Right Time, Right Place, David Byrne – by Michael Brunnock
Michael Brunnock moved from Ireland to New York in 2000, seeking a fresh start after writing and singing for the band Little Palace. He carved a niche for himself in the East Village, playing residencies in venues like The Red Lion, The Living Room, The Mercury Lounge and Rockwood Music Hall.After opening for The Frames and The Swell Season and playing with Brendan Perry from Dead Can Dance, he was in the process of recording his second studio album, The Orchard, when he received a phone call from none other than David Byrne…So I was on Long Island for the weekend when I had an unusual email pop up on my iPhone.It was an offering of a fee to do a demo of a Will Oldham song called Lay and Love. Should the track be accepted I would get more details but it was something to do with a movie soundtrack. The email was from Patrick Dillett. I didn’t know if someone was pulling my leg.When I checked out Patrick Dillett on Google I got excited and knew the offer was genuine. He holds three Grammys as a producer and engineer, having worked with many of the industry’s top vocalists.I got back to New York City the day before it was due and asked my friend Thad De Brock to help me with the template. I have a Protools Digi 002-based home studio where I recorded a lot of my previous album So I Do (2008) as well as projects for friends.Thad did most of the tracking and I brought it home and layered up my vocals, made a rough mix, and sent it to Patrick late that night.Pat called me back a couple of days later as I was driving and told me that the powers that be liked the demo and to expect a call from David Byrne in the next few minutes.
David had been commissioned to write the soundtrack for a new movie called This Must Be the Place starring Sean Penn. I would be singing the songs. I was gobsmacked.
I pulled over and asked my friend to drive.I remembered being brought to seeStop Making Sense at The Ambassador Theatre in Dublin, watching the aisles fill up as the show progressed and having to stand on my seat to watch the last three quarters… I remembered how cool David Byrne was playing these timeless songs on that acoustic guitar and rocking the house from the silver screen.I answered the phone trying to remain calm.I recall how gracious he was on the phone, unpretentious, soft-spoken and enquiring. We arranged that he would send me unfinished demos of all the songs so that I might familiarize myself with the tone and direction of the soundtrack.Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy) was commissioned to write the lyrics. He was on tour while he wrote them bit by bit and he’d send them to David sporadically.The Director, Paoula Sorrentino, is a longtime fan of David Byrne. He connected with Sean Penn at a previous showing of his hugely successful movie Il Divo at Cannes. He wrote the script for This Must Be the Place with the intention of using Sean in the starring role and David for the soundtrack.So how did I fit in to this equation?It turned out there wasn’t a lot of mystery to finding me, really. David did a Google search based on a few keywords, like “Irish singer-songwriter,” “New York,” “tenor voice.” They needed someone with an “unaffected accent” who lived in New York, due to recording logistics. It emerged that Paul Fraser (David’s long-term bass player) had also suggested me for the part. I had met Paul through my previous residency performing at the Red Lion.So there you are. Right time, right place.I got stuck into the demos and figured out that the melodies suited my voice very well. The range was fine and I liked the challenge of singing a little bit out of my usual character.One song in Particular (now titled If it Falls) got to me as I listened more and more. There was something about the way David articulated the sounds and phonetics of his non-lyrics over the melodies. It started speaking to me and I wrote a lyric for it almost because I heard him use the words. When I finished them I recorded it on a digital recorder.I was still polishing the lyric and figuring out how to send it to David without coming across as presumptuous or overstepping my boundaries. So I plucked up my courage and called him and started to explain how these lyrics came and that I would like to send the recording to him without any expectation, just that I felt I’d like him to hear it, that I was grateful for the opportunity to sing at all in the movie and, and, yeah, they just came to me and I felt I had to write them… I was starting to ramble, how do I backtrack? … And silence.“Hello, David. David?” Nothing. “Hello? David…” I fumbled. Shite… I crossed the line. Why the fuck. Ye stupid…Next came the dreaded dead tone. I looked at the phone.
