Cork musician Brian Deady recorded his latest album in Memphis, writes
WHEN you’ve laid your heart out on a slab and set your darkest experiences to music, where do you go next? That was the challenge facing Cork singer Brian Deady when he travelled to the American South recently to record his new album.
Deady’s 2015 LP, Non-Fiction, was an extraordinarily gut-punch of confessional songwriting. In it, he delved into his tumultuous upbringing as one of 10 children raised in relative poverty and an adolescence spent partly in state care.
As exorcisms go, it was both wrenching and melancholic — and a powerful showcase for his soulful singing style. It won him a considerable fanbase in Ireland and abroad and a cheerleader in Nile Rodgers from Chic.
But while it can be cathartic to put yourself out there, you can only go to the well as a songwriter so many times. This reality was in the back of Deady’s mind as he packed his bags for the USA last year.
“Non-Fiction was very heavy, very personal, very confessional,” the Skibbereen-born singer says. “I felt I had got it out of my system. I wanted to do something different from my usual approach.”
This determination not to repeat himself led Deady to Memphis, America’s hardscrabble home of the blues. In just a week, he and his band knocked out Yellow Creek, his huge impressive new record. It was both an experiment and new experience for Deady. Soul and gospel has been an enormous influence ever since he left his home for Cork city and began busking around town. Now here he was in the capital of the blues.
“I was in Nashville for a week and then Memphis,” says Deady from his adopted home in Andalusia in Spain, to which he moved several years ago.
“The cities are less than three hours apart but are very different. Nashville has a lot of glamour, a lot of country. It is quite clean-cut. Memphis is a lot grittier. There’s a lot of poverty, a lot of crime. It’s very different.”
The city on the banks of the Mississippi is also, of course, steeped in the blues. That was the appeal for Deady, though the path from Spain to Tennessee had a few twists.
“It was a wing-and-a-prayer thing,” he says. “I was due to to go to Texas for a songwriter’s retreat. It was cancelled. I had already done a bit of prep for Americana. I set myself a challenge to record an album in a week. It all worked out.”
Memphis was a musical wonderland, he says. “The studio where we did the record is in Midtown. It used to be a really run down part of the city. There is all this amazing analogue gear. It’s like walking into another world. The mixing desk used to be in the Grand Ole Opry.”
Deady’s interest in subjects that extend beyond his immediate life experience has also led him to begin work on a musical theatre project. The goal is to expand on the storytelling style of Yellow Creek (named after a small river 200 miles north of Memphis). He hopes to eventually bring the production to the stage, though in the short term the goal is to record it as a radio play.
“The play has a Western theme. I brought the idea of telling stories through other characters across from Yellow Creek –— of not necessarily being the protagonist.”
He’s also thinking about doing another record. Deady had a few up and down years after signing briefly to a major label and coming away feeling burned (they loved him until suddenly they didn’t). What he’s learned is that, rather than sitting back waiting for success, it’s best to keep moving forward.
“There’s this other side to it — these things called ‘bills’ that have to be paid. They don’t really play along with your ambitions. But I fully believe in following the things you want to do and being prepared to take risks.”
“Spain is a great incubator for whatever is to come next. I’ve become a big fan of finishing a project and moving onto the next one. I’m a musician — why should being creative stop?
“The system of releasing an album and then touring and releasing another album was set up by the labels to maximise monetary potential. The question is: does that necessarily work for a creative person on an individual level?
“Often you put out an album and then sit on your hands hoping something is going to happen with it. And when something doesn’t happen with it, everything is despair. It doesn’t seem to me that this is the way it should be done. When you do something you say a little prayer and then you move on to the next thing.”