Spirit Houses’ Mikey Ireland discusses New York bars, his new EP ‘Two Passing Ships,’ and how writing this EP was different from writing with Pass Away or I Am The Avalanche.
“Two passing ships sail through the night, the bars are now my Northern Lights,” Mikey Ireland sings on “Death Was a Naked Sword,” one of the standout tracks from Spirit Houses’ most recent Two Passing Ships EP. An emotional gut punch of an EP full of heartache, drunken nights, and unsure futures, it seemed fitting that we got to speak to Ireland in the back of the Bushwick bar Ireland owns. As Ireland states, Bushwick and the bars we sings about on Two Passing Ships are just as much characters in the songs as himself and the people he sings about.
The Spirit Houses songwriter told us about the new EP, New York bars, and how writing this EP was different from writing with Pass Away or I Am The Avalanche.
Listen: Two Passing Ships – Spirit Houses
A CONVERSATION WITH SPIRIT HOUSES
Atwood Magazine: I want to ask you about the title of the album, Two Passing Ships. That was a thing that really resonated with me. Could you explain it a little more?
Mikey Ireland: Yeah. This is my first crack at a concept album. I’ve never tried it before. I had a really bad year. I was with someone for a few years, and we loved each other very much and it ended and it was really, really excruciating. The whole process of packing our house up, moving out and then living separately, but I had this vision of two ships in the night going right past each other in the dark out at sea. And that’s how I saw her and I. It was kind of like we just missed the mark and it was like reaching for something in the dark and missing.
So I saw her and I just went like this [gestures hands passing]. Yeah. Two Passing Ships. That’s how I saw the whole thing in my mind.
One of the things that I felt a lot when listening to the record, it is a sad album. Like you said, you had a bad year. But do you feel like the record is hopeful in any sense because I feel like I heard a lot of hope in it.
Mikey Ireland: There’s some underlying hope there, yeah. You have to really dig deep for it, but it’s there. It’s mostly despair and just coping. A lot of it is just coping and the way we deal with loss, the way I dealt with loss in both healthy and unhealthy ways, mostly unhealthy. But, yes, there’s hope in there. No matter how hard I get hit with thing in my life, I just get up and I keep trying even if I get knocked down, I keep trying. You can hear that in there, yeah.
Did you feel like it was cathartic-
Mikey Ireland: Absolutely.
-to record and write then?
Mikey Ireland: That’s the only word I think for it, yeah.
A lot of this record takes place in bars and around this neighborhood. Can you tell me a little bit about the setting?
Mikey Ireland: New York has always been a character in my music, a main character. In this particular record, Bushwick is the main character, which is where I’ve lived for many, many, many years.
How long have you been in Bushwick?
Mikey Ireland: 15 years. I took a couple detours, but I always come back. I lived in the city for a little while early on, in the early 2000’s, but I came right back. Yeah, a lot of the theme in the record is here. The setting is what I mean, the setting is here. That’s where her and I lived. I got another apartment on the other side of Bushwick after that ended. Yeah.
It takes place a lot in bars. Was any of it in here particularly? Not here, here, but-
Mikey Ireland: I didn’t mention this bar by name.
Right. I was listening on the way over. What was the one you mentioned?
Mikey Ireland: Old Stanley’s.
Mikey Ireland: Old Stanley’s was my local bar. I still love the place. I just, for certain reasons, I can’t really go there too much anymore. Not because of anything I did, but it’s more of a respect thing for her. But in that song that I mention it, that night I met friends there and it just lasted, the night lasted longer than I thought, which happens there a lot. Old Stanley’s is a vortex. It’s very cozy and it’s hard to leave.
Yeah, I've had bars like that.
Mikey Ireland: I’ve gotten in some fucking trouble from it, but I love the place, and the owner’s a really good friend of mine, Brian, and he got really stoked that I put that in there. Even if it was in a negative kind of way.
I feel like when people hear those things on records, they still like to know where it is. The two songs that I felt packed the biggest punch were the one, two of “Sweetheart, I'm Jealous” and “Death was a Naked Sword.” Can you talk about each of those songs a little bit more?
Mikey Ireland: Sure. “Sweetheart, I’m Jealous” I think is all ego. That song is about when the inevitability of the person that you were with finding someone else. It’s just life that happens. But when you hear about it from someone else and you see pictures of it online or anything, it just makes you feel crazy. It sucks. It sucks for her too and it sucks for everybody that has to go through that, but it’s just a fact of life.
But you can’t escape the jealousy of someone you’re with for so long is now with someone else. And that, even if it’s not really true, you just think … you’re like, “Oh my God, oh my God. Who are they with?” Then it makes you feel nuts and it’s really hard to focus your energy on other things. That song is just kind of about not sleeping because that’s all you can think about and sweating and just being a fucking crazy person because you still love that person and care about them, even if it’s not right.
I think it’s just after a long relationship ends, I think it’s really normal and natural to feel jealous when they’re hanging out with someone else. It’s just true feelings and it doesn’t get talked about. People don’t like to admit that.
Yeah, no one does. It’s a very real thing to see it, even if you feel like you've moved on. You get brought back just because you were together for so long.
