Music history is full of great collaborators. Gilbert and Sullivan, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lennon and McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, Hall and Oates, Milli and Vanilli. Okay, so I threw that last one in to see if you were paying attention, but while there are plenty of great solo songwriters out there, when you get two gifted artists that write well together, magical things can happen. For a decade or so, even Charleston had it’s own dynamic duo in Michael Flynn and Josh Kaler, better known as Slow Runner. From 2003 to 2013 Slow Runner released five albums of quirky yet catchy music, with most of the songs dealing with the subject of love and/or the lack of it. Flynn’s voice, full of longing, combined with his electronic keyboard melodies and Kaler’s musical talent to create music that was as unique as it was beautiful.
When Kaler announced last year that he was moving to Nashville, it meant that Slow Runner would be forced to take a hiatus. After one last Slow Runner show at the Charleston Music Hall, Flynn was left to his own devices. The results of that alone time have manifested themselves in a new solo effort, Face In The Cloud, which becomes available this week.
If you were a fan of the music of Slow Runner, then hearing the music on Face In The Cloud will not be too radical a departure from the music you’ve come to expect from Flynn. Still, there are some hints throughout the album that Flynn has decided to put his personal stamp on this collection of music. Whether or not that’s intentional isn’t necessarily important, but the familiar electronic musical tapestries and Flynn’s hushed, almost shy vocal style fill songs such as “Old Soul” (sample lyrics: “You’re a songbird/you’re a bad word/you’re an old soul”) and the dream-like “Pop Culture” (“You give me love, love, love/I give you pop culture”). The production here feels more lush in many places, although the DIY feeling from previous Flynn projects comes through on several tracks, such as the cleverly titled “Winsome Lonesome,” which sounds like the soundtrack to some non-existent low-budget 80’s triumph of the spirit popcorn flick. My personal favorite song on the new album, “Bird In The House,” sounds like a bit like Flynn teamed up with 80s pop-synth group Yaz, and the bouncy saxophone breaks between verses inject a little fun into the mix. “The Arrow At Your Feet” is another catchy winner, which sounds as if it could be about romantic longing, but given that Flynn has a two-year-old daughter, the lyrics “I knew the moment that we met, this can only end in heartbreak” possibly take on a meaning that only a parent would understand. The curiously titled “That Danny Glover Feeling” closes out the album, with Flynn singing “I can guess how it ends.” Again, fans of Slow Runner are not going to have a problem adapting to Flynn as a solo artist, but there are definite differences on this album. The main thing that remains intact is Flynn’s ability to tug at our heartstrings with music that is as unique as it is beautiful.
Flynn was nice enough to talk to us about what went into making the new album.
Charleston Grit: What new challenges did you encounter while recording the new album as a solo artist, as opposed to collaborating with Kaler?
Michael Flynn: “First it was daunting, then it was kind of lonely because I was missing Josh and our process. Then as I wrote more songs and the album started coming together it was exciting and liberating. It was harder than any record I've worked on before, mainly because I've been spoiled by the Slow Runner experience and working with somebody who's so invaluable at so many stages of record-making.”
CG: Now that you’re married and a father, have your songwriting inspirations changed, and if so, how?
MF: “My main struggle with writing this record was not wanting to write about the thing I was spending all my time doing. I didn't want to write about parenthood but I kind of had to, only I found it palatable once I made it vague enough for it not to be obvious that that's what I was writing about, and once I got used to writing songs again other random surprises came out.”
CG: What is your favorite track on the new record
MF: “No fair! How about some senior superlatives. Most congenial: 'Bird in the House'. Best Dressed: 'Winsome Lonesome'. Most Likely To End Up In Prison:'Holy Ghost'. Class Clown: 'Lens Flare'.”
CG: What inspired the album’s title?
MF: “It's a phrase I've been rolling around in my mind for a year or so. Sometimes I like to name things because I'm trying to make myself feel a certain way. For instance, the name of the folder on my hard drive where I work on music is called 'The Edge of the World' because I want it to feel adventurous when I go there. 'Face in the Cloud' helps me pretend I'm inscrutable and unknown, which is the most alluring thing about starting over as a solo artist. I have no discography or established rules. I'm the mysterious stranger across the room (see, it works!).”
CG: Do you and Hearts & Plugs, the local label you recently signed to, have any specific plans for marketing the album? Will you tour? Are you submitting music to be used on TV and in films?
MF: “No tour to announce right now, but we did film some live performances that we'll be posting online and we're playing a release show August 15 at the Music Hall. Hopefully some film and TV stuff will happen too.”
CG: Are there any moments on the new album where you felt as if you were working or creating in a place way outside your normal comfort area?
MF: “In a way doing a solo album means never having to leave your comfort area. There was lots of challenging myself to make not-lazy choices and push some things farther than I might have in SR, but mostly I just did what I wanted. That part was easy.”