JUST as boxers or wrestlers will hype themselves up and trash talk their opponents before a fight (“I am the greatest!” “He’s a bum.”), musicians, too, have to spin a story before an album launch.
Before the event there’s always the ritual. Every artist believes their next work will be the one, but like the boy who cried wolf you have to carefully choose when you declare it’s the best.
So, with four solo albums under his belt, what does self-described Indie Poppy Jazzy Folk singer-songwriter Cormac O’Caoimh have to say about album number five? The personal note accompanying Swim Crawl Walk Run’s announcement to me is a pithy one — “It’s the best one. Just so you know.”
The best? Yes, I understood that right, and O’Caoimh lays the credit at the door of his musical foil, Martin Leahy. The North Cregg guitar player and percussionist appeared on O’Caoimh’s 2017 album, Shiny Silvery Things, and took the production reins on his latest.
“Well it’s probably the whole spirit of it,” O’Caoimh qualifies. “I’m playing with Martin for a long time but it’s the first time recording with him and the recording process was just so easy going. Really enjoyable. Martin is just a whizz anyway so the experience of it was brilliant. I thought what he did was absolutely fantastic. Rather than being the fifth Cormac O’Caoimh album it feels like the first Cormac O’Caoimh / Martin Leahy one because it was the first that he recorded and he’s playing way more.
“So I kind of liked the songs to begin with but what he did to them I just think is absolutely incredible. Normally by the time an album come out I’d be kind of sick of some of the songs already. There’d be songs there that I wouldn’t really like anymore, or I’d be going: ‘Why are they even on it?’ Or that could have been better, or that could have been something else or whatever and you’d be questioning it a bit. But it’s the only one three years down the line since the whole process of writing the songs started that I think they’re all great.
“If we were doing a launch gig I’d be playing all ten songs, which I wouldn’t have done for the launch of every other album.”
It’s a claim that may not be tested for some time. I ask O’Caoimh if it feels odd not to have live concerts to promote the record and he confesses to missing gigs more than he expected.
“I think in 2019 I played three, which was very little, and I would have liked to have played more. I would have had ten, maybe fifteen, between April and October for this one and obviously a big chunk of them are definitely gone. Maybe September can still go ahead.”
In the meantime, anyone who purchases the new album, whether on CD, vinyl, or as a digital download, will be invited to view a private online gig this Friday.
Before the interview ends, O’Caoimh is keen to address his claim that Swim Crawl Walk Run is his best. There is, he insists, a story to be told, and that story came from advice he got from reading articles on music distribution.
“They always say you have to have some angle and this is going back to Bon Iver and Damien Rice,” he suggests. Rice’s O was spun at the time as the success story of a plucky bedroom recording artist outsider bypassing the standard recording industry system, while Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago was conceived in a remote snowbound log cabin.
O’Caoimh observes: “At the time everyone was coming up saying, ‘This album is about: I split up with my girlfriend. I lived in a shed. I only ate bananas for three months. I recorded it all on my four-track.’ The story became a massive thing so my story for Shiny Silvery Things was there’s no story. I was saying it’s a collection of songs. That’s it. It’s like an old school album: there’s some fast songs, there’s some quiet songs; it’s a mish-mash of stuff.’ So my story for Shiny Silvery Things was there’s no story.
“And for this one,” he says with a conspiratorial chuckle, “I had no story either. So my story in my press release, I built it up to be that everybody has to say that their new album is best album even when blatantly it’s not their best album.
“So everybody says their album is their best album, but I never did. Sure you know yourself — I hope — I didn’t give you A New Season For Love and say it’s my best album. I didn’t give you The Moon Loses Its Memory and say it’s my best album. Or Shiny Silvery Things. I think I might have been apologetic about some of them. So my story for this one is everybody has to say it’s their best album but it’s not true for most people. I never have, so I’m saying it now.
“It’s trying to make a story where there’s no story there.”
You’d be put in mind of the meme, or gif, of the dude knowingly tapping his forehead. It’s one often used in response to someone’s off-the-wall or counterintuitive idea. These things are part of the sideshow around music and O’Caoimh is happy to have fun with that.
“I thought it funny that there’s no story of, ‘I saved up my money. I went into a great studio with a great producer and we practiced a lot, and we got it right,’” O’Caoimh muses. But there is! However, like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence let’s just go with the legend.
Swim Crawl Walk Run is out tomorrow and available to pre-order now.