declan O’Donovan and Sean Pinchin roll into town.

O’Donovan (vocals, keys), who splits his time between the Yukon and Montreal, will be joined by Ryan McNally, Lonnie Powell and Keith Picot, while Pinchin, who uses a couple of the most vintage guitars around, will perform solo.

O’Donovan’s 10-stop tour carries him from Calgary to Vancouver as he plays venues large and small – small being Good Earth, large being the Breakout West Festival at Cowtown’s National Music Centre.

“The large places are great,” he said, “but smaller venues are nice for a weekday show, you tend to get more of a listening crowd.”

What people have been listening to is O’Donovan’s self-titled debut album, which was recorded at the Old Crow Studio in the Yukon. The album roams from piano-driven blues to roots to jazz, pop and rock. The single “Cheap Souvenir” won a Westcoast Songwriters International award in the blues category; the only Canadian who won.

With his debut under his belt and available as merch at his shows, O’Donovan is working toward his next release. “I’m not in a big rush, I’m always working on new material, but my first album still needs support with tours. I’m content with it as I try to build a reputation.

“Songwriting depends on my road schedule. Mainly I do my writing on a piano and there’s not always a piano in the back of the van. Lyrically, I’m working on something all the time, it’s a huge part of my day-to-day rehearsal and life with a piano.

“It’s easy today to record on personal devices. You can take what you’ve recorded, put it in a hole in your back yard, then dig it up later to work with. I did a demo last week in a cool studio in the woods, because I wanted to get my ideas on tape.”

Currently, O’Donovan is pondering a move to Toronto for the sake of a different music scene and different culture. He’s also working hard to make his music a full-time thing and step away from work gigs like bartending and construction.

“In the new year, I’m hoping to make music my full-time career. It’s tough to make a living for new artists, so I’m going to take an artist entrepreneur course in Toronto. It’s a terrific program with not a lot of students and where there’s no set curriculum. You build on being an individual artist; you tell them what you’ve got and what you want, and they work with you.

“Long term, I’d like to be like Keith Picot, where if you tour and live in a hotel room all the time it wouldn’t matter where you lay your head.”

O’Donovan will play several showcases at Breakout West with up-and-coming talents and Western Canada Music Awards winners. - Rocky Mountain Outlook

"Great Dark Wonder - Feature Interview"

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a full-on sucker for piano-based music, especially music that draws on multiple soundscapes at the same time. So Declan O’Donovan’s new album “Broken Sky,” which releases 2 June, was a completely perfect listening recommendation for me.

O’Donovan, who is from the Yukon but currently (as you’ll see below) is pursuing a more itinerant lifestyle, has written a lush set of songs for this latest project. Where his first, self-titled 2012 release could easily be classified as jazz (and is also an album not to be missed), “Broken Sky” expands the sound palette to include styles ranging from prog rock to a touch of country blues.

I’ve found it difficult to tear myself away from this record since first hearing it. From the opening track, “Let It Rain,” which actually separates O’Donovan from his piano in a bluesy, guitar- and horn-laden tune, to “Broken Sky” with its prog-rock riff in the middle, to “Keep Me In Mind” (which keeps me somewhat in mind of a Spanish tango), to the gorgeous and reflective “When I Wasn’t Looking” (which chokes me up each time I hear it), every song on the album is unforgettable.

We are so glad that Declan O’Donovan took some time from an extremely busy schedule to talk with us about “Broken Sky.”

This album seems to draw on an even wider variety of musical inspirations and styles than your first project. Was this a deliberate decision you made before starting to write, or is this the direction in which your songs took you?

I certainly made a conscious decision even before the writing process began to paint broad strokes and draw from a larger palette for this record. In every regard I worked to push things into new – often uncomfortable – territory. Like pushing myself to actually sing! I think creativity is innately unfamiliar. Were I to just revisit the places and inspirations that I found before, I would be hard-pressed to call it something new. Only AC/DC gets away with doing that.

If I understand correctly, you wrote this album in multiple cities, but you’re primarily based in the Yukon… how does location, or a sense of place, affect your creativity as a musician?

My sense of place is rather messed up these days, by choice I’m currently homeless. I suppose I feel anxious if I stay in one place too long, and it’s been easier to simply follow opportunities and live out of a bag for the last few years. I am FROM the Yukon, but not necessarily based there all the time. And yes, my sense of place certainly plays a role in the songwriting – some kind of juxtaposition between urban and rural living. But the importance of having a home, or being from somewhere, is often more for the sake of people around you being able to identify who you are. Particularly as a musician, it’s often one of the first questions I have to answer. It’s as though people subconsciously are applying value to the geography of the music they choose to listen to. It can be a little absurd.

