Folk singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey says it’s happened hundreds of times in his 20+ years as a musician, where listeners will approach him at a show and say that some of his music got them through a rough patch.
“Ordinary stuff happens, people die, relationships bust up, and if three or four of those sharp kicks lines up, you come unglued,” Mulvey says. “I did.”
The songs that brought him back are on Silver Ladder, due out April 1. He’s playing a show as part of the Stone Room House Concerts series in Falls Church on April 11 in support of his latest album.
“When I found my footing again, I just wanted to write some songs,” Mulvey says. “All I know is that my music has apparently helped a lot of people and this time it helped me.”
He wrote in earnest, one song a week. Inspiration? That’s a myth, Mulvey says; regular work yields results.
He hadn’t considered it at the time, but it had been about eight years since he put out a collection of his own songs. During that time, he’d made an acoustic retrospective and an instrumental record, done a few other recording projects, and – ever the hard-touring musician – played something like a thousand shows.
“I just didn’t even notice that so much time had elapsed since a full-on ‘record of Peter Mulvey song,’ he said.
His one-a-week songwriting process found fast success, and some of the first songs he wrote now appear on Silver Ladder.
“I had to write,” Mulvey says. “I was in the rapids.”
He accumulated dozens of songs. From there it was a matter of playing them on the road, watching them unfold before an audience and seeing how they might fit together on an album.
“I wanted this record to be a measured shout of release and affirmation, the sun after the clouds. I also wanted it to be the clouds, and the wet pavement,” Mulvey says.
With the album complete, he felt it was the best collection of his music he’d ever made and he didn’t want it to get lost in the field after its release. He needed publicity, and for that he needed money.
He took to Kickstarter, the fundraising platform, to ask his fans for help. And they responded. In just 25 hours, he met his $23,000 goal, but the donations kept coming in. In total, the project raised more than $60,000.
“Apparently, the secret to a successful campaign is to treat an audience respectfully for 22 years, to always bear in mind that they took time out of their lives to be at your show, and never phone in a performance. Cultivate that relationship for those decades, then ask for help, and see what happens,” Mulvey says. “I was really moved: apparently, they felt the same loyalty to me that I felt to them.”
Mulvey is currently in the United Kingdom, about a third of the way through performing 26 shows in 26 days, a string of dates that will bring him back to the United States and see him perform a house concert in Falls Church. He’ll also have some other house concerts to play, as promised incentives to generous Kickstarter backers. This fall, he’ll embark upon his eighth annual bike tour – yes, just him with a guitar pedaling from town to town. To put it mildly, writing a song a week isn’t the only thing that keeps him busy.
“This is my life’s work,” Mulvey says. “I just want to keep going.”
• For more information about Peter Mulvey, visit petermulvey.com.