Tunesmate Podcast Episode 56 – Jason Lee McKinney Band
Join Ray and Marc as they interview award-winning singer, songwriter, and musician Jason Lee McKinney. Listen to how Jason and his band created their latest gospel-infused album One Last Thing. Jason describes his band’s music as “high-energy catchy thinking man’s soul” and the songs take you on a funky spiritual journey that tears the rearview mirror off with no looking back. Find out what makes this artist tick and inspires them to create music.
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All right, everybody. Welcome to episode number 56 of Tunesmate. I’m Marc. And I’m Ray. And, Ray, this week we had a great opportunity to catch up with Jason Lee McKinney. Now he’s got a band, Jason Lee McKinney Band. But he recently released his latest album. But after catching up with him, I realized, wait a minute, he’s released three albums over the last two years during this time. And that’s exactly what we’ve been talking about, this gigantic release of information. But his whole attitude was like, well, now I’ve got tons of songs to go out on the road and tour. Yeah, kind of creates a situation for yourself, right. You’ve got all this kind of downtime to write a lot, and that’s what you do. And if you’re really devoted to music, that’s what you’re going to do. And then, as he said, you’ve got a whole catalog of songs to go touring with and so bring it on, right? Yeah. And what I thought was interesting is he did a cover album, he did a Christmas album. Then he has this latest one that I listened to it and I started thinking, this really sounds like an album of faith because there are gospel singers, but at the same time, it was definitely had some soul in there and some really catchy tunes. And I think that’s interesting that as all these different musical outlets that he basically said now he has to stop creating because he has to go promote. And I think that’s a hard choice for many artists where you got to stop creating new things. Now you have to focus on the thing you just did and try to hold back that urge. Yeah, I think it probably depends on the artist. It seems to me that if you made something that you love, you’re going to want to go out and promote it. The limited little bit of songwriting that I do, when I write something that I really like, I play it over and over again. I don’t get tired of playing it. So I think that in some ways, this makes sense to me in the sense that he put together this album that’s got this real, as you said, this real spiritual side. It’s clearly drawing on American gospel, blues, and then, of course, rock and country as well. And I mean, it’s got some great sounded stuff, especially the one track, Unified. I really dug that one. And it’s got some clear messages there about freedom and there’s some biblical undertones to the gospel stuff. And so it seems to me that if you’ve got this stuff all put together you want to go out and sort of spread the message, so to speak. And so it makes sense to me. Well, it was a great interview. I hope everyone enjoys it. We’re going to jump right into it. And when we come back on the other side, we’ll catch up a little bit about team and mate and think about what Jason said during his interview. All right, everybody, welcome to another episode of Tunesmate, and I am honored to be joined by Jason. How are you? Hey, how are you? I’m doing good. How are you? Good. And you’ve got a new album, and it’s the Jason Lee McKinney Band. And Mike Farley and his crew introduced me to your music. And I got to tell, I went through the album, and I went through it a couple of times, and there was a couple of songs that kind of grabbed me as I went through and I know, poured your heart and soul into this. So there’s definitely I can just tell the way you put all the tracks down. What drove you to write this new album? It’s interesting. We’ve always blended the same elements folk, blues, soul, funk together. A little bit of alt-country in there, too, at times. But we’re very, on the surface, can seem like we can’t make up our mind what we want to be. But it’s really more that we’re very influenced by American music, particularly music that is birth out of, like, rural America. If you think about blues, folk, country, soul, and gospel, it’s all sort of birth out of rural America, really out of American poverty. There’s something about people that are subjugated that they come up with art that is super meaningful and feeling. And so we’ve always sort of had that blend. With this album, we did two things in particular that were intentional. One is we wanted to really sort of emulating and do, like, a nod of the hat in a way that was very plain language that like, oh, we are pulling references from field songs. We are pulling references from, you know what I’m saying? Like, we’re not trying to hide or disguise anything. And then the second thing is with the way the world has been between the pandemic and political climate and everything, I’ve said this a couple of times. We wanted to be if hope Is a Drug, I wanted to be Pablo Escobar. I wanted to be, like, the head of the cartel of hope, because I think people’s lives are just about serious enough that a little joy doesn’t hurt the world. Yeah, this album has a lot of faith. Is there a gospel aspect to this as well? There is. I mean, both gospel music, there’s a gospel choir on about three, four of the songs, a full-blown gospel choir, and then also just that message of hope and so much of that. Speaking of rule, American faith played such a big part in everything from slave spirituals to the Irish, sort