Like most songwriters, Michael McDermott usually has his share of “leftovers” from various album projects. But the dozen songs on his upcoming Orphans — including “Tell Tale Heart,” whose impressionistic video is premiering exclusively below — are more than mere castoffs.
The tracks on the album, due out Feb. 8, were written and recorded while McDermott was working on his last two albums, 2016’s Willow Springs and last year’s Out From Under. “I was playing a lot of these songs on tour and people would ask me, ‘Hey, is that song on the record?'” McDermott tells Billboard. “I started thinking that this is a little different. These songs aren’t going away. I thought enough of them that I kept them around and played them — it’s not like I dug up the dregs sitting in the closet. They were like little bastards wandering around with nowhere to go, and I thought they should have a home.”
Like those last two albums, McDermott’s Orphans are deeply personal and are drawn from a 10-year struggle with substance addiction, which he kicked back in 2014. “I was killing myself, literally,” says McDermott, who credits his wife and daughter as well as author Stephen King, who’s a fan, with encouraging him to get clean. “I lived so long as this fuckin’ faux poetic drunken, fallen rock star kind of thing. It was like my avatar. It got so bad I just wanted out; In no uncertain terms, I wanted it all to be over. So I stopped and now it’s five years. One day at a time; it’s a full-time job, really. It takes up so much of my thoughts and my life now, so of course it’s going to be part of the (songs), too.”
“Tell Tale Heart” — whose video blends performance footages with “images I thought would be fitting” — is a rocking, anthemic expression of triumph, in which McDermott declares “let’s make the most of our time in this world we live.” “It’s been like a new life for me, like you learn everything again — how to look people in the eye, how to have a conversations with people. You even learn sex again,” McDermott notes. “I wanted to address that in some way. I came to realize I was so mired in my own self-deception, and ultimately people’s hearts, with the exception of our president, want to tell the truth. Your heart wants to be honest, and I wasn’t even being honest with myself. You have to be dogged in your efforts to be real and be true.”
McDermott, who lists meditation as his replacement for substances, has been touring steadily since Willow Springs came out and has more of the same ahead — including in Italy, where he’s discovered an enthusiastic fan base in an already strong European market. “The career’s never been better, and I’ve got to think my sobriety has something to do with that,” McDermott says. “It’s been like a dream. People really want to hear me, and I think I’m playing and singing better than I ever have. It feels like I’ve really righted the ship.”