The Doctor Is In: Seán Millar on songwriting, Paolo Nutini, life and messing it all up
“It’s a national treasure. There you go, I said it!” Stevo said when he saw a photo of the good doctor, Seán Millar, standing next to yours truly, and he’s right too. Seán has been on the road since the famous Cute Hoors first sat in the back of a pickup truck in the late 80s and has more recently been rightly lauded for his theatrical collaborations and highly commendable community band work. as a songwriter, however, that Millar will be remembered after we buried his body or threw him overboard. He proves his worth again with a brand new album, To spoil everythingso we thought of asking him to choose a few songs from his work and tell us what they mean to him.
Unsurprisingly, we start with ‘These Days’ from his first solo album, 1995 The bitter liea song that Paolo Nutini – a man who also knows how to handle a middle eight – was recently selected for Hot Press as the one who changed his life.
“It means a lot to me personally,” says Seán, over a lunchtime pint at The International. “Nutini came across as a really good guy in the few things I saw and the fact that he found something in my work that spoke to him about his own experiences is really moving. To read that one expression of my life could stretch through all this time, to a different place and to a different life experience, was deeply moving.
“I’m very lucky, in some ways. Since I started in my early twenties I’ve had a lot of praise – not a lot of money, but a lot of praise – so I take it with a grain of salt, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not happy with this one. It’s what you live and work for; that people hear what you do and relate to it in some way, so it was touching and lovely.
With lyrics like “so much pain inside, the actions of a man I barely recognize”, it seems to be recording a time in Seán’s life – those twenties – that he doesn’t remember. with great affection.
“Back then it was like that, but now it’s different, it’s a little rosy,” he said, rubbing his chin. ” It’s a mix. I made friends who are still friends now, and the London post-punk scene was endless fun and excitement. I signed a publishing deal with Complete Music and had a nice apartment in Shepherd’s Bush. Things had been pretty good for about three years, and then they just crashed through the ground.
Three years of expectations that have not materialized.
“That’s literally what happened. I was going to meetings with all these labels, and they were coming to my shows, but that’s called show business, not show friends, although even after they left me, they still came to my gigs.
I like it, but I can’t sell it.
“I used to keep rejection letters and two-thirds of them were like, ‘I personally like this music a lot, but…’ The thing is, you can just be an artist. You don’t need their support or their money or their acclaim. You don’t need them telling you what you can and can’t do. You can just make records and play gigs, and that’s what I did.
All you need is love
Always at homewith its beautiful title track, was released in 2002 and is, as Seán himself says, “the one they always want to hear at concerts”.
“It’s about staying awake,” he explains. “I’ve had insomnia for most of my life – I’m sleeping now, which is great – and I used to stay awake with crippling anxiety. My mother has a very positive view of the world: “It is better to travel in hope than to arrive”. When my daughter was born, she slept with Pom [the wife] and me. I would be lying awake like I always was, but those two would be asleep next to me and it wasn’t so bad anymore. I felt surrounded by their love and protected by it, and that’s basically what the song is about.
Love fixes everything.
“I really believe that. That’s what I believe about love and what I believe about music. I think music is the big thing, the healing thing. Music is more important than We don’t think so, and we think that’s damn important. Music is always an expression of love, even when it expresses hate, even when it expresses anger. It’s an expression of love. love and healing, and that’s how I felt, completely loved and accepted, maybe for the first time in my life, when I met Pom and we had the kids. my mother’s point of view, and that’s what the song is about. I was always thinking ‘why can’t I ever go home?’, ‘why can’t I ever belong?’. that’s what a lot of my business is about, being alienated, but “Always Coming Home” is about accepting that desire to want to be home.
Home is where the heart is?
“Home is where the heart is.”
The third stage
If Seán was perhaps a little too hard on himself in “These Days”, then “Look What She Threw Away”, the wonderful song with Donal Lunny’s bouzouki which opens To spoil everything, may signal some self-reconciliation. The lyrics wonder why we were all so worried when we were young, when we should have celebrated how amazing and beautiful we all were.
“That’s what it’s all about,” confirms the writer, then points an accusing finger at the interviewer. “You were beautiful, I saw pictures of you!”
Seán obviously meant “are” instead of “were” in this sentence, but he seems to be suffering from a temporary bout of fumes, brought on by proximity. He pulls himself together and continues.
“I’ve worked with loads of beautiful men and women – dancers, actors, singers – and maybe two of them thought that to themselves. We are all so critical and hard on ourselves about our decline. I wanted a song that embraces everyone and just says ‘you’re amazing!’ It is also advising young people to make it their own, to live their life. I would say that young people, since about the mid-seventies, are made to feel morally bad about all the things that are great about being young; look good, get out of your head, have sex, dance. A new kind of Puritanism came along, replaced the old one, and it became terrible for people to do that.
“Enjoy your life now. I thought I was going to die earlier this year [a health scare Seán doesn’t wish to harp on about because he’s old school]. I didn’t, I’m still here, so I’m going to tour and release a new album. Enjoy it now, because when you’re dead, you can’t.
To spoil everything is Millar’s lockdown album and he’s rightly delighted with it.
“I had to keep taking breaks because of the confinement and my illness, but what I tried to do was make a raw and really folk record. Producer Les Keye brought in Donal Lunny Planxty and The Velvet Underground are my two favorite bands, so having Donal was amazing, and we had Bill ‘Banjo’ Whelan and Liam Ó Maonlaí Even though I came out of the post-punk era, I’m a folk musician and I wanted to embrace who I am I’m this guy heading into phase three I’ve been playing music and writing songs since I was fourteen I’ve played all over the world with all kinds of people; that’s who I am. If I play in your bar in front of five people, I’m still that guy. I love him. Seriously, I love my life.