LA Musician Mark McKee, Opens Up About Life After Leaving North Carolina, Working With LA Bands and His Future Plans In The Biz!
Posted On 17 Nov 2014
Mark McKee is an LA-based musician, producer, engineer, mulit-instrumentalist and songwriter. You can find him playing as a session/live keyboardist, bassist, and guitarist to several artists in the LA area such as Katie Cole, Grayce, Flights over Phoenix, and Amanda Lamb. For more info on Mark’s work check out www.markmckeemusic.com
Did you grow up with music all around you?
I was fortunate to grow up with parents who are lifelong musicians. They are both piano teachers and so I couldn’t get away with not practicing – it was part of every day life growing up just like homework. When I was younger I took piano, violin, and guitar lessons. My brother is a professional drummer and we grew up playing in bands together. The McKee house was never quiet. All the kids in our neighborhood would jam together (we were all pretty bad at sports) so music was all around, everyday.
Was your family always supportive of you having a music career?
Another reason I feel lucky – If it weren’t for my parents unwavering support, I wouldn’t be where I am. I have friends whose parents were very resistant to their choice to make music a career, and I never had to deal with that. I grew up watching my Dad who was a college music professor, choir director, wedding musician – always working to support us. He taught me through his actions that if you work hard and are dedicated it is possible to love what you do for a living. Through every step of my career my parents were always supportive. In middle school, when most parents were driving their children to soccer practice, my mom was taking me to play at seedy rock bars in Raleigh, NC. Both my parents knew I had a passion for music at a young age and they helped me to foster that passion into career.
You play several instruments and write music too. What makes you happiest? What are you the best at? Would you like to one day focus on just one thing?
I am happiest when I am involved with the creation and performance of music – so whatever form that takes! The sad truth is that I get too bored doing just one thing. However, in practical terms, my career has been built on wearing different hats and taking different roles, especially as a record producer where I often have to play everything but drums. It’s hard to say what I’m best at – I like to describe myself as “swiss army knife” kind of musician. There are a lot of talented players who dedicate their lives to one instrument, and they could probably play circles around me, but my strengths come from being able to do a little bit of everything and I think that helps me to be a better producer and communicate my ideas. For me, whether it’s being a side person for a singer songwriter or producing a band, all the tools I have get put to use on pretty regular rotation. Although I do consider it a compliment when I play a certain instrument on a gig and the rest of the band thinks that’s the only thing I do (haha).
You recently made the big move to Los Angeles from North Carolina. What has been the easiest/hardest about this big transition?
The hardest part was leaving my family and friends, and also my recording studio. I had always lived in the Raleigh-Durham area until September of 2013 when I moved to LA. I still miss everyone and the musicians I got to work with. Starting over in a new city was really hard at first and I’m still finding my feet – but I found an amazing community here and have been able to work with incredibly talented people who have also become great friends. Getting to work with your friends is one of the greatest perks about this biz!
What’s the music scene like in North Carolina?
The NC music scene is a very tight knit family. We would all support each other and a lot of us would play in different bands, and going to shows was just always fun. Raleigh in particular has a very robust music scene with such great talent. I spent many weekend nights hoping from gig to gig downtown, either playing or watching and supporting. I produced a lot of records for those same bands so it was a great time all around. It’s where I cut my teeth for 13+ years, and I never regret a moment of it.
A couple of bands your readers might know would be Delta Rae (Warner Bros), Rookie of the Year (One Eleven).
What musicians have really stood out to you? Who did you learn a lot from?
It’s hard to pin down, I feel like I learn from everyone I work with. Here in LA it is overwhelming how much talent there is, and to me that’s the most exciting part. At a certain point there is all this talent, but I really enjoy “the hang” aspect of the job. The musicians that stand out to me are the ones who I get along with great and can vibe with whether we are on the same gig or just hanging out. I also learned a lot from other producers who I have worked with in the past, learning the musical ropes but also how to handle dealing with artists and bands in a studio setting.
Who are some of your musical influences? Anyone new on the radio that you are enjoying?
My musical influences grow every day. I am always finding new music – and it’s easier than ever because of Spotify. If I had Spotify when I was thirteen my head would explode. A couple of artists that I have been really into lately are CHVRCHES, The Naked and Famous, and Broods (amazing band from New Zealand) and I really have been loving the new Ryan Adams record. Of course there are a ton more but I would take up the whole page writing down band names.
That’s a tough one. I have a lot of dream scenarios with artists I would love to make records with but one that sticks out at the moment is probably Jeff Buckley. I just think he would have made amazing stuff if he were still with us.
What would you like our readers to know about you and your music?
While I’m not an artist myself necessarily, I do write and produce for other artists and for me I am able to get “my music” out through working with different people. To me it’s the best because you can take your ideas and have them stirred along with a sound that you may have not thought of before. The music I make is mostly collaborative and built off a direction set by the artist, and while some might find that limiting I find it to be the most fun way to do it. I never feel creatively suppressed. Because I know how much work goes into making something great I am happy to just be involved in the process and not have to be up front and the center of attention.
Absolutely! I can’t imagine doing anything else. As years have gone by it gets more fun and you learn so much along the way. I don’t think I could ever retire because when I wake up everyday this is what I want to be doing.