Mick Lynch is an Irish singer-songwriter from Dublin. He is a founding member, along with Kevin May, of the Irish band Storyman, previously called The Guggenheim Grotto, both of which enjoyed critical acclaim in the US and Ireland. He’s also a friend and a regular at performing arts events in the Hudson Valley, where we both live. Mick can always be counted on to engage you with a story and put you at ease.
Brent: Hi, Mick! Thanks for talking with me. When you write a new song, do you start with the melody or the lyrics?
Mick: I have always started with the melody and chords. In fact, I usually sit with a fully written song of melody and chords for up to two years!
Brent: Well, no one can accuse you of rushing into things! How do the lyrics take shape?
Mick: The lyrics for me have to very much match the vibe I was going for with the musical mood, and these can take a while to come, to really find a good match. It is rare that lyrics come quickly for me.
Brent: The fact that your material marinates for so long in your head probably means you have no trouble memorizing it
Mick: Memorizing my own songs has never been a problem because I have sat with them for so long, and it's muscle memory.
Brent: What about songs by others?
Mick: I struggle with cover songs, especially ones that I didn't grow up with. I actually do a couple of pub gigs as a sideline and have a big black book of all the cover song lyrics. Between not playing them that often and perhaps a beer or two while playing, it is important that I have them there to glance at. I will say that having the book has made me mentally lazy when it comes to memorizing. I should get off that crutch. Unfortunately for me, if I don't approach new cover songs with the initial intent to memorize, then it will be lost.
Brent: There must be some songs that stand out more than others and are easier to remember.
Mick: Muscle memory does come into play, especially if I have forgotten the book. I have sometimes muddled through by literally going on instinct with phonetics. In fact, when I listen to songs, I never listen to lyrics. The phonetics for me are part of the music, and I'll only pay attention to them after a third listen or so.
Brent: I’ve heard poets say this, that what drives memorization is the way the words feel in their mouth—the rhythm, the alliteration, the rhyme, and the meter. Your beautiful voice and unmistakable Irish accent make listeners as keenly aware of the sounds as of the meaning of the words.
Mick: My wife loves my voice but laughs at my inability sometimes to remember lyrics of cover songs. She calls me the "Cadillac with no gas."
Brent: That’s a charming way to phrase it! Tell me, what’s the most difficult experience you’ve ever had memorizing a song?
Mick: As regards a particular song, the hardest song I ever had to do was as part of a theater production where I had to open and close the play with an a cappella version of a song by The Low Anthem called “Charlie Darwin.” It’s only two verses and a chorus:
Set the sails I feel the winds are stirring
Toward the bright horizon, set the way.
Cast your reckless dreams upon our Mayflower
A haven from the world and her decay.
And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
Fighting for a system built to fail,
Spooning water from their broken vessels
As far as I can see there is no land.
Oh my God, the water's all around us,
Oh my God, it's all around.
Brent: It seems to have a logical flow, pun intended.
Mick: For some reason it just was not intuitive to me. There are a lot of water/sea/sailing references that got jumbled together in my brain. Alliteration is minimal also, which can help phonetically.
Brent: So what did you do?
Mick: I ended up taking the first letter of each line, STCH for the first verse, and remembering the word STITCH.
Brent: Ah, an acrostic!
Mick: The second verse was harder, the "who" being an “h” sound followed by the "heed." I remembered HFSA. I can't even remember how I remembered that one! I really don't know why this was so unintuitive for me.
Brent: It made sense to you. We can often remember our own nonsense since we created it.
Mick: I can remember it all now from muscle memory.
Brent: What advice do you have for songwriters to make their songs memorable?
Mick: Oh man, if I knew that, I'd keep it to myself.
Brent: We’re all friends here! What works for you personally?
Mick: I am always drawn to alliteration. I use it a lot in lyrics like "it's time we talked" and “money made you miss so much." It certainly helps with flow.
Brent: OK, here’s my favorite question to wrap up. What do you wish I had asked you?
Mick: To name all the elements!
Brent: You mean, the whole periodic table?
Mick: I recently learned them by atomic number using a timeline story method with definite images for each element.
Brent: The memory palace technique! Fantastic! Do you have a favorite association for any element in particular?
Mick: Molybdenum was my favorite. I pictured an ex-Liverpool footballer called Jan Molby (I switched the "by" around) standing in the center circle, wearing cut off denim shorts. If you see Jan Molby, you will understand why this is memorable.
Brent: We’ll let our readers look for him online. And while they’re at it, they should visit your official website to hear your debut solo album—Aliens, Ghosts & Lovers—and find out where you’re performing next.
Mick: Thanks, Brent! I’ve enjoyed our chat.
Brent: Same here. You are a natural-born storyteller. See you around town.