Michael Tiernan

Michael Tiernan: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Vocals | Sim Ziff: Drums | Sam Johnson: Bass guitar | Collin Elliott: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric)

Genre: Bluegrass & Roots, Blues & Soul, Pop

Sound description: Acoustic folk rock. Harris Radio described Tiernan as "A cross between Kurt Cobain and David Gates."

RIYL: Crash Carter, Girlyman, Ellis Paul, U2, Carlos Olmeda, early Neil Young, Jack Johnson, David Wilcox, Damien Rice, David LaMott, Brian Wilson

No shows scheduled | Post a show | View show history


Inception: Vista, 2003

Ex-Band Members: Alex DePue, Violin

Influences: David Wilcox, Patty Griffin, Martin Sexton, Soundgarden, U2, Ellis Paul, Joni Mitchell


Before songwriter Michael Tiernan moved to town in 2003, he was playing solo sets in a Rome, Italy nightclub, attending seminary school, and studying to become a Catholic priest. “It was called North American College, on a hill right above the Vatican. We could do anything we wanted at night, but I kept getting in trouble for my musical performances in town. I guess they considered it unseemly for a seminary student to be playing out on the town in some Irish pub.”

Tiernan left the church institution at age 27 and eventually settled in San Diego, playing gigs between here and L.A. “It was through my L.A. connections that I heard about the [2004] L.A. Music Awards, and I entered with a demo I recorded in my closet at home in Del Mar. They actually nominated me for Male Singer-Songwriter of the Year. That night, I went up to the Music Box Theater in Hollywood with a whole busload of San Diego musicians and friends, with beer and pizza for everyone. I ended up winning the thing.”

Two other local acts were nominated for awards, though neither Bridget Bridgette nor Faceles won.

Tiernan also scored the 2007 Songwriter of the Year Award from the Pacific Songwriting Competition, though he was originally only a runner-up.

Accusations of misrepresentation swirled around the 2007 Competition. In previous years, PSC has offered cash prizes of $20,000 to $40 000. However, according to the contest website, “[The] 2007 competition has ended on a low. PSC has been accused of being a sham because PSC didn't post the prizes for the 2007 competition.”

Those prizes turned out to be only $200 in cash. The original 2007 Songwriter of the Year winner, S.C. from Nashville, posted on the PSC site “For what we invested in fees and postage, we barely broke even. I feel duped. I would like you to pass the award on to the next [song]writer…I would like a full refund for all of my fees and postage. I want you to remove our song and my name from your website immediately. This smells like a scam…What you have done is not only unscrupulous and immoral, it’s borderline illegal.”

PSC replied “This years[sp] small prize pool was forced upon us because we are non profit and in fact run at such a loss we were going to rest the competition for a year… All information regarding you and your work has (or will shortly) be removed from the website as requested.”

S.C. then posted a challenge regarding that “non profit” claim. The Competition spokesperson replied “Just to clariify [sp], ‘non profit’ did not mean ‘not for profit organization.’ It meant we received no profit.”

The next grand prize runner-up, T.E. from Iowa, also declined the award, posting “I am already upset about this whole thing being misleading to us all…I feel like the whole thing is a fraud.” Local boy Michael Tiernan was then named this year’s PSC Songwriter of the Year.

Says Tiernan, “Sloppy seconds, but I'll take it!”

Though he mostly performs and records, his favorite cover to play is "The Day I Tried to Live" by Chris Cornell in his Soundgarden days. "It's a shocking contrast to my own tunes -- dark but beautiful, and it hits so hard when it's translated on an acoustic guitar. Plus, I get to act like a rock star." Tiernan also performs “interactive internet concerts.” They stream live from his laptop at tiernantunes.tv.

In summer 2010, a new Turf Meets the Surf at Del Mar TV commercial featured Tiernan performing. “You have to look close to see me singing and playing guitar in my plaid shirt. It’s a nightclub scene set to the Bing Crosby song ‘Where the Surf Meets the Turf,’ with people taking turns at singing it, karaoke-style, while the lyrics are scrolling on a big screen.”

Mostly shot at downtown’s Stingaree, the commercial also features cameos by reality-show cast members from The Bachelorette and Bravo’s Top Chef, with champion horse trainer Bob Baffert also taking a shot at the mike. Crosby’s 1941 anthem was originally intended to promote the racetrack Crosby helped develop. He sold his stake in the Del Mar Turf Club and Racetrack in 1947, using the proceeds to purchase the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.

Tiernan has performed the Crosby tune at the track, sometimes accompanied by racetrack bugler Les Kepic.

In Autumn 2010, he released his album L.A. Can Wait. A new distribution deal with the Best Buy chain landed the record in the company’s 1,200 retail stores and in their online catalogs. A video was shot for the track “Write Me a Love Song,” directed and filmed by Jeff Wiant and produced by Nina Anderson.

On March 30, 2011, Tiernan blogged, “I launched Project Strong this past Tuesday, the day of my brother’s birthday, and I’ve already received tons of interested people who will be contributing content for the video. Amazing! Going through these stories of cancer is...tear-jerking and super-encouraging.”

Tiernan’s brother Joe’s died from cancer in 2009. “It was the most devastating experience of my life. I frequently have dreams of him as he was right before he passed. In his last couple months, it had ravaged his body.... It takes a lot to see the beauty and not get stuck on the ugly, but it’s in there.”

He describes Project Strong as “a vision that I had. Even before my brother died I was involved with cancer survivorship. I’ve always wanted to form a foundation to provide concerts for patients fighting cancer.... I played for my brother during one of his last treatments, quietly in the corner. When the doctor passed by, he stopped and shouted, ‘Finally! Someone’s trying to bring some joy to this place!’”

In early 2012, the Discovery Network licensed songs from his album L.A. Can Wait, to be used in TV shows on the Discovery Channel, TLC, I.D. (Investigation Discovery), the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), Discovery Fit & Health, the Military Channel, Planet Green, and Animal Planet.

2014 saw a new album, Inside Your Head, his fifth studio full-length and the second produced by Andre De Santanna. “Stylistically, I experimented a lot more with this album – and I wasn’t afraid to depart from my usual hopeful/cheery self, I really got in there with exploring being hopeless, angry and afraid, without coming up with some positive antidote to solve everything. Some of it just leaves the rawness of feeling crappy and going through crappy situations, and being OK with that.”

The album was half recorded at Jason Mraz’s studio in Oceanside, and half at Andre De Santanna's studio in North Hollywood. “This is the second album of mine produced by Andre, who since he worked on my first album 4 years ago, has started working with a ton of other San Diego artists. Super incredibly talented producer, produces a bunch of stuff for Bushwalla, and has done quite a bit of work with Mraz.”

By 2016, Tiernan had debuted a new acoustic duo, Parker Tiernan with singer-songwriter Christine Parker, quickly landing a series of gigs around town.

His 2017 EP Love and a Gun was produced by Andre de Santanna. "The title track comes from my reaction to world events this past year," he told the Reader. "I started writing the song the day of the Paris attacks, put it down for a bit, then finished it on the day of the San Bernardino attacks. It deals with my sadness for what surrounds us, what my kids are going to have to deal with, and challenges me to hope and act in the face of the senselessness of violence."

"The album artwork follows that theme as well, and its an artistic rendering of the feeling of those two opposites, with lava hitting the water, [and] rock forming out of the water. Rick Betancourt is an amazing artist, and he's captured the sound of my last three albums in his artwork for each."


  • Pin it


Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader