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Mam knows best

Mark Caplice told David Hennessy about his debut EP that comes after years of writing music for other people and how his mother encouraged him to take centre stage himself before her sad passing.  

Mark Caplice has written for performers such as Megan O’Neill and Nathan Carter.

He and Megan had huge success with Time in a Bottle, a reworking of Jim Croce’s song that was picked up for Netflix series Firefly Lane.

He also co- wrote Together, Ireland’s 2018 Eurovision entry and the last song that we had make it to the final.

Mark can regularly be seen sharing stages with names like Ryan Sheridan, Róisín O, Pa Sheehy, Stephanie Rainey and Jack O’ Rourke.

However, it is only now that Mark is getting set to release his debut EP.

After years of writing with and for other artists, Mark is now ready to be the star of his own show.

Last week he released I Hope You Find Happiness, an uplifting song with a poignant message of support for those effected by emigration and loss.

It follows his debut single Catch a Tear and precedes the forthcoming release of his debut EP, The Brighter Side of Sorrow.

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Mark, who has recently moved to London, told The Irish World: “I’ve had these songs for a while.

“I’ve been writing and producing for other artists for the last few years and it’s gone very, very well and almost it took me away from my own project a bit.

“I’ll give you a very quick synopsis.

“When I was in college, I got into a band.

“The band got signed, brought to America, did an album, looked like the whole world was in our hands.

“And then all of a sudden, it wasn’t. There was a disagreement and the album never got released, the band broke up and I was faced with, ‘What do I do now?’

“I started releasing songs (under the moniker Kolumbus) in the hope of getting a publishing deal so I could explore that world and what it was like to write songs with and for other artists.

“And I did exactly that.

“I was delighted with it, flew all over the world writing with different artists and in different styles like country and pop and folk.

“I stem more from a folk world myself, that’s where my heart and soul kind of lives.

“So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last few years.

“Not so long ago, I had a chat with a loved one.

Mark as a toddler with his late mother Deirdre.

“Because initially writing songs with and for other people was a mechanism for meeting people and opening doors and trying to learn a bit more. It was essentially due to feed back into my own projects but a few things went well and I was almost cursed by blessings that the trajectory kind of took me away from my own music a little bit more.

“But not so long ago, I had a chat with a loved one and she just subtly said, ‘It’s great to see you doing so many things for other people but it’s time to be the star of your own show’.

“So yeah, I decided to push back into my own releasing.

“About a year ago I released Catch a Tear and it went really well and actually since I made that decision- I’m not hugely into the universe and signs and all that kind of craic- But if I was, I would say the universe has definitely given me a nudge on.

“I managed to do a couple of tours around Ireland and the UK and Germany.

“I managed to work with some of my favourite artists and managed to work with the Grammys.

“There was loads of little telltale signs, ‘You’re doing the right thing so keep it lit’, you know?’”

The ‘loved one’ that Mark had that chat that cleared things up with was his mother Deirdre who passed away in January this year and to whom the work is dedicated.

“No one knows you better than your own mam.

“Mam, dad, my family have always been amazing supporters of what I’ve done and what I do.

“It was just over a year ago, and my mam was sick at the time.

“I think it was four years ago, she was told she had three months to live.

“So she decided, ‘No. I see your three months and I raise it four years’.

“She was incredibly strong and she had a huge zest for living.

“She loved living life and she really squeezed every last drop out of it.

“I actually think I got to know my mam even more in the last four years than I ever had before.

“Because we had that scare when she almost passed four years ago and when she didn’t, she made it through and she survived, it was almost like, ‘Oh, wow, life really is fickle. She’s not forever’.

“We grew really close and I’m glad for the time that we spent together.

“I’m glad for a lot of things but right now, I’m just glad that she’s not in pain anymore because she was carrying a lot of pain.”

Two tracks on the EP come from a recording of a gig of Mark’s at the Workman’s Club in Dublin in May last year.

This was a show that Mark’s mother was there to see him play.

“She was there.

“What will be special about that forever is she was there, she was front row.

“And I can still see her stealing my setlist, ‘Go away, will ya? Give us that’.

“It’s really, really, really sentimental and special for me.”

I Hope You Find Happiness is a song written in a time of loss.

Mark had a relationship break down, a brother depart for Australia and his grandmother die all within a short space of time.

However, the song is more hopeful than you might expect.

“I’m a firm believer of not wanting to ever change the past no matter what it is because you can’t.

“If you try to entertain that thought, you’re just frustrating yourself.

“I’m a massive believer of learning from it.

“And yeah, I think that around that time was a huge perspective shift for me.

“I really learned how fickle life is, how fickle love is, how fickle everything can be.

“So it really, really hammered me. It anchored me into the present moment and just how short life can be.

“The song is about wishing someone who’s leaving your life the best and hope that they find whatever it is that they wish, whatever it is they seek because we’re all different and success looks very different to everyone.

“I find that that period was very forming for me.

“It’s been a gift in the long run.”

A gift in the long term but it must have been very hard in the short term…

“Massively, yeah.

“But the deeper the darkness, the brighter the light at the end of the tunnel.

“The harder a period of time is- I have found myself that- it tends to be that’s where the real lessons are hidden.

“And you have to dig deep and look internally and go, ‘Okay, who am I? What am I about? What’s my purpose on this little spinning rock of ours? And what am I doing with my energy?’

“I suppose energy is a really big one for me and something I always try to keep a close eye on, I always do my very best to be a positive energy.”

Mark doesn’t want to give the wrong idea..

“I’ve got loads of sad songs as well.

“I’m not just skipping around with pigtails in my hair going, ‘Everything’s fine’.

“I heard a great saying once: If you ignore your demons, they go into the depths of your soul and lift weights’.

