How It’s New York: Michael Brunnock lives in NYC, and is a member of Fairplay Collective, a group that includes Brendan O’Shea, Mark Dignam and Jenna Nichols.
Michael Brunnock is launching his CD The Orchard at Rockwood Music Hall this Friday, July 20th. We reviewed his appearance at SongLives at Irish Arts Center here. If you’re not in the Catskills this week, go to Rockwood! Catch him before he soars to international fame. Seriously.
A version of this article first appeared in Irish Examiner USA.
New Album for Award-Winning Meathman
There’s an old song by the late new wave bandleader Ian Dury, called “Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3.”
In it, the London-born rock and roller lists items he feels that he, or indeed, the listener, should be, well, “cheerful” for.
Among the things that caused him joy, were people, places and things such as: Woody Allen, Salvadore Dali, The Bolshoi Theatre, carrot juice, The Marx Brothers, Picadilly Circus, John Coltrane, Elvis Presley, being released from solitary confinement in prison and yellow socks.
Were Mr. Dury alive today to update his classic tune, he could be forgiven for being cheerful for the fact that New York-based singer/songwriter Michael Brunnock has released The Orchard, his long-awaited third solo album (having previously been a member of acclaimed Irish groups Little Palace and The Van Winkles), after 2009’s Live In New York and its 2007 predecessor, So I Do.
The album, a two-year long labor of love for the County Meath-born, New York-based troubadour, (fresh from his recent award win for Best Original Song at the David di Donatello Italian Academy Awards) will be officially released at a launch party on Friday, July 20th, at 7pm, at Rockwood Music Hall (196 Allen Street, lower Manhattan), and is available on his website (michaelbrunnock.com, where you’ll find three bonus tracks) or at iTunes (without the bonus tracks).
We sat down with Michael recently, where we talked about the new album, his work on the upcoming Sean Penn movie (for which he won the prestigious prize in Italy), This Must Be The Place and his current musical state of mind.
Mike Fitzpatrick (MF): So, tell us a little about your involvement with ‘This Must Be The Place’.
Michael Brunnock (MB): Well, it’s a Sean Penn film, he’s in it, and David Byrne (and Will Oldham aka Bonnie Prince Billy) wrote the music for it, six songs, and he wanted me to sing the songs.
It was a shocker really! I’m very grateful, I don’t feel I deserved this chance more than any other songwriter.
It came along, it’s given me a moment, and I want to be able to use it to just, get above the noise.
There are so many other artists out there that I respect. Most of the people that I really like, are not that well-known.
I know myself, that I put my life into (the music), and if I had focused my energies elsewhere, in other areas, I’d probably be a lot better off, financially and other ways, personally. I can’t not do it though, I can’t not write, I can’t not record. It’s lovely to get recognition, though I don’t feel I should have it instead of someone else.
I’m grateful to have these opportunities though, and not because I’m better than other artists, it just came along, and that’s really all I have to say.
MF: The film producers found you via Google?
MB: (cont) David Byrne’s bass player, I’d met before. I used to do a residency at the Red Lion (in Manhattan), and he used to come in and see me play, and one night he introduced himself.
Then, the funny thing was, that when we were in the studio later on, Paul Frazier is his name, and he was talking to David, and said to him; “Hey, if you can’t find an Irish guy to sing the songs, I know of one”, of course, David turned to him and said that he’d already found one!
I think it was because my voice, is, or tends to be, tenor, at least, if you were going to class it as something it’d be a tenor and (that’s what they’d been looking for).
The experience was amazing, David had all the songs written, not the lyrics, Bonnie Prince Billy had written them, so I met David and he sent me the songs, and I was getting used to the melodies, so then we had five days in the studio.
Then, the film came out in Italy, eight months ago, it’s not out here yet. They’re going through edits right now, hopefully it’ll be out before Christmas (in the US).
MF: It was filmed in Europe?
MB: It was filmed in Ireland and the US, it’s about a retired rock star, who kinda looks like Robert Smith, from The Cure.
He lives in Dublin, because Ireland had a tax-haven thing going on, and all he does is sit around looking after his investments.
I won’t give away too much, but some kids were affected by his music (in a bad way), and as he makes his way back to the US, he’s driving around, and the music he’s listening to are songs from a demo-tape that an Irish kid gave him.
The soundtrack isn’t out here yet. I’m on the soundtrack, but I didn’t write any of it. I’m very excited about it though.
Sean Penn’s character, he looks like Robert Smith, but acts like Ozzy Osbourne, you know, the high voice, very dependent on his wife, but he grows up during the film.
