Michael P Cullen – interview
Australian story teller/ musician/ spoken word artist has just introduced his new single, along with his band the Soul Searchers, entitled Black Dog. The song tells the tale of a bedroom debauchery, and was recorded in front of a live audience at the Lazybones Lounge. It comes off his forthcoming EP, Live at Lazybones.
Michael’s stories of romance and regret are displayed in such a unique fashion that I can’t even label the genre. He has been compared to Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Nick Cave, although he is completely distinctive and individual. If I had to make up a musical category for him I would have to call it, amorously idealistic.
I spoke to Michael all the way from Australia, about his musical journey, his new release, his inspirations and the Kangaroos lurking about the countryside.
Louder Than War: Black Dog, what exactly and specifically is that about? Is the story based on a true experience?
All of my stories have some element of truth, but they are not intended to be documentary. They speak the truth that other people can understand. They are not meant to be linear narratives that you can’t necessarily say this happened to me at 4 AM in the morning on this day. I couldn’t really write anything that was not of me. That’s just how I work. I’m not a getting in the shoes of someone else’s song writing. If you see what I mean.
So in Black Dog, what exactly happened there, you know I have to ask ?
What happened there … Look, I don’t know how much of my work you’ve been exposed to but, they are all little slices of what happens in life to grown-ups.
In other words it’s none of my business … ok I get it…
Not at all, I’m actually flattered that you’re making it your business. In a sense the songs got to be a song. It tells the story it tells. I have to tell you once they are done, I don’t attach specific life events to the song. I can’t analyze them. So once they become their own thing, they have their own life.
What inspires you to write a song?
I think it’s work that has to be put down. It’s exciting, in fact it’s the most exciting thing of the whole process, creating something out of nothing. So you’re sitting in a room with a guitar, and this thing doesn’t exist. Then it takes on a life of its own.
What is your favorite thing about performing live?
I don’t have any favorite things about performing live. I find it pretty nerve racking actually.
But you recorded your album live?
The EP yeah.
Well were you nervous?
When we were doing it live at Lazybones, yeah. Very nervous. Of course there’s a point where you are sort of in the moment and you’re not nervous, once you’re in the moment. But I know a lot of people feel that way. It’s quite different than the feeling that you get when you are creating something out of nothing, there’s no fear there. But I can’t complain, it’s all part of the thing you have to do. It’s a great feeling at times.
In ten years where would you hope to be with your music?
I’d like more people to know what I sing, I guess. I’m going to do it anyway, I don’t really have a choice. The more people that know about it, the more sustainable it is, and the easier it is for me to do it. It becomes a virtual circle. So since I have to do it anyway, because I have to do the thing that I do, it would be great to be able to have an audience that’s larger than the audience I have. I don’t have targets, I know some people do, they are very driven that way. The main thing is that the body of recorded work that I leave behind me is good music, is something of quality.
Growing up, who musically inspired you?
All kinds of pop music. I don’t know how much press you have read, but I get compared to certain voice legends, which is very flattering right? Cave, Cohen, and of course those guys are incredible inspirations. Particularly Nick Cave, because he’s Australian and because he such an incredible artistic figure. Growing up though all of my influences were the same as everyone heard on the radio. Everything from The Beatles to a lot of early punk, new wave… I liked the Psychedelic Furs when I was a kid. I like bands that do great singles. The Beatles are the best example of that. I’m pretty Catholic in my taste. There isn’t much that I won’t try. A good song is a good song.
If I asked you what genre your music is, what would your response be?
That’s a really difficult question. I should be asking you that.
I can’t really put my finger on that.
So what would you say?
I might have to make one up.
It’s a struggle because for me, they’re all these micro categories. There are thousands of them and I don’t see one that exactly fits. You could call it cabaret. I like the word romantic, if romance wasn’t such a degrading words. All of my music is all about romance.
Romance is a great word.
It is a good word but it’s been cheapened over the years. But, romance is really what my music is about, and chasing that illusion. Also the disappointment when things don’t quite turn out the way you had hoped or expected.
How long have you been playing music?
All of my grown-up life, in one way or another. I played in some little punk bands when I was younger, and then I kind of disappeared for a while. I had to feed my family and things like that. I’ve been doing what I do now for about 15 years. It takes a long time starting from scratch, to grow your audience. I’m feeling that I’m on the right track. Playing in punk bands is fine but what I do now is true to me.
Will you be touring in support of the album?
Yes, but probably not in support of Live At Lazybones. There are discussions going on now, and we expect that we would tour to support the next album which will be out in 2018. There will probably be a focus on Europe because that’s where my audiences are, and maybe East Coast and West Coast of the US.
It’s a long trip.
It is when you live on the other end of the world, and you’ve got five guys, it’s not a trivial undertaking.
Well, if I could go anywhere I’d go to Australia so I could see a kangaroo.
Well there are plenty of them up the road from where I live. They are pretty common in certain parts of the country. But Australia is an interesting kind of hybrid society. It’s a kind of a western European society. It’s just in the middle of an obscure place.
If you could say anything to your fans or fans-to-be, what would you say?
Stay with me, I think it’s going to be a good journey.
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.