of old time gospel hymns, I think of the patio, Daniel from Old Brother we’re out there. That kind of, like, thing from the Appalachian. So it definitely in our influences from that. Spiritual nature is definitely there. I can sense it. I mean, you kicked the whole album off. And the new album is called One Last Thing. And you kicked it off with Crossover. And I listened to it, I was like, Wow, this is deep. How did you pick that song to kick everything off with two things? Maybe pick that song. One is, I love the contrast between it starting out just with acoustic guitar and then going into full band and that sort of B section. So it goes into sort of like old time church, a frame church out in the hills with Jethro and Bubba and I’m not making fun of people named Bubba. I have a cousin whose name is Bubba and I’m not kidding, so no shade there. I’m just being real. And then it goes into that funky sort of thing, but it’s all about that hope. It kicks it off. And a little bit with the Hayes and the Woos, the Rick Flare woos in there. It sort of sets off this tone of the collectiveness of the album. I didn’t want this album to come across when people hear, like, we’re playing songs for them, it’s more of like, hey, we’re all in this together. And it’s one of the themes of the record, is that my story is very uniquely my story, but it’s also every man’s story. So we all deal with the loss of a parent or the end of a relationship, or disappointment, or doubt or faith or a mountaintop euphoria and a really sad, depressed state. Like, each of those instances are very unique to our own story. Yet as humans, we all go through that same thing. We all are eventually going to stand over a casket of somebody we love. Right. I mean, that’s something that you cannot escape in life. I wanted the collective nature of the album to hit people right from the start, and I think crossover does that because the background vocals, while they’re very important, they don’t require you to be able to sing harmony. It’s just you to say, hey and whoo. I mean, Rick Flair does that, right? So anybody can do that. I sensed it. I felt the same that I think a lot of these songs, it’s very contemporary sounding, but the same point is there’s a lot of history and I feel as though I could sing along to these songs. And you talked about the choir. What was the decision there? Because I don’t even know in the recording process, how you pull that off. That’s amazing. Yeah. For somebody who’s on a small label like us, it’s definitely a little bit of it’s not trickery. We actually did it with a real live gospel choir, but we just pulled favors with friends. I happen to know people who are in the gospel choir and sort of pulled them all together and convinced them of the importance of the record. And we all got together and did it in one night and just really in a celebratory way, just saying, Hey, we’re just here. And I got very loose with them, like, hey, you guys feel like doing adlib runs or you feel like calling out extra in gospel music? One of the things I love is that if somebody in the choir has moved and nobody’s clapping, and you just sort of hear that random clap that just starts, somebody just not even on rhythm, they’re just clapping because they’re feeling the emotion, encouraging them to do that. Do just what you would do as if you were in church. Don’t hold back. This isn’t a recording session. This is just we’re just having this experience together. And I think that really helped. And the choir is excited to be there and I think they did a great job. And you could tell on the end result. It really adds a lot to the recording and it just kind of pulled me in. I noticed that immediately. As you said, it’s right off the first track, and then you go down a little bit deeper. And another one that kind of jumped out to me was Lighthouse. I listened to that a couple of times. Obviously, there’s a story in the song, but how did that song just come to you? This is going to sound really weird, but it’s the truth, so sometimes the truth is strange. I woke up dreaming that chorus, and it’s totally the same key, the chords, the melody, the lyrics. Dreamt 03:00 in the morning woke up, had to run downstairs. My wife thought the house was on fire I thought I was crazy and recorded that into my phone immediately, because, as we all know, inspiration hits you, but if you go back to sleep, it ain’t going to be there in the morning. Like, it’s just gone. And when I woke up the next morning and read it, it moved me because when I was dreaming and I didn’t realize what the song was about, but it’s obvious it’s just sort of fatherly advice to my son. I have four children, one of which is quite a bit younger than the others. That’s called a second marriage kids, and she’s younger. I have three kids that are grown, but my one child is an eight-year-old, and it’s just sort of fatherly advice. And that whole course, that’s all it is. I didn’t even realize that’s what it was when I dreamt it. When I got up the next day, I was like, Oh, this is a song for my son. And it’s a song for my son, me giving him advice. And then so I wrote the verses kind of around the fact of like, hey, he’s going to have a portion of his life to where I’m not here anymore. And I want him to be able to reference back to this song and be able to get through the major things in life. And almost as if his dad is still there, still giving him advice even after I’m gone. Yeah, it was amazing. You just tell him that story. Reminds me of I think Billy Joel did the same thing on River Dreams. He woke up and in the middle of the night. I think he