Belfast’s Myles McCormack released his newest album last month, the culmination of a fruitful couple of years. While McCormack’s story goes back further, the last couple of years have seen his best work come to fruition and a place on the Oh Yeah’s talent development programme over the last year. To Better All Things is a fitting release for his talent, filled with the pensive folk music that lifts from his love of both the traditional and the contemporary. An album of well crafted songs that look deeply wider issues such as climate change, as well as closer introspection. Almost always featuring McCormack’s blend of intricate playing and soft vocals, To Better All Things incorporates a lot more musically from the multi-instrumentalist that takes its ambitions beyond acoustic folk.
We asked Myles to take us through the album; its ten tracks, artwork and the album title.
By and large I think that people genuinely believe they are doing good things with their lives, regardless of how it may actually seem from another perspective. The phrase ‘To Better All Things’ is supposed to encapsulate that aspiration. The songs are essentially allegories of my experiences, looking at global and systemic issues through a local and personal lens (or lenses). I am celebrating everything I love about life, but trying to process the things that make me sad at the same time.
One evening I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by whatever was going on around me and I just retreated to my room and put the guitar in a new tuning. I was imagining how our lives would be perceived by some imaginary future palaeontologists. What will remain of our legacy both individually and as a species. Take for example the animation WALL-E; even Disney was writing in 2008 about how consumerism will destroy the planet. So it’s kind of about accepting how insignificant our individual efforts can feel, but how collectively we can do magical things in the present, and that life is still beautiful in all its nuance and detail.
I wrote this a few years ago for someone, with absolutely no intention of releasing it. I had an album written and a ‘maybe pile’ of extra songs, and this wasn’t even in the maybe pile. One day it just came back into my head so I more or less recorded it immediately, into one mic in my living room. The rest of the layers (harmonies, keys etc) were added in my bedroom shortly after. It was at that point that it moved into the maybe pile and eventually onto the album. I feel like it’s pretty self-explanatory; if love is truly unconditional then it means accepting change and celebrating that person whatever path they choose.
So firstly, Julie doesn’t exist. This is another song about climate anxiety and how the efforts of the individual are swamped by the deliberate actions of globally established financial interest. The imagery is meant to describe the helplessness I feel when I think too long about those things. Politics moves so slowly, is corrupted, and fear of political failure prevents meaningful action. Movements like Occupy Wall Street bubble up occasionally showing how there are masses out there begging for system change but nothing is done. This song offers no solution other than to ‘run in circles screaming’. Maybe it’ll be cathartic.
This song is dedicated to Hazey-Blue McKeever, my friend Romy’s daughter, who took her own life at 14 during the winter of 2020. It’s also dedicated to the entire artist community of Belfast who knew her and rallied around her family. At the time, funeral numbers were limited to barely double figures. I was there, and together myself and Romy sang a re-working of one of my older songs. But on the way to the funeral, there was no restriction on how many people could stand in the street. I’ve never seen or felt anything like it as we drove up. Just thinking about it fills me with such a strange mix of emotions. In that moment it was evident how much love was felt for her. The song is written looking back on the months that followed and the beautiful ways in which the community came together to support, honour and celebrate her life.
Thing of the Earth
I have a very jaded view of institutionalised religions but the phenomenon is still interesting to me. So this is an exploration around the nature of belief (which happens to be a big issue around here) but my personal view is that the observable natural world is all there really is to believe in. So in one way it’s my answer to ‘the god question’, but there’s also a romantic element and a though-thread about meaningful human connection.
The River Rises
This is actually the oldest song on the album. I wrote these words when I was a teenager and at some point during lockdown they came back into my head, so I developed the guitar parts and had fun filling out the arrangement with piano, tape echo and drum kit. Again, the words are essentially describing the inevitability of natural processes and the likelihood of global cataclysm, but there’s actually an element of hope this time!
What I’ve Been Promising
This is a deeply personal song about my own mental health struggles. More broadly though, it’s also for anyone who struggles with expressing themselves. My experiences are unique to me but I know people experience similar things in their own ways. All that being said, it’s also a very roundabout love letter to my mum. I am lucky to have a very loving family but none of them live in Ireland so, it can be difficult to stay in contact. Initially she didn’t like the song, which essentially meant I had to explain it to her in excruciating detail, much like I’m doing now, which kind of negates the point, doesn’t it? I think she gets it now though. I hope so. If you’re reading this, I love you!
To Better All Things
This song was originally inspired by my view of the education system here. If you’re still reading this then you can probably guess that I‘d be pretty critical of that sort of thing too. That being said, this is an old song and so since then has taken on a much broader meaning. It’s essentially about how people should view and treat one another as equals, and that if we don’t have a social structure which nurtures love and care for one another then what are we working towards?
Back To The Stream
This track was recorded one afternoon in a little writing room upstairs in the Oh Yeah Centre. It’s a kind of metaphysical rambling about the symbiosis of life, and the apparently cyclical nature of time. It’s also a callback to the classic songwriter’s overuse of water metaphors.
During lockdown all three of my siblings became parents for the first time (almost at the same time), so this song was my little gift to the newborns, and a way of welcoming them into this great big tiny world. So it’s kind of a lullaby melody but sung from the perspective of a newborn child.
*Notes on the artwork Talking through themes of the album with Katherine Penney and looking through some of her work, we landed on a photo she had captured showing this burst of colour which essentially came from rust and deterioration on an abandoned and burned out old taxi in Belfast. This photo shows the car from a much broader angle. The thematic link is essentially about finding beauty in imperfection and hope in darkness.