In terms of sound and sentiment, Mick Flannery has one foot in America for his excellent new album, writes Ed Power
MICK Flannery has chosen an unusual location to discuss his new album: a dowdy Dublin boozer where conversation is often drowned out by the sound of a television tuned to the horse-racing channel.
“I don’t think I’ve been here before,” he says, taking delivery of a pint. “It just sounded like a nice place.”
Flannery is in Dublin for a 48 hour promotional visit that will later see him headline the Workman’s Club, where he will share the bill with radio presenter Matt Cooper, performing a novelty song he wrote for charity. It’s a surreal juxtaposition - particularly in light of the hard-hitting tenor of Flannery’s new material.
“This record is definitely less personal,” he says of I Own You, which he put together over the past two years at a recording space in East Cork. “As they progress through their career it’s natural for a songwriter to move away from writing about themselves to discussing more universal topics.”
That Flannery is switching things up is obvious from the cover of I Own You: a stark photograph of a kid wearing an animal skull mask and hefting a golf club in a menacing fashion. In the background a derelict house stands ominously.
“The cover could be construed as a young child, possibly playing with something that might be a weapon,” says Flannery. “They might appear to be in the lower brackets of the social spectrum. What I’m saying is, ‘Mr One Percent – if violence comes to your door, there is what it might look like’.”
Flannery took inspiration from the Black Lives Matter campaign in the US and its highlighting of police violence. The record’s title track was in part informed by the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man who sustained fatal injuries being transported in a police van.
“It makes me nervous to talk about social issues and use America as a vehicle rather than Ireland,” says the former Nashville resident. “However, America is the beacon of capitalism, isn’t it? The Freddie Gray story definitely affected me.
“If someone took away my agency in that fashion… I can’t claim to be an authority on the subject as my experiences in American have been through the prism of Irish people I know there. But you see a lot of evidence [of institutional racism].”
Aged 32, Flannery is no longer the wide eyed newcomer of Irish confessional rock. It’s nine years since his debut, Evening Train, written as the Blarney, Co Cork native was undertaking a music course at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa in Cork city (the record was originally intended as a musical — a project Flannery remains hopeful of bringing it to the stage at some point).
He has across the ensuing decade charted his own course. Initially, Flannery was notoriously uncomfortable in the spotlight (he spent the hour before his debut performance on the Late Late Show throwing up in his dressing room).
He has steadily built his audience, with 2014’s By The Rule debuting at number one in the Irish charts — a significant achievement for an awkward outsider with little interest in pandering to industry convention.
“There are no guarantees in this business,” he shrugs. “You shouldn’t attach to much of your self-esteem to it. If it comes to it and I have to go back and work in construction… I wonder how would I feel. There may be a point when I am no longer invited to the party. I’d like to think I would take it well. You just don’t know.”
I Own You is arguably his most impressive record yet. It is certainly a stark swerve, with Flannery channelling his love of hip hop artists such as Kendrick Lamar.
He rhymes on it, and the production is more stripped down than previous offerings.
“I like him a lot,” he says of Lamar. “He’s a powerful presence and it is great that he is accepted. I like Kanye West too. There are things he does that I don’t go along with. But I like that he doesn’t give a f**k.”
I Own You is released October 14. Mick Flannery plays Cork Opera House as part of the city’s folk festival on Sunday.
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