INTERVIEW - Mundy chats to Leinster Leader ahead of Saturday’s Athy Arts Centre gig

Mundy is looking to spread his wings. The Birr singer-songwriter, who plays in the Athy Arts Centre this Saturday, is just back from a St Patrick’s Day trip to Austria and the Czech Republic, spreading the gospel of Irish folk rock along a path well trodden by the likes of Frames frontman Glen Hansard. A trip to the States later this year is also on the horizon.

Mundy is looking to spread his wings. The Birr singer-songwriter, who plays in the Athy Arts Centre this Saturday, is just back from a St Patrick’s Day trip to Austria and the Czech Republic, spreading the gospel of Irish folk rock along a path well trodden by the likes of Frames frontman Glen Hansard. A trip to the States later this year is also on the horizon.

The Birr singer-songwriter shot to fame in his early 20s when his song ‘To You I Bestow’ featured on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’. That number, plus his roof-raising version of Steve Earle’s ‘Galway Girl’ are signature tunes that have crowd recognition even on the continent. And it’s not all ex-pat Paddies who are filling the seats, either, with locals showing a keen interest in the Offaly man’s work.

“All my gigs were pretty much full which is kind of strange,” he said. “For me at this point, it’s all about trying to find places that will embrace what I am doing for the future, because I have done so much in Ireland I really have to kind of spread my wings further. When one person turns up at a gig in a strange land, it’s a bonus, so for me it’s always a nice surprise to fill a house in a different country.”

2011 was a busy year for Mundy. He performed alongside Emmylou Harris in Dublin and supported Imelda May on her Irish tour. One of the highlights was undoubtedly “opening” for US “resident Barack Obama. He played to 20,000 people as part of the celebration of Irish arts which took place on College Green ahead of the President’s keynote speech to the Irish people.

“That was amazing and kind of cool. There was a great energy about the place. All of us who played or read, we all got to shake hands with him afterwards and got a picture. That’s something nice to have as you get older.”

Mundy also played a couple of tunes recently to President Michael D Higgins in Aras an Uachtarain, an event which he describes as just as special. His admiration of the new president is evident, as is his respect for Michael D’s work with the art in this country.

“He spoke very highly of the arts and how important they are, and how people can say this aand that, but only artists can say it in a truly radical and free way.” The visit developed into a session, and Mundy sang ‘July’ and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ at the Aras - “another good thing to be able to say I’ve done”.

Last year also saw the release of ‘Shuffle’, which was an album of covers by Mundy’s favourite American songwriters, including Lucinda Williams, Gram Parsons and Neil Young.

It was, of course, a cover which provided his greatest hit of the last few years. Steve Earle paid tribute to Mundy’s version of ‘Galway Girl when he said:’ “People probably won’t even remember who the f**k I was, but they’re going to be singing that song in Ireland for a long time... And that’s the only kind of immortality anybody can hope for.”

‘Shuffle’ emerged when the songwriter decided to cover some of his favourite songs as B-sides for releases from his previous album, Strawberry Blood. “And they started coming out quite well and it was a nice decision to make a project out of it. I didn’t pick any obvious songs, so it’s a little education and gives punters an idea of what turns me on.”

Mundy is currently writing a new album, which will see him reunite with Youth, who produced his 1996 debut ‘Jelly Legs’. Every release these days needs a cracker of a song to finance the rest of the album, so he’s looking to create another ‘July’ or ‘Mexico’ or ‘to You I Bestow’. These days, one viral hit on YouTube can make a release skyrocket on the iTunes charts - a far cry from the early days where a record company bankrolled a release and MTV was the holy grail of promotion.

“It’s kind of funny, it’s a different game altogether,” he says. “I have the guts of the album written, so now it’s down to finance, and another couple of songs wouldn’t go astray.”

- Laura Coates

Mundy plays the Athy Arts Centre on Sunday, March 31. Tickets at E15 are available at The Gem Newsagent, The Heritage Centre, Athy, or from the box office on 087 2761156. Show: 8pm.