Music inspired by personal experiences
By Marlena Chavira-Medford
Michael Tiernan discovered the power of music early on. Battling cancer at just 16, it proved to be a refuge.
"I remember watching a guy play this song at some church retreat my mom had forced me to go to, and there was so much emotion in that song, it just floored me," he recalled.
"That was a pivotal moment. So I borrowed this old Flying V electric guitar from a buddy and start fumbling around with it. Music became my space to be alone with my thoughts and work through my emotions."
After surviving his bout with cancer, Tiernan toured the country with a band of guys he'd met in church, a bunch he jokingly likens to "Catholic hippies living out of a van." Several bands and a short stint in seminary school later, Tiernan was a fulltime recording artist, hammering out three albums from 2004 to 2007.
"In this industry, there's this mentality of: 'You've got to get your music out there, you've got to hit L.A.'"
But all that's changed now, he said.
"Things are different now because I became a father. After my daughter Elizabeth was born, I realized L.A. can wait, because I have the most beautiful little girl in the world here with me now."
And after more recently welcoming son Jacob, Tiernan said he's now a bona fide "Mr. Mom, and loving every minute." Because of that, several of the songs on his latest album are happy, such as "Father and Child."
"That song was inspired by my wife's first pregnancy. She'd come home from work and I'd go straight to her belly because I couldn't wait to meet the baby inside. It's a song that still makes me smile."
The album also pays a playful homage to his neighbors on Lunetta in Del Mar, who he's certain heard him playing during many practice sessions.
"The song is called 'Write Me a Love Song' because I wrote it from my neighbors' point of view. I imagined them hearing the music from next door and wishing someone would write them a love song. The music video for that song was filmed in the same house where I wrote the song, on Lunetta, which is where my grandparents lived for many years. That was a really fun song."
And though many of the songs on this album are lighthearted, some deal with heavier issues. That's because though Tiernan has had much to celebrate with the birth of his two kids, he's also faced some dark days. It was in the midst of becoming a father that Tiernan received a phone call that forever changed his life.
"My brother Joe called to tell me he had stage four cancer. I'll never forget, he told me: 'Don't worry Mike, I am strong."
That phone conversation inspired Tiernan to write "Strong," which is about Joe's battle with cancer. Tiernan was in the studio recording that song when he got another devastating phone call. This time it was to inform him that Joe had taken a turn for the worse.
"I had not played the song for Joe yet because I was nervous, and I never get nervous when I perform. I didn't know what he would think about the song, but I knew if I was ever going to play it for him, I had to do it now.
"I was alone with him in the hospital room and he hadn't been responsive the entire night, he hadn't even moved, in fact. So, I wasn't sure if he could hear me, but I took out my guitar and told him I was going to play him a song I'd written for him. About halfway through the song, tears started streaming down his face."
The next day, Joe passed away. And though he has been gone for a year now, Tiernan still feels that Joes' spirit very much lives on in that song. He now wants to share the song with the world and, in particular, people affected by cancer.
"My hope is that this song will help inspire people. This song helps bring meaning out of Joe's fight. This song really has its own energy, so I have big plans for it."
Those plans are finally coming to fruition in Project Strong, which Tiernan has established in memory of his brother. Through this program, Tiernan hopes to create a multimedia compilation of people sharing their cancer stories. And as a cancer survivor himself, Tiernan hopes to bring his music to others facing the disease.
"When my brother was getting chemo treatment, I used to play music for him as I know how depressing a hospital can be and how much music can help change that mood. In fact, one time I was playing for him a doctor came in and said to me: 'Finally, someone's trying to bring some joy in here.'"
Ultimately, that's what Tiernan said he aims to do with his latest album: bring joy to people, whether it's helping someone find hope as they face an uphill battle, or whether it's celebrating the precious moments in life.
"This album is really a celebration of life, from birth to death, and all the moments in between. I hope it resonates with people, wherever they happen to be in life."
For more information about Michael Tiernan and his music, visit
- If you would like to share your cancer story with him, you can email him at
For more information about Project Strong, please visit
Michael Tiernan plays live at En Fuego in Del Mar Village every Wednesday night.
Tiernan will celebrate the release of his new album Sunday, Nov. 7, from 4-7 p.m., during an outdoor sunset concert at The Crossings in Carlsbad (5800 The Crossings Dr., Carlsbad, CA 92008); (760) 444-1800).