Mark Mulcahy has endured his fair share of ups and downs in his life. Throughout the 1980s and early ’90s, Miracle Legion, the Connecticut band he fronted, were lauded in college rock circles but failed to make the transition of their peers REM. Eventually the band fizzled out in the mid ’90s due to that old staple, record company wrangles.
Says Mulcahy: “We sort of had a ‘legal ending’. We were on a label we couldn’t get off. We couldn’t get on. We couldn’t do anything for a long time so we fizzled out. We didn’t actually break up or anything, everybody just went into different directions.”
During this time Mulcahy found employment for three years as part of the house band for a TV show called The Adventures of Pete & Pete. When that ended he set out on a solo career that began with the well-received 1997 album Fathering. Then, 2001’s Smilesunset saw the singer increase in confidence as a solo artist. More acclaim followed with 2005’s In Pursuit of Your Happiness but in 2008 his career was put on hold when his wife Melissa suddenly passed away. Mulcahy withdrew from music to look after his three-year-old twin daughters.
“I had some bad luck,” he reflects, but Mulcahy has emerged from this period buoyed by the good wishes of the likes Michael Stipe, Thom Yorke and the National, who were among the artists who contributed to 2009’s tribute-cum-benefit album Ciao My Shining Star, and secure in the knowledge that his newest album, Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You is his best and most dynamic yet.
Mulcahy reckons it would have been the easiest thing in the world to make the saddest album in the world but his indefatigable nature helped him resist wallowing in that. “I just don’t know if I had it in me. I don’t know if the time has passed. I’m not sure. It’s not something I would look forward to doing on some level. If I was writing about my wife I’d like to write something happy, and I have.”
Well before the tribute album, Mulcahy received an affirmation from a quite unexpected source in 2002 when writer Nick Hornby included the track ‘Hey Self Defeater’ in his book 31 Songs. Even now, Mulcahy sounds humbled by the experience. “That was a great thing. I don’t know what year that was but I remember I wasn’t really doing much. I felt kind of, I don’t know … remembered. It was a nice thing to have happened. It’s just being in the same book as Bruce Springsteen — that’s not something I would have imagined for myself.”
Having put his life on hold he’s especially happy finding himself back out on the road playing again, describing this as a “happy period.” “Getting back to playing a gig was a pretty great feeling,” he affirms. “I’d say to everybody, ‘Man, there ain’t nobody happier here than me right now’. To be deprived of it was a learning experience because now I know how lucky you are to get the chance to play. Maybe that sounds corny but for me every date is just great. I don’t care what happens. I don’t care who’s there. I’m just happy to be playing a guitar and singing a song to somebody.”
* Mark Mulcahy plays the Spirit Store, Dundalk tonight; Balor Arts Centre, Lifford, Oct 24; Grand Social, Dublin, Oct 25; Crane Lane Theatre, Cork (afternoon show, Free admission) Oct 26; De Barras, Clonakilty, (early evening show, free admission) Oct 27.