After the demise of Dream City Film Club in 1999, Michael J. Sheehy quickly emerged as a solo singer/songwriter. While many of his U.K. contemporaries were exploring melodic guitar rock or neo-prog, Sheehy struck out in a different direction; his dark and often darkly humorous, punk-spirited songs drawing on everything from early American rock & roll, blues, gospel, and country to the British hymnal tradition.
Michael J. Sheehy was born in 1972 into a working-class Irish Catholic household in Kentish Town (North London), where pop music consumption centered on American artists like Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, and Patsy Cline. Ironically, although country music would later exercise a considerable influence on his work, Sheehy disliked it as a child. While Elvis remained a firm favorite, in his teens Sheehy gravitated to glam rock -- particularly Marc Bolan and David Bowie -- and American proto-punk bands like the Stooges, rather than the homegrown class of 1976. Other artists to attract his attention were Marvin Gaye, Tim Buckley, Tom Waits, and Nick Cave.
Sheehy began performing solo pub gigs in his late teens and, after three years on the London "toilet circuit," he met Laurence Ash and Alex Vald, with whom he formed Dream City Film Club. Following two full-length releases (Dream City Film Club and In the Cold Light of Morning) and the Stranger Blues mini-album, the group was at the point of implosion; apathetic audiences, an indifferent music press, a lack of radio exposure, and inevitable financial strain had taken their toll and contributed to the disintegration of relations among bandmembers.
Taking advantage of a short break between the release of Stranger Blues and a tour in support of the record, Sheehy spent two weeks in the studio recording his own material. Although he had no immediate plans to release it -- given his commitments with DCFC -- the sessions provided him with an opportunity to work on songs that he had considered too personal to record with the band. As it turned out, DCFC split on the eve of their tour and Sheehy had no difficulty reverting to his previous identity as a solo performer, finding it the perfect outlet for the type of material he was writing.
Sweet Blue Gene, the fruit of those two weeks in the studio, was released in 2000. His songs crossed a range of styles: sparse hymnal ballads, reverb-laden swamp blues, and industrial soundscapes. In lyrics that were alternately arrestingly poignant and grimly funny, Sheehy trawled sordid, miserable, and occasionally disturbing territory. The album was a critical success in Britain -- in marked contrast to the work of the often maligned DCFC -- and Sheehy returned to live performance, including dates with Tindersticks in Europe.
While Sheehy euphemistically characterized the period following Sweet Blue Gene as a "lost year," it certainly provided him with a wealth of material for his 2001 follow-up; Ill Gotten Gains is another collection of haunting, melancholy ballads and dirtied-up, electronically enhanced rock & roll in which, lyrically, everything tends to go horribly wrong.
In spring 2002, Sheehy completed his third album (No Longer My Concern) and toured the U.S. with Peter Murphy. ~ Wilson Neate