Posted On 16 Nov 2017
Meet Andrew McKeag, best known as the guitarist in the Presidents of the United States of America, who has recently released his solo debut album.
Check it out here- http://smarturl.it/AndrewMcKeagBand
McKeag has dedicated his entire life to music working as in demand sideman and guitar player. He’s performed with Bo Diddley and toured with Javier Escovedo. He maintains his long-running and storied Seattle seventies rock cover band 70 Proof, which has boasted appearances from the likes of Duff McKagan as well as members of Mother Love Bone, Supersuckers, and more. He has played with a slew of bands up and down the West Coast, namely Shuggie, Hard Roller, Uncle Joe’s Big Ol’ Driver, and currently plays with San Diego’s The Dirty Sweet and Lady Dottie & The Diamonds. In 2005 McKeag joined the multi-platinum iconic Seattle luminaries The Presidents Of The United States of America. He toured everywhere with the band and remained integral to 2008’s critically acclaimed These Are the Good Times People and Kudos to You!
The season musician is embarking on a series of firsts this year. Not only is this the first album where he handled the majority of the writing but this is the first band project that will feature his name on the marquee, The Andrew McKeag Band.
With this album Andrew is carrying the torch for guitar driven rock n’ roll lovers everywhere. Top help him bring his rock vision to life he enlisted drummer Charlie George and bassist John Krylow and recorded with producer Scott Hackwith [The Ramones] in downtown Los Angeles at Cassette Recordings. Other A List guests on the album include Zander Schloss [Circle Jerks/Joe Strummer/Thelonius Monster] who can be heard on “Ordinary Fool,” guitar legends—Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and Zakk Wylde of Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society, and Zakk Sabbath, who are featured on a searing cover Mountain’s “Never In My Life,” and Ty Bailie [Katy Perry] provides keyboards throughout the album.
Connect With Andrew McKeag Here:
Learn more about Andrew McKeag in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! So where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What’s a song you are loving these days? What music instantly lifts you out of a bad mood?
Today I’ve been listening to old Les Paul and Mary Ford while working at Satellite Amplifiers, but I play so much music these days that I often exist in silence. Of course there’s always something playing in my head, regardless of what’s going on in the background. I don’t use music to escape- if anything I have to escape from IT sometimes. But there’s certain albums, like Funkadelic’s ‘Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On’, Spiritualized “Lazer Guided Melodies’ or Neil Young’s ‘Tonight’s The Night’ that will ALWAYS do it for me. There are so many more.
Did you approach the start of this year any differently then you did last year? What have been some of the highlights for you this year? What are you excited for in 2018 which will be here before we know it?!
I started this year putting the finishing touches on the Andrew McKeag Band album prior to mixing. Definitely different than last year- when I was working full time as a venue production manager and trying to figure out what to do next musically. I’m really proud to get it this thing out to the world in 2018!
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there ever a time where you thought about doing something completely different? What do you think it finally was that pushed you to this career?
My first musical memory is sitting behind the drums at our neighbor’s house in Seattle, probably around 1973- they had a bluegrass band that rehearsed in the living room where I was fascinated by all the instruments laying around. My mom remembered me coming to her very perplexed shortly thereafter, saying that I “didn’t know what to do!”. She said: “What do you mean?” I apparently responded: “I don’t know whether to be a guitar player or a motorcycle racer when I grow up!” I haven’t changed at all- I now do both, though I’m a much more proficient guitar player than I am motorcycle racer. I’ve had lots of other jobs and still do- some have been music-related, some not. But I’ll always be involved in music somehow or another.
I always like to know how a particular city has influenced an artist. How do you think your hometown has affected the kind of music that you are making today? How has your current city influenced your music?
I was born in Seattle, grew up in Portland, OR and have always lived on the West Coast. In the 70’s and 80’s the Northwest felt kinda out of the way. At the time places like that gestated their own music scenes- everyone knows those stories, but Portland felt really dead musically when I split in 1988. Of course I moved to another musically ‘out of the way’ place- San Diego, CA, but at least the weather was better. San Diego had a small but vibrant scene, which was a lot of fun to be a part of in the early 90’s. That’s where I started my first original bands and began writing songs, touring, etc. I split back to Seattle in 1995 and did 20 more years in the rain- played lots of music, got married, started a family, had a bunch of cool gigs and jobs. The weather finally beat us down though and we returned to San Diego in 2014. Now I’m back in an old yet new scene and re-establishing myself in SD as a middle-aged rock guy, having come full circle. What I’m doing musically now isn’t really that different than what I did in Seattle- it’s just rock & roll music.
Let’s talk about your debut solo album that you will be releasing next month. What was it like putting this collection together? Did anything surprise you about the process? Were there any unexpected challenges?
The Andrew McKeag Band album is a group effort. It really began when my incredibly generous brother Charles told me he wanted to help me put out an album of my own, under my own name so I could finally establish myself as my own entity. I then set about finding people to play music with in my new/old hometown of San Diego. I started jamming with Charlie George (drums) and John Krylow (bass) last summer. They’re both great musicians. Most of the songs I’d had kicking around for years but never done anything with… and I wrote a few more as the summer turned into fall. Basic tracks went really quick and easy- the only unexpected challenge turned out to be finishing it. We were recording in LA and we all live in SD, so there were lots of early morning/late night drives. Then I had to take off on tour as we were ready to start mixing. That meant that nothing really got finalized until I was home, which added a few months to the process. But the record turned out cool, and we’re happy with it.
