“When you realize you’ve made a mistake,” that’s when a boy becomes a man, says Ronan Keating. “To me, what makes a man is honesty.”
 
After a clamorous start to 2012, Keating is ready to be calm and move on with the optimistic future he has in mind for himself. He was recently in town at the tail end of November to promote his fifth studio record, pertinently titled ‘FIRES’.
"It's great to be back firstly after so many years of not making new music. It was a bit of a battle for me to find out who I was as an artist, where I was going and what sort of music I wanted to make after that long amount of time. And it was like a lightbulb went off and it was like 'yea, I need to make a pop record again. That made sense to me at that time.'"
Everyone has been wishing, waiting and wondering – when will another fortuitous hit ballad like ‘When You Say Nothing At All' take the musical world by its ears and make us all sit up and listen. “Look, I’ve been (wanting) to create ‘When You Say Nothing At All’ for 12 years; I’m sure James Blunt sits down at the bloody piano and tries to write ‘Beautiful’ every time. But they only come around once in a lifetime I guess. So you have to try new things. For me it was definitely trying to make a pop record again. (I wanted to make) an album of optimism and hope. I didn’t write any songs about anybody. I‘ve caused enough trouble in people’s lives and enough hurt.”
And ‘FIRES’ is rather uplifting. I’ve turned my back on pop a very long time ago. But I took a listen to the whole album – in preparation for my interview with him. And on replay the next day - just because I wanted to. Honesty makes a man; so let’s get to know the man who’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
 
You might have known, he was grandly disgraced 2 years ago when the news of his extramarital affair with backup dancer Francine Cornell, who accompanied Boyzone on their 2009 tour, dropped. It subsequently caused the frontman’s marriage to wife Yvonne Connolly of 14 years to split this year.
“I made my New Year resolution about 6-8 months ago, (I) decided my happiness is everything, and I will strive to be happy.” He exerts that he has been remorseful, but we’re not sure if the world is ready to forgive him yet. Responses to his album have barely been a careless whisper on the charts and critics ignited the rationality of a career comeback. Where is the relevance of an ex-boyband member in an arena of dance-electro and hip-hop music?
“I tried different things on this album – like Oxygen which is a proper (dance) on the floor dance track, which is something that I’ve never done before. I just thought some of the dance tracks were disposable and (do not contain) enough meaning. I was having this conversation with someone yesterday, the Swedish House Mafia (SHM) track – 'Don’t you worry child' – brilliant song. For me this was one of the first songs that was a proper (dance track); that was connected with youth, but the message was not the usual ‘Oh baby I’m gonna get you in the night club and I’m gonna do this and I’m gonna do that’ and all those rubbish. It’s actually about a father talking to a son, and it’s a really clever little story, and I like it. My son introduced me to the track. He’s 13 years old and it shows that you can make cool dance tracks. The SHM track - that I care about.”
 
However, it hasn’t been smooth-sailing coming to terms with the things he cares about. Keating grapples with the reality of his new life and choices that he has made as he continued to share with the interviewers in the Voyage Lounge at Fullerton Bay Hotel where the mini press conference was held.

With the new album 'FIRES', perhaps it is a testament that Keating does try to stay current, without losing his musical sensibility. That I respect, because in the end it boils down to the question: how much can you essentially change? Reinvention doesn’t guarantee success, but keeping the eyes on the prized will not recapture old glory.
There is a possibility of Boyzone reuniting for a tour next year as the band commemorates its 20th anniversary. I believe it’s high time to move on; the days of the pure-pop boy bands are over; and he seems to be doing so. He is one of the judges on the X Factor, Australia edition, in which he shares “After having (spent) enough time in the industry, I now feel confident enough sitting on the panel and telling people what I feel is right and wrong. I couldn’t have done this 10 years ago because I wouldn’t have felt I had the experience.”
His movie debut in 'Goddess' (a romantic comedy about Elspeth Dickens who uses modern technology to make it big and get her life out of a rut) comes out in March as well. “I’ve been reading some films (scripts) for 10 years, and it finally took a director (Mark Lamprell) to believe in me.” He remarks that he has a very big (secret) project coming out next year as well that will be launched across Asia, so we’re looking forward to that in anticipation.
 
It is sapient to say that the time of Ronan Keating is not over yet, but the synonymity of his name has to be redefined. He will be remembered, he just has to be known for the right legacy.
“I would say the biggest challenge in my career is longevity. When you get things wrong, and you’re worried, and you’re stressed, and you need to come back…if you come out with the wrong album, (and) do it wrong, then you try to correct it and do it right. I think being here after 20 years is my biggest achievement. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
After such a long career, one of Keating’s warm-up routines before a show still preserves, and is rather quirky in its own rights. The last thing he does before stepping up on stage is sing a Frank Sinatra song in his dressing room. “The song’s ‘Love’s been good to me’. I have to (sing it). It’s a weird thing – but it was Barry Gibb who told me he always sang a Sinatra song before he went on stage because the range of his songs were so good for warming up your vocal chords. So I started to do Sinatra songs and now out of habit, I do it and I feel if I don’t do it, it’s unlucky.”
 
A self-professed creature of habit and fate he says, observing him from the sidelines of the lounge was a little rather intriguing. It was unobtrusively palpable that Keating may be hrabouring a spitful of regrets; though he tries to cover it up, his sentiments were dense with melancholy and unsettledness.
“I was 16 or17 when I was in Boyzone. And I was so busy – I was travelling with the band. Boyzone slipped from me. I didn’t take it in. I didn’t appreciate it enough.”
He peppered the interview with numerous anecdotes about his three children, Jack, Missy and Ali, and his love for them is equally as strong as his fear of losing them prematurely. “I don’t want anything (for Christmas), other than to be with my kids. Christmas is about the kids. It’s about the magic in their eyes on Christmas morning…that’s incredible. You never want that to go away, unless your kids grow old, (then) the glint and spark in their eyes goes away; it’s heartbreaking.”
Yet, when asked which his favourite song on the album was, which incidental is mine too, he replied ‘Easy Now My Dear’; which he described as being about 'calm and solace'. "I felt that I was in a place where I didn’t have that for quite some time. We all live in a world where we’re a bit manic – it’s nice to just put your arm around someone and take the day in and breathe. That’s what that song represents for me.”
 
That someone Keating was referring to is Storm Uechtritz, 30-year-old TV producer who did a stint on Australian X Factor. “I’m very happy. It’s early, (still) very early, but I’m feeling good, I’m happy.” Though he professes that he has found solace, perhaps it was more of a verbalized vision for himself than anything. I would say he is on his way there, with the first step being separating with his wife.
The public whipped a backlash and forewarned that he was going to lose whatever shred of good image he has left of himself. But I beg to differ. It’s the first step in the right direction. Just like how a fire is produced – first friction has to be caused with two sticks in order to produce sparks, and then a flame will concur.  This is the initial stage. Honesty makes a man. And I think Keating is finally being honest not with the world but with himself.
“Something (that) I’ve never done before was work very closely with my team and management (on this album). I asked for their advice rather than doing it all myself. I thought I needed to see what people think on what I’m doing. It was a real healthy thing to do – listening to other people’s opinions. And sometimes it’s not an easy thing to do – because sometimes they do not say what you want to hear, and we’re all like that. Sometimes we ask people a question but we don’t want to hear the answer. Yea it was a healthy thing to do. I’ll probably work like that more in the future.”

By Atalia Chua

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