All of us reporters at KXSU love each other to the moon and back, and when I found out that our very own Jason McCue was going to be performing at this year’s Philadelphia Folk Festival, I had to sit down with him (email him) and chat (type) about how prepared he is for his set (he’s not). He even spilled on some of the inspirations for his most recent bodies of work, FEVER and HUMANS, both of which I’m sure he’ll play plenty of music from this weekend.
KXSU: Thanks for chatting, Jason! Your sound is surprisingly eclectic for being so folk-based, which is awesome. What is your creative process like when making something new?
JM: First of all, Craig, I just want to complement you on the blog you write for. I mean, there are some incredible writers on your staff. That In-Bed-With-Something-or-other column you guys have? Pure gold.
So I kind of derp around on a guitar until I think something sounds interesting. From there, I mess with melodies and words that fit with what’s down already. I like words a lot, too. It’s fun to play around with how different words sound and try to make something exciting out of that. Then once I have something that resembles a song, I break out the ol’ MacBook and my USB microphone from RadioShack, and try to record. That brings another level of derping and messing around.
KXSU: Well with that, how did you get started making music, and what were the first songs you ever wrote like?
JM: My friend Dan and I started our first attempts to make music together when high school started. Those songs were like a combination of The Who and Creed. I was, unfortunately, on the Creed side.
KXSU: Creed’s “Rain” is low-key catchy. Don’t tell anyone I said that. So what artists inspire you?
JM: Oh man, a whole lot of people. Definitely The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Tom Waits, and Elliott Smith off the top of my head. Their songwriting is just incredible (in completely different ways) that opened up a whole world for me. Alex G is awesome because he shows that you don’t need to have experienced anything traumatic, or you don’t need to have had a less-happy-than-average childhood in order to write emotionally stimulating music.
Also, the Beastie Boys. I know they’re a way different genre, but they taught me that if I’m going to say something in a song, say it with confidence.
KXSU: FEVER, a 14-track album of yours, was released around the winding down of your second year of undergrad. Was there any inspiration that went into that album from such a transitional period in your life?
JM: I’d say so. I had just transferred to Seattle from a school in Philadelphia, close to where I grew up, so a whole lot was different for me last fall. It got real lonely not knowing too many people, especially since most students my age had already settled into tight friend groups by then, so when I had nothing to do, it was nice to record music in my dorm room.
Also, trying to pretend old relationships were the same despite the distance is a theme that makes its way on there from time to time.
KXSU: What are some of your favorite things about Fever, from the songs themselves to the process it took to make the whole thing? (I really dig “Donald and Valerie,” by the way.)
JM: Yeah, I like that one too. That’s probably my favorite on the album. As far as the whole thing goes, I’m pretty proud of the lyrics. I tried to steer clear of anything that might be predictable or cliché, and I think I did a pretty good job of keeping myself on my toes. I don’t like love songs unless they’re done right, and I don’t know how to do them right. However, that’s the go-to lyrical styling for my genre, so I’m glad I could find something else to write about most of the time.
KXSU: One of my favorite things about the album is the storyline it follows. How did you come up with the characters and the overarching theme for the album?
JM: Ahhhh, cool! I’m glad that’s visible. Some of my favorite albums are The Wall and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (and American Idiot, I’m ain’t afraid to say it), so I’ve always had a soft spot for story-albums. “The Fever” is actually a short story I wrote in October. It’s absolutely terrible, so I’ll never show anybody, but that’s where the names and characters come from.
KXSU: And if you had the chance to redo anything on Fever, A) would you, and B) what would you do?
JM: I think I’d get rid of the song “Stable.” It’s alright, it’s just not my favorite thing I’ve written. Plus, it kind of takes away from the story. Also, I’d get my buddy Pieter to play banjo on more tracks. He killed it on “Sweeetie,” and I wish there was more I could’ve gotten him in for.
KXSU: Awesome! So talk to me about your newest project, HUMANS.
JM: Well, my buddy Phil loves it. Phil’s great; he tells me everyday how much he likes HUMANS. Nice guy.
Other than Phil’s appreciation, it’s supposed to be a sort of social commentary. I’m working at a zoo this summer, so I’ve been dealing with a lot of animals (and by “animals,” I mean small children who don’t shut up about their dumb ice cream cones), and I’ve also been hanging out with actual animals. I’ve found there’s definitely a sense of entitlement for paying twenty bucks to get into the place, which possesses people to get pissed when the lion’s asleep. That entitlement might also possess a child who sees a golden opportunity to climb into an enclosure. HUMANS is supposed to harness and reproduce that entitlement from different points of view, whether from a human, an animal, or in a political or hypersexual context, as well as ask if this entitlement could be a modern incarnation of the original sin concept.
KXSU: That’s incredibly cool. I love the detail and thought you put into that. It’s such a genuinely unique and cohesive album, and I hope you’re proud of it. What really grabbed my immediate attention was the instrumentation on the title track to the project. Did you record this album with a full band?
JM: Nope, that’s still me. I’m back home for the summer, so I have access to my brother’s old drum set, a bass, and a keyboard which makes things more interesting. I just record them all separately.
KXSU: What can we expect to hear from your set at Philadelphia Folk Festival on August 19?
JM: I’m playing at Folk Fest?! Holy cow, I had no idea. I have to prepare, I guess!
KXSU: On a scale of “I’ve got this” to “Holy cow, I’m going to die,” how ready are you to perform at the fest?
JM: I think I’ll be alright. I’m on a stage where most people like to chill out, so I’m not too worried my set will be scrutinized very heavily. I’m mostly just excited for all the free food performers get.
KXSU: And lastly, do you have any upcoming projects you’re working on that you can tease us with?
JM: I’m dropping an album called Boys Don’t Cry. Except, whenever you think it’ll be dropped, you’re going to have to wait another 24-72 hours (F. Ocean reference).
Be sure to stream Jason’s music on his Bandcamp page and connect with him on Facebook. Jason, if you’re reading this, I’ve got two things to say to you. 1) Stop being so narcissistic by re-reading your interview, and 2) good luck, pal. You’re going to do a great job at Philadelphia Folk Festival. Everyone here at KXSU is rooting for you, and we can’t wait to have you back in Seattle.
See our pal, Jason McCue play live at the Next Gen Folk set at the Front Porch Stage at 11 a.m. No, but seriously, go.
CRAIG JAFFE | Jason McCue’s #2 Fan | Editor