Noise Annoys: The Answer's Cormac Neeson on solo debut White Feather & Belfast shows
Noise Annoys grills The Answer frontman Cormac Neeson about his upcoming debut solo album White Feather and first ever Irish solo gigs
Hi Cormac, how’s your Pledge campaign for White Feather going?
I’m so grateful to the good people who have pledged and paid for the making of this record, let's face it, pretty much on blind faith alone. It's my first solo record, so apart from a few live sessions online and my running commentary throughout the making of White Feather, there were no other clues as to what this album will actually sound like. I want those real music fans out there to be surprised and satisfied when their albums arrive in the post. The campaign is going great and will continue to run until the album’s release.
You went to the States to write and record this album, including a stint at Nashville ‘writing camp’. How did that come about and what was the experience like for you?
That writing camp was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I was writing with some amazingly talented writers from Nashville, the UK and Ireland. We would start writing at 9am and have the song finished and demo’d that same day. It was such a refreshing and massively creative experience.
In some ways, it kick started this whole journey I’m on now as a couple of the songs from that week have made it on to the record. I suppose I got a bit hooked on the Nashville vibe as I kept going back there to write more songs. I’ve written some songs for other artists in that time, which I’ve found quite liberating but I also ended up with a ton of deeply personal songs that I obviously wanted to keep for myself.
I ended up recording the spine of the record in Nashville at the legendary Sound Kitchen Studio… I figured given that half the record was written in Tennessee it seemed like the obvious destination to capture those songs in the studio.
Has the album provided an outlet for musical influences or singing styles beyond what you’ve explored with The Answer thus far?
I suppose it has. But I have to say, The Answer like to experiment with different genres and styles as well, which meant I could in turn get quite creative with my vocal deliveries over the years. But yes… this album is new ground for me as an artist for sure. There’s country soul, Americana, Folk and singer songwriter components in there that help to give the record quite a unique identity.
The vocals are different to anything I’ve done before as well. I’m singing in different keys and registers compared to what I’d be used to with Answer. I also think the fact that the songs are so personal and soulful definitely helps to bring the best out of me as a singer.
Being a solo album, would it be fair to call this the most personal record you’ve ever made?
It feels a bit clichéd but yes absolutely! These songs come from a deep, sometimes dark, place and are born out of personal experience. In some ways it’s the most rock n roll record I’ve ever made even though it’s the least rock n roll record I’ve ever made because the songs are honest and real.
I’ve never been in a position where everything I write is about me and on me if that makes sense and without sounding completely egotistical… because in The Answer everything is democratic and serves the band rather than the individual. It’s a little bit intimidating because this time around I’ve no-one to hide behind. The songs have a depth and power to them that can only come from somewhere deep inside.
Do you have a particular favourite on the LP and/or was there one key track which helped kick-start the album or helped it to come together as ‘a piece’?
There’s a few that spring to mind but I suppose one song that really catches the sentiment of the record would be Broken Wing. It’s a tribute to my little boy who was born at 27 weeks, spent four months in hospital fighting for his life, had open heart surgery on his first birthday and just generally has been an absolute warrior from the moment he came into the world.
My son also has Downs Syndrome which brings with it a unique set of challenges. The song Broken Wing attempts to squeeze all that into a few verses and a chorus. I wrote it with a friend who has since passed away and I think together we wrote a really great song. I just hope my little boy agrees.
What is the significance of the album title?
Again its wrapped up in my son’s journey athough he wouldn’t have been aware of it at the time. Basically my wife Louise was two weeks pregnant when she was rushed to hospital and straight into surgery with a suspected optopic pregnancy. The surgeon appeared a few hours later to tell me it wasn’t as bad as they thought but we would have to wait another two weeks to find a heartbeat if one still existed.
The night before we went back to the hospital I went for a run to clear my head and found a white feather in the dirt. I took this as a sign of life and that things were gonna work out… and they did.
You played your first solo show at The Islington in London back in February. How did that go and are you looking forward to your first Irish solo shows next month?
It was amazing. The place was packed, I was nervous as hell, but once the gig kicked in it just felt right. I’m lucky enough to have the legendary Unholy Gospel Band as my band for these shows in November.
The Duke Of York is a venue I have donated a lot of money to over the years (in return for Guinness and whisky) so all the stars seem to be aligning at the right time.
Finally, what’s on heavy rotation on your hif-fi/headphones at the moment?
I’m currently getting blown away by Sean Rowe. One of my vocal students introduced me to this guy's voice and its something else. The song Madman is perfect.
:: Support Cormac at Pledgemusic.com/projects/cormac-neeson-white-feather. He plays The Duke of York in Belfast on November 7 (support from Owen Lamont) and November 8 (support from Amy Montgomery), tickets £10 via Shine.net and Ticketmaster outlets.