Interview: Michael McDermott

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photo credit: Sandro

Michael McDermott’s story is a familiar one. With a career spanning 25 years, he’s been on top of the world, and he’s hit rock bottom. Now, he’s come out swinging with Willow Springs, his latest album, which recently landed in the #1 spot on the EuroAmericana Chart.

“I have been trying to figure out what makes this time different,” he ponders. “I think maybe it comes down to authenticity. I went out of my way not to worry about backlash, or comparisons. In the past, I would have side-stepped something that came naturally to me because I didn’t want to be compared to another artist. I just didn’t care what anyone would say about it, and it’s taken a long time truly mean that. I think that kind of honesty resonates with people.”

It’s the kind of musical honesty he learned as a kid, sneaking into Chicago bars and coffeehouses to experience and become a part of the local folk scene. “I would go to these places, I was such a fool—I would sit there wearing sunglasses and reading Allen Ginsberg. The old folkies were like ‘Who is this kid?’,” he laughs. “We eventually became friends, it was very educational for me. One of the old folkies taught me how to read Kerouac, I didn’t even know there was a certain way to read it. That’s what my song ‘Folk Singer’ is about,” he adds. “Folk singers are way weirder than rock singers. I mean, I was a live fast die young kind of rocker, and of all the things I experienced, I never saw anyone crazier than folk singers.”

The young McDermott found himself with a record deal on a major label, and his wildest dreams seemed to be coming true. “Everything was great for about 16 months, and then it was over. I was literally washed up at 22,” he recalls. “It was a different time; the best thing about the music industry now is also the worst thing. These days, my six year old daughter could make a record in her room, it’s amazing, but it’s also the worst thing in the world. There used to be gatekeepers, a lot of talent was overlooked I’m sure, but it was like quality control. I was the next big thing, and then I wasn’t. I had every shot—MTV, Rolling Stone, everything—it just didn’t connect on a level that was satisfactory to the label.”

McDermott, who had been heralded as the new Springsteen, who inspired a movie character, and whose lyrics had been quoted in Stephen King novels, went from label to label, lost his way, and eventually fell into a life of addiction and crime. “I became a self-entitled, angry, drug-addled drunk. I burned it all down,” he admits. “It took a long time to recover.” With two years of sobriety under his belt, he’s undergone quite a transformation, personally and in his career. “Things seem to be going in the right direction these days,” says McDermott. “I certainly know a lot more about the wrong direction than I do the right one, but it feels different this time.”

He’s also enjoying his life and his success, and trying not to let his daughter’s music influence him. “On my record, there’s a song for her, “Willie Rain”–she knew about it. I played it for her in the car; I looked in the rearview mirror and saw her looking out the window. ‘Maybe she’s contemplating the miracle of life and the wonder of it all,’ I thought. When the song ended, I asked her what she thought, and she said ‘Can we listen to One Direction now?’,” he says with a laugh. “I thought we were sharing a moment, but she was really just enduring it. She even asked me to hang a Justin Bieber poster in her room the other day. She said, ‘Isn’t he handsome?’ and then it hits me that I’m a dad now. What the hell happened?”

With a tour in the States planned for the fall and one set for Europe this winter, it definitely seems that his future is sunny, and getting brighter every day. “It’s been amazing for people to respond to this new record the way that they have,” says McDermott. “Most people don’t get one shot, and the fact that I’m getting a second one is incredible.”

Purchase Willow Springshttp://www.michael-mcdermott.com/music

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Susan Hubbard

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