Mikey Ireland: Yeah. I’m fascinated by human relationships, how one person can just fuck you up so badly or make your life great. I feel like if there’s an in between, it’s not worth it. Obviously I don’t want to be fucked up by anyone, but I just feel like, I don’t know. One person can just dictate everything, your whole day. Yeah, that song is pretty much just about not being able to let go of someone.
And “Death was a Naked Sword.”
Mikey Ireland: Yeah. Going back to “Sweetheart,” that was the title of the record. That was my original title, “Sweetheart, I’m Jealous.” But I changed it because I didn’t want to give too much away.
“Death was a Naked Sword” started at Old Stanley’s. “One drink with friends turned into 10.” That kind of happened too much. I accept responsibility for that, but that’s just been my life here in New York for the whole time I’ve been here. Getting home to someone who was not happy to see you is horrible. Getting home to someone who is disappointed with you for just living your life how you’ve always lived it, is also pretty terrible. Being ignored, having their phone be more important than you is the theme of that song. Just trying to make someone interested in you is fucked up.
And it's difficult to try to want to change those and not necessarily know how to.
Mikey Ireland: Yeah. Changing yourself for someone is kind of necessary in a way where you have to adjust certain things about yourself to make it work. Not too much though because then you’ll lose yourself and you won’t know who you even are anymore. But yeah, that’s about the beginning of the end. That’s what that song’s about. How it all just started to crumble.
Yeah. There were more fun songs on the album, “Perfect Irish Stout.” It has a little bit more bounce to it. “We All Die Alone,” even though it's a dire subject matter, it still has the punk rock energy. What were some of your inspirations in songs like that?
Mikey Ireland: “Perfect Irish Stout” was the Hank Williams influenced song, even though it doesn’t sound like Hank Williams, but it’s really short. His songs were all very short, but it’s just about how a lot of my friends were starting to have kids and most of my friends are getting married now. Just watching all this happen while I’m still living the way I’m living, spending late nights out. I’m a bar owner, so I’m out pretty late a lot. It’s kind of about not regretting the life I’ve chose, but wondering what would have happened if I went a different way.
I mentioned two bars in that song too: Horseshoe Bar-a lot of us call it 7B, one of my favorite bars in the world. And Blue and Gold. But yeah, there’s been many a day at Horseshoe Bar I’m just drinking a Guinness asking myself what in the fuck I’m doing with my life. Yeah. Very Hank Williams kind of inspired as well, which I mention in the song.
And The Pogues and NOFX.
Mikey Ireland: Yeah. They’re my absolute favorites, yeah.
The last thing I wanted to ask you about was, I listened a little bit to Pass Away and I know I Am The Avalanche. What was it like to transition from more hard and fast punk music to acoustic singer/songwriter type stuff?
Mikey Ireland: I haven’t written… I hadn’t before I wrote these songs, I hadn’t written a Spirit House song in like three years. I had a very … I felt like I was being edited when I would try to write songs by someone else. With Pass Away, I can hide things. I can sing about myself in a very derogatory way. Not derogatory. What’s the word?
Mikey Ireland: Self-deprecating, there you go. Pass Away is a very self-deprecating band. I wrote a shit load of those songs just, those come really easily to me.
I have my guys there and we can just crank songs out, like two a practice or something. Avalanche, I sit with Vinnie Caruana and we write together, or I bring it right to the band. With Spirit Houses, it’s just naked. It’s just it is what it is, and it’s all true, and I can’t hide anything under big distortion. It’s just very basic truth.
It's interesting that you said self-deprecating for the Pass Away songs because I also felt the Spirit Houses songs were also self-deprecating. Do you feel like the fact that it's acoustic kind of magnifies that?
Mikey Ireland: I do. And it’s just me. There’s no one else there. So it’s very, I’m vulnerable and it’s scary. It’s really scary, especially when I play live.
Have you thought about bringing a full band out with you?
Mikey Ireland: Yeah, I have. It’s not there yet. So I’m going to do a couple more tours just acoustic and then I’m going to bring a band. Definitely. But yeah. It’s pretty scary. With Avalanche and Pass Away, I have safety in numbers and I like having my guys with me. With this, it’s just here’s my truth.
And you lay it all out.
Mikey Ireland: Either you can stand here and watch it, or go make fun of me at the bar.
Yeah. Do you have plans for a proper full length?
Mikey Ireland: I’m writing one now. Two Passing Ships comes out on vinyl really soon. But yeah, I’m writing a full length right now and I plan to record that in late Spring.
Do you have anything else you want to tell your fans, our readers?
Mikey Ireland: Yeah. I just want to say that even though … I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me and just ask if I’m okay. I am.
Mikey Ireland: I let my life get better. This tells a story of a really fucked up year and everyone has bad years. Everyone has bad days, consecutive bad years in a row. But this just happened to be my truth and what happened to me. And I dug myself out of it. It took me a while, but I did dig myself out of it. My friends helped so much. I just think that go to your friends if you’re feeling so low where you don’t want to keep going. Because I’ve had that feeling so many times where I just don’t want to live anymore.
I’m not saying that making this record saved my life by any means, but it definitely helped. It helped to just tell myself this truth and other people this truth. Life can get better and I keep saying it. If you just let it happen.
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📸 © Shervin Lainez