Local Songwriter Tackles the Tough Stuff

Saturday, May 12, 2012 8:12

An Interview with Michael Tiernan

by Casey Pukl

Michael Tiernan may be one of San Diego’s finest treasures. This father of two and accomplished singer/songwriter recently had his tune, “LA Can Wait” selected as a finalist for an ISC award (over 16,000 entries were submitted). Tiernan has also won various other accolades including Artist of the Year at the Acoustic Music Awards, and he is also a two-time Los Angeles Award winner for Male Singer/Songwriter of the Year and Triple-A Album of the Year.

But all of those accolades have taken a back seat to the incredible journey Tiernan has been on. From realizing that his journey as a songwriter is a little different from the typical path of heading to LA or Nashville to coping with the loss of his brother to cancer, Michael Tiernan has been tackling the tough things in life. Fortunately for us, he’s been tackling them through songs in the studio for all to hear, and that process has him pulling out some amazing and deeply personal lyrics that are bound to hit you somewhere tender. Read on to find out what inspired his latest record, just why exactly “LA Can Wait”, and check out his delicious favorite recipe that he was kind enough to share!

CP: I’d love to get right into your latest record “L.A. Can Wait” because you have such an incredible story and I’m so stoked to talk about it. What inspired it for you and what has this experience been like?

MT: The last record was very different than the ones that preceded it in that I was in a very different stage in life. I was a new dad and taking on new responsibilities, and kids have a way of making you much more committed and serious about what you do. Commited to how you’re gonna live and those dreams. Especially as an artist – how you’re going to not only practically make things work and have a family, and still be a musician. On a practical side but also on an artistic side. Growing up more as a person makes you write differently as well. That album is different and special in that way because of where I was at in life. And also I went a different direction with a new producer up in L.A. I wanted to make it a little more pop-oriented without selling out too much [laughs]. A lot of my albums before were more hip-Americana, a little more rootsy. “L.A. Can Wait” has much more bigger pop sound. That aspect of it was super fun and challenging as a song-writer and also helped me frame things differently. That’s what makes this album special for me. And the material on it – the title track “L.A. Can Wait”. It’s a song that means so much to me and I really just connect with it every time I get to play it for people. There’s a lot of really powerful songs on there.

CP: Absolutely. I’ve read a little about what that song is about, but for our readers, can you give a little background on that song?

MT: Definitely. In my experience, a song is usually inspired by one thing that happens that kicks off and gives you the first lines. But “L.A. Can Wait” in particular, I wrote it the day after I found out I was going to be a dad for the first time. I’ll tell you a fun little story about how that happened. I came home and my wife was home before me which was kind of strange because she works a 9 to 5 job and she just called me in and said “Tiernan, you better come in here.” She had the whole pregnancy test out and she just looked at me and said, “Game on?” And I said, “Game on.” And then I said, “Well maybe you should try another one.” Then she points to the trash can and there are five other pregnancy tests that all say the same thing. But behind that, I always knew I was going to be a dad at some point but I was also really afraid of it – just in what I had to give up and how I was going to make it while continuing to pursue a career in music. So before the fact I never knew how I would take it. But in that moment I felt none of those things, I felt total peace and confidence and amazement and happiness and that feeling never went away. That whole aspect of becoming a family man has really inspired me. That song, “L.A. Can Wait” is really about adding those responsibilities in life and letting them challenge you and help you become better at what you do and who you are. And also, as a songwriter, I felt “Hey, I don’t have to go L.A. I don’t have to go to Nashville or Austin like I was doing all the time, making little trips and tours.” That song is about for the time being, I’m going to be here, be who I am, and commit to what’s right in front of me. And trust that it will all fall into place. I’ll let L.A. come to me [laughs].

CP: Absolutely. It’s a cool moment to reach as a songwriter. I also know the other song on the album “Strong” really has a close personal meaning for you. This album is really deeply personal. You’ve had a lot going on.

MT: Yeah. When I was in the process of recording, it just became a really, really intense time in my life. With being a new dad, and then my brother going through cancer and coming to the end of his struggle, I was right in the process of recording. My wife had told me maybe I should just put off recording for a while. But I’m glad I didn’t because I took all that and put it into performing on the album. For me, it was an extreme help because even though things were crazy and I didn’t get any sleep and my brother had just passed away, all these crazy intense things going on, the studio has always been a monastery for me. I feel like a monk when I go in there. I’m able to get away and just focus on one thing, and it’s almost like a little prayer experience for me. It really helped me get through that time and just bring a lot of emotion into the actual recording of it. So it was super special in that way.

And I know every artist says this, but I believe in this album. – I really do. It’s not only because it’s not just an album for me, but I think it really can touch what a lot of people have gone through— especially if they’ve gone through cancer or they’ve lost someone going through it. I mean, I can’t break it out often. I’ll play it sometimes, but it’s gotta be the right moment. It’s still very relevant to me. You don’t want to throw it in there all the time. It’s not one of those songs. It’s gotta be the right moment.

CP: Reading about your record,  I was just wondering, “How are you going to play this thing live?” There is a lot of material on there that is really intense.

MT: I know it’s crazy, but the whole album in general, there were a lot of new things going on for me and a lot of new things to process. Because of that song “Strong” and because of “L.A. Can Wait”, I really have a lot of hope in this album. I still really want a lot of people to hear it and let the songs do their own work. There’s a lot of energy behind a lot of the songs on there that have spawned different projects. Especially that song “Strong”. We’re doing a video to it. I started this project last year collecting images from my family and then spreading the word. Then I collected images from people who have gone through cancer and then I’ll incorporate all that into a music video for that song. I want it to be a real powerful statement.

