Jack O'Connell gets his solo project running after his music career nearly comes to an end

One hospital stay kick-started Jack O'Connell's solo project, Closest Relative, while a second almost ended it.

In 2012, the singer/guitarist was diagnosed with drug-induced cholestatis, a liver disease brought on by the medications he was forced to take while recovering from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterial infection.

“It was an endless cycle, and I was home for a long time and not able to do anything, so I started writing songs really slowly,” said O'Connell, who will be celebrating the release of his debut solo EP, Messes, with a record release show at Rumba Cafe on Friday, May 26. “I was sick and spacy … and I was just trying to capture that state of mind at the time. I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know if I was going to continue to get sicker, or if I was finally going to get better.”

The musician eventually recovered, moving to Columbus in 2013, where he joined In Silent Movies and Jackie Stabb as a guitarist, allowing his solo recordings to fall to the background. When those bands disintegrated, O'Connell teamed with In Silent Movies drummer Randal Detweiler and Alex Douglas to form Miranova. It was right around this time that an accident almost ended his music career.

In May 2015, O'Connell was riding his motorcycle on Fishinger Road, traveling at around 35 miles per hour, when a car in front of him stopped abruptly, causing the musician to slam into the rear of the vehicle.

“I didn't want to look at my hand because I knew it was bad, and when I finally looked at it I was like, ‘I can't play guitar,'” said O'Connell, who lost most of his pinky finger on one hand in the accident. Doctors attempted to salvage the musician's ring finger on the same hand, performing “12 or 13” surgeries on it over a year and a half, according to O'Connell, before giving up and severing the finger to stave off a bone infection that threatened to turn septic.

Not that the surgeries slowed O'Connell for long. The day after having a second surgery on his ring finger, the musician performed with Miranova, holding his guitar vertically and “attacking it like a crab,” as he explained. “I had a full cast and my thumb was free and maybe this finger was free,” O'Connell said, wiggling his index finger. “It wasn't good, but I did it. And I decided from that point I was just going to keep playing.”

As part of this healing process, O'Connell returned to the solo recordings he'd started years earlier, redoing some of the tunings and coming up with simpler arrangements in order to compensate for the injury. Resulting songs like “The Ghost of Love” maintain the “sick and spacy” haze O'Connell experienced during his 2012 downtime, with the guitarist trading haunted lines with guest singer Mary Lynn atop casually strummed acoustic guitar. Other tunes like “Hello Mrs. A” more specifically address his illness. “That was a maybe-not-so-clever idea about turning MRSA into Mrs. A, and she's some unwanted, black widow-type character,” O'Connell said.

Even so, a bulk of the material maintains some sense of mystery, filled with mentions of doomed relationships, long-held secrets and secret rendezvous.

“The songs are all based on my own experiences … but I make it very vague in some areas so people won't be like, ‘Is this about me?'” said O'Connell, who will be joined by bassist Dan Sherwood, drummer Josh Oswald and keyboardist/backup singer Leslie Dowler for the release show. “Maybe on my next record, I'll be a little more courageous.”

Correction: An earlier version of this piece named Alex Douglas as the former In Silent Films drummer. Alive regrets the error.