Halloran, like so many others, bristling with potential – and hampered by ego and false expectation
“ I’ve been in the music industry, dropped out, and now I’ve come back in on my own terms,” says Michael Halloran, when asked to sum up where he’s been, and where he is now. Over the last fifteen years Halloran has been on his own occasionally roller-coaster journey through the music industry and songwriting caper. Now older, wiser and with a bucket-load of carefully crafted tunes, Halloran is back in the fold, leading his own band, MJ Halloran And The Sinners. With a new album, Songs For The Man , produced by former Beasts Of Bourbon bassist Brian Hooper, and a constructive and pragmatic attitude to his place in the music scene, Halloran is sitting happily in his own creative space.
His initial taste of the music industry came in the mid 1990s. At the time Halloran and his band mates were, like so many other bands, bristling with potential – and hampered by ego and false expectation. “I’ve been hanging around the periphery for many years,” Halloran offers. “I played in a band in the mid-‘90s that had a modicum of success – the band was called Jack. I toured a lot with that band, we had national radio play and the band basically imploded on tour when we were in Brisbane.”
While Halloran says he’d been “writing lyrics since he was 13,” he decided to take a break from performing and study the process and art of writing. “I went away to learn how to write – words rather than lyrics,” he explains. Halloran did some writing for the Laneways Commission through the City Of Melbourne. “I was still writing – but the whole industry-band thing pissed me off – at that point in time,” he nods.
About three years ago, a friend of Halloran’s encouraged him to return to performing. Critical to his return to the band scene was the realisation that successful bands did not need to be democratic creatures. “I got away from that idea that a band needs to be a democracy,” Halloran points out. “That was a psychological jump for me.
“Now I write all the material, develop all the material, so over the last two or three years I’ve developed some strong relationships with people like Brian Hooper. He’s put me in contact with a few people, like Mick Harvey, people who’ve helped me out.”
Taking the time to study the art of writing words was a significant factor in Halloran’s eventual return to the music scene. “It allowed me to understand syntax better, it allowed me to understand poetry better. I’ve read a lot more than I’ve read previously,” he admits. “I can’t say with any precision exactly what it taught me, but the way I wrote up until then was just words and music.
“Now the music is within the words. I can write lyrically, if you know what I mean. The words are now multi-layered, even within one sentence.”
In putting together his songs, Halloran works both from personal experience. “The first song on the record, Monastic Love, is my own personal experience,” he explains. “The second style of lyric is more statements – it’s more generalised.” Is writing a form of therapy? Halloran pauses briefly before replying. “Not consciously,” he answers. “I know sometimes that I need to sit down with a piano or a guitar and write a song.
“Sometimes if I’ve a shitful day, or a fight with someone, then I’ll go and sit down with a guitar and play, and lyrics will come out of that. There’s an element of purging your ideas, and an element of therapy as well.”
As for the religious overtones of his band name, Halloran concedes a reaction to his Catholic upbringing, but differentiates between religion and spirituality. “There’s a big difference there,” he figures. “I don’t have a problem with spirituality – I have a problem with religion and its organisation.”
Having split the recording of the album between Melbourne and New York, where he spent a few months earlier this year, Halloran has now cobbled together bands in both cities.
A series of serendipitous events led Halloran to secure the services of former Gun Club drummer Dee Pop, mixer Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, Raconteurs, The Clash) and engineer Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth). Halloran now plans to head back to the United States, and to Europe where he’s been over the previous weeks, on an annual basis.
“I just want to play music, and to travel and play my music,” Halloran says simply. “And I reckon that’s a good enough plan,” he laughs.
MJ HALLORAN & THE SINNERS launch their album Songs For The Man (which was produced by Brian Hooper) at The Grace Darling Hotel this Friday October 1. They’ll be joined by guests in the Brian Hooper Band, Jules Sheldon and more. MJ HALLORAN will also be at The Old Bar with Hugo Race on October 9. Songs For The Man is out now.