Interview: Steven McKay

Steven McKay @ Soundscapes, 11-23-10
[Note: Since Soundscapes doesn’t sell shots, we had Steven McKay take a couple swigs from a bottle of Crown. But shhh.]

Steven McKay is not hard to spot. I walked into Soundscapes and found myself shaking hands with an extremely tall gentleman. We chatted in the basement of Soundscapes, more specifically in this tiny kitchen we could barely squeeze into. For part of our chat, Drew Smith (Doctor Ew) sat just outside the doorway. Some of the Soundscapes staff laughed at us and McKay responded with, “Why not?” Despite the awkward setup, chatty McKay made it work.

Known primarily for his skills on drums in Bruce Peninsula, McKay had released his debut EP, Whistle, in 2007. While he had been playing guitar and drums with some other bands, it turns out that, aside from “bad wannabe Led Zeppelin songs” since the age of 14, McKay had not really tried his hand at writing his own songs much. When he was living in Kingston, McKay worked as a bartender at the Grad Club in Kingston for a year, which granted him some free time during the day. A friend had encouraged him to record, which led to McKay buying his own recording equipment.

“I put that little thing out maybe 6 or 7 months after I started sorta writing stuff. And the first song that I wrote was ‘You May Be Dirty’ which is the song that everybody likes the most. It’s kinda funny. First attempt and it’s the best one that I’ve ever done.” This got a chuckle from Smith, who teased, “You peaked, man! First attempt!”

Given McKay titled his debut EP Whistle and that he does whistle in his songs, it shouldn’t be surprising that McKay gets this from his family and he even credits his parents as being “way better.” His mother is actually a choirmaster and used to teach music in elementary school. His father was a drummer and McKay is actually a 5th generation drummer. Now you know where McKay gets all his musicality.

Post-Whistle, McKay just recently released his debut self-titled full-length album. He describes it as “nostalgia pop,” as he is someone that has a “nostalgia button” often when it comes to songwriting.

“Every song that I write about is about how I don’t see people.” Despite the themes being rather sad, the music itself does not sound morose in the slightest. McKay says, “But it’s a very happy record.”

“I’m not a sad dude, by any standard. I’m a pretty light-hearted guy, but I guess I just really like being around people.”

It’s hard to be around these people, including his wife that he sings about in “Emma Comes Home,” considering how busy he is. In fact, McKay’s “Slow Down” is about being “crazy busy.” He works full-time as a production manager for an orchestra. McKay describes, “I travel with them as their tour manager/venue guy.”

On top of touring with the orchestra, McKay plays with a Hamilton band called The Deviants, as well with Tusks. He is most known as a co-founding member of Bruce Peninsula. With his release this year, on top of other endeavours, it has been hard to play much with the band.

“I’ve actually been missing Bruce Peninsula. Leon Taheny has played as many gigs as I have this year, which is really sad because I’d rather be at those gigs than anywhere else.”

Musically, his heart may lie with Bruce Peninsula, but McKay also recognizes the importance of what he’s doing. He says, “But we gotta do these things because opportunities like this only come up so much and I’m a pretty ambitious dude, so I just wanna go out there and do as much as we can.”

McKay is certainly ambitious, but his solo work is also an outlet for things that just are not part of the Bruce Peninsula sound.

“Bruce Peninsula won’t let me do any of these things that I do on this record. Most of the the things I do on this record are things that would never fly in Bruce Peninsula… synth solos, major chords… That’s why all my songs are in nice, happy keys.”

McKay may be known for his work on drums, but he does miss playing guitar. On top of not getting to show off his skills, McKay says, “Also, I sit behind a drum set behind a row of girls, so nobody actually sees me play, but when you play guitar you’re up front.”

Being up front is certainly different for McKay, but it allows him to do something he doesn’t get to do in Bruce Peninsula – interact with the audience.

“It feels great, but it’s kinda weird. I talk a lot. One day we did a show where we were only supposed to play for half an hour and I talked for half of the set. It’s not like a rant, I just happen to be tuning my guitar and it just goes a little longer than it should. That’s something that’s different. I don’t get to do that in Bruce Peninsula. I don’t even have a microphone, for a good reason. Sometimes I’ll stick my head up and yell something from the back just to get something out there into the world.”

Working with Bruce Peninsula has really opened up McKay musically, as touring with them has really influenced his taste. However, he indicates that he is probably most influenced by working with Timber Timbre.

“I barely even worked with Taylor [Kirk] on his record. I sing for 4 songs and I was there for maybe 6 hours working on it. So I didn’t really collaborate with Taylor so much, but he’s somebody who’s changed me a lot because when I listen to his record, knowing him, he’s a really nice, friendly guy, not a dark guy at all. And then you listen to the record, you think ‘Oh, I don’t have to do happy poppy music because that’s who I am. I still can do weird dark strange stuff like Taylor.’ That’s affected me.”

When asked to describe a drunken tour story, McKay did not have much in the way of Bruce Peninsula. “I don’t drink too much at shows when I play with Bruce Peninsula.”

He did offer up a story when he played with The Deviants. To set the stage, it was a holiday show that is traditionally played on December 29th and is also the birthday celebration Neil Haverty (Bruce Peninsula) and Andy from “Andy’s House.” It’s perhaps not a story for the easily squeamish.

“One time I drank so much I was hitting my hands on the rims of the drums and not even realizing it and when I looked down at the end of the gig, the drums were covered in blood. All of my knuckles were just gashed open and you’re just playing and all the blood is pumping into your hands because you’re going like this (air drumming) all the time and it’s just spraying. And it wasn’t even my drum set, which is so gross. And then I went to the bar and got some water and paper towel and cleaned it up as quickly as I could.”

As for McKay’s shot of choice, he offers up two options.

“I am an Irish whiskey guy, so I take a Jameson. It’s got this sweet, honey sort of vibe. My favourite drink is a rusty nail, which is scotch and Drambuie. Jameson and Drambuie is my rusty nail.”

However, McKay also loves a good tequila, “which is the best thing in the world because it makes you feel like a million bucks.”

McKay, likely one of the easiest guys to talk to do, had a swig of Crown Royal after our chat. It wasn’t Jameson, but it was still appreciated.


Categories: Interviews


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