I’ve really done it now. Why couldn’t I be happy with what I was offered? Why did I have to be cheeky enough to suggest writing David Byrne’s songs for him? That wasn’t my protocol. Jaysus………
My heart sank. How could I? Ye stupid…The phone rang. It was David. “Sorry Michael, the call was dropped. What were you about to say?”Phew….The next time around I was a little more cautious. A bit more timid. I could hardly talk. David laughed. He said, “Sure, send it along. But you know Will is writing the lyrics.”It turned out that David really did like the version I sent him and he investigated if it might be used but production was underway and contracts were signed. It might have complicated things.When I got to know him a bit better I later relayed the story about how the phone went dead while I was orating my ‘monologue’ and how I thought I blew the whole thing. He had a good laugh about that.I next recorded Oldham’s Lay and Love for the opening sequence of the movie, with Pat Dillett producing. They Might Be Giants were the backing band.Working in the studio with Patrick and David was a wonderful experience. I was understandably nervous. David was gracious and respectful as I had come to expect. We had corresponded often as the lyrics came in from Will and David added his voice to the tracks for me to follow.I was really impressed with how Patrick got what he wanted from me vocally. He is instantly likable, exceptionally warm and knows how to make the artist comfortable. You feel he ‘gets’ you. There was no sense of rigidity and they both encouraged me to be open with ideas, to follow the track, but to be myself.There are moments when you get frustrated with yourself, that you tell yourself you are holding up the process. Vocals are usually close to the last of the elements on the recording and you can feel the heat. Pat has a way of getting the best of what’s possible. They were very relaxed, funny and self-deprecating and you could tell they have a long relationship and trust between them. It was so heartening to witness.I think that’s the difference between a good producer and a great producer. He can have all the engineering skills and know what microphone and preamp suits best, but I think a lot of the result is about the artist feeling they are enjoying performing and are comfortable. Sometimes you rely on the producer to create that for you when you are on the spot moment to moment.I was leaving the studio one day with David and we got in an elevator on the 6th floor. A guy got in on the 4th floor and our conversation came to a halt as we noticed this guy was staring at David. Finally, the guy blurted out, “Has anyone ever told you you look like David Byrne?” David sighed slightly and said calmly, “I get that sometimes.”As we got to the street, the chap was walking away still staring over his shoulder searching for some indication that he might be actually looking at David Byrne. Did he get it? No. I wondered how many times in New York City David Byrne been asked that same question in a thousand different ways.~~~So here I am.The Orchard is finished and scheduled for release. It coincides with the release of the movie April 6th. I started a campaign with Pledge music. I want to make a great video for the songUntouchable, which features Oscar-winner Glen Hansard. There are some outstanding costs and any help from fans will be really welcome. I’ve got lots of imaginative premiums available at the link. The Orchard has been mixed by Patrick Dillett and sounds really great.
SongLives Keeps Tradition Alive
Tuesday March 27, 2012
SongLives Keeps Tradition Alive
SongLives. Michael Brunnock and Brendan O'Shea
By Gwen Orel
There's something about Irish song that fits our busy, lonely city.
The lyrics often have an ache to them, as well as a stubborn optimism.
Irish singer-songwriters camping out in New York, filling their songs with two worlds, have become as much a tradition as the Irish-American fireman.
Luka Bloom got blisters on his fingers here, Glen Hansard's here now, and many more come through.
Brava to Susan McKeown and the Irish Arts Center for showcasing this music with the new series SongLives, which had its second outing Friday night.
O'Shea, from County Kerry, runs the Scratcher sessions on Sunday nights (209 East 5th Street, 7 pm). He marveled at finding himself onstage at IAC, a place he had read about and seen on television even before he came to New York.
He joked about the trepidation of moving beyond 14th street.
He hadn't played many Irish centers, he said.
He began by reading a poem he'd just composed, while some audio issues were being worked out; it was full of Irish pop culture references and comically broke the ice.
With introspective lyrics, a powerful rough voice, and only the accompaniment of the guitar, O'Shea captured a '60s troubador feeling with his first song, "Crosswinds."
He followed with "Hollow Moon," a love song, to which he added the harmonica. "Dismantled," a song that he said got its title from Paul Rudd (before he was an A-lister), portrayed his yearning for a father he never knew, who left when he was three and died of a heart attack.
His voice has an ache in it that shares emotion. The repeated line "I've seen your picture frame on my mantle piece" held chapters of pain and longing.
The song "Sunday Summer Parade," which he wrote for "every Irish person's day of the year," had a nice bounce to it, and comes from his most recent album, Songs from a Tenement.
Jenna Nicholsl joined him for a jazzy song called "Steps," with the audience snapping its fingers.
In the second half, Susan introduced Michael Brunnock, from County Meath, who was also launching his new album The Orchard. Though also singing in a folk-rock vein, his voice is higher than O'Shea's with a purity to it-you can see why he would work well with such 80s alt groups as Dead Can Dance, and picture him singing in church.
Many of his references in song introductions were to the spirit.
Brunnock's voice can be heard in the the new film This Must Be the Place, as the voice of Sean Penn.
Though personal, Brunnock's lyrics tended to be more metaphorical and oblique than those of O'Shea. Guitarist Chris Foley accompanied him through much of his set.
Some in the audience clearly already knew "Man Overboard," singing quietly with it, and someone muttered "classic." It is a gorgeous song about someone needing assistance to keep from drowning spiritually and the repetition of the plea for a line, "I'm a man overboard," builds in power like the repetition of lines in a U2 song.
"Song of the Lark," he said, was about a bird of prey and a songbird, and is also about accessing the "divine spark" within.
Like O'Shea, he also had songs for his family, including the lovely "softwhite and indigo," for his grandmother, "Breastplate," a song inspired by watching the peace process in Ireland while living in New York, feels like a trad ballad, and in its simple melody has a world of pain in it.
It ends with the St. Patrick prayer, which only adds to the sorrow in it.
Brunnock introduced "Sensation" by describing how St. Patrick "saw divinity in everything."
The song has a swing to it, and he had the whole audience sing to "all your love comes on strong when I need it."
It was a gorgeous way to end his set.
