Posted On 26 Sep 2014
Since Andy McKee’s song, “‘Drifting” first went viral 7 years ago, it’s lead him to a full time career as a touring musician. Indeed, the song has achieved rarified status, often performed by aspiring guitar players as a test for entry into some of the most prestigious music schools and on TV talent shows around the world, and it has become so ubiquitous in guitar culture that the entire style of playing is often referred to as “’Drifting’-style guitar.”
Andy is now closing in on an astonishing 200 million cumulative YouTube views, made even more impressive considering that only two of his videos are covers of mainstream hits.
Do you remember the first moment that you realized that you wanted to be a performer?
Yeah absolutely! It was when I was 14 and I had just played in the school talent show with my friends. We did an instrumental version of “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. Even though I completely screwed the guitar solo up, it felt great being up on stage playing. And hey, it was kinda nice going from total outcast to total rock star in the middle school hierarchy in the span of about 5 minutes.
You are considered quite the acclaimed guitar virtuoso. How long have you been playing/practicing? Who are some renown guitarists that inspire you today?
I’ve been playing for 22 years now. Crazy, seems like that talent show was just the other day. Some of my favorite players these days are Antoine Dufour, Petteri Sariola, and Jon Gomm. Michael Hedges will always be an inspiration as well.
How does it feel to have hit 50 million views of your video for “Drifting” on You Tube?
Oh it’s great, you know, and mind-boggling. I wrote that tune quite a long time ago, about 16 or 17 years ago. I wasn’t sure where I was going with my life and I had just dropped out of college so I started writing music and teaching guitar lessons at a small guitar shop. I never could have guessed that “Drifting” would inspire guitarists all over the planet to give the acoustic guitar a second look. It’s really an honor and it means a lot to me.
You wrote “Drifting” when you were 18! Where did you get the inspiration for it?
Yeah! Well, I took a lot of inspiration from 4 guys in my formative years; Preston Reed, Michael Hedges, Don Ross, and Billy McLaughlin. In a technical sense, “Drifting” was inspired by the playing of Preston. He is the guy that first made me want to write acoustic guitar music. He’s got a very percussive and unique style. In an emotional context, I wrote “Drifting” because I felt like I was a bit lost on my life’s path.
I have read that you played with Prince and his band when he was in Australia a few years ago. What was that experience like?
Man, that was an honor. His management contacted mine in 2012 and I was like, are you serious? It turned out he saw me on Youtube and became a fan, imagine that, right? So, I went up to Paisley Park and we jammed some and I played him some of my original stuff and the next thing I know I am playing in Australia as a special guest on his shows. I was part of a medley with the band and the big finale “Purple Rain”. I also opened the shows with an acoustic version of “Purple Rain”. We’ve talked about doing more in the future, maybe some acoustic arrangements some day. We’ll see!
If you could work with any artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I feel extremely lucky in that I have had the opportunity to play with nearly all of my influences from Dream Theater and Eric Johnson on the rock side, to Don Ross and Preston Reed on the acoustic side. But there is one that I haven’t played with and if I had to pick one guy, it would definitely be Michael Hedges. I will never have enough words to describe what his music has meant to me. Unfortunately, I discovered his music just a few months before his fatal car accident in 1997. I never saw him perform or met him.
You are about to go on a busy tour through the US in support of your recently released album, Mythmaker. What are some of the emotions you are feeling now about it?
I’m looking forward to seeing how the audiences like the new tunes, you know I got a little adventurous on this EP. I have a solo piano piece on there and another one that is piano, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar. That one is a tune called “Lumine” and I use a foot pedal to trigger the piano and electric guitar parts live. I’m in Hong Kong at the moment, about to give a performance and it’s just nice to be out playing again. I was at home the last couple months just enjoying family time, but it’s great to be back in front of audiences again! I’m really looking forward to the US run.
Any pre-performance rituals?
No, not really. I’m pretty low key, not too excitable, I am from Kansas after all. I don’t get nervous before performing usually, unless it’s like I’m gonna be onstage with Prince or something. Hahahaha! I’m usually just chilling backstage perusing Google News or something before I hit the stage.
Tell me about your newly created label, Mythmaker. Was this always something that you wanted to do? How involved are you with finding artists to support?
Ah yes, well I started the label with the intent of just releasing my own music really. But as word got around, many of my friends who are acoustic artists mentioned interest in being on it. So I’d really love to turn it into something bigger and hopefully it can be a place where great, unique artists can release music. At the present time, my manager and I are getting more logistics pinned down so things are kind of hovering at the moment. But when we’ve got things locked in, we will begin looking for more musicians to add to the roster.
Thus far, what’s a favorite memory or something quirky that’s taken place on a tour, in the studio, etc..?
When I was out on tour with Dream Theater, we had some shows down in Mexico. I was the opening act and so there was a massive curtain set up behind me that hid DT’s gear while I did my set. So, while I’m in to one of my more aggressive rockin’ tunes, I can hear the audience gasp; the top right corner of the curtain had started to slip and fall. I turn and look up and just then the entire curtain collapses revealing DT’s stage set. I was nearly caught in the black mass as it came down but I was able to dodge it without missing a beat.
If an aspiring musician asked you for advice, what would you tell them?
It can be easy to become self-absorbed as a musician. If you ultimately find yourself with a lot of people listening to your music, remember your responsibility as an entertainer. Life is difficult, and we are the ones that make it easier for everyone.