After enough time spent in any discipline, especially the arts, you’d be hard pressed to blame someone for being a little bit jaded. That cannot be said of the Jersey City-based musician and producer Michael Flannery who has channeled his experiences with exuberance into his debut release as Mr. Flannery & His Feelings, Try Your Hardest.
The album broaches a lifetime’s worth of journeys, lessons and narratives with an eclectic soundtrack that naturally combines elements of new wave, punk and other disparate genres into a cohesive aesthetic. In other words, this is an album for people who enjoy, you know, full albums.
In presenting Try Your Hardest, we thought it best to have Flannery break it down for us track by track. Stream the album while checking out his responses below.
Hymn of the Isolated Artist:
Hello, my name is Mr. Flannery and these are my feelings. I’m going to start by slowly creeping into this record with a very simple chord progression. A tentative reach through your speakers or headphones or memory that lets you know that I’m here. If you stay with the track you will feel it build to the climax of the entire record. The high point hits early and that’s exactly what happened to me in my musical career. This song could only have been written overnight during a snowstorm in my studio in downtown Bangor, Maine, while feeling disconnected like an astronaut or a diver or a containership mechanic. “Even if you try your hardest, god, it’s so hard to just leave your head.”
Dance of Love:
But hey, this is just rock and roll, right? It’s not that serious at all! So we’ll dance. Let’s do the Dance of Love! Originally this song was written by a character for a movie I wrote entitled July in Japan. His name is Jackie, and sadly he only exists in notebooks, but he loves glam rock and is a sensitive soul with a tough facade. Over the years, I’ve decided that I probably wrote the song, and that it’s really about loving who you want in whatever way you want. I guess I used a fictional character to hide behind but not anymore! These are MY feelings, damnit. “We’re the kind of people you think are crazed in our minds.”
Simplicity is sometimes too difficult for me to achieve. Enter Pushing Up, written by Jonathan Merrifield and Elizabeth Marcoux. Pushing Up means a lot of things to a lot of people. To me it means that we’re all trying in our own little ways every day. It means that there is no one right way to be a good person. In the music video, we try and frame the mundane everyday motions that people go through as dance moves. Repetitive motions like eating breakfast and waking up. If you view them on a longer timeline, it’s a dance that we’re all doing together. What does it mean to you? “I’m Pushing down with my feet, I’m pushing up with my hands.”
Embers of Dead Fires:
With track four, I bring it back down a notch. At a recent band practice, Tris McCall said that if he had to use one word to describe my record it would be “aspirational,” a double meaning not lost on me. In Maine, when winter comes around, everybody hunkers down. It means that they’re getting the firewood delivered and putting plastic on the windows—stuff like that. I was walking home from the studio one day in the fall and saw these thin strands of blue smoke drifting up to the sky. It was dusk, the quality of the light was amazing, and I started singing to myself about winter, and seasons changing, and death. Think of all the little lives you’ve lived. Think of the ways you regenerate and redefine yourself from one to the next. Eventually you don’t, and that’s OK. “The tilt of the earth declines to heed our sun soaked minds, when the season comes around hunker down.”
Full Grown and Ready:
But hey, this is a fun record!
Let’s break up all that noise with a sweet funk tune about settling down with the person you love. Sure folks have written lots of tunes about going out and trying to get laid, but at some point, for me at least, that gets old. That’s when you realize, “all those girls were just child’s play to me darlin’. I took the loving they gave to me, but it wasn’t sweeter than what we could be.”
In retrospect, I wish that I’d made more heavy tunes for this record. Katherine kills the lead vocals for this rocking tune we wrote for our deceased fighting fish. Yochimu was a good fish with a secret life as a criminal mastermind. “he’s got those microfiche messages for his underwater network!”
End Side A
Welcome to Bangor:
Great! You flipped the record. Thanks, I appreciate it.
Welcome to Bangor, what can I say? Written during yet another snow storm/overnight session at the studio in downtown Bangor. I guess there were a lot of those now that I think about it. . . . Charlie Bennett. Charlie Bennett and I would stay up late drinking cheap beer and listening to Hank Williams. I bought his wife a set of teeth. I miss them both and feel horrible for not staying in touch, but I digress. This song is full of true stories. Everything in it is true. Bangor, Maine, is one of the best cities in America. I will write a less creepy song about it. I will write a less creepy song about it. I will write a less creepy song about it. “And a few times a day sirens blare and drive away and where they go I’ll never know but I hope they get there, they get there, welcome to Bangor.”
But hey this is a . . . right, yes. One more dark one, The Aranui III.
Co-written with Katherine. We were thinking how cool it would be to get a cabin on a container ship and run away together. Then we realized that getting married and living in an apartment was exactly that, sans container ship. During our search, I found a picture of the Aranui III and thought that it was a funny thing to have three of them. What happened to the other two? What would be the fate of the third? Later this song came to be a lot more meaningful to me. Simply put, wherever you go, there you are. “Sought something new but I was wrong, and I fear I won’t see you again.”
This tune was written as a wedding present for my good friend Jeff, who, depending on the circumstance, will also go by El Jefe. His wife, Alix, sings back up on it. You know how sometimes you have a little factoid about someone floating in your head and then it unexpectedly shows up to stun you? Well, I knew that Jeff had a black belt in karate from when he was a kid. I think it came up once in college sometime (he could probably tell you exactly when, how, and why the subject came up . . . something to do with arm wrestling maybe?) Anyway, there I was at this amazing shindig at the Newark Museum, and the guy busts out a split in his tux. It was great.
“I mean holy crap man, I knew you were Batman but I never thought I’d see you do that!”
Basically this is a song about male-pattern baldness, or something. Written to cheer myself up during my commute home on the PATH train from my New York studio. Featuring Rob Elinson and Chris Conly.
“Now you might think genetically I got burned, but the lord’ll never take these sweet sideburns.”
No No Calypso:
Dating has its ups and downs, and the relationship in this song was the biggest ride at the park. I was pretty devastated to end it, but as soon as I knew it wasn’t going to work out, I walked. The lady in this song is truly amazing. But some things aren’t meant to be.
“All I ever wanted was to be by your side, but I got emotion sickness and I had to get off of that ride.”
This album travels. From Bangor to Tokyo, Baton Rouge, Micronesia, and San Francisco, but inevitably it has to end up in NJ, my home. In the part of NJ where I grew up, “the city” means New York (about a half hour south it means Philly). Once, as a sophomore in high school, my folks let me and a friend take the train in. We didn’t do anything. We pretty much just sat on a curb in the village feeling cool. It’s always been a presence in my life, and I always thought that being good at New York was something to aspire to. After having a studio on 29th street for the last 6 years, I can honestly say that I am good at New York. Now I need to get good at not being in New York, and I think there’s a long road ahead.
“Crazy iridescent testator to youth”