says that as a lyric. So it sounds like you get a lot of inspiration from writing. Is that typically how your songs come together? Is it just kind of inspiration or you’re one of those where you sit down and I’m going to write a song today, I would say I don’t get inspiration as far as, like, to sit down and write a whole set of lyrics very often, or music, but I get conceptual inspiration. Like, I’ll generally know what I want the song to be about or what I want it to feel like before anything else comes. And once that happens, then it’s usually pretty quick from there. One of the things with this album that’s unique is I have several degrees. One of them is in philosophy. And I was doing a lot of writing, and so there’s a lot of references to 12th and 13th-century philosophers and mixed within this sort of old rural music of America. Actually just released a philosophy book on wordcraft publishers. And so that’s another sort of hat I wear. There’s a lot of that stuff where I’m quoting, like, St. Bonne Venture or Aristotle in the middle of this song that sounds like it was written for Appalachian churches and should be played on a fiddle. So I don’t know if that works or not. It felt like it flowed good to me, but I guess that’s not for me to decide, ultimately if it worked. I was reading your bio and it sounds like you’ve got so many hats like you said you wear. And it’s interesting how you’ve got these different creative outlets writing books, and creating music, and it sounds like you’re constantly inspired. Do you have to continually kind of wave where you’re putting your energy? Absolutely. And I wouldn’t say I’m great at it always. I’ve come across a term recently called toxic productivity. And of course, everything is toxic these days. You can have, like, toxic breathing at this point. But I do think there’s some validity that I’m trying to learn because we put out four albums in the last two years, and the philosophy book, it’s a philosophy book that’s 400 pages of pretty heavy weighty stuff that now I’m just sort of in this, like, promotional phase. Right. So December we put out a Christmas record. Last year we put out a covers record, which we really couldn’t tour on because of. And then 2020, we put out pieces. And so now we’re sort of just sort of really getting to tour on the past four records, and I put out a book. So the whole, like, creating something new really isn’t in the cards right now. It promotes, promote. And so I’m having to learn to just be and exist in a non-creative phase. And I think that’s a really big challenge for me because so much of my energy and almost self-esteem comes from the creative process that I’m having to learn. Something that I think a lot of people particularly creatives struggle with is that I am not what I do. I am valuable because I am not because of what I do, not because of what I’m creating. Right? I’m valuable because of who I am, and I’m being forced to sort of rest in that fact in this stage in 2022 and probably the first part of 2023 before it will be time again to sort of get back to doing something creative. Yeah, I mean, that’s interesting, just going through the cycle that you’ve gone through. I mean, that sounds like the typical kind of like, the 1970s, early 80s album release cycle. You go on tour, write an album, go on tour, write an album, and you’ve experienced that. Do you contribute because of the last two years? That kind of cycle of releasing all that for sure. The Pandemic played a huge part in we released Pieces in 2020, the week before the Pandemic hit, so we really didn’t get a chance to tour on that record for the next year. We had part of one last thing already sort of canned, but we didn’t want to release it until things are sort of back to normal, not really knowing at that time that things aren’t maybe ever going to be, quote unquote, what we thought of normal again. And so we decided to do a covers record. I always wanted to do a covers record, and I’ve always wanted to do a Christmas record. It’s like, instead of sitting here twiddling our thumbs, let’s stay productive because we can’t tour. Let’s just put out the material. And the same thing with the book. I’ve always wanted to write a philosophy book. I’ve taken tons of classes in it. I have a masters in it, so I decided to go ahead and do that. So definitely that cycle of, like, let’s stay creative while we’re at home. And for the covers record, for the first time, for us, we did the whole record, and we were never in the same room. We’ve always been, like, done stuff at Zebra Ranch or at Ardent where, like, ZZ Top recorded. We’re super nerds for like, this piano is what Wild Horses from the Rolling Stones played on, and we’re nerdy about that stuff. We love it. We kind of geek out about it. Most people don’t care now, but when I got to sing into the mic that Let’s Stay Together, al Green sang into, I think that’s cool. I could have got Al Green sweat on me. Sorry. But when it came time to do the covers record, we had no way to be together, right? Because some of us live in different states, so we, for the first time, did the sort of passing the files around and I did most of the drums on that record and the vocals and did a lot of the production and pre mixing sort of stuff. So it was really kind of cool. We just decided to make a super long answer shorter, hopefully. We decided to stay productive to that whole thing and do what we could as far as recording, even though we couldn’t tour during that time. That’s totally being productive and I guess that taps into your polymath of your background, being able to use all those