Ultimately recorded at Fruit Trade Music Studios on the waterfront in the Northern English city of Kingston Upon Hull, Nothing Left is an album long in the making in terms of its contributing songs – written in a number of countries spread over three continents.
“The album in many ways documents the journey – in every sense of the word, my life has taken me on in recent years, I guess,” says singer songwriter, Michael Phelan.
‘None of it was really planned – it just turned out that way and I was pretty powerless to stop it. Just like the songs themselves. They happened like that too. I’ve learned you just have to let it roll and not force things too much. Definitely in life, but when it comes to making music, for sure. All my songs just arrive from nowhere, but they are always a product of what I’ve lived and seen. I only know that afterwards of course.”
That career has seen Englishman Phelan live in several countries across the globe, including Bermuda, Germany and most recently, two separate periods in Australia – a country “he loved” for many reasons.
“The original plan was to record the album in Melbourne, but there was a last minute change of plan and I landed back on the other side of the world in Yorkshire, UK. I met up with producer and multi-instrumentalist, Mikey Scott, and decided to record the whole album at Fruit Trade studios. I played the guitars and sang the songs. Although the album was co-produced by myself and Mikey, in terms of all the technical stuff and additional musicianship, he pretty much did the rest. He was an inspiration to work with.”
The album is clearly multi-textured in terms of its musical flavours and styles, but Phelan insists that it essentially distills down to just him and his guitar.
“Sure, people always look for influences and most are keen to categorise you in some shape or form, but I don’t really believe in all that. I go where the song takes me. It’s all about the song, and the best songs always tell a story. It’s just a personal thing – perhaps nothing more than the way I work, but I don’t ever sit down to write, say, a ballad or a rock and roll song. The song itself, and the story it tells, sets the tone for the music and the way it turns out.
“When I write a song it starts out as just me and my guitar. Most times when I play live then it’s just the same. Going into the studio is such a mini-universe because there’s so much we can do in terms of putting a production on the song. But essentially if a song is a good song, it can most times be played on just an acoustic guitar with no detriment. Just think of your favourite songs and you’ll know what I mean. It’s a tune; it’s a melody; it’s words stamped on your brain. It’s also something you don’t tire of quickly. The best songs are pretty timeless, in all truth.
“I like to keep it simple and build from that. But never for the sake of it. A beautiful girl doesn’t need much make up. It’s the same with a song. Easy on the eye; easy on the ear. But of course that has to be for the individual to decide.”
Born and raised on the North East coast of England, and well travelled as he clearly is, many listeners have remarked upon a discernible Americana feel to, and US influence across the album as a whole, and on a number of individual tracks in particular.
“Well I guess that has much to do with a lot of the guys I’ve listened to and learned from, as well as some of the time I’ve spent travelling in the States. I don’t think you can go to places like Nashville and New York City without them having some sort of effect on your music. And you carry that with you to other places you move on to.”
So does Phelan have another album up his sleeve?
“Oh, the next three albums – at least – are already planned. I would be back in the studio tomorrow if I could,” he says with a flashing grin.
And will the USA be a return destination?
“For sure. I’ve seen a fair bit of the States, but not nearly enough. There’s a whole lot more living to be done, songs to be written and music to be played. It’s difficult to put into words, but America is the spiritual home of a lot of what I do. I’m drawn there and I’ll be back.”