By Levi Gogerla

He sings about Ireland’s underbelly and its hard drinkers. He also weaves a hilarious yarn.

Cut from the same uniquely weathered cloth as Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski, Blarney songwriter, Mick Flannery, is soft-spoken and sits in cool resignation as we pass around a boot flask of Whiskey and flip over an old Kris Kristofferson LP mulling over the tracklist and a couple Canadian beers.

“You’d have to wonder what came first the woman or the song…Attractive people like that,” Flannery says, pointing at Kristofferson. “Can get into a lot of mess in their lives, because of the fact they’re so attractive – you wonder…is more inspiration available to him because he’s hot, or was he just inspired and happened to be hot too?”

Though Flannery’s a masterclass stone mason, he makes much of his living touring and telling stories. He isn’t known for his happy songs. His songs are about gamblers and hard-drinking. The city’s seedy underbelly, its circuses, theatrics, politics, and romances. There’s failed relationship songs, philosophical songs, humorous songs, bleak songs, and humorously bleak songs across the singers five albums.

“I like anyone who’s good at sparking imagery with dialogue. The simple conversational things that mean more than just the face of it,” Flannery says. “That’s very useful for songwriters. You only have a small amount of time to get through your story and get your message across.”

Flannery uses spoken dialogue through character interactions in his stories. He’s introspective and speaks of experiences rooted in human nature. Flannery is often compared to Tom Waits, a comparison rooted by both men’s wisdom far beyond their age, and their early piano-driven, character sketches and introspective pieces.

“I was always trying to be older than I was…Whereas, I think people in their twenties, especially their younger twenties, find life exciting and kind of unified in the external experiences they’re having. There’s still a lot of possibilities,” Flannery says.

Touring off his recent album I Own You, has Flannery moving away from the introspective and romantic catalogue. He doesn’t see himself as much of an individual anymore. In your thirties, he explains, your ego really takes a dip. His vocal delivery is raw, the lyrics purposeful in its message. I Own You shows that Flannery is as much into social commentary, as he is character development.

“I’ve got a good few songs since then. I toyed with a concept album about a failed musician. Now, I’m writing songs that don’t really fit into that so I’m backtracking a bit. I co-wrote a bunch of things over the last little while, one of them is a west coast pop song that I’m terrified of releasing. It’s joyful…”

Flannery isn’t known for his happy songs or pop songwriting. His music hasn’t really focused on chorus writing and he’s torn about not being repressed and just doing it.

“I don’t really write choruses, this song has a chorus and repeats a couple of lines over and over, which I don’t tend to do because I want the song to go somewhere. If there’s a verse-chorus I usually tend to change the lyrics as the song goes on, otherwise, I feel like we’ve contrived the thing.”

There are people who write choruses just right. Flannery’s been toying with the idea for a while, he says, while cracking another few beers.

“Some people are better at writing choruses, like John Prine. Choruses you can slide in and out of songs and they’ll still make sense and they’ll still be entertaining,” Flannery says.

Flannery has had only one day off in the last few weeks of touring. He’s a workhorse and likes to be on the road. If he would take a day off he’d likely have something moderately healthy to eat, then hit a dive bar

“I use alcohol a lot, I use it to play…It kills my nerves. I use it to kind of disappear a little but I find sometimes the hangover can put you into a weird mental state. I mean, it’s always been useful because I don’t know myself when I’m hungover, nervous, and jittery. Coming out of that when you see the days just starting to be brighter and you can see the future again, that feeling can really be creative.”

Drinking has always been a powerful catalyst for artistic ambition and plays some part in Flannery’s creative output. As depressing as some of his songs sound, Flannery was never depressed, or relied solely on the bottle as creative muse, or crutch.

“Often I feel that it’s getting ahead of me. Addiction has a tendency to do that to you like I have an addiction to cigarettes. But then Dylan kept going, Cohen kept going – drinking and smoking. But moderation is probably a good thing. If you feel like you’re going too far, moderation might be a good thing to try. You gotta stay alive.”

Flannery loves travelling abroad peddling his unique brand of misery, but people often miss his funnier side. Between scattered tales of failed relationships and ruin, he still knows how to make a crowd laugh.

“I grew from the south of Ireland, a place called Blarney. It’s a tourist town where we have a magic castle, and we have the blarney stone atop of our magic castle…Legend goes you kiss the stone and you get magic. It’s a crock of shit, but it works. There are busloads of American people every day who come to kiss the stone. I gotta ask anyone who wants to kiss the stone to imagine there a little kid growing up in a tourist town with a magic castle, and a magic stone, and busloads of Americans coming every day. You’re 12 or 13-years-old and there’s not much to do in the town. One of those evenings, one of your friends might turn to you and say, what are we doing tonight? And another might say, let’s go piss on the stone.”

Flannery’s music can be a strong reminder of the pain and progress of the day to day toils of life, but behind it all, he hopes to remind himself and maybe others that we’re all quite similar, and we’re maybe not as bad as we seem.

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