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Interview: Pianist's 'Calming Tribute to the Beatles' is a gentle joy

The cover of Mike McCarthy's "Gently Sleeps: A Calming Tribute to the Beatles."
The cover of Mike McCarthy's "Gently Sleeps: A Calming Tribute to the Beatles."Here and There Music

Mike McCarthy has recently released a gorgeous Beatles tribute album called “Gently Sleeps: A Calming Tribute to the Beatles." (Also on iTunes.) As the title suggests, it's an album of gentle (and beautifully calming) interpretations of Beatles songs that includes versions of “Thank You Girl,” “Every Little Thing,” “If I Needed Someone,” “The Night Before,” “Blackbird” and “Goodnight,” among others. (You can hear a preview of the album on Soundcloud.)

We asked Mike about the album and his music.

Q: How long has “Gently Sleeps” been out?
Mike McCarthy: The album was released in U.S. digital markets on Feb. 7, 2014.

Q: How long have you been doing this? What led to this album?
Mike McCarthy: “I've been playing piano since the age of 6 and have been writing songs ever since. I released my debut album of originals in 2012 – 'This Piano' - a musical autobiography of sorts culminated from seven years of writing and improvising. Over this time, I'd also been teaching music privately and performing cocktail sets around town. This led me to explore the Beatles entire catalog in my search to fill a three-hour time slot while avoiding anything overplayed, completely unknown, or "cheesy" where I just happen to personally find most typical selections in the middle of the two.

“I am not the 'piano man' type and I found that even certain songs I liked, when translated to solo piano, gave me just the wrong vibe. My radar for corny piano might be overly sensitive but when it came to these Beatles compositions, not even a blip. I knew the hits like everyone 'Hey Jude,' 'Let It Be' etc, and would often get requests for these, but I preferred the deeper cuts, forgotten gems from the most infamous writing duo of all time: Lennon and McCartney.

“Over the years my arrangements naturally evolved in tempo and expression to fit the cocktail environment. I fell in love with so many songs and thought 'why not take it to the next level of relaxation?' On 'Gently Sleeps' I played from the heart, but like a heart on some serious sedatives.

“I've since heard other Beatles piano tributes where the player will 'jazz it up' and add to or modify the chords. With respect to the talent of those players, I never wanted to tamper with the tunes in that way. Instead, by leaving the beautiful melodies intact in a minimalistic fashion, and while taking my time to say the least, hopefully 'Gently Sleeps' can be received as something like a nostalgic daydream for Beatles lovers and solo piano fans alike. For me, it is a truly heartfelt "tribute" as I am in complete amazement of what started 50 years ago and continues to this day. It has brought me tremendous joy.”

(Note the album is also available on Google Play and CD Baby.)

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