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{20 Questions} Mark McKinney

Mark McKinney is creating quite a buzz throughout the Texas scene with live shows that rival the energy of 80′s metal bands and songs that have hooks so commercial they might as well be sold at Bass Pro Shop.  With a myriad of projects on the horizon, the Big Spring native took time out of his busy schedule for the latest edition of Galleywinter’s 20 Questions.

1. What’s new and exciting in the world of Mark McKinney?

Writing new songs for the next record.  Let me see…been working hard, getting Mark TV edited and off the ground…just moved to a new place in South Austin…working on a new hot sauce recipe…got a new BBQ pit breaking it in.  Planning on touring hard and keeping the singles coming.

2. How often are you mistaken for the legendary Kids in the Hall comedian/actor Mark McKinney?

Not really that much. People searching online for him might happen to stumble upon me, who knows?

3. Name association
-Wade Bowen — Great singer/songwriter.
-Cody Canada — Plays a mean guitar.
-Phil Pritchett — Has a good sound.
-Bleu Edmondson — Very cool new song.
-Cory Morrow — One of the founders of the scene.
-Jason Boland — Love his strong Outlaw sound, cool tunes!!
-Mike Eli — Such a great guy, love his songs!!
-Aaron Watson — Great traditions, sound, and songs.

4. You’ve worked with Kevin Fowler quite a bit, tell us about that working relationship. How did it come about? What makes it enjoyable?

I have known Kevin for many years, at one time we shared a drummer, a great old friend of his and mine. We have written some cool tunes together, like “What’s Your Point” on his new record. What makes it enjoyable? Food, fun and family. Our wives get along well, the kids fish and play together… good times!

5. Who are some of the people you haven’t worked with yet, that you would like to?

Of course, Mr. Willie Nelson…I played bass with his daughter Paula Nelson for a few months, years ago.  Jack Ingram would be cool to work with, too. He has done a great job of keeping a cool sound as he takes it to a national platform. Also, Tony Joe White, a legendary songwriter.  I learned to play the “Harp” listening to him.  Lucinda Williams or Kelly Willis would be cool to work with as well.

6. You were born and raised in Big Spring, not exactly the mecca of music in this state. Do you think growing up there has influenced your sound or style? And if so, in what way?

Sure, any place you spend seventeen years is gonna get in your blood. I grew up running free on 10 acres next to a state park. That freedom I had as a child is still a strong part of me. I also think growing up in the household I did has influenced my sound. My parents were music lovers, turning me and my two brothers on to all kinds of music, and getting us started on guitar lessons at the early age of 6 or so. We also went to lots of concerts.

7. Much like me, your early musical influences were shaped heavily by that of your parents and your older sister. I can remember listening to as much George Jones and Randy Travis as Bon Jovi and Madonna. This diverse musical background shows up in your music.  The question is, how much does it also show up in your iPod playlists? What is the craziest thing one would find on your mp3 player? What is the thing you’re listening to the most at the moment?

Iron and Wine, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Gomez, Eli Young Band, Tony Joe White, the new Alison Krauss and Robert Plant Duet album, Spoon, Hundred Year Flood, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Nickel Creek…. I like a nice big stew of music!

8. You’ve built a solid reputation as quite the live performer. Tell us a bit about your band and how you’ve developed your live show.

Yeah, I do have to say I have a bad ass band! (laughs) They tear it up every night. We are like a family, well maybe because three-fifths of us are. My brother Eric McKinney plays lead guitar and lap slide. My cousin Ryan Coggin plays bass. My good buddy Jonas Lorence plays lead guitar, and good ol’ Michael Kelton, or just Kelton as we call him, beats the hell out of those drums. We have a great time on stage.

We take the Rolling Stones approach to it: high energy entertainment. We know you can listen to the songs at home or in your truck, but when you pay good money to come to our show, we’re gonna give it to you. Some folks out there may not like smoke, lights, and our high energy performance, but that’s just what we do. It would suck if everybody did the exact same thing. We like to do stuff live that we would like to see when we go watch a show. We don’t want any of the crowd to leave before it’s over, thinking “Ah hell, I can just go home, drink cheap beer, and listen to this on my iPod.”

We truly enjoy what we do and have lots of fun every night, and I think it shows.

9. Which three celebrities would you not want to be stuck in rehab with?

(laughs)  I  will have to get back to you on that one!

10. Stories behind the following songs:

-Comfortable in This Skin -Simply put, I wrote this song about who I am.
-Stompin’ Ground — This is a quick journey back to the place I grew up and some of what I learned there.
-Party Foul — Just a simple party song, a catch phrase, and some rules my friends and family have always thrown around.
-Fall — A sweet little love song.
-Story of My Life — Working man’s cry for the weekend.
-Bonfire — Therapy for a wounded heart.
-Get Your Country On — A state of mind, forgetting about the bullsh*t, and rockin’ it up.
-Reckless in Texas — A tall tale about a broken-hearted fellow who has found comfort in being in Texas.
-Addicted — Love or lust can be very addictive and we certainly live an addictive society.
-Deal Breaker — A guy’s look at the search for the right one.
-Stranger Things — Inspired by something a friend of mine went through.
-Are We Doing This? — A life anthem.
-The MySpace Song — A little funny tune about the whole MySpace phenomenon.

