'I did my crazy years as a teen' - singer William McCarthy on overcoming loss of mother and brother to mental illness
Former Augustines frontman talks going solo, US V Europe, and overcoming personal tragedy
William McCarthy is an American troubadour in the tradition of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. The difference, of course, is that where those artists have sold millions of records and now live in very big houses, McCarthy has never quite broken out of the cult underground –a factor in the break-up last year of his band Augustines.
But as he embarks on the solo career that was probably always his destiny, McCarthy may well conclude there are worse things in life than not having a stack of platinum records on your wall. As a young man he suffered the loss of both his mother and his brother, who each took their own lives after struggling with substance abuse and mental illness.
Yet rather than wallow in pain and recrimination, for him music has always been about celebration. When you’ve stared into the abyss, you appreciate every sunrise. Ahead of his first post-Augustines date in Dublin, McCarthy talked about life, love, death – and keeping the show on the road no matter what.
Does it feel strange touring without Augustines?
Not at all – they are with me in so many ways.
Your Patreon crowdsourcing campaign is a little different in that you aren’t just making music – there will be a podcast, writing and art. What prompted you to do something more holistic rather the traditional route of simply funding for an album?
I saw through hands-on experience that there are lots of different ways to make your way these days. Labels can be a great fit or not. Bands can also expect too much of them. It all depends on the situation.
You’ve lived in California, New York and now Berlin. Has your time in Europe changed your perspectives, artistically or politically?
I’ve been living on and off, or visiting annually Europe the last two decades. I came here when I was quite young. It opened my eyes to a more complete world view of which I'm so very lucky to have.
It has been reported financial constraints led to the break-up of Augustines. Does it say something about where music is at today that groups are increasingly splitting up for practical reasons rather than for the traditional “artistic differences”?
Yes, if we don't figure something out we will see bands last two records tops. I've learned musicians must diversify and try new things: writing, visual art, film. There's only so much the music business can give anymore.
You are a frequent visitor to Ireland – and of Irish-American heritage. How do you find audiences here?
I naturally adore them. Probably my favourite place to play in the world. I have a deep respect for Ireland and the way music is channeled in Irish culture. I find it pure and a thing to behold.
What has attracted you to podcasting as a medium?
Simply put, expression. It's a free-wheeling adventure every time. I'm challenged by it and I absolutely love it.
You have had some personal tragedy in your life. Do you ever worry about self-destructive impulses – or is that a facet of your life you have made peace with?
Meh… lost my mother and brother to drugs and mental illness. I did all my crazy years as a teen, now I just love my motorbike treks, my fans, my guitar and I'm trying to have an "attitude of gratitude”. I've survived quite a lot and I want to be an artist the rest of my days.
As an American living in Europe, what do you miss most about the United States?
Customer service. It's ingrained in us in America to pamper customers because it builds a client base than in turn feeds our families. It's very odd to have horrific table service in Berlin. I could not look myself in the mirror knowing people were unhappy in my establishment. Americans are the hardest working lazy people I've ever seen. It’s just our culture. Not well traveled, not the most refined people – but we break our backs at our jobs.
You seem to enjoy the footloose life of a touring musician – is it all positive or do you ever grow fed up of the airports, soundchecks, interviews etc etc?
It's tough. I haven't had a stable base in seven years. That will likely change this year. It's an honour to be in my position, so I try as hard as I can to push myself to experience all I can from the world and learn.
Why the "Music for the People" tour?
Because without them I'm playing in my living room!
William McCarthy brings his Music For The People tour to Workman’s Club Dublin Saturday and Loam Galway Sunday.