Mick Flannery, the man behind the sorrow, is on the other end of the phone. In truth, he sounds quite happy on the line, nothing like the gruffly sad vocals of his harrowing records Evening Train and White Lies. He is up in windy Belfast, though he doesn’t appear quite sure why he’s ended up there. “Eh, I don’t know what’s going on really. It’s this recording for some internet TV. Ah, I’m just mumbling and projecting my misery to poor people, just through a different medium really.”
This self-deprecatingly good-humoured response is one that reared its ugly, hilarious head numerous times during the conversation; droll responses to questions were as varied as his opinion on the success of his latest album Red to Blue. “I always think that people maybe bought it thinking it was a lovely pop album and then got disappointed when they listened to it. I don’t know, I couldn’t really say what the appealing factor was. That kind of question puts me in the position of having to blow my own trumpet, and I’m not very good at that.”
A stonemason by trade, Flannery has persisted in working and touring for over a decade now: “I wasn’t going to sit in a room and write songs seven days a week and live on bread and beans. I liked doing stonemasonry as well.”
Although he has had a change in his attitude towards his career, the Corkonian is committed to becoming a famous musician now. “I’m going to America in January to try and sell my wares, my wearing wares, because it’s neigh-on impossible to make a living in Ireland through gigs, so it’s either take Europe and America or face another slog around Ireland. Try and sell this depression abroad; where they might have a romantic idea of the Irish or something.”
It’s nice to see that Flannery is still retaining his sense of humour despite the challenging period that stretches before him. He is more than prepared to put in the graft and see where music will take him and his career in the future.
His Album Red to Blue held the number one spot back in March for three weeks, and despite this Flannery is remarkably humble about the record. “It’s not nice listening to your own voice anyway, you become hypercritical of yourself through doing it. Especially for the first album there was a lot of American twang, and it kind of just jars a bit. I personally just don’t think that I had it all ironed out at that stage, it just feels a little bit fake when I hear it now. I don’t listen to it very often mind you, but if I get caught listening to it like by my brothers they’ll mock me for a week. But I don’t mind if they stick on Red to Blue so much. I remember when we were recording it, you have to kind of listen to it while its being edited and tweaked, and I found it easier to listen back to then than the other records.”
Red to Blue is an unusual album for Flannery. His standpoint has shifted from the raw and aching personal experiences to be replaced by more universal sounding tracks. “The record company, they didn’t want to release it at a time when I thought it was ready. They didn’t have the same opinion, and I think they were right in hindsight. A lot of the songs were too self-involved, and they were lacking universal themes in them. So I was glad that they stood their ground and that they made me wait another six months.”
“Some of it is just me talking to myself, which is kind of a way of distancing myself from the song, just in case you don’t believe it in the future you can say ‘oh I’m talking about someone else.’ But for the most part when I say ‘you’ I’m talking about myself, giving out to myself. It’s just a different way of doing it I suppose, maybe I got a bit tired of the first-person. Sometimes it can get a bit draining if your singing songs about yourself, that are obviously about your own personal experiences, especially when those experiences are drifting further and further into the past, and you don’t feel the same amount of hurt as you did at the time. So you can’t really put the same kind of emotion in there, you have to try the emotions of someone else.”
From listening to Mick Flannery’s albums, you can’t escape the feeling that there was one particular relationship that cleaved his heart in two, and his musical output seems to reflect the hurt of this experience. Yet no Adele-style breakup ever affected him to the extent that his albums lead most to believe, for according to Flannery: “It’s not all about the one person, no one has really struck a knife in my heart or anything. I mean I’ve had more than one breakup, sometimes I’ve thieved other people’s misery to be honest, and then added it to my own.”
Flannery is drawn to unhappiness with a somewhat magpie-like tendency of collecting sorrow and woe around him just like the shiny tin foil that the birds are so attracted to. “It’s not all auto-biographical, you can’t help but pick up on others’ view points and opinions. My inspiration comes from other people as well as my own.”
Mick Flannery, the connoisseur of sorrow, writes to relieve himself of thoughts and painful memories: “If you have something on your mind and you can’t talk to anyone about it then it’s just kind of a tool a vehicle that I use to say what I want to say without actually talking to anyone.”
Mick Flannery plays The Olympia on November 23rd. Tickets are priced at €27. His album Red to Blue is out now.