"I feel more comfortable making recordings than performing live," says Mike O'Neill. "There's an 'entertaining the crowd' component that makes me nervous. It doesn't feel natural for me." Could have fooled us. Hilarious banter, genius arrangements and talent are just plain entertaining.
O'Neill's lasting appeal with Halifax audiences hasn't been an accident either---a good song is a good song. His lyrics deal with interactions between people, difficulties, funny moments, hurt feelings, character assessments--- what's unique is that O'Neill stays away from love song tropes. There's nothing cliched about the content.
"I still struggle with what to write about. That's why Devon [Sproule] was such a tremendous help," says O'Neill, referencing his Austin-based collaborator on their co-album
Colours, due out in October. "I would start with a phrase that really seemed to work with the music but then get stuck. She would interview me about the meaning of those phrases and expand on it."
For this year's Halifax Urban Folk Fest, O'Neill, Charles Austin and Nathan Doucet are the all-star house band supporting the international touring artists, and when he's not being called in as a ringer, he's doing his day job, co-writing the third Trailer Park Boys movie.
"It might seem like two different jobs but it's all writing, working the same muscle and I love the work," he says. O'Neill's writing muscle is getting swole, man. O'Neill is touring Colours in October then working on a new solo record, Amphora, that he hopes to finish by Christmas.
This creativity and work ethic explains O'Neill's lasting appeal going on two decades, but he has another angle. "I think the '90s are coming back," says O'Neill. "And I know a lot of people in this city personally so I guilt them into coming to shows."
Mike O’Neill Band w/special guests
Tuesday, August 27 at 8pm, $15
The Carleton Bar & Grill, 1685 Argyle Street