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Music, Etc.: Kieran McGee—Reblooming in Brooklyn

In late 2019, after 10 years away from music, inspiration suddenly struck Kieran McGee and two-dozen songs poured out.

Kieran McGee
Kieran McGee

In late 2019, after 10 years away from music, inspiration suddenly struck Kieran McGee and two-dozen songs poured out. Following months of recording during lockdown and email collaborations, Broken Blossoms, his fifth album, was released on Jan. 6.

It’s easy to feel like an underachiever when talking to McGee. Inspired by older brother Travis, he was playing drums and guitar by his early teens, soon adding other instruments. He recorded his first album, Left for Dead, at age 14. His next, Ash Wednesday, was recorded two years later at legendary Sun Studio in Memphis.

McGee tracks most of the instruments, but guests abound on his albums, which recall the Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. The Band’s Levon Helm, Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, Cat Popper (Ryan Adams), Jason Roberts (Nora Jones), PSN alum Christopher Walsh and members of the North Mississippi All-Stars and Ollabelle have all made appearances. Jeremiah Lockwood has played on all five albums.

(Full disclosure: Kieran’s father, music journalist and author David McGee, works for Future, and Travis McGee previously worked for PSN’s publisher.)

From his home in Brooklyn, McGee talks about the road to Broken Blossoms and self-releasing an album on the day the Capitol was stormed.

On Recording During the Pandemic:

From the beginning of 2020 to the summer was the recording, so it turned into my Coronavirus album, unintentionally. I have a full studio at home with a couple of Focusrite interfaces daisy-chained. Everything’s ready to go, so I can just plug in and focus on the song. I’ve been doing this since the 4-track cassette days in the ’90s, so I’m used to working on my own and layering. I’ve been using Logic Pro since before Apple bought it. The workflow is so much easier compared to how I used to do it.

It’s just a bedroom, so not the best acoustics, but the acoustic songs sound good to me and the room doesn’t sound that bad. Everyone I collaborated with sent tracks back and forth to me. I would have preferred to record it live in a real studio; that was my original plan. That will be the next record—fingers crossed.

Then I was getting the money together to have it mixed. Tim Hatfield, who also worked on my fourth record, The Golden Age of Paranoia, mixed all the full band stuff. I mixed the acoustic songs, because there wasn’t much to mix.

Music Etc. – The World of Tim Atlas

On His Older Brother:

We’ve been playing music since we were teenagers—and fighting the whole time about it. But I wouldn’t have played guitar if it wasn’t for him. He got a guitar and I started playing drums, then I started stealing his guitar and learning it.

Travis sang on a couple of the songs on this record. His voice sounds exactly like mine, so I put him on the record wondering if anyone would notice that it was anyone different singing.

On Previous Releases:

Once I started learning guitar and drums, I started making my own records on cassette, mailing them out. Clean Cut Records got hold of one and wanted to put it out, so we went into the studio. I was 14 when I recorded Left for Dead and 15 when it came out.

I recorded Ash Wednesday in 1997. The label folded, so it sat on the shelf. I put it out in 2000, which is when I hooked up with Chris Walsh. We lived down the block from each other and started making demos in his apartment. He helped me get my next deal, for the Anonymous album, with Steve Rosenthal, who owned [legendary, now defunct NYC studio] The Magic Shop. Chris has been a huge champion of my music over the years. He’s on two songs on the new record.

On Releasing an Album on January 6:

I picked the worst possible date to put Broken Blossoms out. I got up early and thought, I’m not going to look at the internet, I’m not going to get distracted. I put the album out on Spotify, YouTube and all that, clicked on CNN and—oh my god! So I call it a soft release.

Kieran McGee •