The Wayfaring Soul of Marty O’Reilly

Marty O’Reilly wandered through Camden Market in London at the end of a seven-day tour of England.

Feb. 16 | 9 p.m.
Crystal Bay Casino | Crystal Bay, Nev.

“It’s a fun neighborhood to walk around in at night,” said the Sonoma songwriter, describing how he strolled amid trolley horns and cockney hollers with his fiancé, Caroline Dollar, by his side.

O’Reilly opened the tour in Sheffield at a hole-in-the-wall place called Café #9. Then there was the Old Cinema Launderette in Durham.

“It’s a laundry place with a bar that turns into a venue,” he said “They’ll wash your laundry for you while you play. Too bad that was only my second stop. I didn’t have much washing to do yet.”

Next came Norwich, Coggeshall and Brighton; the couple that plans to marry June 15 at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma made their way along the North Sea toward the English Channel.

“They were all small venues of 100 to 200 people, but they were totally full,” he said.

In Southampton, at a venue called Piecaramba, a specially made Marty O’Pielly pot pie of beef, carrots and potatoes slowed cooked in chili ale was prepared just for his performance. The tour closed at The Water Rats in the Kings Cross section of London.

“They have funny names for venues here,” said O’Reilly. “Once I played a placed called The Slaughtered Lamb.”

After visiting snowy Copenhagen for a few days, O’Reilly and Dollar went as tourists to sunny Rome. They stayed at an Airbnb within the windy, narrow alleyways and small streets of Trastevere. One afternoon, O’Reilly lazily strummed his guitar on the apartment rooftop during our interview.

“Music was a big part of the family household,” he said of growing up in Chicago. “Van Morrison was the Irish staple in the house.”

While that sort of ancient melodic freedom has always been a part of O’Reilly’s charm, his own approach to music has consistently evolved over the course of three albums with The Old Soul Orchestra.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m experimenting with different methods and figuring out what works best for me,” he said.

The first two albums, “Pray for Rain” and “Preach ‘Em Now!” were influenced by Tom Waits’ lyricism and sparsity.

“For a lot of those songs, I’d find something interesting I’d want to write about, read about it on Wikipedia, make up fictional characters and create stories,” he says.

The 2018 “Stereoscope” album presents O’Reilly’s mystical intonations with the self-affected indie bliss of otherworldly artists such as Grizzly Bear, Radiohead and Andrew Bird.

“It’s more about my own emotional experiences and the emotional experiences of people around me that I care about who would share them with me,” he says. “It’s very impressionistic. The lyrics aren’t written in such a way that people could read them and be like, ‘This song is about this.’ It’s more about expressing a feeling and letting people assign that to anything that seems relevant in their own lives.”

Take, for example, the album opener “Firmament.”

“I’ve always loved gospel music, but I’m not a religious person,” O’Reilly explained. “I think of myself as pretty agnostic. At that time in my life, I felt this sort of joy and appreciation and sense of wonder with the world around me. I thought, ‘Well, what if I wrote my own interpretation of a gospel song?’ ”

“Ghost” concerns the phenomenon of sleep paralysis.

“It’s when you wake up, but your body doesn’t wake up,” says O’Reilly. “I started reading about it and it’s really very common. When you are in a state of sleep paralysis you may have a hallucination of a person or figure standing over you. You are at the mercy of this thing and you have this feeling of utter helplessness. It’s both terrifying and psychedelic at the same time. That particular song is a weird marriage of that and observing the relationships people have with things that help them sleep.”

O’Reilly will round out his world tour with an open-mic performance at the Ruby Room in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo before visiting the Japanese countryside with Dollar. The theme of the night is David Bowie and he only gets 15 minutes.

“I’m probably going to sit down and think about that tomorrow,” said the poet/musician with a wink and a nod to the enchanted road ahead.

Marty O’Reilly and The Old Soul Orchestra will perform with The Sam Chase and Willie Tea Taylor on Feb. 16 in the Crown Room at Crystal Bay Casino as part of the Winter Snow-down, a loose gathering of folks who hold the Lost Sierra Hoedown on the mountainside above Johnsville every September. |