Dan Flannery sat down in one of the leather chairs lining the walls of the Oakes Room. His intimidating height, intense blue eyes and jarringly green jean jacket sunk into the chair. He was exhausted. On top of a busy life as a graduate student, a disc jockey at the Sea Dog Brewery and a keyboardist and vocalist for Bangor-based pop rock band Feel It Robot, Dan is trying to sell a song and to sell himself.
The John Lennon Songwriting Contest (JLSC) is an international contest that began in 1997 for musicians of all backgrounds.
“I can safely say that . the JLSC is the biggest song-writing competition in the world, in the universe,” Dan said. “If we win this thing, it can mean a career for us.”
Dan was referring to himself and his older brother, Mike. As a band they are fittingly named, The Flannery Brothers, and have plans to release a children’s album titled “Love Songs for Silly Things.” For now, this venture is being overshadowed by the contest.
They entered their song “One Wasn’t Enough” along with some of their other children’s tunes into the contest last year. The competition is divided into 12 categories of music, and further divided into two sessions per year.
“I checked my e-mail the day that they were supposed to announce the winners [of Session II] and I didn’t have any e-mails,” Dan remembered. “So I went online to see who had won and it said ‘One Wasn’t Enough.’ I thought, ‘I wonder who wrote that,’ and then realized it said ‘Dan Flannery, Bangor, Maine.'”
Though the Flannery Brothers are only recent transplants to Maine, having grown up in New Jersey and lived in New York prior to winding up in Bangor, Dan said, “Seeing Bangor, Maine up there, I got choked up.” Mike, a fellow musician in Feel It Robot and owner of Bangor’s 32 Central recording studio, agreed.
“It is so cool to see Bangor . have that positive representation. Our success is Bangor’s success,” Mike said.
The Flannery Brothers have more than regional pride to be choked up about. Each session of the contest sees 20,000 to 25,000 entries from around the world. While they cannot say for sure how many of those were in the children’s category, “One Wasn’t Enough” was chosen as the category’s best by an all-star panel of musicians that includes Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, five-time Grammy winner Al Jarreau and Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas.
Having won 2008’s Session II children’s category, they are now in a two-way competition with the Session I winner, Gustafer Yellowgold’s “Mint Green Bee.” Dan pointed out that this is an uphill battle, because rather than being based on judges’ opinions, the grand prizewinner is based on a popular vote online at jlsc.com/vote.
“[Gustafer’s] already got three DVDs and a huge fan base and lots of people voting for him … he plays a show every day. We are definitely the underdogs here.”
Dan is running a public relations blitz that, combined with his packed schedule and long hours in front of a computer, has driven him to severe exhaustion. But he insists that it is absolutely worth it.
“If we win, they’ll print [1000 copies of] our CD for us for free,” he said.
It gets better still. If the brothers win against Gustafer, clinching the children’s category for 2008, “then we’re also in the running for the Maxell Song of the Year,” which gives the winner $20,000, a $1,000 scholarship to the Digital Media Academy and a litany of recording equipment.
Oddly enough, the brothers seem more confident about winning the Song of the Year than about beating out the well-known Gustafer Yellowgold.
“I feel like whichever kid’s song wins is probably going to win Song of the Year . because we’re at a point when people want to feel hopeful about the future, want to be uplifted,” Dan explained. “Kid’s music in general is on the upswing.”
“One Wasn’t Enough” is a playful rumination on lyricist Dan’s lifelong penchant for collecting things. “I got a collection of / All the neatest stuff,” opens Dan’s jaunty voice before he launches into a silly list of different collector’s items ranging from baseball caps to wishes to the days of the week. Dan, the song’s creator, laughed when asked about his “cactus collection” lyrics.
“When I was a kid, I had a cactus collection. That was autobiographical. Just a few years ago I had a collection of analog vintage synthesizers and most recently I went through a collection of bicycles.”
Accompanying the children’s lyrics are a variety of sound effects and other instruments, many of which are provided by Mike in his Bangor studio, although the brothers do a good amount of the “technical stuff” together. Their soon-to-be-released CD is being produced entirely in-house.
“We’re kinda doing the punk rock thing except we do kid’s music,” Dan mused.
The Flannery Brothers are as serious about the finer points of music making as they are about creating music that children will actually enjoy. Their new album “is basically about being engaged in the world around you and loving it because there’s so much interesting stuff out there to experience,” Dan said. “All of our songs revolve around that theme. I was engaging in vegetables last summer [at a farm in Winterport] so there’s a rutabaga song and a broccoli song. We hope it will make people say, ‘look how unique everything in the world is.'”
“I like to focus on things that are universal, across age groups, that are just a part of being a person.” So thoroughly does Dan believe in this message that he brought a ukulele and a brave soul to Woodman’s Bar and Grill in downtown Orono several weeks and performed at open mic night.
“I had the entire bar sing ‘Broccoli’ along with me. We don’t sing songs about stupid stuff. ‘The Best Pillow in the World’ is something anyone can get down with, being picky about a pillow.”
The brothers have been making music since they were kids, and Dan considers his children’s songwriting as a future and not just a hobby. He is currently working toward a master’s of fine arts in intermedia, and much of his work caters to appealing to kids, including the band’s Web site, flannerybrothers.com, which features a background and heading text made entirely from clay.
Neither brother is taking the contest lightly.
“The coolest thing about this contest is that it is the biggest of its kind,” Mike said, and the band intends to take it by storm. “[We] need the support of UMaine and Maine in general behind [us] because Flannery Brothers doesn’t have a CD out yet … [we don’t] have a fan base.”
Dan relentlessly continued the plug that he has been pushing in support of their song: “You can vote for the song ‘One Wasn’t Enough’ at jlsc.com/vote,” he said hopefully as he slowly straightened his himself up in the maw of the Oakes Room chair, “and you can vote once a day, every day, until May 27.” He added, smiling, “Please.”