“If you don’t deal with something properly, it’ll most likely come back and bite you in the a**e.

“I’m just super aware of the fact that life can be very, very difficult but I think it’s how you respond to those times.

“That’s where the choice lies, you get a say in it.”

When Mark plays The Green Note on Thursday this week, it will be his first London headline show.

“I’m really, really looking forward to it.”

Mark has played in London before with Megan O’Neill.

Mark remembers when their reworking of Time in a Bottle became an international hit and featured on a high profile show. Again it was a special time as his mother was there to see it.

“It was so special.

“That period had a particular poignance but a beautiful poignance because it was over lockdown when it came out and this is when you couldn’t go two or five kilometres from your house.

“This is just an example: It’s not the circumstance, it’s how you respond to it.

“So yes, we were in lockdown. We couldn’t have a big party or anything like that and with the help of my girlfriend Niamh and my buddy Oisin- Basically the Oscars wouldn’t have been with it.

“We dressed the whole place beautifully. We lit the fire inside and I got a red carpet from my auntie Mary- I think it was a tablecloth actually- and we rolled it out the length of the driveway.

“And when my parents arrived, I had little fire pits either side of the red carpet and little candles lighting the whole way up.

“I was just like, ‘Let’s squeeze every bit of goodness out of this scenario’.

“I want to do well.

“But I love making those around me proud and that one was a humdinger.

“It was such a beautiful time.

“I know my parents..

“It was a success for everyone, and I really, really do mean that.”

Last year Mark’s music caught the attention of The Recording Academy / GRAMMYs who invited him to be a featured guest on their Reimagined at Home series.

Mark covered Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain on piano accompanied by a brass ensemble and atmospheric percussion.

The video received over 10,000 views in 24 hours catching the attention of Fleetwood Mac’s guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.

“It was mad,” Mark remembers.

“A couple of songs I’ve written in the past have kind of crossed the Grammys desk and they reached out to me.

“I really thought it was a fake email or something.

“I thought somebody was winding me up.

“I read on and at the end of the email, there was the Grammy logo and then I clicked into the website.

“I was like, ‘Jeez, I think this is legit’.

“They invited me to be a part of a new online series they were doing where they asked different artists to do a cover of their favourite Grammy winning song.

“I chose to do The Chain.

“I’ve always loved that song and when our family would go for drives when we were younger, we used to listen to Springsteen and Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac.

“So The Chain kind of stuck its head out among the crowd and I wanted to do something different with it as well.

“It really came together.

“I was delighted with it, especially recording at Windmill Lane as well, U2’s old studio.

“It all clicked and I was really delighted.”

It was in 2018 that Mark wrote Together with Ryan O’Shaughnessy and Laura Elizabeth Hughes. The song would go on to be Ireland’s Eurovision entry.

“Jeez, it’s Eurovision time again, isn’t it?

“Again it was one of those when you read the email, (you think it’s a wind up) because I would have grown up watching the Eurovision.

“But I feel as though it was more of a songwriting competition then, I feel like it’s a bit more of a show now.

“It’s a mad party absolutely so far removed from my normality, I can’t even describe it.

“We were getting a police escort into the stadium and there was rows and rows and rows of people with flags shouting and roaring.

“I just went, ‘I am on a spaceship to the moon. I so don’t belong in this mad place’.

“But it was great craic and I went with it.”

The song would be chosen to go forward to the final but Mark remembers how nerve racking it was waiting to hear.

“We were the last ones to be chosen in the group. I know I’ll never die of a heart attack touch wood because if I didn’t at that moment, I never will.

“Because they call out nine countries and they were calling out the tenth and we were just like, ‘Oh my God, it’s not going to be us’.

“But there was a camera right beside us and I actually caught the eyes of the camera controller.

“And he looked at me and smiled.

“I was like, ‘It’s gonna be us’.

“We couldn’t even hear anything because the whole stadium was screaming.

“Somebody just shouts, ‘Ireland’, the camera whips over and we just go berserk.

“It was mad.

“I’m still so proud of the song.

“It’s the sort of song that you can just play on an acoustic guitar and it connects so it’s what a song should be.

“To this day, we’re still the last song to qualify for the final and for me, that just kind of shows that if you write an actual song, if you just pare it back- no bells, no whistles- and write a song, a story, I find that’s what connects.”

The song would chart in many countries around Europe.

“I think it was around 20 countries that it got into like the top 20 or 50 or something.

“I try not to trouble my brain with that stuff because if you start obsessing about numbers, you step further and further from the craft.

“Just because something has big numbers does not mean it’s good, that’s important to remember.”

Mark has also written for country superstar and good friend of this paper Nathan Carter.

“That was over lockdown.

“Jake, his brother, is a buddy of mine and he reached out and he said, ‘Nathan is doing a new album, would you fancy doing a bit of writing?’

“We did a few sessions and they were fun.

“They’re both messers, the lads.

“We just had a bit of craic and wrote a few tunes and I was delighted that Nathan put three or four of them on his album, his most recent one, and then there was a few of them on his Greatest Hits as well.

“I never pictured myself as a country writer per se, but it’s really good to understand how different genres and how different audiences digest and understand music.

“It was great craic.

“I definitely feel as though my heart has just grown closer and closer to the love of words and stories and really crafting that sort of lyrics.

“There was a great phrase I heard not so long ago, ‘There’ll always be a place at the fire for someone who can tell a great story’.

“There’s a story everywhere.

“I absolutely love it and that’s where my heart and soul lives and that’s why I really I feel like I was put on this planet to make music and write stories and try to give whatever good energy I have.”

The single I Hope You Find Happiness is out now.

The EP Brighter Side of Sorrow is out on 9 June.

Mark Caplice plays the Green Note in London on Thursday 11 May.

For more information, click here.

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