11. Your producer, Rob Dennis, has worked with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Cross Canadian Ragweed in the past. How did you hook up with him? How did he help shape the sound of your album?

Rob and I have been best friends since the 6th grade. I asked him to be my  drummer in our first band then he went out and convinced his folks to buy him a drum set. We have made lots of musical and life memories together. Rob is the number one reason my music is being heard today. He and I got inspired by the songs I was writing a year and a half ago and he produced an awesome record for me. We work really well together, and look forward to making a great follow-up record this year.

12. What is the craziest thing a fan has ever done for you or in front of you?

I’ve had a few girlls get up on a guy’s shoulders and flash me their girls!

Well, what is the craziest thing you’ve done as a fan of someone else?

The craziest thing I’ve done was at one of Fowler’s shows that we opened. My band made our way to the front row, then I got up on Kelton’s shoulders, and flashed ol Kevin with my girls!

13. You got to take part in the Big State Festival this past October. Talk about how intimidating, yet cool it was to share a bill with the likes of Skynyrd, Willie, Lyle et al?

It was an awesome experience and we had a great time that day. I hung out with my buddy Fowler, Mike Eli, Collin Gilmore, ran into Jack, Trent Summar, and Kelly Willis. We just got up there and did our thing. It is so cool to be on a bill like that; you can’t think about being intimidated, you just have to do what you do. I have learned with anything, some will like what you do, and others won’t, but you can’t worry about that you just have to make yourself happy and people who connect to what you do will find you and let you know.

14. Favorite touring memory of the following towns/clubs:

-Dallas — Always have a great time with Justin and a big gang hanging out on air at the Wolf.
-San Marcos — Doing a show at Gordos and all the power on stage goes out for about 10 minutes…boy that makes things fun.
-Ft. Worth — Billy Bob’s was awesome, 8.0′s was incredible, the Horseman is always a blast, but it would have to be playing Ranch Bash to 15,000 people.
-Oklahoma City — Love the Wormy Dog. We finished and loaded out in 18 degree weather, then hauled ass as a huge ice storm was hitting.  It was scary and cold!
-Midland — Ranch Jam was fun with Fowler, sun setting right in my face. I got a tan that day. Had all my West Texas friends and family out there.
-New Braunfels — River Road Icehouse. It was only our second show and we played for 2,000 people as we opened for Fowler. We also had a good time at River Road playing with Randy Rogers Band…those guys rock.
-Firehouse — Climbing all over the fire engine out back is always fun.  Some embarrassing pictures have been taken back there!
-Rolling Oaks — It’s fun to have people 20 yards from the stage driving golf balls. We had a great crowd and show there last time. Love San Antonio and The Outlaw, Hank T…the whole deal is cool down that way.

15. Musicians spend more time on the road than at home. And, for those of the independent variety such as yourself, that usually means a great deal of time spent behind the wheel driving from gig to gig. Ironically, most musicians and music lovers that I know, myself included, spend a large amount of their time on the road listening to sports or news talk radio. What keeps your ears tuned in, while your heading down the highways and backroads of Texas and beyond?

We watch lots of The Family Guy, The Office, and all kinds of movies. We listen to comedians, as well as lots of music and Texas Radio.

16. Many times when writing songs the lyrics come before the melody or vice versa. But, whatever the order is, one usually comes before the other. What do you find yourself coming up with first more often? And, what is your overall writing process like?

I often come up with melody first, but I’m also always scrambling to write down lyrics and song titles that pop in my head, writing them on whatever I can find to write on.  Some songs come all in 10 minutes, and with others I may have a great melody but search for the right lyrics for months, editing and changing it until it feels right.

Sometimes songs come together patchwork style, a part of one works well with another etc.  I have several books of lyrics or poems that I’ve written, whatever you want to call them…some find their way to a melody and others just live on that sheet of paper forever.

17. If you had to try out for one of those televised talent shows like American Idol or Nashville Star, what would your audition song be? And, why?

“Comfortable in This Skin” because it would give me three minutes to explain who I am.

18. Rapid fire:

-Favorite alcoholic drink? Beer!
-Favorite non-alcoholic drink? Sweet Tea!
-Favorite hangover cure? Sleep, Advil, water, then repeat.

19. Favorite George Strait song and why?

I like lots of his old ones, but would have to say.  “Fool Hearted Memory”.  I just love the melody on that tune.

20. What are the main differences you see between the independent music you’re making and that of the mainstream?

I’m just making music I like to make. It’s so easy for the mainstream labels to say, “We don’t know where you fall…”or “We don’t know what to do with you…”or “You’re too Texas…”, or whatever label they come up with that day. Mainstream music has to sound a certain little way, and I personally believe they kinda short change us by thinking we all want every song to sound the same way on the radio.

There is not enough diversity in mainstream music anymore.

The Texas music scene definitely has more diversity, although there are several artists who sound very similar here too. You can’t think too much about it, you just have to be true to yourself and the music that comes out of you. It may be somewhat Texas, it may be somewhat mainstream, whatever someone wants to label it…we love to label things in this country!   At the end of the day, it just has to be you!

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