What was it like finally going at it alone after all your careers in bands? How is the sound of your solo work different then your past bands? Do you think that you made a conscious effort to do something very different with your solo project?
I spent the last dozen years playing 3 string guitar for the Presidents Of The USA and the AMB record definitely doesn’t sound anything like PUSA. But it also doesn’t sound much different than my Seattle bands like Shuggie and Hard Roller. I do what I do the way I do it.
I like to think I’m a little better songwriter now than I was 20 years ago, but that should be the case, right? I don’t think my guitar playing has really changed at all since I was a teenager. I just wanted to be able to approximate my heroes and once I got close… I figured that was good enough- now go make music.
How did you go about selecting all of the different musicians to work with on your debut solo album? What was it like working with them all?
The core band on the album is Charlie George, John Krylow and myself. Beyond that I just listened to what the song felt like it needed and asked my friends to come down and play. The album’s producer Scott Hackwith also weighed-in on many of the overdub ideas- he was fun to work with in that way. I really enjoy throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks in a recording session. I try not to get too hung up on my own expectations- you just never know what’s gonna happen if you open up your mind to things changing or morphing. When Zander Schloss came down, I asked him to bring his bouzouki for one song… but he also brought along a 12 string acoustic and the parts he added to “Ordinary Fool” on both instruments absolutely transformed the song.
I know it’s hard to choose but what are some of your favorite songs on this album? Can you talk about how a few of them came together for you? What was inspiring you to make this kind of a collection?
I don’t pick favorites, but it was really gratifying to see all these songs come to life on a record. “Spinning Planet” and “Sorry You’re Gone” were written just before we recorded, but many of them had been kicking around for quite a while in some form or another. I wrote “Ordinary Fool” in about 2002 for my old band Shuggie, “Champagne & Cigarettes” started life in about 2009 and “This Old Lie” was written in a Milwaukee hotel room a few years ago.
What did it feel like to have your name front and center and on the venue marquee’s?
It’s no different than any other band I’ve been the singer for, just happens to be my name as the band name. That fact makes it a little easier to explain to people – I’m happy not to entertain the “… so tell me about the name of the band” question ever again. At the end of the day, I’m doing this to build a brand and a life for myself in music that nobody can take away because they don’t feel like working.
With all of your varied extensive touring and performing experiences, I am curious to know what moment stick out to you from it all as favorites? What artists did you learn the most from?
I’ve recorded, performed and toured with a variety of people, but playing with the Presidents for all those years taught me the most. When I started with PUSA I was just filling-in for the original guitar player, but after a few years I became a full member and played on subsequent albums, did all the touring, etc. Chris Ballew and Jason Finn are great musicians and ran an efficient, profitable operation that was always fun. On stage we remained open to spontaneous and crazy shit happening, yet we always had the arrangements nailed. They taught me how important it is in a band situation to be respectful of other people’s time and space- don’t be late, don’t be a pain in the ass (though we all have our moments)! Touring is 22.5 hours of business travel and 1.5 hours of playing music per day- so we always said we got paid for the travel and did the music for free. It was incredibly gratifying to play sold out theatre shows, big festivals… and see the world. My first time in London was playing a sold out gig at The Astoria. It was amazing getting to do the stuff I’d dreamt of, but being a realist- had never planned on actually seeing happen. It was the best part time job I’ve ever had.
How do you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? Where do you think you are truly the happiest- on stage performing or elsewhere?
I just love playing guitar and singing. I’m still the same 4 year old kid that wanted be a part of the music somehow. Of course I’m also really happy sitting on a motorcycle- my other lifelong passion. But this weird life has other rewards- I’ve been married to a very tolerant lady for almost 20 years, have two great kids, a couple amazing dogs and a coterie of lifelong friends that mean the world to me and music is mixed-up in all of it.
Do you believe that the music being created right now will be greatly influenced by the intensely politically charged times we live in right now? How has it affected you as a musician in general?
I was always a little put off by my musical heroes that combined music and politics, so I avoided it. However, with the 24/7 embarrassment that is currently occupying the Oval Office, that will undoubtedly change. Check out the next record to see how pissed off I get.
What artists have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
It all started for me with The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and everything that was being played on FM rock radio in the 70’s and early 80’s. We didn’t have a TV when I was a kid, so I quickly dove into blues, funk, R&B and punk rock, as well as the new wave and metal of the day. But If I could be a guitar player in any band- I’d want to play for Iggy Pop. I’ve seen him every chance I’ve had for 30 years and he never disappoints. Iggy on the Blah Blah Blah tour in Portland, OR in early 1987 remains the best show I’ve seen in my life.
What advice would you give to a young person who is considering becoming a musician one day?
I tell young people that are starting out to play all the time, anywhere, with as many different people as possible. Close the computer, put down the phone and go see as much live music as you can. Also… be willing to do ANY job in music before you set your sights on being a full-time musician- you can learn a everything about how that world works by being willing to work behind the scenes.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music? What do you hope is the message of your songs?
I don’t have messages in my songs, I just write ‘em. It’s up to the listener to decide what they mean. What I hope they take away is how much fun it can be to play and listen to regular ol’ rock music. As Mike Watt says: “Start your own band!”