Before settling into singing with a rumbling voice like a far-off train and before dedicating hours to the recording studio and crooning into microphones across the country, hometown hero Ian Flanigan would write songs on the fly, alternating lines with his mother, as they drove each day.
Flanigan’s rambling string-picking — ebbing then swelling to a frisson in the listener’s chest — is something like the loping roads of West Saugerties. Presumably, this presence is a far cry from Flanigan’s fledgling songs, composed at 11 years old and stored on an SD card somewhere. Now retired, Flanigan’s mother continues their tradition accompanying him on tour to Connecticut and will soon join her son on the Midwest portion of his 2019 tour following the Sept. 6 release of his newest EP, Give Me Color. The project is a collaboration with three-time Grammy winning engineer and producer Justin Guip.
Before the album’s release party that day at The Falcon Underground in Marlboro, Flanigan will perform at the Bethel Woods’ 50th Anniversary of Woodstock celebration on Aug. 18. Flanigan was named Hope Rocks’ Artist of the Year, is a celebrated Kerrville Grassy Hill Folk Festival Finalist, Emerging Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Artist, and selected songwriter of Dripping Springs Songwriter Festival.
“Musically he was one of the most, if not the most, talented little students I had and then grew into a man that was unbelievable,” said Chuck Misasi, Flanigan’s childhood guitar instructor, to whom Flanigan said he “owe[s] [his] right hand.” “He wore a guitar out, that’s how much practice he had … I would show him something, he would come back totally prepared and then some. Whatever I showed him, he kept developing in, to the point that I was in amazement. I never saw anything like it. As far as a person, he was the greatest little kid growing up, and he developed into a really good human being and a nice man. No one put the effort that he put in. I was amazed by him.”
On the songs on Give Me Color, Flanigan attempts to strike a universal emotional chord. Flanigan said while the lyrics on his previous albums were gnawing at him to be written, those on this album were composed more deliberately — simultaneously for the women that bring wholeness to his life and for the everyman.
“There’s a way of trying to say something that you hope somebody likes it, and there’s a way of writing something that you like,” said Flanigan. “If you write a song that can both be for yourself and someone else, you keep those songs. It has to be true, but to connect to more than you.”
The woman depicted in “Picture You” — “backyard dancing,” black dress-clad, messy-haired and high-heeled, is, Flanigan said, meant to evoke our own wives, girlfriends and partners that we have waited for, or are still waiting for, for “all of [our] lives.”
For Flanigan, that woman is his girlfriend and business partner Ayla Rector; also serenaded on the album are Flanigan’s stepdaughter Kamea and mother, Cathy.
“We were actually going to try to make a video compilation of a ton of home video footage from fan’s weddings, family gatherings, first dates, etcetera for the music video, but we didn’t get enough submissions,” said Rector of the track. “[But] each song is a reminder of a moment of our time spent together. ‘Picture You’ is very special because it’s all the good, totally pure love.”
The Saugerties Times sat down with Flanigan recently to talk music and life.
Saugerties Times: Who influences your music?
Ian Flanigan: I’ve been asked this before and I feel that I’ve always answered it wrong. I’ve always taken it as “which artist entirely inspired you.” I’ve realized that it’s really more techniques … rather than genres. Lyrically and melodically, I was inspired a lot by Ben Harper, he’s a big influence. Guitar-wise I’ll say it like this. Vocally, it’s a thing that’s so personal; it’s more a thumbprint than a collage. But guitar-wise, I was really kicked off by Justin King — is the first one, a local guy Joey Eppard — he really inspired me when I was a kid, Jack Johnson and Nick Drake for the picking patterns. The whole Eppard family, I worked with Jimmy Eppard — Jimmy has taught me so many amazing things. I wish I could see him more. I got to play with him and the Paul Luke Band for many years. … Honestly, the Paul Luke Band got me in front of a lot of audiences and I still love playing with them today. Those guys have always been great friends and have taught me a lot.
Tell me about the process of putting this album together.
I wrote like 15 songs for the album and I selected these five — there’s another [album] that’s going to come out. Some were a little more worldly and political, and then half were very much more love songs, more person to a connection with another person. Then I kind of decided [that] I just wanted to make something a little lighthearted. [The whole process] was probably a year, and you’re seeing about half of what’s there. I worked with a guy named Justin Guip, who is an amazing engineer — he’s a three-time Grammy winner with Levon Helm and Hot Tuna and he’s just an amazing musician. I met him and totally clicked right away. He’s a rhythm guy, a drummer, in the pocket, and I’m more of a melodic guy. Together, we really just made a great team.
Do you remember who gave you your first guitar?
Well, I guess my parents gave me my first guitar when I was like nine, it was an Art and Lutherie. I got that when I was a kid, nine or 10, but I was always about lyrics even when I was a kid. I only got really into the guitar to back up the lyrics I had in my head.
Which local venues are your favorites to play?
I really want to play shows where I can connect with people there. One show like that is better than ten where people didn’t expect music that night. I’d rather have a mutual understanding that we’re listening to music … I used to play Main Street [Restaurant] almost every other weekend, I must have played there a hundred times. Hope Rocks is my favorite, that’s the festival that everyone should get to and support. There are no festivals around addiction or depression in the country, it’s one of the only ones and its right here. And the Garlic Festival. I should say that’s my favorite. This will be my fourth year, I think. I can’t believe that.
You mentioned “The In-Between” is your favorite song on “Give Me Color.” Could you tell me what it’s about?
I was watching my stepdaughter one day, I’m not her biological father, and I wanted to write a song that would relate to her one day — [to tell her] how family is a choice, not necessarily by blood. I’m an only child and I’ve gotten to choose my family as my friends in life. I wanted to write a simple song to show her that just because we’re not blood, there’s no difference in families. I just like how it came together. I like them all, but that one is probably the most personal.
Why have you chosen to stay here in Saugerties?
I like the land, I like the fact that I can drive 10 minutes and I’m out in the middle of nowhere and I don’t know, it’s just home. That’s it. I’ve tried to move a lot, and every time … it’s a really great town. I don’t want to offend other neighboring towns. I really like Phoenicia, I drive through Bearsville on Route 20 a lot. There are a lot of good writing roads here. I take a right at Lebear in Woodstock and I drive up to Phoenicia and I take a right on 214 and go to Tannersville and come back down to Palenville. That’s my loop, that’s probably where I’ve written most of my music.
So, now you’ve made it, do you have any advice for burgeoning musicians?
The advice that I heard when I was young is to write undeniably good music, and no matter what your genre is, if you stay authentic to yourself, one day it will work for you. You just have to keep pushing and failing and keep pushing and failing and pushing and failing … Also, get a job that takes your body not your mind. I always chose a job that took my body and not my mind, because I could write music on the job. If you want to make the best music you can make in your lifetime, you have to write as much music as you possibly can. If you have a job where you have to interact with people and use your brain, that can take a lot of mental energy.
The schedule for Flanigan’s tour, with venues spanning from Maine to Texas, is available at www.ianflaniganmusic.com. Give Me Color will be available on Spotify, and anywhere music is sold.
Hope Rocks this weekend
Ian Flanigan will be one of many performers at the Hope Rocks Festival, set for Saturday and Sunday at Cantine Field. For more information, visit www.hoperocksny.com.