Interview: Mark Mulcahy

Since his days fronting the wonderful Miracle Legion, whose unique, inspirational guitar-driven ‘pop’ spanned intermittently over twenty years in various line-ups, New Englander Mark Mulcahy has been making superlative solo albums. His latest, ‘The Gus’ is no exception. A lolloping, hugely-engaging album, this is a record that warrants any discerning ear. A spectator, voyeur if you will, Mulcahy has that rare gift of being able to pinpoint everyday moments, magnify them, and deliver a short, sharp vignette with carefree ease. ‘The Gus’ is full to the brim with such moments.  Americana-UK catches up with the singer-songwriter ahead of his upcoming full-band UK tour.

Firstly, I have to say, the minute those few guitar chords kick in on ‘Wicked World’ it can only be a Mark Mulcahy album! You have a certain guitar style and sound that appears totally unique to you. Do you hear that yourself? There must be certain chords now that you go’ “yeah, that’s my chord!?
I suppose I do. I don’t know about any certain chord. I try to use all the ones I can figure out. The way I play is possibly unique to me. Dunno. My friends have told me I’d be hard to replace, which feels possibly ironic or at least unlikely. I’d prefer to be the singer! I may have painted myself into the corner with that old razor of mine!

Tell me a little more about how the album came together? Reading the PR it seems a lot of it emerged during the recording process? Is that right? 
Well, it took a while to get it going in the right, or any direction. I had a bunch of songs that were very well demoed and so it was some struggle to get over loving what was already done. Then we got into trying a bunch of players who are all splendid, but something wasn’t quite working out. I went to Brooklyn for a few days to work with Adam Lasus and I have no idea what that even sounds like. I started writing new songs and got into some idea of me playing everything. Somewhere that are hundreds of takes of bad things. I’m not usually any kind of a perfectionist, so it was getting pretty sorry around here. Eventually, I wrote some different songs and we got Kenny in and things started to swing.

What did Marc Seedorf bring to the party, Mark? And hooking up again with Ken Mauri clearly provided an element of continuity to proceedings? He must be well attuned to your muse by now? 
Marc is a wonderful man. He’s a wildly talented musician as well as knowing how all the recording gizmos work. His studio is in a round library. We went in and tried a million things and his patience was extraordinary. After a very long time we got Kenneth in.  One of us played drums and the other guitar or keys and that’s most of the basics. That was the trick. From there it was just figuring out the toppings and getting all the sweetness from the other players.

For me, your records flower with repeated listens, the wonderful little nuances and delicate moments just emerge over time. In songwriting terms, how long do you live with these songs before you feel they are ready to record? Is it usually the same process every record? 
Every record has been very different, from ‘Fathering’ which I did alone to ‘The Gus’ which was and has been a very crazy process. Yes I have lived with songs, but it’s a trap and so I’m mostly trying to record new songs that have no history or expectation. It’s easier to be happy.

How much do politics influence your writing, Mark? We are clearly living through pretty mad times at the moment so there must be an endless supply of inspiration for songs? Tell me more about the ideas behind ‘Mr Bell’. 
I dunno really. Some I hope, but I don’t know how to write for protest. Mr Bell is more about his fans than him. I know I should write more about this fucked world, but I’m not doing it at the moment.

I really love ‘Later For The Box’. It’s like a playful Velvets ‘The Gift’ What was in that bloomin’ box, Mark, I’m intrigued.
Never opened it. Forbidden fruit maybe.

For a record put together the way it has been ‘The Gus’ sure hangs beautifully together. Does it sound that way to you? Or is it an album you can dip into at any point?
I was just talking to Kenny about how in the end it all came together and feel real nice. We cut some songs, made a few edits, mish moshed the sequence, changed pressing plants. Too many things that I’ve never done and I was worried it would be a sprawler, but now it feels very Guslike. The Gus forever!

You’ve been making records for a long time, is there still enjoyment and growth in it for you as a songwriter? Or has it become something of a necessity – something that you are just compelled to do? A lot of songwriters say they feel their ‘purpose’ is writing songs. Do you get that?
I don’t know about my purpose for anything. I always feel better when I have new songs to listen to. Making records needs to be easier so I can make more of them. Having said that, the system doesn’t really seem built for albums and so maybe it’s time to just release singles and enjoy life.

Do you still approach songwriting in the same way you did back in the Miracle Legion days? Or was that more of a group process?
Well, ML was mainly a writing partnership w/ Mr Ray or sometimes the band. I was really just trying to get my ideas out through the lyrics. Now I do it all and even though I like the control, I’d like to be more involved with other people. there’s a lot of creativity in the studio that change the songs, but I write from me for better or worse.

How did the whole Miracle Legion reunion go? I thought the live album was fabulous. Was the old spark still there? Anything else lined up on that front? Do you miss being in a band, as such?
It was wonderful. For me, we haven’t lost anything and possibly it’s better. I love playing with Scott and Dave and Raymond and I hope we are able to do it again.

With UK dates later this year, what can we expect from those? Is it full band? If so, who makes up the band, Mark?
Well it’s the first time I’ve done a proper tour of the UK since maybe Smilesunset. When I was on Loose I used to come over all the time and drive all over. I took a bit of a break from it all and when I came out of it I did a lot less. Now I’m really keen to play. I’ve got a trio w/ Mr Seedorf and Jake W. on drums. I’ll have my top man Nigel Powell on the side and I think a few others jumping in at different gigs. I think it’ll be different each night. We’ve learned a bunch of songs and these lads are talented enough to make me look like I know what I’m doing.

The Gus‘ is out now on The Mezzotint Label

August 31 – Brighton, UK @ The Prince Albert
September 1 – Larmer Tree Gardens, UK
September 2 – Bristol, UK @ Louisiana
September 4 – Manchester, UK @ Gullivers
September 5 – Glasgow, UK @ Stereo
September 6 – Newcastle, UK @ Cluny 2
September 7 – Sheffield, UK @ Greystones
September 8 – Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club
September 9 – Leicester, UK @ The Musician
September 10 – Winchester, UK @ The Railway Inn
September 11 – London, UK @ Bush Hall

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