With a tact that befits the kind of person who's been coached to handle label reps, Patrick O'Neill, singer and face of Mylestone, immediately explains the band's decision to stop working together as a divergence of influences. "I'm just so into my singer/songwriter thing, and the band is only really interested in, like, screamo, so there's no way to get anything done," he says.
As the conversation wears on, though, another reason surfaces. In about a year's time, Pat O'Neill, now 17, became an alcoholic, was hospitalized "three or four times" with alcohol poisoning, went through rehab and is now almost six months sober. The experience has shifted his priorities and turned his focus inward: "I used to write stupid songs about [unimportant] girlfriends I had that we could laugh about," he says. Now he writes songs with titles like "Death by Overdose," in an attempt to sift through the trauma of uncontrolled addiction. The experience has left him needing to take back control of all aspects of his life. This means an end to drinking, of course, but also an end to the persona he created for Mylestone.
O'Neill says he was always told that in order to be a front man, he'd need to come out of his shell. He doesn't believe he had a shell -- he believes he's a naturally shy person -- but success was important to him, and the pressure was there, so he says he constructed a stage persona that would entertain, but which bore no likeness to his true self. He says his solo work is an attempt to reconnect with himself and connect, for the first time, with an audience. "I got good at entertaining people, but I don't think I ever communicated with them ... That's the great thing about playing a coffee house, you can sometimes look out and focus on one person. Having them respond is amazing."
This is the kind of self-effacing, spotlight-shifting bullshit that rock stars pull when they want to hide their megalomania or transform it, so this statement draws red flags. O'Neill, though, has spent most of the interview turned away. It's hard to get him to make eye contact. A rock star -- a person peddling an image -- would be on message, looking into my left eye, selling it. O'Neill rambles, he winces, he gets off topic. Then he apologizes for getting off topic.
After an hour of this, the red flags settle a bit. Not all the way down, but enough that when he says, "there are only, like, two people in the world right now who I'd want to give my eulogy," I believe him. It's sentimental, and melodramatic as hell, but he's working through that, too.
He's already acknowledged the shortcomings of the things he wrote in rehab, which right now constitutes about three-quarters of what he's written. "Death by Overdose," he says, is the kind of song that "no one can connect with." So he's striving to universalize his work and add ambiguity. He wants to create a dialogue between himself and the listener.
For Mylestone's final show, though, will we get Pat O'Neill the person or Pat O'Neill the entertainer? "Probably Pat the entertainer," he says, "I don't want to be the guy who ruined Mylestone's last show." The pressure and guilt is still there, then, but he's mastering it.
"I guess it's about control -- having control over the way people see me," he says. Control -- vital for a poet and for recovering alcoholics -- is doubly important for Patrick O'Neill.
Mylestone's farewell show at the Big Easy with Royal Bliss and the Mediam on Saturday, June 17, at 7 pm. Tickets: $5. Benefits the families of local military personnel. Visit www.ticketmaster.com or call 325-SEAT.