Talking To...Andy McKee

Virtuoso acoustic guitarist Andy McKee has returned to the UK to tour. The day before his tour started, Fatea's Matt Tighe, was lucky enough to meet with him and have a chat about his roots, what he's up to these days and what the future holds, (amongst many other things).

M: How are you?

A: Good!

M: How long have you been in London?

A: I just got in last night at about Six O'Clock. I was actually playing in India for a show before and it was my first time playing there, so that was cool. It just came up last minute. I played there on the 8th (March) after spending two days getting there and played on the night that I arrived and then left the next morning to come here. So it was a quick in and out but all is good and looking forward to playing some gigs over here.

M:Can we talk bit about your background? What got you into music and playing the guitar?

A: Sure, I started playing guitar when I was thirteen. My Dad got me one and I'd asked for it because I'd heard this guitarist Eric Johnstone playing on the radio, and he was doing instrumental electric guitar music on the radio which I thought was crazy! I was really impressed! I'd been listening to rock music and even some heavy metal from a pretty early age and had gotten into Iron Maiden and Metallica but never really thought of playing the guitar before I heard him and hearing this instrumental guitar stuff where he was really covering the melody on the guitar for the whole song. That really affected me in a different way and made me really want to play guitar. But yeah, my Dad got me an Acoustic Guitar when I was thirteen and it was a nylon string and I was just trying to learn things like Enter Sandman on it for a while. I then got an Electric Guitar and learnt on that for quite a while. Then, when I was Sixteen I was really inspired to try the acoustic guitar after hearing Preston Reed play. He was doing a lot of unusual techniques and all this different stuff on the acoustic guitar that I'd never seen before and it really made me want to try it. That's when I made the big switch from focusing on Electric guitar to acoustic guitar and have been kinda focused on that ever since. I still play some electric guitar and I have a little bit on my new EP that's coming out but the acoustic guitar is still my main focus.

M: So, a tour in the UK. Is it the new EP that has prompted that?

A: Erm, well I usually play here every year, but I took last year off from hard core touring. I did some stuff in the U.S a bit, but I was mostly working on new music and I also had another kid.

M: Congratulations!

A: Thanks man! But I didn't really play outside of the country at all last year. So anyway, I just wanted to get back and do a few weeks in the UK with the new music.

M: Is the new EP going to lead to something bigger like an album or a series of EPs?

A: Yeah, I'm kinda thinking about doing EPs and moving forward that way, but we'll see. I've had a bit of a hard time composing whilst touring. Its not very easy for me to do it that way and I've been touring pretty hardcore for the past seven years or so. So I'm thinking about doing EPs and trying to get music out more frequently because its been almost four years since I had a new album.

M: And the last album was…?

A: Joyland, and that was like, 2010. So yeah, I'm thinking about these smaller collections of music more frequently and I'll see how that goes.

M: How does the music on this EP differ from the music you've played and composed previously?

A: I just wanted to let any sort of creativity happen with this thing. Also, I'm sort of known as an acoustic guitar player but I play a bit of piano and electric guitar as well, so for example on the EP there's a solo piano piece and another piece that has piano as well as acoustic and electric guitar on it. So yeah, I don't know if this means that I'm going to have a band at some point or what. I've got this one new tune called Lumine that is written for multiple instruments and what I've decided to do is to play along to the back track for the live performances. If I keep this sort of thing up maybe I'll need a band, but we'll see how it goes.

M: As to composition, is there a process that you consciously go through or does it just happen naturally?

A: Yeah, it's a little bit of both I guess. If I'm writing a solo acoustic guitar thing I'll usually start with an altered tuning and experiment around with it and see what sort of things happen. With this sort of music, I usually experiment until I find a riff or a melodic idea and I go from there. I would say that it's definitely more an instinctive thing rather than a calculated one. I don't write things down either.

M: You said that you may be interested in getting a band together. I have two questions related to that. Firstly, if you had to join a band from any period of time, which one would it be? Secondly, what would be in your ideal band?

A: Oh wow….I think it would have to be Dream Theatre….Yeah, Dream Theatre. For a band I'd definitely want piano in it, or some type of keyboard instrument whether it be synth or piano. I've always liked the sound of the hammered dulcimer, but I'm not sure that would work with what I do but I'd be interested to see how it would fit in.

M: What is your live set up?

A: For this tour I'll be using two greenfield guitars. I try to bring my harp guitar out on tour as much as possible but it's difficult when I have to fly. I use K&K pickups and the signal from them go to my preamp and then to the sound desk. I don't generally use pedals but on this tour i'm using a Boss RC30 looping pedal to play the backing track to Lumine which I mentioned earlier. It's not the usual way to use a loop pedal I guess but it works well live.

M: Who has been the biggest influence on your playing?

A: Michael Hedges. Without any doubt Michael Hedges has been the biggest influence on my playing. He just did things that still to this day amaze me both musically and technically. I can play a little bit of his stuff and it amazes me how musical his compositions are. I think that most acoustic guitar players have been influenced by Michael Hedges in some way or another. He was one of the first guys to really play a steel string as a solo instrument.

M: Do you see the playing of people like Jon Gomm, Antoine Dufour, Preston Reed etc plus yourself as a completely different movement of acoustic playing or as just natural progression from what already existed stylistically?

A: Yeah, I would and I would say that it all started with Michael Hedges. As I said earlier he was kinda the first guy to play solo stuff on a steel string guitar. I suppose from there that music evolved into the music of Don Ross and Preston Reed. I guess Jon and Antoine and Myself amongst any others are like the new generation that are playing this music. The cool thing about it is that everyone's got their own individual style. Like Don Ross has got this super rhythmical style of playing that's almost funk music. But that's just one example.

M: If you had to label yourself to a genre, which one would it be?

A: That's hard! I don't know if I could label it with a genre. I suppose it depends on what music I'm playing. As in, if I wrote it does it sort of lean more towards a certain style of music or not. I suppose you could describe it some sort of contemporary acoustic folk, but I'll probably change my mind about that definition very soon. It does depend on what you are playing. I know Ii've appeared in the Singer/Songwriter and folk charts on iTunes.

M: Yeah, I saw that you were in the folk charts. Its a bit more accurate than singer/songwriter but still not quite right.

A: Yeah, I agree. I like the way Don Ross describes it as, "Heavy wood" music as opposed to heavy metal. That's the closest to what it is I guess. I don't know, someone one day will come up for a good term for it.

M: Thanks.

A: You're welcome.

Matt Tighe was talking to Andy McKee

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