Mick Flannery's debut album 'Evening Train' caused people to sit up and take notice of the Blarney stonemason. And after picking up prestigious accolades at the International Songwriting Competition and appearing on 'Other Voices', his reputation soared, not that he quite realises it.
The quietly-spoken singer/songwriter, who has just launched his second album 'White Lies', took time out from his nationwide tour to talk to Linda McGee about the process of writing his latest album and his musical inspirations.
Linda McGee: Going right back to the beginning can you tell us a bit about what or who inspired your love of music?
Mick Flannery: My mother's side were big into music, more than my dad's side. My mother is a singer and she plays the guitar. She recorded an album of her own actually two years ago. And it was her brothers and sisters that kind of got me into music. They lived in Killarney. I used to go down for family reunions. We used to go into this bar. I was 15 or 16 and we were getting locked into a bar. It was good craic, the sing-songs. And you had to do something.
LM: When you decided to go out gigging yourself did you find it difficult at the beginning to break onto the music scene?
MF: I didn't really care enough to struggle because I didn't really expect anything. I was kind of ticking away. It was more for myself than anything else. I wanted it to be good. Hypocritically, I wanted people to like it. But I didn't expect anything. I didn't really want anything massive out of it. If people liked it that was really nice.
LM: So you were happy enough to keep working as a stonemason and just explore the music as a sideline?
MF: Yeah, if it didn't happen it was alright with me. It was grand. It wasn't that it was very hard. The only hard thing is that I still get very nervous before gigs, especially bigger gigs. In Cork, where maybe people might know me better, I'd maybe play a theatre with 800, or that amount of people, I'd be destroyed, completely nervous.
LM: Even though you know you're going to get a great reaction from the home crowd?
MF: Well you know, after maybe two songs you'd be grand. And afterwards then you'd be up in the sky... drinking yourself silly!
LM: When you were growing up, what kinds of music were you listening to? Were you influenced by whatever was in your mother's record collection?
MF: At those family nights there was a good bit of Tom Waits, a bit of Dylan. Most of the singers would be female, my aunts, and they would sing Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell, stuff like that. So it was pretty healthy. Even though at the same time I was in secondary school so I was going to teenage discos and listening to Now 24... I remember thinking Now were a band. Someone asked me what my favourite band was and I said: "Now!".
LM: When you're writing your own songs, does the process come easily to you? Do you just get an idea for a melody or lyrics in your head that you have to write down or is it more difficult than that?
MF: It's never really sit down intentionally. If I try and do that usually nothing ever happens. It's usually at the most awkward times... like you're driving a digger and you have four people roaring at you and there's something trying to come into the back of your head and you're like: "F**k off, leave me alone".
LM: And can you hang on to the ideas that come to you at such inopportune moments?
MF: Not all the time, sometimes. I used to have this little tape recorder thing but it's broken now. But they do, they come at weird times.
LM: But if you have the time to sit down, and there are no diggers in the vicinity, do you find writing easy?
MF: The music part, yeah. But the lyric part usually takes me a lot longer. Like I might have about 20 melodies that are properly finished and all but I just need a subject matter that'll connect. Because I'm always trying to do it properly with the lyrics.
LM: So you're a bit of a perfectionist then? It sounds like you put an awful lot of time into getting your songs, and particularly the lyrics, right.
MF: I kind of do yeah. I'm a bit anal about it sometimes. When it comes to lyrics, yeah. I kind of spend a lot of time trying to do it well I suppose, and not trying to have any throw-away stuff on it...
LM: So do you consider a lot how other people might relate to the lyrics of your songs?
MF: People know when you're being fake or insincere. A lot of the songs, they wouldn't be chorus-driven so to keep any type of interest you have to have some kind of sincerity.
LM: With your current album, did you find that you had to be quite disciplined with yourself or could you allow yourself to work on it as a labour of love over an extended time?
MF: Yeah, I kind of was [disciplined]. I wanted to do it as soon as possible. I felt lazy because it's been about two, maybe three years, since the previous album. But the previous album was a kind of concept album thing so I had other songs built up that weren't relative to it at all, that I could use separately. So I had a load of time. And I had extra songs that didn't make it onto that album as well, this new album. So it wasn't really deadlines or labouring really.
LM: When album is ready to hit the shelves, do you still feel nervous about the reaction it will get or do you feel relaxed about it once you're absolutely happy with what's on the album yourself?
MF: It's hard to be absolutely happy. You kind of have a vision in your head. It's usually your own idea and it's a bit too ideal, your own idea of it. People wouldn't actually hear what you'd find wrong with it. Sometimes just the sound of my own voice maybe, and I'd think: 'I've sang that better than that'. But that's actually alright. It's easier to sing live in front of an audience where there's a reaction rather than singing with headphones on and a load of microphones and a dark, closed room and you're doing the song 20 times.
LM: So despite the initial nerves with the gigs, you do really enjoy seeing people's reactions and feeding off that?
MF: Yeah. Or even if they're just there in the room and you kind of have to perform it to them and explain something to them maybe.
LM: You're heading off on a nationwide tour now. Do you find it tough being on the road or do you enjoy it?
MF: I haven't done it a whole lot, not in a close space. I've never really done that before. I remember doing a stint of five or six gigs in a week or maybe 10 days... It depends on your own approach as well. If you take the p**s out of it, it kills you. I just can't do it. But it's hard to be sensible, isn't it? Because you get offered stuff, it's like: "Have a couple of drinks there, you can stay on..."
Read Harry Guerin's review of Mick Flannery's new album 'White Lies' here.
Read our review of Mick Flannery's recent Whelan's gig here.
Check out Mick Flannery's tour dates here.