An Interview with Mark Mulcahy

Words by Keith Hadad

This summer marks the release of the first new solo album in eight years by one of the most intriguing and creative songwriters of the last three decades: Mark Mulcahy.

Mulcahy got his start in the varied music scene of New Haven in the early 80s. He describes the scene as once being enjoyable due to there being “a lot of different kinds of bands, there were funk bands, punk bands and people would sort of adopt a space of a type of band.”

While in New Haven, Mulcahy played in many different groups with his friend, Ray Neal, playing drums and secondary guitar, respectfully. Tired of not having a say when each band split due to the principle songwriters and lead players moving on, Mulcahy says that he and Neal decided to form their own group. “So we started our own band and we started to try to write our own songs, on just drums and guitar, we really started out as a guitar and drum band for a short while,” Mulcahy explains. This band, Miracle Legion, would become Mulcahy’s main musical focus until 1996.

Miracle Legion would go on to release five classic full-length albums as well as several singles and EPs. The band had a history of lineup changes but unlike other bands that have gone through the same fate, each lineup seemed to work out perfectly on each record. On this, Mulcahy feels that, “even though it was a very troubled existence for a lot of the time…the people we were with always seemed to fit together pretty well. I always liked [our] playing.”

During the early ‘90s, Mulcahy brought a trio version of Miracle Legion, renamed Polaris, and recorded the theme song and the soundtrack of the beautifully offbeat alternative Nickelodeon show, The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Beyond creating the music, appearing in the opening credits and one episode, Mulcahy and Polaris weren’t too connected to the program. Mulcahy said of Pete & Pete, “I wasn’t really that involved, I just did the part I did…I was a little second banana to the whole thing.” In 1999, Polaris’ soundtrack finally found a legitimate release, even though Pete & Pete was cancelled in ’96.

During the last few years, while the children of the ‘90s reached their twenties, Pete & Pete and other similar kid shows have had a revival through some sort of collective nostalgia. This renewed interest brought reruns of some of these shows back on television, Netflix Instant, and in Pete & Pete’s case, a few full-scale reunion stage events. Mulcahy appeared at two of these sold-out events, one of which with the debut performance of Polaris. The outstanding reception of and demand for Polaris’s reunion was not something that Mulcahy expected.

“I was really surprised by the first one, I have to say, because we had never played live and so we didn’t have any reference point of what it would be like. It was a surprise to find that so many people knew the songs because the show didn’t always play the whole song, it would play only a part of one or something,” Mulcahy said of the reunion. “That was kind of a strange eye-opening moment and I don’t know if I handled it too well. I was overwhelmed at the idea that all these people, you know there was like 2,000 people at that one, and that was like our first gig in a lot of ways. I was still comfortable though because I love playing with those guys, so that was the best part of it, I haven’t played with them in a long time.”

In the years since the days of Polaris and Miracle Legion, Mulcahy has worked on five excellent solo albums, all of which possess that timelessness quality that could lead a listener to believe that they could easily have been recorded twenty years ago or just the other day. The latest of these, Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You, features finely written lyrics which paint vivid pictures of hurt and ponderous hearts and vastly over-worked minds. The entire album is chockfull of well-selected ear candy while Mulcahy’s voice enjoyably weaves to-and-fro with ease. Luckily, the recording of this album was as pleasant as it is to hear, which any musician can tell you, is a rarity. “Well recording it was great. I was with people I really like and it happened in somewhat a planned or predicted way…we did like a song a day,” Mulcahy describes. “It was very positive. There wasn’t any set backs or anything…everybody was happy playing and I was happy doing something and so in terms of making it, it was much better…it really came together in a good way.”

Mulcahy’s ability to craft ingenious pop melodies under poetic lyrics that can be at times surreal and at other times true to life, stands out in every musical project that he’s ever been attached to. Perhaps this skill originated from being a long, self-professed fan of Queen, The Beatles and Pere Ubu, a band that Mulcahy and Miracle Legion have shared a friendship with throughout the years.

“I write when it seems like I’ve got something to write,” Mulcahy says. “Also, this might come as some slight version of advice, but I just don’t worry about it and then I see how it turns out. If you worry about it in advance, you’ll edit yourself into not doing anything.”

Mulcahy’s work is the kind of work that defies clunky genre titles, as the best music usually does. What is also undeniably certain is just how good of a songwriter Mulcahy really is. No matter if it was his first tracks in Miracle Legion or the material on his latest solo album, Mulcahy’s creations are always entertaining, intelligent and impressive.