Cormac Neeson is best known as the voice of Northern Irish classic rock kings The Answer but this month he’s flying solo. Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth talked exclusively to the singer songwriter.
Rushonrock: Does a solo record afford you a greater opportunity to speak from the heart?
Cormac Neeson: I always try to bring as much personal experience as possible to the fore whether I’m writing for The Answer or for myself. But of course it’s a completely different bag when you’re writing a solo record. The Answer is always a very democratic situation when it comes to the writing process and the songs – lyrically and musically the songs reflect the middle ground. With a solo project it gives me the chance to dig a little bit deeper into issues that are hyper personal to me.
Rushonrock: Is self-indulgence a danger?
CN: If an artist is committed to a solo project then they can pretty much write about and sing about and do whatever they want! You have to find a way of striking the balance between expressing yourself as a musician and a person and making music people want to hear. What I really enjoyed about the whole experience was being able to sit down with other writers and say ‘this is what really matters to me – what do you think?’. Those guys were always very open to extracting the good stuff from my life story and making sure I got it right. The art of songwriting is being able to make the statement that you want to make in three minutes.
Rushonrock: Can you describe the process behind writing White Feather?
CN: A lot of the time I’d sit down with a friend and we’d spend the first three hours just talking. Then things would settle down and we’d ask ourselves ‘where’s the power in what we just talked about?’. That’s how the songwriting would begin. After that the songs wrote themselves. I do a lot of writing on my own but I think I benefit from having someone else in the room. It’s quite easy to disappear down a wormhole if you’re isolated for too long. You don’t want to forget about the power of the subject matter. Some people I wrote with know me well but occasionally having that other, less familiar, voice in the room is invaluable. Those guys would stop me and say ‘tell me about that moment – what was it really like?’. And it would make me stop and think.
Rushonrock: Was White Feather conceived in Nashville?
CN: Well Nashville came first in this whole journey but I didn’t go over there to write a solo record. I was over there for a couple of weeks writing with a lot of different people – writing songs for other people. Some of those songs would get farmed out to other artists and that was the idea. But I’d often arrive in the morning and have a chat with whoever I was writing with that day and we’d inevitably end up talking about personal stuff. I don’t believe in holding anything back when I’m writing with other people and it should be a very intimate process. And by the time we’d finished chatting the other guy in the room would usually say ‘we have to write about this!’. I ended up heading home from Nashville with a tonne of personal songs almost by accident.
Rushonrock: As well as the songs what did you take away from the Nashville experience?
CN: Just being able to talk about stuff was like a daily therapy session for me – it just happened to be a bunch of very talented musicians who were the therapists! It wasn’t until I got back to Belfast that the seeds started to be sown for a full-blown solo record. In the end it was written with songwriters in Nashville, Northern Ireland and London and the whole thing was a very refreshing experience. I’m sure that I’m not the first artist to feel that way having taken the plunge with a solo record.
Rushonrock: Is White Feather a life’s work or a reflection of your recent past?
CN: I didn’t really revisit much on White Feather. It’s all very much borne out of the last couple of years. Part of its strength is the underlying mood. I’m not really sure what genre it is – country, soul, folk, Americana? Who knows? When I was recording it I was very much living in the moment and there was no plan for what the songs might sound like. It all felt very organic.
Rushonrock: What can we expect from the White Feather live shows?
CN: I’ll be doing the UK dates with one other guitar player – he’s from my band in Northern Ireland called The Unholy Gospel Band. It will just be as a two piece on those dates and there will be some chat about the songs as well as the music. But a lot of the songs speak for themselves. The Belfast launch date and the Irish shows will be the full band experience. It will work no matter what. The songs are quite strong and I’m hoping the underlying messages will translate well into the acoustic and the full electric setting.
Rushonrock: Will there be a few pre-show nerves given you don’t have the rest of The Answer guys for support?
CN: I get nervous about every show because I always want to give a good account of myself. But I’m more excited about – and looking forward to – playing these new songs live. There’s a little bit of trepidation because I don’t have that backup of a full band behind me. Normally if I forget the words Paul [Mahon, guitarist with The Answer] can play a solo and cover for me! This time I’ll be very exposed. It’s time to stand up and be counted! I’ve really pulled no punches on White Feather – everything I am is in this record. As a result I feel confident I can get on stage on do the songs justice every night.
Rushonrock: And as for The Answer – what’s happening with the day job?
CN: We’re writing a new Answer record. We’re working away in the background. But right now I’m just very focused on the solo record. It will be The Answer’s sixth record and in many ways doing the solo album has given me a much clearer head in terms of how I’m going to approach it. The first five records were bang, bang, bang. Having had some time away from The Answer I’ve got the hunger back. I can’t wait to see what we can do.
Cormac Neeson supports Shawn James in Newcastle tonight before embarking on a string of headline dates across Ireland from May 16