MICK Flannery is searingly honest, wonderfully self-deprecating and witty, far from the bruised, introspective and gruff character he has painted of himself through his music.
He’s also tough as nails - the product of being a stonemason by trade - and fond of a drink and a cigarette, but his music is anything but; winsome, wistful, dark and heavy, yet burning with a lightness, the deft touch of the master craftsman and wordsmith about the down-to-earth Corkman.
As a “walking stereotype” - his words - Flannery hasn’t been singing from the rooftops about knocking Madonna off the top of the Irish charts with his third album, Red to Blue, the first since his second album White Lies projected him onto the national consciousness.
“I don’t know how that happened,” he whispers. “It has been great but I didn’t expect it go that well, especially that quickly, I thought it would be more a slow burner, considering the style of the music. I don’t know - I’d say the record company help expedite these type of things.
“I think they take iTunes into account now and this pre-order thing means you have a better shot at selling a good few on the first week because they can be ordered in. I don’t know. I am always trying to shoot it down, the normal Irish reaction to anything that goes well, be embarrassed by it,” he laughs.
It is hard to believe that the multi-platinum selling White Lies was released way back in 2008, selling by the truckload and scooping a Meteor award for the singer songwriter, who is not just uncomfortable in the spotlight, he positively eschews it.
“I am all over the place talking about myself, which I love doing,” he says sarcastically when asked about the two weeks since he topped the album charts with Red to Blue, recorded over two years in Cork with his friend Christian Best.
“I am happy with it. It was a lot easier than the last one. We had a much nicer environment than the last one, recording with Christian, he is a sound lad, everything was very relaxed. He is good at throwing ideas at me,” explains Flannery.
“Christian worked on the last album but he had a lesser role, we had only just met. There was a separate producer for that last album and there was a ... difference of opinion in places that meant the thing didn’t flow as well as this one.
“Over the last while we have been setting up a studio in Cork, getting bits and pieces together so we can do it ourselves on our time without the clock running, having that pressure on us. It is in his house, which is very close to where I live, so I could pop down, do a few hours here or there and let things grow, rather than being away from home and under pressure.
“Last time we were living in an apartment together and we didn’t really know each other that well - you tend to go on the piss a lot when you don’t really know someone, and then that doesn’t help when you are trying to get work done,” he smiles.
A heavy period of touring after the release of White Lies was simply not conducive to writing a follow-up, and at his record company’s suggestion - he has a three album deal with EMI - Mick scrapped the songs he had written and took some time clear his head.
“We had enough for an album about two years ago, and we didn’t go with it. The record company said to wait a while because we had done a lot of gigs - I hadn’t had any time to myself to do any proper writing or anything like that, so we left it off, we didn’t go with it. It was probably for the best.
“I went away to America once or twice and that helped. A different environment helps get some perspective.”
That perspective is obvious on what is a much more varied, mature offering than his previous work, a richly layered, uplifting and often tender record that has echoes of Paul Brady, Tom Waits, even Ray LaMontagne.
“I prefer the sound of it,” he admits. “That might be because it is fresh - I don’t really listen to the old ones, my voice kind of annoys me on them. I can hear a lot of accentuated American twangs in my voice and I can’t listen to it, being honest, it is embarrassing.”
Despite his admirable self-deprecation, his songs are not simply filled with misery, and he draws on both his own experiences and those of others for inspiration.
“It would be a bit of both. If someone has a certain way of saying something that I think is interesting, I will play it to myself and if the story stands up on its own, if someone’s own misery is worth a full song I can work with that, otherwise I have to supplement it with my own,” he laughs.
Mick Flannery plays in Dolan’s Warehouse on April 20. Red to Blue is out now in record stores.