World Traveling Musician, Michael Francis McCarthy, finds home base in Kingston

We are about to open the vault and discover another hidden gem in upstate New York’s musical treasures, featuring the once unknown talent Michael Francis McCarthy. Diving into his early years and fast-forwarding into the life of this 37-year-old, grassroots, hard-working single parent. Life has challenged him in every way possible and has tested his survival skills. His time is now as his number has been pulled.  Exploring the hardships of this self-made independent artist. Michael Francis McCarthy is ready to let the world hear his brand of Americana blues, crafted with his own version of soul, and love of extreme metal.

Born in Bogota, Colombia, and raised in La Paz, Bolivia until the age of 3. During these early years, McCarthy’s parents listened to a lot of Cuban folk music like Silvio Rodriguez, as well as Bolivian folklore legends Louis Rico and Savia Andina.  This music had a great impact on him and still shines through in his writing today.  His father listened to a lot of early Led Zeppelin, classic era Grateful Dead, along with 80s standbys like Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits.  While he was in elementary school he became intrigued with Nirvana, The Offspring, Soundgarden, and all the other bands of that generation. This discovery fascinated  Michael as MTV became an early influence. He goes on to tell us “Seeing “Enter Sandman“ on MTV turned me into a metalhead for life. Then Megadeth, Slayer, White Zombie pulled me in and I couldn’t get enough of that crunch, metal was my primary focus through early adolescence”.  When he was 14 years old his uncle and aunt gave me a copy of Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon“ At first he didn’t understand, it just sounded too slow and spaced out to him.

Around this same time, his father turned him on to the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty.  “A buddy of mine gave me my first hit of weed, and suddenly I understood. I spent many blissful gloomy hours in the woods of rural New Hampshire in the winter diving deep into Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”. The isolation of the woods definitely impacted his mindset. “I am derived from New York City stock but I learned rural Yankee values growing up. I always view my world peering out from among the trees. I now live on a 215-acre farm. I sing while I work and formulate song ideas while laboring. To me, music and landscape are one and the same and I live a true American roots life,” McCarthy says with pride.

He started playing out live with his first metal band from 2006 to 2009. They never made any money. “We were founded in Florida and then relocated to Boston area. At the best of times, people smashed into each other to the beat of our music and we loved it“.  His travels did not end there as he took a job in Guatemala teaching music in the more unsavory parts of town around 2010. “It was there I began my solo acoustic performance career, playing out 4 nights a week to pay my rent. While I was in Central America my best friend and bandmate drummer Seth Roberts was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and he died in 2012. I stepped back from the metal world and dove deeper into acoustic American roots music“. Upon returning to the states, he regrouped and, as he often had throughout life, went to Florida to lean into the robust live music scene it offers. So it was around a decade ago, 2012, that McCarthy began his career as a solo performer in earnest.

Micheal lays out the timeline of his first recordings. “In 2012 I recorded a collection of songs titled “Careful In The Street, Kids”. It was a rookie effort, as I was still figuring out my sound. In 2014 I released my first proper solo album, “From The Shadow Of A Mountain“. This was an exciting moment when he first hit my stride. The songs balanced the acoustic roots sound with elements of darker and harder music, with psychedelic edges and a blues foundation. This was the album that properly put him on the right path. “I recorded it in my hometown, and it was engineered by Ben Rogers at Loud Sun Studio”.

Two years later in 2016, McCarthy released “Migrant“, which he recorded in four studios – three in Florida and also again at Loud Sun in New Hampshire.  “The fact of having recorded in multiple studios resulted in a somewhat schizophrenic sound, but it showcased more depth in my abilities and influences, and featured covers by John Coltrane, Junior Kimbrough, and Woody Guthrie. I toured heavily on this album, performing roughly 125 shows per year for the next three years. My daughter was born nine months after the release (no pun intended), so I focused on big money and becoming a dad for the next four years,” Michael explains the rough roads he traveled to get here.

In January 2021 he released his third proper studio album, “Only The Strong Will Survive”, The tracks “Send it to collections” and “Better than your phone“ currently can be heard on Capital Underground Podcast on Nippertown.  “This album saw me return to my metal roots with several heavy songs featured alongside my standard acoustic roots sound. The title of the album was derived from an interaction I had with the owner of a towing company. While traveling to Lake Placid in 2019 I was in a car accident in which I wrecked my van. My vehicle was totaled and brought to a towing and recovery yard in Latham. I was obviously upset and sat on my amplifier waiting for a friend to pick me up and drive me back to the Hudson Valley, and the owner of the company asked me if I was okay. I told him that I was not, and asked him for a smoke. I offered him a copy of my last CD, which he accepted. Before driving away, he threw an entire pack of Marlboro Lights to me and as it hit me in the chest he said, “Hey kid – only the strong will survive”. McCarthy states the setbacks and triumphs of life on the road of a struggling independent musician.

When he was a younger man he had a job which he hated at the time working in sales for a student travel company. McCarthy adds  “Basically I made cold calls all day long and I was trained to do internet research to generate business leads, which I tracked on an excel spreadsheet. I would call up a business and ask them if they had the service I was selling and then pursue the relevant contact and gather information. I couldn’t stand the job but it was teaching me a crucial skill that later served me in my booking efforts“. Over the last five years, he has built a document containing roughly 1,000 venues, several hundred of which are here in the Northeast, especially in Upstate New York. “Basically I figured out who has live music and then I use an email template and make some changes to personalize it and then reach out to a bunch of businesses to offer them my services. I am gradually raising my rates and drawing in my radius. Initially, I would play almost anywhere I could get booked in a new market, but at this point, I’m mainly working for repeat bookings with preferred clients who pay the rate I demand”.  McCarthy still does all his own booking.  “I’m starting to get word-of-mouth business and people coming to me out of the blue, but most of how I eat is pure hustle. To be honest, I have mostly eschewed online promotional work, existing on word of mouth, surviving in a monastic way on cash guarantees and tips. Most people who discover me do so in person by wandering into venues and hearing me incidentally for the first time.”

In several months McCarthy will begin wandering through the Appalachian region of the South networking with new music and farm labor contacts. “Grapes of Wrath way – wandering into new towns with my guitar on my back. Emailing and social media are great, but there is nothing quite like fresh blood in the real physical world and I like to capitalize on new guy energy. I have spent time in the swamp country of the southeast but not in the mountainous region of the South. 2022 is the year I expand my online promotional efforts. I have worked over the last several years to build my online following and I’m in pursuit of opportunities in the folk festival circuit” says McCarthy. He will be seeking support by crowdfunding his new album through Indiegogo and more info, music and updates can be found through his web links below.

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