'A little over a year ago, a friend of mine gave me a tape; people are always giving me tapes to work into movies," remembers Gil Holland, a film producer (Bobby G. Can't Swim) and regular participant in the Florida Film Festival. "She said, 'Mark Geary, you might like him, he's Irish.' That's all I knew."
"Anyway, six months later, we'd been listening to this tape three times a day. Everybody in the office."
Soon after, Geary would manifest himself in a New York performance at the Mercury Lounge, with Holland and company coming to pay their respects in person to the man who had so adeptly conquered their musical senses. As it turns out, Geary had been helping Holland conquer some other senses, as well.
"The guy who gets up on the stage is Mark ... my bartender ... from my local bar that I go to ... who's been serving me drinks for six months," says Bellow. "It was kind of like being in Venice. The first time you go to Venice, your brain doesn't compute that there [are] no cars there and that there's water in the streets. I couldn't believe that this guy was Mark Geary!"
Certainly the waterways of fate weren't the only factors leading up to Geary's eventual cementing of a record deal with Holland, who created the imprint SonaBlast (a division of his film company, CineBlast) solely for the production of Geary's debut. In fact, Geary's name was already something of a draw in Europe, where opening for such luminaries as Elvis Costello, Coldplay and the Pretenders, he'd earned the informal title of the "best person to open a show."
Six years ago, Geary grew tired of the harsh local climate of his native Dublin and its difficult working-class scene. He was tired enough to simply run away, purchasing a one-way ticket to New York with only $60 in his pocket.
"I had a brother here who had started the whole Sin-E cafe (famed for the Jeff Buckley EP bearing its name), so all of that stuff was going on," he recalls. "Sinead O'Connor was bussing tables, and this scene was happening in this tiny little coffee shop."
"I was basically falling through the cracks in Dublin," he says. "I came here really on a wing and a prayer. I sold my guitars just to get here. The idea of playing music wasn't even forefront in my mind. I just had to get away."
What Geary was getting away from was the sort of British subjugation that has both powered and drained the Irish music scene, famed for the belting indignation of such rebels as O'Connor and U2. For Geary, such overstatement wasn't an option.
"As a working-class guy, 'art' is short for 'Arthur,' so to speak," he says. "There were so many guys, just a bunch of poseurs with nothing in their guitar cases, walking around being these groovy, faux bohemian people. And I thought the whole thing was kind of fake."
Fortunately, Geary's music is anything but fake, channeling the miserablish ruminations of Nick Drake and the wandering words of Van Morrison and Richard Thompson. It's lonely, quiet music, dripping with the sort of poignancy usually reserved for a single light bulb swaying in a tiny room. "Culturally, I come from that sort of melancholy and the beauty of it," he says. "I'm really intrigued with the character who finds himself in a nightclub and is just completely out of place there."
Geary works on his outsider's musical canvas with the skill of an impressionist painter, speckling words into the deepest corners and stroking instruments across to pull it all together. It's all a bit revealing at times, but never too much so.
"All of my heroes, the Dylans and Van Morrisons, and that beauty that you're listening to late at night, are all kind of troubled and damaged," he says. "When I started writing, there was a kind of anxiousness on my part that was like, 'Wow, are you able to write stuff like this?' Things can get very overbearing. That's my Beatle schooling. I try to leave some of the sting in the bite. ...
"As weird as it sounds, I actually try to be as honest as I can. The rock & roll ethos is all about the lie, so I've always attempted to try and dismantle all of that."
Geary's debut, aptly titled 33 1/3 Grand Street (the address of the studio in which it was recorded -- and a nifty George Harrison tribute), is due in stores on Labor Day (Sept. 2), so for now it's still gigging and odd jobs.
"Here in sunny New York, you're only as good as your last pizza," he jokes.
But if the recent success stories of David Gray and Coldplay have any play in this story, then he shouldn't be pounding pavement and smoothing concrete too much longer. Geary's sound is right in line with the newfound appreciation for music that digs a little deeper.
"I attribute a lot of that stuff to the fact that in England and Ireland they've been dealing with bells and whistles of dance music for so long, the good and the bad," he says. Finally, "Somebody [said], 'Have you heard this one? This has a melody!'"
A recent revisit to his homeland revealed that the buzz was indeed building, as a steady following rushed to declare him a sort of prodigal son. Still, Geary's humble beginnings -- stretched over the better part of a decade -- remain the blueprint for his career success. Being the bridesmaid to some of music's biggest names has taught him well.
"The void opening up before you is so vast that you actually become giddy," he says. The seasoned pro will go in and do five upbeat fast songs -- bam, bam, bam. "But I'll just go out there and talk to the audience. People will be like, 'What's he doing taking the limelight?' And all of the sudden, you have an audience that you've just turned on in a second ... and you haven't even played yet."
Prepare to be turned on.
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