Paul McCann – Alter Ego (Q&A)

Alter Ego is a beautifully varied pop album. Pure Power Pop alternates totally natural with Rufus Wainwright/John Grant-esque wizardry.

Paul McCann, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Cavan, Ireland, explains how that came about.

How did this record come together?

A lot of the stuff I write, and record happens quite organically. After I put out my first record, ‘Here Comes the Rapture’, it was very much a blank canvas, but I knew I didn’t want to make Rapture 2. The idea was always to go bigger and bolder. I played most of the instrumentation on the first record, so from quite early on, I wanted as many great musicians on this one as possible. It was amazing having Sylvie Lewis, Jason Falkner, Gary Luca,s and so many other people whose music I love involved this time. It was always important to me that the songs be good enough for these guys to play on too. If anything, that made me raise my game a little too, with regards to the songwriting.

When you’re that close to creating something, it’s hard to tell if it really is any good. A number of times when I thought I was failing in creating something better, Martin Quinn (Producer and Engineer) would always reassure me that we were creating something special. I brought in a lot of friends to record parts on these songs too, as well as having the amazing Avoca String Quartet involved. It is a wonderful feeling to hear a song you wrote in your kitchen being played in the most elegant manner by a string section.

How do you decide when a song is finished and ready to be recorded?

This can vary, song-to-song. Some songs can arrive fully formed, and within a half hour or an hour it’s there…it’s done, and ready. Other songs can take much longer, months or years to have a final format that I’m happy to take into the studio. In some cases, I might still be scribbling or re-writing a lyric or part of a lyric in the vocal booth as it’s happening, but that is rare. For example, the chorus and main guitar run of ‘Lost in this Moment’ was part of a completely different song that I was working on with my band ‘The Plan’ about 6 years earlier. Whereas ‘Where has the Music Gone’ was pretty much written in one sitting and something I started working on in the studio with Martin the very same week.

How do you balance experimentation with commercial appeal in your music?

I’m in a very lucky position that these songs are 100% written without any influence or ambition to appeal to anyone. I have never written anything that I thought might be catchy or might be a hook. It’s been a really enjoyable experience arranging these songs with a live band and hear their reactions to certain songs, as in what songs they are enjoying or what earworms they’re finding hard to shake off.

It feels like a much purer approach to write the music I want to write and not what type of music I think people want to hear. This possibly explains why and how my music can make drastic jumps in genre, from folk to rock, to funk, etc, but this certainly isn’t pre-planned. Each album, or EP just happens to be a collection of whatever songs I’ve been working on at that time, that I think don’t suck too much.

How do you incorporate feedback and criticism into your creative process?

I think you do need a thick skin to survive the world of reviews and criticism. We’re a sensitive bunch, ha ha ha…  Over the years, I’ve had to remove myself from criticisms and just tell myself that it’s just one person’s opinion, and hey, maybe this just wasn’t for them. A couple of people have commented on my choice of words or rhyming choices, but in truth, in most cases I strive not to go with a “cat” and “hat” type rhyming structure when I’m writing lyrics. It’s much more about the musicality of words, than simple rhyming for me. It’s more Lennon than McCartney if that makes sense.

To me art is supposed to be about pushing boundaries and not just doing the same thing time and again. I must be sincere and honest with what I want to create, and not what people think I should create. If what I do doesn’t work for you, then “move along please”.

If you could pick three singers to sing harmony vocals on your next record, who would you ask?

This record was kind of like that to be honest. Before this record, if I had to answer that, I would probably have included Sylvie Lewis and Charlotte Hatherley. They are two incredible vocalists and I’m genuinely honored to have them involved in ‘Alter Ego’. For the next album, I’m going to reach for the stars and say Paul McCartney, PJ Harvey and Thom Yorke.  Macca, because I think he’s the greatest living songwriter and performer (and I think alphabetically I’m listed next to him on most streaming sites); Polly Jean, because I love how she can continuously reinvent herself with every album and nail it every time; and Thom, because he is amazing. Similarly, he and his bands have evolved album to album and always delivered something innovative.  He has crafted his own sound and appears to not have had to conform to label influence. 

If any or all of those three are reading this and are open to collaborate, hit me up! Ha ha ha…

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