CP: It’s cool that you’re able to put it down. That’s a tough process. So kudos.

MT: Thank you. It’s a song on another level. After I put the album out I definitely spent a lot of time pushing it and getting it out there, which I still am doing. But just recently, the writing has come back again after two years of not being creative with new material. It’s just due to the fact that I’m pushing the album and then there’s the kids. I have a three year-old and a two year-old aside from the corporate music business. I’ve been insanely, phonetically swamped the last couple years. Just playing gigs and pushing the album. It’s so cool the last couple months I’ve written a ton of stuff and working on new material for a new album down the road. I’m just excited for where everything’s at right now.

CP: That’s awesome. I feel like that kind of stuff comes in waves. A lot of life happens to you and you just need to process it all. And then eventually, I’m in that point of just starting to write again after three years of Nashville that was just like I don’t know what to do with this.

MT: That’s kind of the realization I came to especially with “L.A. Can Wait”. That’s what it’s about. You don’t have to do it the way they say it’s supposed to be done. You can build what you have in the way it needs to work for you. With me, I definitely want to tour again but it’s gotta work for me. I definitely want to go to Nashville and I want to go to L.A. and Austin. But I’m not gonna do it until it’s worth it.

CP: Absolutely. And it’s that matter of having to figure out what works for you. With all of this going on, what are you most looking forward to about coming out to Anthology?

MT: One, I have not played there before. Two, I love the venue. I’ve seen a few shows there. Three, I’m a north county guy and it is always so fun to get to Downtown San Diego and whip up a show and put together something real special. There are a lot of reasons. Another is this Saturday night! I’m just excited for the show and I’m excited to get people excited for the show. I’m looking forward to a great time with my band and the crowd.

CP: Tell me a little bit about your cooking background before we get into your recipe here.

MT: I’m the cook in the family for sure. When I moved back to southern California I had just moved from Rome, Italy. I moved back in 2000 and had just left the seminary and all I wanted to do was speak Italian. I got sent to Rome, and I didn’t end up liking the seminary but I loved Rome; I loved Italy. I came back and crashed with my friend Mark who lived in Cardiff. I said, “Hey Mark, I’m gonna go look for a job. I’ll probably need like a week on your couch.” Then I got down there and about twenty minutes later, I came back and I got a job at the first place I went. I got a job at a little Italian restaurant in Solana Beach called Parioli. I’ve gone there several times since I’ve been home because all I’ve wanted to do is keep speaking Italian. I didn’t care, I was a 29 year-old bus boy trying to speak Italian and re-invent myself. But I learned how to cook a lot of really cool things there.

Special thanks to Michael for his time, and this awesome recipe! Be sure to grab your tickets for his show at the links at the end!

Michael Tiernan feeds his kids Vodka for Lunch: 
Quick but yummie step-up-from-Mac’n Cheese— Spinach Gnocchi in a Pink Vodka Sauce.

I love pasta!  I lived in Rome for 2 years, then I worked in an Italian Restaurant for 3 – so my Irish DNA has been re-wired for Italian food. Plus, I’ve been experimenting with gluten free noodles, and I dig ‘em! OK, so for pasta, I don’t really use recipes, it’s mostly just eyeballing the ingredients and portions, and I’m usually cooking for 2 adults and my 2 little ones. Of course every kid loves Mac ‘n’ Cheese, and we give it to them every once in a while (not the Kraft stuff, the Annie’s good organic stuff!). But I recently discovered that they love gnocchi! Good thing, because I do too!  Plus, it’s super easy to make, takes only a few minutes to cook, and can stand up to really simple sauces.  Here’s a quick lunch I made for us last week.


1 16oz package of Spinach Gnocchi (this one is Ferrara’s – got it at Frazier Farms – super quality, not home made, but next best thing).
1 14.5oz can of organice diced tomatoes.
A couple ounces of the Vodka of your choice
Heavy Whipping Cream (organic of course)
Olive Oil
Salt / Pepper
3 cloves of garlic


Heat up a big ol’ bowl of salted water to boiling. In a large saucepan on med-low heat, sauté thinly sliced garlic in olive oil for 1-2 minutes  (don’t burn ‘em!) Pour in can of tomatoes, crank up the heat a bit, mix with salt and pepper to taste, and I always throw in some granulated garlic powder as well (if you want a smoother sauce, you can quick blend the tomatoes in a blender). Saute for a few minutes.

Add a splash of whipping cream and mix until you get the color you want (light pink = more cream, dark pink = less). Usually a couple of ounces will do it! Mix in a couple ounces of Vodka, stir and simmer for a few minutes until the consistency thickens a touch— not too watery, not too thick.

Throw in the gnocchi in boiling water (when they float to the top, they’re ready, usually about 3 minutes. Don’t overdo them!) Strain gnocchi and then pour them into the saucepan, gently stirring them til they’re smothered in sauce.

Use a large deep spoon to serve into shallow bowl, add some shredded parmesan and a sprig of basil on top, and you’re in pasta heaven for a while – until you have to go to work again. Happy kids = happy dad.

Michael Tiernan on Spotify

WHAT: Late Night Live featuring the Michael Tiernan Band and Josh Damigo
WHEN: Saturday, May 19, 9:30 pm
TICKETS: $12-$18 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile