The two lives of Paul Tiernan

He’s a member of the ensemble Interference, but also a solo artist with eight albums, and he divides his time between Ireland and France, says Ronan Leonard
The two lives of Paul Tiernan
Paul Tiernan.

ALONGSIDE being a lynchpin of the band Interference, Paul Tiernan has collaborated with Morcheeba, Glen Hansard, Sinead Lohan, Donovan, Nick Harper, Robyn Hitchcock, Mark Geary, and Maria Doyle Kennedy, but he has also written and recorded many well-received solo albums. His eighth album, The Invisible Man, was released this week.

Ahead of his upcoming gigs in Cork, the first being the launch night in Coughlans on Thursday, April 4, Paul put this new album in the context of his back catalogue. “This album is a follow-on from my previous release, The Mystery Of Others, which, in turn, had been a departure from my previous solo albums, in that I widened the musical scope and didn’t get too bogged down in keeping to one ‘style’. Sometimes, the songs themselves show me the way to go and the approach to take. I used the same musicians on this as last time, as I was really happy with how that worked. A very modern way of recording: one bass player in California, a drummer in Bordeaux, another bass player near Belfast… all done using the information superhighway!”

The idea of what an album is to Paul, and how the listener consumes it, is on his mind. “I use the idea of the album the same way as I’d imagine a painter uses a frame… the difference being that, now, people very rarely listen all the way through, so that changes any kind of notion I might have of continuity. I don’t mind, really; I was never very fond of concept albums. The ‘playlist’ model is the one that seems to be how people listen to music now; I find fewer and fewer people buy CDs or even have a CD player.”

The changes wrought by the digital revolution are a mixed bag for Paul. “The downside for recording artists is that makes it hard to fund recordings. The upside is that it’s now cheaper than it’s ever been to record and to distribute one’s songs. I keep an open eye on what’s happening, but I’ve always said that no matter what happened, I will always write songs, even if they never got recorded. Sometimes, we forget that the whole notion of recording is only recent and the various formats have a limited lifespan,” he says.

Paul has always been both a collaborator and a solo artist, and he says both mindsets fuel each other. “The great thing about playing with other musicians, and in multiple projects, is, often, the lack of overlapping or dovetailing. It’s a break from the intense navel-gazing that often accompanies the life of a singer/songwriter. With other projects, like Interference, I get to sing different songs and play differently, which acts as a stimulus to stretch myself musically and creatively.

“I love it! Myself and Marja Gaynor (who plays violin with Interference and the Irish Baroque Orchestra) have even talked about forming a combo, playing a cross between what I do and baroque.” The title of the record only came to Paul after he finished recording the album and reflected on what he’d created.

“The songs on The Invisible Man have a theme and link, but I only recognised it when I finished the album. I’ve dedicated the album to all the invisible men, women, and children in the world — which I know sounds a bit pompous, but that’s what the songs are about — people who have suffered through no fault of their own and who most of us never notice or see. I never like to specify what the songs are about exactly, as, speaking from my experience as a listener, it seems so much more interesting if the meaning is left to the listener to find for themself or project their own experience and find something in the song that I would never have dreamt of.”

While The Invisible Man has many musicians and instruments on it, for these live gigs Paul will present the songs in a more intimate style.

“I will be with Maurice Seezer on piano, someone I’ve played with since the mid-1980s and always a pleasure to play with. I will also have Tony Davis on backing vocals for some of the songs, a great Cork singer who sang on the album. I’ll certainly be taking a crack at most of the songs on the new album, and some much older songs that have had new life breathed into them.”

The fact that Paul lives in two places means the idea of ‘hitting the road’ for one long tour doesn’t appeal to him, so, instead, he has a different criteria for venues he will play in. “I’m trying hard to spend my time equally between France and Ireland, as both countries have qualities that I love. My ambition is to play in places that feel like home to people who feel like friends, something that feeds the musical soul and, hopefully, gives people who come the same feeling.”

Paul Tiernan’s new album, The Invisible Man, can be purchased via Paul plays Coughlans on Thursday, April 4, Levis, in Ballydehob, on Sunday, April 21, The Weir Folk Club, Midleton, on Friday, May 17, and The High Tide Folk Club, Castletownbere, on Saturday, June 15.

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