- 26 Jul 19
Critically acclaimed songwriter Mick Flannery spills the beans on his spellbinding new album, shares his thoughts on the musical adaptation of Evening Train – and tells us why he was keen to avoid any beef with Hozier.
July 5 saw the much anticipated release of the self-titled sixth album from Blarney-bred Mick Flannery. A record which deftly illustrates his skills as a singer, songwriter and, perhaps more importantly, story-teller, the industrious and inspirational artist explores themes of fame, ambition and the search for some sense in an often senseless world. When Hot Press catches up with the tunesmith, he explains that his fictional tale is one that many people can associate with, including himself.
“‘Star To Star’, which comes late in the album, was the first song I wrote for the record and for my loose theme about a rock star, if you will,” begins Flannery. “It’s about a person who gets wrapped up in the stereotypical trappings of the music industry, as well as their ambition. The status they achieve turns into a struggle for their ego once things start to fade away. That’s the kind of arc of it all.
“I mean, it’s not really a new story – it’s been told a few different ways. I guess I was interested in the brain at the same time too, and how people can be content even though there’s a washing machine in your head that’s constantly on and full of thoughts, various self-judgements and jealousies and all that kinda stuff. How do you mitigate that into something resembling happiness? I’ve kind of struggled with these themes myself. Every time I see myself on a poster for a gig, or whatever, I kind of hate myself a little bit. Like, ‘What the fuck am I doing? Why do I need the attention? What’s wrong with me?’ Thoughts like those are what I’m also tackling on the album.”
This discomfort with the attention that comes with being a musician is also one of the reasons why Mick Flannery decided to go down the eponymous route when giving his latest opus a title.
“I struggle with the naming of albums,” he admits. “It comes with my aversion to pretentiousness. Titles can veer into pretension. I tend to do a cop-out, and name the album after one of the songs. This time around I was gearing towards Wasteland as a title, after the opening track ‘Wasteland’. It was on early proofs of the cover and everything, but then in March, Hozier released an album called Wasteland, Baby! so that made it a little bit awkward.”
Keen to avoid a media-based storm in a teacup which might pit both unsuspecting artists against one another, the savvy Flannery decided to scrap his initial plans.
“Nowadays people can do weird tricks, they can create fake animosity,” he offers, “You know the way people create fake battles online, in order to create attention? Well, I didn’t want to be either accused of that or seen to be getting into that territory. I didn’t want to invite comparisons or controversy.
“The other reason I self-titled the album is that there’s a lot of newness in my life and career at the moment – and it feels like a fresh start. I’ve a new manager and I’m on my own with regards to record labels. I was released from my contract after my last album and this one is done off my own bat. I also have a couple of co-written songs on the album, which is a stretch for me. I wasn’t really brave enough to do that prior to now.”
Which leads us nicely on to his aforementioned work with LA-based songwriting duo Eric Straube and Chris Qualls, who go by the moniker of ESCQ and whose music has been heard on movies such as Overboard and TV shows like Shameless and Sleepy Hollow. While Mick, who grew up worshipping at the altar of Cohen, Waits and Dylan, confesses he was out of his comfort zone, even a causal listen to their collaborations, ‘Come Find Me’ and ‘Fool’, confirm that fortune favours the brave in this case.
“I was on my own in America, willing to try new stuff, and we thought: ‘Let’s put a catchy chorus in there’. Why the fuck not? I had a good time writing with them. They weren’t easily defeated, which can happen when you’re making a song. People can get bogged down or disillusioned with an idea and they give up or switch tack, but the lads were very good at going, ‘No, we’re sticking with this. It’s going to be good and it’ll be great in a few hours’. And they were right. They wouldn’t let dejection get in their way. They were two very positive fellas.
“I’ve done a good few co-writes in the last few years,” he adds. “I was afraid of doing something like that before. I was precious about it, thinking if I brought ideas that I had to someone else I’d been giving them away, or at least 50% of them away. But now I don’t look at it like that. I see it as a new personal interaction with somebody. You know the different dynamics you have with different people during the day, where you act one way with one person and another with another? That’s the way it is when you sit down and write too. There’s a shared dynamic which is unique, because you’re coming from different points. I treat co-writes now as opportunities rather than something daunting.”
And on the subject of new opportunities, June saw the debut of a new musical based on Mick’s first album Evening Train, released back in 2007. Premiering at the Cork Midsummer Festival, the well reviewed show – also called Evening Train – was written for the stage by Ursula Rani Sarma and directed by Annabelle Comyn.
“It was a cool experience. It provided a window into that genre for me. I think I got lucky with them. They were a really nice group of people and overall it was a kind of ‘Kum Ba Yah’ experience. Everyone was into it and enjoying it and wanted to make it as good as it could possibly be.”
Mick Flannery also tells us that he didn’t have any second thoughts when it came to letting his songs be translated into a stage show. The hope is that it will take on a life of its own over the months and years ahead.
“I didn’t have any reservations about being involved with the show,” he concludes. “I knew it wouldn’t be a ‘jazz hands’ re-arrangement of the music, you know? I knew it would be a sad musical and the whole experience was good craic. It’s been an idea that has been around for a while. Ursula wrote the script about eight years ago, and I knew it was going to happen at some point, but trying to get funding and these things off the ground is expensive and difficult. People seem to have enjoyed it though and hopefully it might have a future. We’ll see...”
Mick Flannery is out now. He plays Connolly’s Of Leap (July 28) and All Together Now (August 2-4).