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Andy McKee

"This way of playing the guitar as a soloist, you can't really fake anything up there. You have to be a genuine sort of person for people to connect with it, I think, and to be able to express yourself the right way." In this episode, Ernie Ball artist Andy McKee discusses his influences, his history with playing guitar, and his Ernie Ball strings.

Transcript

Andy:
There's nothing like the first time when I saw Preston Reed when I was 16, or when I heard Michael Hedges a year later. I just had never seen anything like it in my life. I thought the acoustic guitar was G, C and D, strumming along and singing campfire songs, whatever. He was playing the guitar in a way I'd never seen before with his left hand over the top of the neck and hitting the guitar body for different drum sounds. He totally blew my mind that night.

Andy:
Well, my parents used to always play music on records and stuff. Nobody was particularly a musician or anything, but we always had music on, so I fell in love with music and pretty young age. I didn't get into actually playing the guitar until I was 13. I heard Eric Johnson on the radio. He was doing "Cliffs of Dover" at that time, it was early 90s. I heard that tune, and I just really fell in love with the guitar at that point.

Andy:
I was just really moved by just the melody that you were hearing. You didn't have to have words telling you a story. Just the music itself could really transport you and really hit you in the heart. That became really powerful to me and changed the whole course of my life.

Andy:
When I'm writing music, usually what happens is I'll come up with a new tuning and begin to experiment. All the chord shapes that you know are kind of thrown out, all the scale patterns that maybe you've memorized and played a million times are thrown out. It's kind of counterintuitive, but you're just forced to think in a different way. Maybe I'll hear and interesting riff or a chord progression, and then I'll hear a melodic idea that could go with it and try to play them at the same time. But there are other times where I'll just hear a melodic idea while I'm driving the car or doing something completely unrelated to the guitar, and then I'll try to find it on the guitar. I'm on the road a lot these days. I did about 200 concerts last year, so if I'm at the hotel room, sometimes I'll take a little recorder and just recorded some of the new ideas, and then I'll develop those over the course of the year and come up with a piece of music that way.

Andy:
Back when I was playing the electric guitar, my first strings were Ernie Balls and then when I drove into the acoustic for some reason I guess I just didn't quite realize that they made acoustic strings as well. But then I met Brian Ball, who's running the company, several years ago in Paris at a concert I was doing there. So I got a set of the Everlast medium gauge and put them on and noticed that they sounded great, but then as the days when I noticed that the tone was still there and also actually they were holding up to all the bizarro tunings that I like to use. These days I'm also using the aluminum bronze strings. They have a more balanced tone I think across the whole spectrum of the string gauges. You get the warmth down here and then the higher end points they can still cut through if you're doing some plexion work. I've got a couple of tunes where I use a pick as well.

Andy:
This approach to guitar of course takes some practice and some skill. As a soloist, if you're not going to be singing, you'll want to have some sort of melodic idea in there as well as some accompaniment, and if you want to get percussive on guitar body. It is kind of maybe difficult in a technical sense, but the music itself doesn't have to be difficult. The melody can be something simple that people can connect with because I think that's something that's very appealing, and in some of my songs that they're a bit more popular maybe even, just the melodies are kind of simple. They're sort of arranged in a song format. Like here's an intro, here's a verse, chorus, verse and bridge, so I kind of arrange my songs in that format because it's so familiar and it just kind of feels good. What I do is kind of in between there. I like to make music that's listened to and that people can internalize and make a part of their own life kind of easily, but the actual playing of it can be kind of complicated just because you're trying to cover different aspects at once.

Andy:
This way of playing the guitar as a soloist, you can't really fake anything up there. You have to be a genuine sort of person for people to connect with it, I think, and to be able to express yourself the right way. Maybe that relates in a way to, to the way that I was raised by my parents and stuff, just being an honest person and trying to be friendly and helpful and all that kind of Midwest stuff. Maybe it ties into, maybe it doesn't, but I do try to put myself into my music though in a very honest way. I think the acoustic guitar helps me do that. (Silence).

Andy:
Some of the tunes I've written are really kind of personal for me, but then I know other can kind of internalize them into their own life. I wrote a tune about when my father had passed, and I have another tune that I wrote for a friend of mine when his daughter had passed away. They're these kind of somber melodic pieces of music. Sometimes I'll look out at the audience and I'll see people like crying, or I'll talk to them after the show and they'll say, "We named our daughter after that tune," and things like that. That's what it just justifies everything. If you have to wake up at five in the morning to go to the airport, any sort of inconvenience or difficulty of touring that you come across, it's all sort of negated when you have those experiences with the fans and they tell you things like that and how much your music has meant to them. (silence).

Andy:
Being out on tour and stuff, I love getting to meet the fans after the show, but during the show too. That sort of connection that you have on stage performing live, there's nothing else quite like it. For me it's, it's strange to say maybe, but it's kind of like a meditation anyway. I'll often close my eyes and just try to hear the music and express it in the best way that I can. If I have my eyes open too much and I'm looking at the audience or other things, it's almost a distraction really. It's almost like I'm just in another place, and it's just the music kind of existing there. I love that feeling and getting to share it with people, so it's like a high that I don't experience any other way really.

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