DECIDING to make a record with a bunch of complete strangers sounds both promisingly adventurous and totally reckless. But that’s the idea Mark Mulcahy hit on for The Gus, his sixth solo album, released in June.
‘A few years ago I read the Bob Dylan autobiography,’ Mark explains, down the phone from his Massachusetts home, ‘and he talked about just showing up in New Orleans with a batch of songs, not knowing anyone and starting recording. That sounded heavily romantic to me. I had a producer I really liked, Marc Seedorf, and he knows everybody so he got some guys together and we recorded for a few days. They were great players and great guys but at the end, it wasn’t quite like I was imagining.’
What worked for Bob wasn’t going to work for Mark, so he scrapped that plan. He started to bring in his old gang, notably multi-instrumentalist Ken Maiuri, with whom he’s played ‘a ton of music’ down the years. ‘Once I got back together with him, the thing just really started to come to life.’
It’s life that’s the stuff of Mark’s songs and has been since his days leading Miracle Legion, the modestly successful college-rock band with emotional depth and a playful streak, whose fans include Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe and Frank Black. They released their last LP in 1996.
Singer/songwriter, guitarist and drummer Mark says he wanted to up his game on The Gus — and that a collection of George Saunders’ short stories chimed with his interests.
‘I really connected with his style because I really like that you give the reader — or the listener, in my case — a lot of credit for being able to comprehend what you’re saying. I’m not usually out to explain everything. I like to play shows because I like to sing the story again.’
Later For The Box is a fine example of not explaining. It’s a simple yet intriguing story about an unexpected parcel that the singer does everything imaginable to put off opening. We never find out what’s in it or why he’s so reluctant.
‘If I can name one song that was inspired by George Saunders — and I don’t want him to get too much responsibility for what I’ve done because it’s not his fault,’ jokes Mark — ‘then that’s a good example.’
He adds that his last few records have been variations on his usual working method and ‘100 per cent’ satisfying. ‘Every record gets old and has flaws that you see and make you wonder why you made that choice, but I like them all. I’ve been super happy with how the last few records turned out. I like to make things I like and I hope that other people like them, too.’
■ Wednesday, Bush Hall, London, and touring, markmulcahy.com