The last year has been a remarkable one for Mick Flannery. It saw his debut album Evening Train, a concept record centred around two brothers - one a gambler - become realised as a stage musical at the Everyman Theatre. It played to full houses with Flannery onstage leading the band for every performance. This was followed by the release of his sixth studio album. The eponymously titled record earned the singer-songwriter his first Choice Music Prize nomination since 2008’s White Lies.
In the lead up to the award ceremony at Vicar Street on March 5th, Flannery has an Irish tour, which includes an appearance at the cork Opera House as part of Right Here Right Now. When I phone him I find him in Los Angeles.
“I’m in America for the last ten days or so,” he announces. “Hobnobbing and that kinda sh*t.”
There are no two things more liable to inspire a painful grimace from the Blarney man than interviews and hobnobbing and while he affects a world-weary demeanour during the former it should be pointed out that he’s talking to Downtown while he’s on holiday. Which leaves us with the questionable latter activity. Hobnobbing? Wouldn’t one have expected to find Flannery navigating his way around LA’s seedier dens in homage to Charles Bukowski, the grizzled laureate of the American downtrodden being such obvious touchstone for the songwriter. Maybe it’s because it’s still morning on the West Coast when we chat but his reply is delivered with great care as if he has a reason to be wary.
“I did think about that but I was warned not to romanticise Bukowski too much publicly,” he says finally.
Besides, one of Bukowski’s haunts in Los Angeles was torn down a few years back, he informs me, so he would be unable to visit that one.
Does he like LA, I ask? Hesitantly, the words drawl out as if he’s still sizing the place up
“I do. I do,” he offers eventually. “I like the weather, for sure. It’s an interesting place, like. There’s a huge amount of homelessness here. People here say that it’s because of the decent weather that sleeping rough is easier to do. So a lot of homeless people come here. I don’t know what to make of it. There’s a huge amount of wealth here as well so when you see the two things side by side it’s kinda hard to make sense of it.”
On a previous visit to LA, Flannery was encouraged to meet up with a pair of pop songwriters who go under the name ESCQ, a moniker derived from their initials. The encounter with the sunny pop duo gave him Come Find Me, the lead single from his recent album. However, Flannery had to tone it down from their relentlessly hands-in-the-air synchronised-dance-routine-ready cut to the gently rolling uncertain-toned version he allowed on his record. Speaking to Downtown last May Flannery declared he found himself terrified by their version. Nevertheless he included the ESCQ remix on the second volume of the second volume of the Mickmas EP, released last December.
When I enquire as to how it went down he quips that it was received with major indifference.
“I don’t remember any traction at all,” he adds. “I think it was just complete tumbleweed.”
I suggest to him that it was clear in the manner of its release, disseminated with little fanfare, that he had demonstrated a lack of commitment to it. It was denied the necessary marketing as a club banger, a dance floor sensation.
“Yeah. I didn’t. You’re right.” He laughs impishly. “It was a good reminder that nobody cares. You want to know every now and again.”
I don’t think that’s a lesson anyone needs reminding of.
“No, I know it. But, you know, sometimes it drifts out of your consciousness. You need a little boost.” He’s sounding royally amused now, laughing wheezily like Muttley.
Flannery is on more familiar musical ground with his latest single, Baby Talk, a smoky, soulful number he wrote for Susan O’Neill aka SON. Both share a manager, who asked if Mick would consider writing a song for Susan.
“And I tried to,” he says, “but then I ended up writing this duet thing. I was trying to keep it at one female voice but then, I don’t know, I just veered off track and I just wrote an argument instead between a man and a woman.”
It sounds like familiar territory for him?
“As in, like, failing relationships stuff,” he enquires?
What draws Mick Flannery as a songwriter to failing relationships?
After a long pause he ventures that it’s part of the human condition.
“Most of them fail, don’t they? One way or another. People try to make it work but we’re probably not designed for it to work, which is a pretty sad paradox, you know. We kinda know that [with] monogamy you’d avoid jealousy, you’d get some loyalty, and you’d get some company. But on the other hand you’re not really designed to stick with one person, who after a couple of years is probably designed to torture you in different ways,” he chuckles.
Does he not feel the world needs more songs about hope and success?
“Yeah,” he replies, giving it some thought. “But you know you’ve heard them and you know that they suck.”
Mick Flannery and Valerie June join the Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra on Saturday, June 22.