Don McCloskey is an eclectic singer-songwriter and performing artist who infuses the traditional folk idiom with elements of psychedelic rock, electronica, hip-hop, and 80s pop.
His idiosyncratic writing style and independently produced albums have appeared in the Oscar Award-winning film, Bowling for Columbine, FX’s television series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Apple TV’s Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, commercials and have garnered 1 million+ streams on Spotify alone
Don McCloskey has a new record out in February called The Chaos and the Beauty; he grew up in Bristol and graduated from St. Joe’s Prep. One of his best friends from high school is Rob McElhenney (of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame) who handpicked his song, “First in Flight,” to be in the closing scene of his Apple TV show, Mythic Quest…the song has over 500,000 spins across platforms and is the first single from the new record.
Don still lives in PA – but is in West Caln these days. After a pre-Christmas show at Johnny Brenda’s in December, McCloskey will be touring the U.S. supporting his new album.
PW caught up with McCloskey to chat about music and what he’s been up to since the pandemic hit.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you become interested in music? Who were some of your earliest influences?
My mom and her sisters would dance with us to The Beatles and Motown so I knew every word to all those records. Smokey Robinson at Valley Forge was my first concert and it left a huge impression on me. My aunt Marianna loved Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon so I knew all those lyrics, chapter and verse. My Dad’s record collection was Grateful Dead, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix so I wore those out.
My Uncle, Tom, was an Irish tenor and walking encyclopedia of literally hundreds of Irish folk songs. Imitating him I had a small repertoire of love ballads, drinking songs and rebel music before I was even school age. He had a lot of instruments at his house and always let us play them. My uncle Andrew was an MC, which was super rare in the mid-eighties in Bristol. He introduced me to Newcleus, Afrika Bambaataa, RUN DMC, KRS- One, Public Enemy. I would rewind those tapes until I could rap along word for word.
I sang a lot of liturgical music in church, learned a lot of musicals from working at The Bristol Riverside Theater and then Philly radio and MTV of the 80s and 90s filled in the rest. In high school, my cousin Lou gave me his old guitar and three lessons and from that point on I started learning to play my favorite music and synthesizing all these eclectic influences into songs of my own.
How did you spend your downtime during the pandemic?
I moved out of my place in Brooklyn and into an old farmhouse on 110 acres out near Lancaster. I played an online concert series and learned how to grow tomatoes. I played a socially distanced concert at a drive-in movie theater on Cape Cod with G Love which was both great and surreal. I finished recording my 4th record, the first single was featured on an Apple TV show. I rewrote O Holy Night and joined the blockchain.
You recently played your first Philly show since the pandemic. What did it feel like to be back on stage? What are your touring plans for 2022?
It felt great. I love playing Johnny Brenda’s. It was great playing the new record with the friends I recorded it with and looking forward to much more of it in the new year.
Right now, the touring plan is record release shows with a few stops on the West Coast, a few on the East Coast. I would really love to pay First in Flight in Kill Devil Hills.
Baseball fans might remember you as the writer behind “Unstoppable,” the song that had lots of airplay here and was played before every home game of the Phillies’ 2009 World Series appearance. How did that song come together, and did you anticipate the response the song received?
It came together quickly. I wrote the chorus after we won the NLDS. I called Chuck Treece and Tom Spiker to see if they wanted to record it with me. We laid the basic tracks down at Tom’s studio where the three of us recorded my second album, Northern Liberties. I sent it to G Love. Our friend Kuf Knotz was recording with G and he did the first verse. I wrote the second verse. A Philly All-Star horn section laid the hook down and that was it!
Definitely surprised by the response. WMMR, XPN, WIP, were all playing it regularly, we were asked to do a live performance on Preston and Steve and Good Day Philadelphia and then ultimately they played it before every World Series home game at Citizen Bank Park! That was surreal.
Your upcoming full-length album, The Chaos and the Beauty, is due to drop in February, and was crowdsourced by your fanbase, which raised $22,000 in only two days on Kickstarter. First, how did that response from your fans make you feel? Second, how did the album come together and turn out?
It made me feel like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. I spent the first 20 years traveling the country, playing clubs, pubs, parking lots, theaters, parties, and whatever else. So to have all the people who were there for all of those moments send this huge wave of love and support all at one time in my direction, really was overwhelming and something I’ll never forget.
The album came together because I had written a new batch of songs. I asked my long-time friend and fellow Philly ex-pat, Devin Greenwood, to co-produce it with me at his studio, The Honey Jar, in Brooklyn. We narrowed 30 songs down to ten. Cut demos. We recorded the basic tracks live to analogue tape with the two of us and Chuck Staab on drums. We brought Ross Bellenoit on guitars, Ali and Claire Wadsworth and Alicia Walter on additional vocals, percussionist Sebastian Guerrerrro and Mike
Irwin on horns. Dev and I overdubbed everything else it needed and… voila! The Chaos and The Beauty.
You’ve been performing for about 20 years. What’s your most memorable highlight? What’s still on your “bucket list” to achieve?
Tough to pick a highlight but opening for Raekwon, touring the Midwest with G Love, and playing a sold-out show at the Beacon with my friends in It’s Always Sunny are all great memories. Having the opportunity to travel the country, meet interesting people, and od the thing I love most with kindred spirits and musical collaborators has been one of the great blessings of my life.
I don’t have a bucket list but I do intend to record 9 albums. The first three are already out. The Chaos and the Beauty is the first of the second three, then down the road the old man trilogy. With a whole bunch of living in between.
McCloskey is on Instagram (@don_mccloskey_music), Facebook (DonMcCloskeyMusic) and Twitter (@DonMcCloskey).