MF: Did you get any feedback from David Byrne?
MB: It’s funny, he works with so many different artists, and I think he has a policy of saying nothing about anybody.
One of his representatives actually said to me that it’s hard enough for David to get his own name on his albums! It’s very rare that he’ll comment on anybody. He’s a real artist.
MF: So, what about The Orchard?
MB: Well, the big thing for me, was to get the guy to mix it, Pat Dillett. He’s a Grammy winner, working with Mary J. Blige and the last few David Byrne albums, and of course, he worked with Glen Hansard on his last album.
The album, I’ve been two years making it. I suppose I got a lift personally from doing the film, and it made me want to not settle for less, so then I went back and remixed some vocals.
I did a lot of the album at Clinton Studios, over in Hell’s Kitchen with Tim Mitchell.
MF: So, who were you listening to during the making of ‘The Orchard’?
MB: I’m a huge Neil Young fan, and he influenced me earlier in my life as a songwriter.
I actually listen to music you wouldn’t associate with me, I enjoy a lot of hard rock.
One of my favorite bands is AC-DC, especially their early incarnation with Bon Scott, I love Johnny Cash and his era of country music. I love Planxty, I get such energy from that, it’s like Led Zeppelin, but I don’t think you’d see those influences in my music.
I love classical music. Then, Kings of Leon, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, you know, some much harder music than what I play. There are also a lot of young artists I like, Bon Iver and Ben Howard, Sarah Siskind and Ari Hest.
MF: What about the Irish music scene?
MB: Well, Glen Hansard, who sings on my album, I really admire what he’s done. I’m very grateful for what he’s done, not just for me personally, but I can see how he’s never forgotten his roots, and he gives everyone a lift.
Then there’s Brendan (O’Shea), I met him the first week I came here, and we’ve been friends ever since. Niall Connolly, he’s another guy, and Jenna Nicholls, Mark Dignam, it’s important to have (the Fairplay Collective group, which Michael’s a member of), sometimes you feel like you’re knocking your head against a wall, and when you see someone else knocking their head against the same wall, it kinda helps you!
With the Collective (a New York-based group of mostly Irish musicians, that share ideas, instruments, gigs and friendship), if we’re gonna go back and tour, we’ll go to where each of us are known, like, if I go to Cork, Niall will sort me out down there and so on.
Then, if Irish musicians are coming through here, artists like Declan O’Rourke and Paddy Casey, they’ll connect with us on their way through New York.
MF: It’s got quite a line-up of musicians involved, like a Who’s Who of the Irish music scene. Glen Hansard, Colin Smith, Brendan O’Shea, Ari Hest, Jenna Nicholls and so on.
MB: Yes, and Glen’s very current at the moment, he’s won so many awards, and now he’s his own album out.
So, what I plan to do is, when the film comes out, we’ll make a video of this song here (‘Untouchable’), that’ll help give it a bit of a lift.
That’s down the road though! We’ll put it up on YouTube, that’s where everything happens.
MF: And what you listen to, do you find it inspires you in your own writing and recording?
MB: I think the Fairplay Collective has been very good in that way, I think as well, lyrically, I have an aspect of I suppose, well spiritualism is a bad connotation, because
I don’t mean to get religious, but it’s a connection, I write a lot of songs about responsibility, I suppose.
A search, in a way, you know the way we’re all searching for happiness.
I guess I was quite affected by 9/11, and the whole reaction in this country, and the political reaction, but I’ve moved from that. Very few people will change their mind politically. People will stay where they are, but on a spiritual level, you can grow, you can evolve slowly.
That interests me more than trying to make statements about this or that, because you’re only preaching to the converted.
I might have an opinion about something, but it doesn’t mean I’m right.
I think that’s what the theme of this album is about. It’s recognizing that I can only change myself, and by changing myself, and my own attitudes, other things might change, and that’s all I can do.
MF: What about the Collective, do you ever hear a song by Brendan, Jenna, Niall or Mark, and think, I wish I wrote that?
MB: Absolutely, every time I go see them, I want to go home and write something.
That’s the beauty of it, if I hear a new song by anyone, I’ll feel inspired, and I’m grateful for that.
‘The Orchard’, is available at most good music outlets, and at michaelbrunnock.com (with the extra tracks), and includes guest appearances from acclaimed acts such as: Glen Hansard, Colin Smith, Brendan O’Shea, Joe Sumner, Jenna Nicholls, Ari Hest, Moe Holmes, Colm Mac Con Iomaire and more.