skills. And it’s fascinating that now you have this whole collection of music and you’re going to start it sounds like you are on the road or you’re getting ready to go out on tour. We are now. Our schedule is picking up. We did some touring in 2021, but it’s really picking up now to where we’re playing at least every weekend at this point. Probably not to the point we were playing pre pandemic, but definitely the schedule was much heavier now than it was for the past two years. Well, that’s good. So you’re back out there on the road. You got your music now. Are you blending or is your set list, are you going to predominantly feature your new album or are you going to just try to blend? I mean, obviously it’s not the Christmas time yet, but you’re starting to mix all that together. Yeah, we’re playing probably 80% the new album and then probably another 10% to 15% the covers record and then kind of just grab bag of our more popular songs from our catalog with fans sort of the last 5%. Well, that’s good. So fans, if you’re listening, what to expect out there on the road. And then I guess talking about music, you went down this covers angle, the covers album. Is that a reflection of your influences or with favorites, how did you land on that? Because you talked about earlier about your influences. I’m just curious to see you talked about the singing into the microphone and it sounds like you have a very eclectic music background. Yeah, I mean, the covers record, we basically pick songs that I sort of always wanted to cover that maybe didn’t quite fit our style. So like we did a cover of No One Is to Blame, the old Howard Jones song, but we did it in a way like kind of imagining what if DeAngelo or Maxwell covered this. And so it’s a very sort of funky version of the same. We did the pure love song, but we imagine like, what would love song from the Cure sound like if Jill Scott covered it. And so that’s how we did it. Or like Prince I Want to Be Your Lover, what would it sound like if Bonnie Ray had covered it? So that’s how we sort of approached it. Like what would it be like if this artist covered that artist, and then we sort of blend those two things with our style, it’s cool. It’s like a mashup. Yeah. So they’re all sort of reimaginations. They sound very different. We did a really funky version of Whipping Post from Almond Brothers. I’m going to have to check this out now. I definitely am enthralled by the latest album. I think this is what’s going to happen here, jason, you’re going to head out there, you’re going to start playing the new stuff. People are going to want to go back and find out your older catalog. And that’s the whole goal of Tunesmate. Our goal is we seem to you mentioned Howard Jones. Our site is featuring a lot of these cuts that you get used to songs by certain artists and you don’t realize we featured you’re. The Cars. That’s a big 80s group out there. What about the hit that went to number 33? They don’t play that one. So it is interesting how we get stuck in these music cycles, but we necessarily aren’t thinking of other artists that may sound similar or other artists that maybe were at the same time that you didn’t listen to because you are so focused on one artist. And I love that. The fact that your album is referencing those great and that you’re paying homage to Pass classics but then bring it into the contemporary, I think that’s exactly what people need. And I love the fact you’re talking about hope. Yeah. Hope is to me, it’s something you can never have too much of. I mean, life is hard enough. Like I said, we’re all going to be standing over that casket of someone we love someday. But that doesn’t mean there’s not hope. It’s not Pollyanna. There’s a difference between being like Pollyanna, like, oh, everything’s going to be great and we’re all going to eat donuts and run through the fields with flowers all the time. Like, no, life is going to suck at times and be hard, but there’s still hope. There’s good. And even in the hard stuff, there’s the opportunity. Like, if you think about what allows us to have courage, it’s the fact that there’s something to be afraid of. There has to be something causing fear for us to have courage, right. There has to be something to persevere. There has to be something that hurts. Right. So even in the midst of the hard stuff, there’s hope because there’s the opportunity to develop ourselves. So I don’t think the world can have too much hope. I don’t think I could have said it any better. I totally agree. And your new album is out there. I hope everyone gets a chance. So I said the word hope to check out the latest album, come out and see your band on tour. It sounds like, again, those dates are starting to pick up. And where can everybody find more information about you and your band? Yes. Jason Lemikinneyband.com. We’re pretty active on Facebook and Instagram, and pretty active on YouTube, so you can do that. You can also check out my book, it’s on Amazon, it’s on Walmart, Barnes, and Noble. If you type in Jason Lee McKinney, we’re going to come up pretty quickly. That’s awesome. And I guess just as people start thinking about seeing live music, if you were to just put it in a couple of sentences, how would you describe your music? Well, the catchphrase we use is soul-infused folk and blues. And so I would say it’s high energy, catchy thinking man’s soul. It’s definitely high energy like you said the first track and then there’s a couple I saw sprinkled through that do kind of a similar kind of start you out and then get you hooked. I definitely think everyone should check it out. I appreciate