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Mark Mulcahy Is The 'Moving Forward Type'

Mark Mulcahy, the songwriter behind the much-beloved "Hey Sandy," returns after eight years and a tragic loss.
R. Murray
Courtesy of the artist
Mark Mulcahy, the songwriter behind the much-beloved "Hey Sandy," returns after eight years and a tragic loss.

If you are of a certain age and lived on the weird television shows that Nickelodeon aired in the '90s, the theme song to The Adventures of Pete & Pete gets you smiling strange. Mark Mulcahy was told to "write a theme song for the show, but don't say anything about the show." Turns out the former Miracle Legion singer already had "Hey Sandy" in his back pocket, and thus the show's Polaris house band was born.

Mulcahy has had a creatively fruitful solo music career since, but in 2008, his wife died, leaving him with twin 3-year-old daughters. To meet the demands of single parenthood, he stopped recording and touring. A tribute album titled Ciao My Shining Star was released in 2009 to help raise money for him; it featured Michael Stipe, Thom Yorke, The National, Juliana Hatfield and many others singing Mulcahy's songs.

Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You is his first full-length album in eight years. It's full of smart wordplay and Mulcahy's unmistakable voice, but also driven by loss. Mulcahy recently brought his guitar and longtime collaborator Ken Maiuri to Fresh Air to share his story and music. He closes the show with "Auld Lang Syne," as he ruminates on why we remember old times and describes himself a "moving forward type."

Interview Highlights

On the tribute album and concerts that raised money after his wife's death

"There were three concerts people put on to raise money for me — which, that is a very humbling thing. I've never had anyone raise money for me. It's very strange and humbling. I didn't have anything to do with it. They give you the money at the end, and I didn't know how to react in any way, but that money was very important and very helpful to keep things going. There was a [tribute] record they made to my wife's name and to people covering my songs. There was some amount of fundraising going on. Somehow we made it."

On making his first album since 2008

"[W]hen I started taking care of my children by myself, I was so unqualified in the beginning, and it just took me so long, and it was just a steep curve to figure out how to do it that it took me a few years. It's still something I'm learning how to do. It took me so long to be able to make it all work. They're at an age where they're very functioning people now. I thought I could probably get away with [making an album]. It's been a struggle in some ways, because children take up a lot of your time, and there's only X hours in the day. But I've had some great help to get away with it.

"I feel like I'm getting away with something on some level to keep being able to play shows and do this. I've always thought you have to do your own thing. If you have children, you can't just be the parent the whole time. You have to be something else. Otherwise, you're not really bringing anything to do it; you're just this monolith of orders and rules. I'm a happier person to be doing what I'm doing."

On the song 'She Makes The World Turn Backwards'

"When I started writing that song, it was just after I had talked with a friend of mine who was getting divorced and was surprised by the divorce, and he was talking in that sort of desperate way. And I imagine his circumstance, maybe, I think because of how surprised he was. In fact, I spoke to him just before he was meeting his wife and found out, and he was so happy — and then three hours later, his whole life is different, over, in a lot of ways. So I thought, 'This is a backwards moment for this guy.' It's not necessarily completely about him, but that was the idea for the song."

On the title of his album, Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You

"It's a note I got from somebody. At the time when I got it, I just had it. I didn't think about how to use it, and I hung it on the wall. And when I was trying to think of a title for my record, I walked past it and I thought, 'That's sort of, uh, because of the way I made the record I have, and because of my life at that moment, I felt very lucky to have a lot of people that I know cared about me. And so I thought it summed up something about not only just the record, but just everything.'"

On writing 'Hey Sandy' for The Adventures of Pete & Pete

"[The writers of the show] were very specific. They wanted a type of song, this type, that type — it was a pretty big challenge to do it. They were good. The writers of that show knew what they wanted. They wanted me to write the theme song. It was: 'Write a theme song for the show, but don't say anything about the show.' So luckily I had a song that I thought would be good, but I recorded it some other time. And so I pretended I wrote that for them, and they loved it right off the bat. So it was lucky. It's one thing to write a sad song or a happy song or a funny song, but to write a song that's very specifically about a certain topic or a theme song, it seems like a big responsibility."

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