Talk time

 

MICK FLANNERY Choice Music Prize nominated singersongwriter, currently touring Ireland

How would you describe your songs to someone who hadn’t heard them?Oh, the usual self-involved singer-songwriter stuff, I suppose. There are break-up songs, songs based on conversations I’ve overheard in pubs or even something as simple as a turn of phrase I liked that I developed on. Most of my songs involve the road, too, in some way.

Do you enjoy touring?I do. But it can be hard on people. Three girls, four boys stuck in a seven-seater van all day – it’s not easy. You become like a family unit, getting to know each other’s traits. It’s good craic. Plenty of good stories come out of it – but I won’t name any names!

When American musicians go on the road, they often don’t see their families for months on end. In Ireland you could probably sleep in your own bed every night if you wanted to. Yeah, we’re based in Cork, so if we were playing Thurles or somewhere we’d probably head home after the gig. But if we were doing a run of gigs in Limerick, Galway and on to Sligo, we’d probably stop off for the night in each place along the way. It does get expensive though.

You have two well-received albums under your belt, but you’re actually a stonemason by trade. Are you finished with all that now?No, I did two weeks helping a buddy finish a job before Christmas. He’ll call on me now and again if I’m not gigging and ask me if I want to come out and do a day. We wouldn’t be carving gravestones or anything. We’d do the fronts of houses, entrance walls, stuff like that.

Using a lump hammer and chisel?Yeah. It’s hard work, especially in the winter. But, I’ll tell you, when I left it to do music . . . it was weird at first. In stonemasonry, you’d do a long day’s work and sleep soundly at night because you’re properly tired. When you’re doing gigs, you’re more mentally tired than anything else. You have a couple of drinks and try and get to sleep. But it’s not the same. So getting back to stonemasonry for a day or two when I can is always nice.

Having worked on building sites myself, you become accustomed to dealing with people who say what they mean and mean what they say.That’s absolutely right.

It’s a bit of a culture shock then, isn’t it, moving from that into the world of media or public relations?God yeah, there’s so much nonsense. Take MySpace and Facebook and all of that, for example. I don’t get on a computer often, but I have people working on those sites on my behalf. From time to time, they’d send out messages to people. So then these people approach me at gigs to thank me for wishing them a happy birthday and I have no idea what they’re talking about. I find that really sick, you know?

What’s your greatest strength as a performer, do you think?I don’t see it in those terms. I wouldn’t like to say that I have any particular strengths over anyone else.

Well, what gives you the strength to stand up in front of 800 people in the Cork Opera House?I’m pretty honest, I suppose. If I’m singing a song, I’ll be honest with it. It gives me a certain level of confidence to know that I’m telling the truth. I’m not being insincere. Because there are a lot of singers on the radio – I’m not naming any names here – who are so wishy-washy it’s hard to credit their sincerity.

Is sincerity not a little overrated? Two of your own great heroes – Tom Waits and Bob Dylan – both inhabit personas of their own invention.You may be right. But maybe they’re projecting a different kind of sincerity on to whatever character they happen to be playing at a given time. I mean, it’s nigh on impossible to put the same feeling into a song you’ve been playing every night for five years. Maybe you have either to make the song about something else, or turn yourself into someone else.

Your third album is mostly written. Do you have particular ambitions for it?I’m not hung up about record sales, but I’ve always wanted to record one of those albums that lodges itself in the public consciousness, that has its own stamp creatively, rather than commercially. Something like Tom Wait’s Closing Time, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraskaor Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.That’s what I aspire to.

Mick Flannery’s White Lies album is out on EMI