you, Jason, being on the podcast and it’s been a pleasure. Yeah, thank you so much for having me. Thank you so much. You’re welcome. Alright everybody, welcome back from the interview. Ray, it was interesting. I mean, he called it his music high energy thinking man’s soul, which I know it’s always interesting to try to classify music, but I think he nailed it on that one. Yeah, it makes sense. It’s clearly soul. Clearly. The gospel really comes through to me, especially the themes, but it’s not gospel. I mean, it’s gospel laden, but it’s not just strict gospel. To me, it’s really just a slice of strong American music really growing out of even old spirituals and bringing them to life. You think of stuff like Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and spirituals from the 1800s like that, and it’s got the feel of that, but with the blues and soul and gospel really put into it, I really dig it. Yes. I like how he said during the interview, he’s like, my whole goal is to give hope. And to me, during these times, hope is something that, as he said, I don’t think you could overload on that. And that’s interesting to me that with hope, obviously there are times where not everything is going to work out the way you would hope them to be. We’re all one day going to be standing over a casket of someone that we love, but it’s this idea that we’re just keep continuing on and embracing the fact that there is hope. Yeah, and that resonates right with the musical traditions that he’s building off of. So he says on his website, that gospel music and the gospel message resonate hope. And it’s right about hope. The spirituals that I talked about, were about old slave spirituals were about the hope for freedom someday. And it was a way of sort of carrying on, like you said, that idea that eventually all of us are going to end up in the ground, but have this hope that what we do has some kind of meaning. And even if we know that in the end we’re going to die. We hope that we have an experience here on Earth that is meaningful in some way. And so to that regard, it’s right in line with exactly the musical traditions he’s building out of. Part of that, there was a discussion around, okay, so there’s this hope that’s going to be there, but then his album is really reflecting that later on his kids may go back and listen and have messages and there is kind of a cheesy segue here, Ray, that I saw you recently posted about Kate Bush and her song that has been featured in Stranger Things and how that’s lasted. And that’s something that we’re going back to 30 years, that song, and it’s amazing, that question that you posed about just thinking about the longevity of songs in relation to what Jason Lee McKinney was talking about. Yeah, clearly there are songs that span generations and that last generation. I caught my son singing Rocket Man the other day and I’m like, oh, you know that song? He reminded me it’s because Elton John and Dua Lipa put it together. They had that mash-up that included, that hit the chart this winter. But the Kate Bush one, it’s really something that came back that running up that hill. And even if you think of Kate Bush in general, Don’t Give Up and the rest of her catalog, many of us in the 80s knew who she was into the 90s even knew who she was. But to younger generations, really haven’t had exposure. And so it’s really been interesting to see this idea, oh my gosh, who’s this artist? And Gen X folks being like, yeah, either acting all smug about it or being like, yeah, come enjoy this artist that we knew. And I talked about the one guy, Eric Albert, that I follow on Twitter and he asks questions all the time on Twitter. It’s almost four years ago, said what 80 song, if at least today would still be as successful as it was back then? For four years I’ve been thinking about that and I think, well, don’t you forget about me. Might that be just as successful or I’d go through any number of other songs and I mean, we have the answer, literally. This is Back in the, not back in because it didn’t hit the top ten the first time, peaked at number 30 in 1985, and here it is hitting the top ten. So I think Kate Bush is our answer and it does show that a song can resonate across generations. It can have new life. And we saw that in the think of Ben E. King Stand by Me, for instance, a song from the early sixty s that comes back and becomes a hit, a top ten hit in late 1986, early 1987, and again, this is Kate Bush is a TV Netflix tie in. Stand by Me was a movie tie in and we see the idea that music can come back. And really, if you watched the Stranger Things season, there’s a theme that’s actually brought up there about the power that music can have. Yes, I was floored. I loved that and I’m so glad that question was answered, Ray, after all these years. So, just wanted to remind everybody, that if you are looking for new music, definitely check out Jason Lee McKinney’s band’s latest effort. And I have discovered he also has a cover album and there’s some great music there. And if you’re looking for new music, of course, Tunesmate is your source because not only are we featuring artists like Jason Lee McKinney, but in his band, but also bringing back some of those classics and songs that may be charted lower, but you forgot about. And we’re bringing those backup and we are going to continue to post and enlighten you. And of course, we always have stuff coming around the corner and we appreciate your support. Once again, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our podcast, and for everyone here, Tunesmate. I’m Marc. And I’m Ray. We will see you next time.