When Mark Mulcahy decided not to play any more gigs until he released a new album, he didn't expect it would take him eight years to make one.
The former singer for the underrated but influential Eighties band Miracle Legion returns on June 18th with Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You, his fifth solo album and first release since In Pursuit of Your Happiness in 2005. The new album marks a reemergence of sorts for the singer, who had been working on new material when he put his career on hold to care for his two young daughters following the unexpected death of his wife in 2008. (Friends and admirers such as Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, the Pixies' Frank Black, Dinosaur Jr. and the National contributed to a 2009 fundraiser tribute album for him, Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy.)
Now, along with the new album, the Springfield, Massachusetts, resident is venturing back onstage. He played a quick string of dates in England last December and is lining up shows this spring and summer, including a spot at Wilco's Solid Sound Festival in western Massachusetts in June.
"Getting back to all these things I've done for my whole life, it makes me feel happy," Mulcahy tells Rolling Stone over coffee in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he recorded Dear Mark J. Mulcahy.
It's not the album that Mulcahy began working on after In Pursuit of Your Happiness, but the singer decided he needed a fresh start. "I thought, I want to put out a record that's more like what I'm thinking about now or what I'm doing now, or who I am now, or something along those lines," he says. He wrote the 11 songs on Dear Mark J. Mulcahy over the past year, and set out to record one a day with a rotating cast of friends and collaborators in the western Massachusetts music scene.
"I don't think I've ever actually written a record to be a record," says Mulcahy, who released five LPs and a handful of EPs and singles with Miracle Legion before recording "Hey Sandy" as Polaris. It became the theme song to the Nickelodeon series The Adventures of Pete and Pete and started his solo career. (He's also written the music to five operas with librettist Ben Katchor.)
"Usually I just have songs that I've written at different times," Mulcahy says. "This was all written just for this. They go together in some way. People always use the term 'song cycle,' which I don't know what that means – it sounds a little funky. But it's something like that."
One of those songs, "She Makes the World Turn Backwards," premieres today exclusively on RollingStone.com. Mulcahy says the tune is a good introduction to what he wanted to do on the new album.
"I remember writing it after speaking to a friend of mine, and him telling me about his life," he says, laughing. "Usually, I write songs kind of about me, or me inserting myself into somebody else's life. Most of these are not that. I wanted to write outside of myself. I felt like if I write my own thoughts, they'll be grim, so I was happy to just imagine things."