One of my favorite songs on the album is the title track, “Broken Sky.” (At the risk of dating myself, portions of the song remind me a lot of some of my favorite 70s-era prog rock instrumentals.) You sing of the broken sky as “a place where you can hide” – having lived both on the plains and in cities, I was visualizing wide open spaces when I heard this song. What meaning does “Broken Sky” and the concept of a hiding place have for you?

Thank you! I suppose Broken Sky means a number of different things.. The metaphor of the broken sky, and the songwriting that went into the album as a whole was drawn from a notion that the world is not as we want or expect it to be. Something as elemental as the sky can appear fragmented and fragile, and it can be both unsettling and liberating to abandon this sense of security. Largely influenced by the experiences of a close friend that was struggling through a manic episode, I sought to explore and reimagine some of the high and low points of a troubled mind that was failing to maintain a grasp on the world around it. And the hiding place is certainly meant to contrast with the broken sky, I suppose its almost a ‘hide in plain sight’ type thing. But don’t leave it to me to explain the songwriting, I had very little say in the whole thing…

I was also thrilled to hear an instrumental on the album (“The Boatman”) – it seems like relatively few musicians are willing to step out on a limb and include them. What was your inspiration for this particular piece?

It was simply a melody and a mood that I had been playing with throughout the whole writing process. It never struck me to lyricize the music, and yet it seemed at home with the whole record. It took on a few different incarnations throughout the writing and our time in the studio. Jean Massicotte brilliantly reduced it to something very basic, which provides a fantastic half-way point to what i think are certainly two sides to this record. I hope people will hear it as such.

You have a fairly extensive touring schedule planned over the next several months – will you approach touring any differently with this new album than you did for your first? If so, in what ways?

Well in so many ways the first album was a lesson in what not to do – namely with touring! So for one thing, I won’t try to cross Canada all at once.

And once again, this album is an exploration into new things. The live show is an extension and reinterpretation of the record, and the musicians I’m lucky enough to have on board for the live show are brilliant creative minds. If given the opportunity, we manage to bring things somewhere new every night.

There’s also opportunities that weren’t there with the last record. New places in the world that have invited us to come perform and seem to be digging what we do. Namely Japan and Germany…both countries are filled with amazing audiences and some wild gigs. Like Fuji Rock Festival this summer?! It’s going to be a trip.

Just curious: what is your keyboard background (e.g., classical/jazz)? You have a very definitive, assertive sound to your playing (and I mean that as a compliment). Any particular preferences of piano and keyboard gear?

I didn’t take formal jazz or classical lessons. I took private lessons with a few fantastic teachers when I was very young. Guys that encouraged me to learn by ear before getting into some of the theory and technical side of things. I quit piano for a few years when I was a teenager to explore drums and bass and guitar and eventually came back to the instrument, exploring different styles on my own and poorly faking my way by on the instrument!

But I’m a piano player, not a keyboardist. If I’m at a keyboard it’s because I have to be. Give me a real instrument over these ugly digital eye-sore imposters any day.

~ L - Great Dark Wonder


Declan O'Donovan (self-titled) - Aug. 7th, 2012



A masterful songwriter collects life's experiences and artfully turns them into songs that capture the imagination of a listener.  Declan O’Donovan is that songwriter, that contemporary troubadour who utilizes a broad palate of voice and piano to tell intriguing stories through the music he creates.

At home in the rural environs of Whitehorse, Yukon and equally at home in the urban centers of Montreal and Toronto, this broad sense of place comes into play in the songs Declan has written for his newest release, Broken Sky.  “Overall, the sound of the album strikes a balance between the rural and roots, and the urban and contemporary influences that contributed to the sound and the songwriting,” says O’Donovan.

 Produced by Jean Massicotte (Patrick Watson, Lhasa, Adam Cohen), Broken Sky, was recorded at Studio Masterkut in Montreal. “Jean gave my songs a landscape to live in and explore. He brought with him a sound and an approach that gave every note warmth and direction, and he gracefully coaxed out performances from everyone involved that at once made the songs both grounded and unrestrained.” 

 Featured among the many outstanding musicians on Broken Sky are Brad Barr of The Barr Brothers on electric and acoustic guitars, as well as Joe Grass of the Patrick Watson band on pedal steel, electric and nylon-string guitars.

Declan is touring nationally and internationally in support of Broken Sky.  In 2017, he is booked to play in Germany in March and May; in Japan in July; and will be in Canada during the summer of 2017. He will appear at Canadian Music Week (Toronto), the Atlin Arts & Music Festival and will tour BC in July.

O’Donovan’s self-titled debut album was released in August 2012 and featured “Cheap Souvenir”. In 2014 he received a Maple Blues nomination for Best New Artist Of The Year, and wrote and performed the score for the short film, Enough To Get By, from his brother Kieran O’Donovan of Fata Morgana Films, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Band Members