Mick Flannery: Owning the Opera House

With his fifth album in the can and the touring underway, Mick Flannery is a busy man heading up to his New Year’s Eve gig in the Opera House. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the singer-songwriter.

It’s been over a decade since Mick Flannery first entered the public consciousness, lurching from attempting to write a musical to solidifying that work into a debut album, fresh out of the Music, Management and Sound programme at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa. With new album I Own You now in the can, and doing the business on both national and international levels, Flannery is keeping characteristically busy, conducting interviews on the road during snatches of time between travel, checking and performance. It’s in one of these breaks that we find Flannery in quiet form, tired after encountering logistical issues with continental travel.

I Own You is a different beast to its predecessors, aesthetically and musically. The album cover tells its own story– a man, masked with horns, poses outside a housing estate set against a grey sky, the image drenched in sepia tone to the point of washout. Meanwhile, with more electronic influences creeping in came more synths and a more rhythmic sensibility. Flannery gives some insight into its creative process. “Christian Best and I worked on and off for two years or so in his studio outside Midleton. We tried to give preference to the rhythm section, we used a few different instruments and synths, and we got a few guest singers in. It took a while but it was very enjoyable to make.”

While it might be a while yet before Flannery can settle on his own feelings about the album as a body of work, the nature of record releases necessitates a certain awareness of how a record has been received, what the buzz is. He seems minimally concerned with this end of the process, recognising it as the other end of the business of releasing records, when questioned on the matter. “I’ve got a few nice texts about it. I think I read a couple of nice reviews, as well. The build-up to releasing an album inflates the importance of it to an unsustainable level, I think. When it comes out, you realise that it isn’t going to change the world, after all.”

A hot topic surrounding the album’s release has been the sharp veer into social themes Flannery’s songwriting has taken, a long wander from the rather more inward focus of his previous excursions. Listening to Kendrick Lamar among others certainly sharpened these instincts for him, but the greater point of it has all come from observing the world events of recent years, the seeming unbalancing of current affairs, and its knock-on effect, including the dear human cost of recent conflict. “Certain events in America regarding police brutality, and abuse of power, which goes unchecked”, mentions Flannery, “footage of refugees fleeing Syria. As I get older, I find it hard not to be disappointed with humanity.”

This turn away from the self as the germ of creative thought hasn’t gone unnoticed. So much of modern society and pop culture is aimed inwards – the scourge of personal branding, the unending gallery of selfies that awaits one’s own newsfeeds, and so on, and so forth. Flannery has stated prior that he was ‘bored of himself’ before and after writing and recording – how did he reach this conclusion, and how might one explain this externalisation to others? I’ve written a fair share of self-referential songs. “Playing them at gigs over and over again, I get tired of hearing me talk all about me. I think it’s natural that after a person’s twenties, they start to lose a sense of self-importance, and see themselves as another disappointing animal among many.”

Though his music has been made available on streaming platforms such as Spotify and Deezer for those that are so inclined, press material and official websites push heavily in the direction of CD and vinyl sales as a means of experiencing and owning I Own You. One wonders, in the wake of the deaths (and New Orleans funerals) of bands like Fight Like Apes and Enemies, if creators like Flannery are keenly aware of the knock-on effects of the ongoing changes the major-label music industry have been forced, whether by piracy or their own refusal to embrace same change at such a rate in the past, to weather. Whatever the solution may be, Flannery is hopeful of a market righting itself. “Technology has dealt a blow to the music industry, and to the pockets of artists. I like to think that things will right themselves, and that people who endeavour to make good music will be able to eat as a direct result. I think that music fans value the music they like more than what they are charged for it, and perhaps this value will be reflected in the future.”

On New Year’s Eve, Mick Flannery plays one of his biggest hometown shows yet, an evening engagement at Cork’s Opera House booked and promoted by Coughlan’s Live Promotions, the sister company of the venue of the same name, dealing in presenting bigger gigs than their home base can handle in venues around the city. These are boards he has trod before, of course, as a chart-topping artist. So the conversation on the Opera House turns not to the usual thoughts on a big show, but rather of the small details, the facets of performing at the venue that Flannery prefers the best. “I like having two pints in Cashmans beforehand. Also, the sound in there is very good, thanks to Chloe Nagle and Sandra O’Mahony.”

What next for himself and the band in the new year? “I hope to keep getting away with this for a while longer. It’s a very nice way to get by.”

Mick Flannery headlines the Opera House on New Year’s Eve. Doors are 7.30, tickets on sale now at the box office and online.

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