There are times when an artist comes out with an album that makes me really sit up and take notice. Such is the case with a singer-songwriter-rocker named Michael McDermott and his latest album, “What In The World …” (on his own Pauper Sky Records). The powerful lyrics ring true and the accompanying music moves you in other ways, as well. His name was vaguely familiar and I discovered that Maine’s own Stephen King had quoted some of McDermott’s lyrics in his “Insomnia” novel. The author then returned the favor by writing the liner notes on McDermott’s self-titled 1996 album calling him “one of the best songwriters in the world and possibly the greatest undiscovered rock ‘n’ roll talent of the last 20 years” (to read the rest of the notes go to michael-mcdermott.com/home). Couple that glowing praise with what I heard on his brand new 2020 release, and I just had to chat with him. To top it all off, he’s been live-streaming concerts, as well. Perfect! On April 17th, he called me and we talked for 30 minutes about a lot of topics, but mostly about “What In The World …” and the potent punch it packs.

Q: Where are you calling from?
McDermott: I’m just outside of Chicago, about 20 miles, so very close. But, I’d say it’s about 20 miles and 20 years back in time. It’s kind of remote.

Q: I must confess that your new album had a huge emotional impact on me. And that album’s cover art, wow. As an art teacher of 26 years, that painting is a visualization of what’s happening on the album.
McDermott: I’m glad you said that, because for singer-songwriters there’s a tendency to put your face on the cover. I didn’t want to do that for this one. I had a friend of mine who I grew up with who is a painter. I saw that, and I thought, “That’s like perfect!” So I asked him, “What would you take to let me have this?” He said, “Aw, dude, I’d be happy for you to use it!”

Q: Well, it’s as powerful visually as your songs are sonically… It harkens back to the works of Phil Ochs and Harry Chapin — two of the finest lyricists of all time. And in my opinion, you just joined that storytellers’ club, for sure.
McDermott: That’s a huge compliment, thank you. So, you know I have a friend (in Maine) — are you up in Bangor?

Q: Nope, I live in Sweden, Maine, right next to the town where your friend spends his summers. I make apple cider doughnuts at the orchard that he and his wife own — I’ve been doing that for the past eight seasons.
McDermott: So you make apple cider doughnuts? That would be amazing. I’ve never been up there. He had asked me to come up once and I didn’t, and I regret that now. But, I’ve never been in that part of the country … there’s never been shows for me up there.

Q: Well, with the live streaming you’ve been doing online gives the folks up this way a chance to see and hear you.
McDermott: Oh yeah, streaming is something I’ve done since 2014, and I’d do it a couple of times a year when I wasn’t on the road touring. But now it’s been like a life-preserver — a God-send, really — to be able to do it.

Q: Now, who’s streaming the shows?
McDermott: A company called Stageit. We know these people. They were just about out of business, and then the coronavirus happened. Now they’re being saved by this thing, really, because everybody needs an outlet — because everybody’s shows were canceled. I mean, I was supposed to go to Europe. I have friends in Italy so I knew how things were going there. That’s money I need to live. I’m one of those people that live on the threshold; if you don’t work for three weeks how are you going to pay the mortgage? But then Stageit came along, and I’ve been doing a show a week there. I try to change it up. We’re doing a voting thing this week; next week it’s going to be voting on doing an album in its entirety; I’ve thought about doing a covers show. It’s like doing a TV show; it’s tough coming up with new material. How long can I sustain that?

Q: Is there anything that you’d like to talk about? It is your forum, after all.
McDermott: Just maybe a shout-out to Stephen King. he’s the hardest working guy ever — he’s an inspiration, certainly, on that level, just his dedication to the art.

Q: Is there anything, Michael, that you’d like me to pass on to the readers of this article?
McDermott: Not really; it was nice talking with you, Lucky, but there is nothing specific I’d want to say. Nothing really comes to mind. I want to say thanks for taking an interest in me; I appreciate it.

 

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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