It didn't make sense to be away from home for long, explains Mulcahy of the break; since the most recent record (which draws its title from a note someone gave him) came out last summer, he's been navigating the balance between touring and his home life with kids who, he says, are still too young to really understand much about what he does.
"I hadn't played in such a long time, when I first started again I almost couldn't believe I was doing it. But it's felt really nice," he says of touring so far. "I don't know how I would do with a month-long thing, but so far it's just great and really surprising that [the record] has done as well as it has. When I was in Miracle Legion, we always did pretty well, and I kind of assumed I would do that well on my own...I didn't really put it together until later that it wasn't a built-in success story. This album, I'm playing shows that are crowded, and it's just a pleasant surprise to be feeling like I'm back to a point where I was before." He's done short stints in Ireland and England, and opened for fellow Bay Staters the Pixies on their tour warm-up in Northampton, MA.
As for the record, which Pitchfork (among others) has called his best solo work yet, the distinct moods of the tracks are at least in part the result of Mulcahy's studio process: He recorded each song in entirety on its own day, then thought carefully about order and narrative. "I definitely don't think of anything I write as one song, and I'm not really a big fan of 'shuffle,'" he says. "I guess I come from the old school of sequencing." He's old-school in other ways, he will admit; he doesn't pay too much attention to what's currently on the radio. Lou Reed and the '90s Connecticut indie band Butterflies of Love are first on his tongue when asked what he's been listening to as of late. He's no snob, though: "I go easy on guys like him," is his comment on Bruno Mars. "Pop music...I mean, you take Miley Cyrus. I really thought she was terrible for a long time, I just didn't get it. And then I really listened to 'Wrecking Ball,' and that's a great song! I'm not gonna hate her just because I'm supposed to."
And if people still wind up knee-deep in his catalogue because of his most mainstream, cable-televised work, as I did — well, that's OK too.
"Polaris was a really unexpected twist in my musical career, but it was just a band that existed in your TV," he says. "We never really played any gigs, which was probably a mistake. To the point where, when we did the Pete & Pete reunion in LA and played with a full band, it was surprising to realize, 'Wow, we could play shows!' And it's funny, I haven't really found anywhere that wants to book us since then, but we definitely want to do it. I absolutely still enjoy playing those songs."
Hear that, Bay Area bookers? You could make a lot of '80s babies very, very happy.