Posted May 4, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

Pat McGee: Getting back to the album

Pat McGee, photo by Joyce N. Boghosian
Pat McGee, photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

When singer-guitarist Pat McGee recently listened to some albums by James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills, and Nash on vinyl, he was inspired to try to record an album that sounded like those classics and was based on “the wholeness of the complete album.” Recorded in Los Angeles last year, the resulting self-titled release sounds like it came from a different era. It includes guest musicians such as session musicians Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel, Danny Kortchmar and Jeff Pevar as his backing band, nicknamed “The Section.” Other guests include John Popper of Blues Traveler, Paul Barrere of Little Feat, Gabe Witcher of Punch Brothers and Pat Monahan of Train. We phoned McGee in Hilton Head where he was wrapping up a family vacation.

Talk about your upbringing. How young were you when you started writing songs?
I grew up in Virginia. I was a late bloomer when it came to songwriting. I was 21 when I wrote my first song. I was playing in bars. I was the guy in the back of the bar playing classic rock covers for four hours a night. It was a fun way to make a living. I went to college for four years but I didn’t graduate. I started playing more and more and more. I realized I could do it five nights a week. When you’re 19 or 20 and making all this cash money, it’s a blast. I was playing across the street from Dave Matthews Band. I would notice that they had these lines to get in. I ran into Carter one time and he gave me their CD. I credit them with kicking me in the ass to stop doing covers. I didn’t know anything about their music. I just knew they wrote their own songs. In 1992, that was unheard of in my world. I said, “Screw it. I’ll write my own songs.” I wrote just enough songs for a CD and I assembled a band and turned solo gigs into band gigs. It wasn’t a plan. It’s been 20 years now.

How’d you get the idea for this self-titled album? It’s a throwback, right?
It’s a throwback in the sense that the players who recorded those classic records and are still recording are on it. It sounds a little like the ‘70s. It’s my strongest influences. It’s the stuff that got me started playing music — James Taylor and Jackson Browne, the countrier side of Eric Clapton’s stuff and Crosby, Stills and Nash for sure. I’m not some old hippie. I grew up on that stuff. My brother and sister were older than me and educated me on this music. I was at a friend’s house and saw they were spinning vinyl. I freaked out and got a record player and started buying records. I’m rebuying all the stuff I had as a kid. That experience of sitting there listening to a record is how I grew up listening to music and it lit a fire in me. I wanted to write an album like that. I haven’t done that since my first album. I always felt like it was my music but I would collaborate with friends and other musicians. Someone would say, “That’s a little too James Taylor-ish.” Now, I’m not going to silence those influences.

People can listen to this record if they want to know what those influences are. It came naturally.

You recorded this album in Los Angeles in 2014. What was the studio?
It’s called Boulevard. It used to be called the Producers’ Workshop. Pink Floyd did The Wall there. Steely Dan did Aja there. When I walked into the room with these legendary players I hired, they recalled doing albums with Hall and Oates and Neil Diamond and Carly Simon.

Did you use vintage gear?
Absolutely. The drummer was going to bring his own kit but he just used what they had there. It was a gorgeous ‘59 Ludwig that was a Ringo Starr type of kit. We recorded to two-inch tape. We didn’t’ do any Pro Tools, which is unheard of. We did a maximum of three takes. The wild experience was that they didn’t listen to the music before we got there. I had no idea what the song was going to sound like. I knew I hired the right guys. It was one of those things. When you listen to it, you hear what I heard when I put on the headphones and was tracking it. Everyone played at the same time which shouldn’t be a foreign concept but it is. Unless I discover my love of ‘80s techno-pop, I don’t see myself making a record any other way . . . even if I went to the other side of my influences, which are much heavier. I always wanted to put out a riff-heavy record. It comes down to “Where does my voice sit in a song?” Even though I was an old school Metallica fan and loved me some AC/DC and Van Halen, I knew when I went to sing that I would have to sing like them. That part doesn’t come naturally. We’ve done demos with producers. The guy who did all the Alice in Chains albums did demos with us and it’s hard not to get pumped because you hear the band sound enormous. The guitars sound kickass. Our fans will be like, “Who the hell is that?” I would have to call it something else. It would be a guilty pleasure.

This album is coming out on vinyl, right?
Absolutely. I’m so stoked about it. I had to pull the trigger on vinyl because the whole thing was inspired by vinyl. It would be a crime not to release it on vinyl. I was fortunate to get the vinyl sent to me for proofing about a week ago. That was a special moment, to sit on my couch and put the needle on it and listen to the album for the first time. I got this package from Germany and I got a bottle of wine and had to have the kids leave the house for three hours. I gave so much thought to the sequencing of the vinyl because I wanted the experience of flipping it over. It’s a double vinyl. I put more songs on the vinyl than I did on the CD. It was hard to trim that thing to 13 songs. That’s considered a long CD in the age of people hand-picking songs they like. It’s beyond frustrating to hear but that’s a reality. Not to sound like an old fart, but there are so many songs I wouldn’t have purchased from Beatles and Zeppelin and CSN. [Songs on a full album] make the other songs that are the ‘hits” feel different.

We live in a world obsessed with singers. Do you think the modern-day songwriter doesn’t get his or her due?
I don’t claim to have my finger on the pulse of pop music. I’ve been rediscovering classic rock. In that mode, you listen to some songs by CSN and Zeppelin and you realize nobody writes songs like that anymore. With songwriting these days, it’s hard to tell. I have a hard time listening to modern country music. I went through a phase of listening to country music. I think the guitar playing is usually great. We went to see some shows and they were awesome. There’s such a formula that’s being regurgitated. They just stick a different singer on it. I sent my songs to Nashville and heard it wasn’t the right direction. I’m not hunting down artists to play my songs. I just wanted to share my music. The Eagles are more country than many of those bands. You have guys like Pharrell and John Legend. They write some great stuff. I bought the Beck record that won Grammy Album of the Year on vinyl and it’s a great record but I feel like he gets a little more clout because he’s Beck. If it were a random person, that album would never have won. I’m a big sucker for melody. Those Beatles melodies suck me in. Even Van Halen and Led Zeppelin had great melodies. It doesn’t have to be the poppiest but it has to have a hook. In the early days, it was always about the live show. I wanted to write songs that would go well for the live show. I had big harmonies and vocal parts. I wrote this with a guitar while sitting on my couch. Some of the songs I might never play with a full band. I was just proud to record the album.

Upcoming 2015 Shows

May 8

May 28-31

July 10

July 31-Aug 1

July 17-25

CD Release Party at the Music Box (Cleveland, OH)

Down The Hatch Festival (Outer Banks, NC)

City Winery (Chicago, IL)

Eddie’s Attic (Decatur, GA)

Navy Entertainment Tour (Middle East & Africa)


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].