He and O'Shea joined together for three songs at the end, with Foley on guitar and harmony.
"Araglin," said Brunnock, is "a love song with a happy ending," which as he pointed out is really unusual in Irish ballads.
It is a traditional song that he recovered from an old cassette tape of his grandfather singing it.
O'Shea sang "the first song he wrote when he came to New York," "Old Clock." Their final duet on Dylan's "Love in Vain" was a standout.
The two voices were a wonderful blend, and I was not the only one wishing for a joint album in the future.
The next SongLives on May 11 features Mark Geary and Ann Scott. For more information and tickets, visit irishartscenter.org or call 866-811-4111.
Review: Michael Brunnock's "The Orchard" by Katrina C.M.
Enchanting and serene, Michael Brunnock's "The Orchard" is a rich harvest of lush lyrics and moving melodies. Mixed by Grammy-award-winning Patrick Dillett and showcasing an array of guest musicians including Ari Hest, Glen Hansard, Julia Stone, and Joe Sumner, Brunnock's third charms from first swell to last ebb.
Soft, White, and Indigo is a track true to its name – a delicate, toe-tapping number of lost-love and nostalgia. Brunnock's velveteen vocals whisper in the ear with the softness of down and the very soul of the Emerald Isle. The imagery-rich Man Overboard tells of an emigrant's quest for gold, only to find the greatest wealth was what he left behind. ....
The dreamy, whimsical tones of Song of the Lark weave a tapestry of simple and complex, rounded off by harmonies honeyed enough to lull the bees. The inspiring, upbeat message of Change conveys a vision dreamers everywhere share.....
But perhaps the best was saved for last with the magnificent Down by the Araglin, a tribute to Brunnock's balladeer grandfather. Lyrics so seamless and a melody so pure, one would swear it a traditional Irish song.....
"The Orchard" is set to release in February 2012. With such marvelous musicianship, expert composition, and a conclusion so resonant, how can one not hit "repeat"?
The Orchard is the, soon to be released, second album by Michael Brunnock. It is an amazing piece of work.
This album is absolutely a refuge from the madness that seems to rule these days. It's like comfort food for the spirit. Michael Brunnock uses poetic lyrics along with beautiful melodies and harmonies to build his songs. Each one has something to say and you'll find yourself feeling as well as listening to them.
There are very few albums from which you'll love every single song but this is one of them. It starts off strong withCircle and Soft White and Indigo and never looks back. The catchy tune, Every Step, was already released as a single and is available through cdbaby (see link below). It would be hard to chose a favorite here. I was already a fan of Man Overboard and I really like Game Changer but Down by the Araglin edges out the rest for me. It reminds me of the kind of songs I used to listen to with my grandfather as a child. It makes you feel connected with our heritage and to the people who had a much bigger hand than they knew, in making us who we are. This album truly is an orchard full of wonderful songs you will want to harvest and plant on your favorites playlist. The more you listen to it, the more you love it.
Circle Soft White and Indigo Man Overboard The Orchard Untouchable Song of the Lark Change Every Step Wine Hansel Game Changer Sensation Down by the Araglin
You can find Michael at faceboo here His page at cdbaby is here The Orchard will be for sale there after it's released. If you are in NYC you can catch Michael's next gig at The Rockwood Music Hall Studio 2, 196 Allen Street New York, NY on Sunday, January 22nd, Doors Open at 9:00 PM
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So I Do
For those who have watched the Irish music scene, Michael Brunnock, is recognized as a quiet man, who's made a big impact. A native of Ireland's, County Meath, (Pronounced Mead), he rose through the burgeoning ranks, fronting bands like “Little Palace” and “The Van Winkles”, each becoming the darlings of the Irish music press in the early to late 90's and following years.
Now a New York resident and live favorite in the East Village, Michael is set to release a brand new album “So I do” hot on the heels of last years well received, Budweiser sponsored, “Live at The Red Lion.”
An illustration of the reverance Michael Brunnock projects elict, shows in this quote, “...one of the strongest debut singles I've heard from any band, Irish or otherwise.” Taken from Hot Press Magazine, Ireland's premier music journal, on the release of “Beekeeper.” a song about his past life as a mathematics teacher.
Brunnock remembers clearly, the defining moment as a child, that set him on the path to a musical career. In his family's often packed kitchen, in front of an open fire at night, all assembled, were captivated by his 90-year-old grandfather (who’s name incidentally was Michael Brunnock) singing local ballads chronicling the heroics of Irish rebels during the Irish war of independence and before. The lofty goal of recreating such an energy took seed firmly with the youngest Michael Brunnock...
From here, influences as varied as Elvis, Planxty(Traditional Irish supergroup), Neil Young, GillianWelch, Dead Can Dance and AC/DC, have shaped Michael's earnest intelligence, into a mesmirizing body of work to date.
Comparisons to Neil Young and Cold Play are made, and may loosely describe his contempory acoustic folk-rock sound, but his themes are drawn from lifes paradoxes; conscience vs consiousness and internal beauty vs external image . The songs and particularly live performances, are very much his own.