by KIERAN McGEE: In His Own Words
(All Songs Written by Kieran McGee, Drunken Cow Music(BMI)/ Major Songs,
administered by Bug Music)
__ "I'm gone, gone, gone,
no two ways about it/ Gone, gone, gone, I don't believe in anything/
Gone, gone, gone, I'm faithless and I'm on my own..."
__ At the time of the last record, I was
pursuing different religions, trying to see if one was right for me,
because I had sort of given up on Christianity in a way and felt there
must be a different answer. I guess on this record it's sort of like
giving up. Not saying I'm never gonna be a religious person or anything,
or have faith in anything. But at the moment that's how I felt and that's
why I wrote this song. And I definitely was listening to the Carter
Family when I wrote it, that's probably the musical influence.
__ "I know I'm not what
I could be/ Yes and I know you don't need eyes to see/ Yes and I know
you're good enough, good enough for me..."
__ This was written in a really weird random
tuning, I just made up the song with whatever chords I could come up
with. When we started the album, Steve said, "This is half of a
song, you need to write another verse." I couldn't come up with
anything for weeks. When I originally wrote it, I took a couple of lines
out of a Bible passage, that's how I got the lyrics. Now, the day we
were gonna record, I was walking to the train and a guy somehow magically
handed me one of those religious pamphlets. I wrote the rest of the
song on the train on the way to the studio.
__ "Poor Odessa in the
Hotel Grand, a picture of decadence/ Sprawled across the bed, a bottle
of pills in her hand/ Down a hallway lined with mirrors, her lovers
come and go/ But nothing escapes, not even a tear..."
__ It's not the place, it's about a person.
I wrote it after listening to this Maybelle Carter record for a week,
so the melody is influenced by that song "Come All Ye Fair and
Tender Ladies." It was about a specific person, or two people that
I knew but as one character. Then a month later I realized it's more
about me than anyone else. So if Odessa was a real person, she would
be a composite of a couple of people I know - and myself. This one kind
of came out of nowhere.
Waiting For A Friend
__ "I'm just waiting
for a friend, who won't turn his head/ Every time that he sees me in
the city/ Waiting for the girl, who knows how I feel/ She could love
me for a lifetime, make me happy."
__ I was going somewhere and saw this person
that I knew. And they kind of brushed me off, pretended they didn't
see me, and I got pissed off about it, and went home and wrote a song.
This is another one from a couple of years ago, but then I had a similar
experience after I wrote it, so that gave me more reason to redo the
verses when we went in to record. It started out as a Todd Rundgren
pop song I guess, but now it's more like a Dylan kind of thing, with
more anger than the original version.
Don't Lie Down
__ "Come on down, we
will live forever/ I'll show you around, the only place I know/ Hold
you down, so that you don't choke/ Falling out, on the floor in my bedroom..."
__ This is more about a drug overdose than
anything, specifically my friend who died, which is another recurring
theme on the album. That's what it's about, plain and simple. I realize
that one of the lyrics, "I know I'm going to see you again,"
almost negates "Faithless" - if I don't have any faith, how
can I believe that there's an afterlife in this song? It's kind of confused.
I still think about her all the time, pretty much everyday, so it's
hard not to write about it. I kind of don't wanna continue writing about
it, but it still comes out sometimes.
I Guess I Lied Again
__ "Talkin' in your sleep,
I can't understand a word/ I'm feeling weak, but I'm gonna try again/
To make you want me, with innocent words that I speak/ Oh oh oh, I guess
I lied again..."
__ I know I was up til seven in the morning
when I wrote that, so it kind of came out of nowhere. I remember telling
Jeremiah that when I wrote it I was in a bar and I was sitting next
to some guy who was hitting on a girl, so I was writing it as if I were
Losing You Again
__ "How about another
second chance?/ You laugh at me trying to dance/ I try but I stumble,
our song is much too fast/ It makes me spin and flashback to the past..."
__ It's about the last relationship I was
in, a very tumultuous one where we'd break up for one week, and the
next week get back together, back and forth for five years. So it's
about trying to make things work, when it just keeps falling apart and
then gets better again. It was the simplest way I could describe those
five years, which were incredibly frustrating. Those kinds of relationships
can also be the most passionate ones, but not necessarily a good kind
__ "I'm a-walkin' that
lonesome road, yes I am (yes I am)/ I'm a-walkin' that lonesome road,
yes I am (yes I am)/ I'm a-walkin' that lonesome road, and I don't know
where to go/ Walkin' that lonesome road, yes I am (yes I am)..."
__ This one was written in a Winnebago
when we were driving to Oklahoma, while I was reading The Myth of Sisyphus.
It's sort of like a Woody Guthrie song, so it's really basic. But it
questions life, if there's any purpose to it, if there really is any
reason to go on in the end. Once you roll the stone up to the top, it
falls all the way back down, and the endlessness of it, that was his
punishment. I just wanted to write a little Woody Guthrie-type road
__ "Being alone in your
station wagon, that was dirty and gray/ Behind the window you were praying/
Voices whispered echoing the pain..."
__ I had a friend in high school who committed
suicide over some girl. He was really young and I wasn't particularly
close to him, but me and him and another guy would hang out almost everyday,
for a year and a half. It was probably the first time I had ever been
to a wake, that was kind of a weird experience. All my friends were
there, but I'd lost touch with them in the last year before he died,
so it was sort of surreal. I had never written anything about it, and
then just wrote the whole song in fifteen minutes.
The Second Time (Nobody)
__ "Saw her dancing on
the highway/ Tried to reach her, then she slipped away/ Hey world, stop
turning/ Because I want to get off..."
__ I was making up the lyrics as we went
along when we recorded it. I've performed it for a long time, but every
time I do it with different lyrics, so I did the same thing when we
recorded it. Part of it has to do with the girl I was in the last relationship
with, seeing her on the street, even though she's not still alive, like
seeing a ghost. I'll go into a bar and see three people who look exactly
like her. And it's too much, so I have to go write about it, don't really
know what else to do. I don't go to a shrink or anything, so I have
to go write it in the notebook.
__ "Hope is a hungry
game that we play/ You keep your guilt concealed and it shows/ Someday
your thoughts will take their toll on you/ If I could lie to you, my
wishes would come true..."
__ The oldest song on the record, I wrote
it before "Ash Wednesday." I was listening to a lot of Leonard
Cohen, so it's not the most uplifting song in the world. I was trying
to learn flat picking at the time and doing the Maybelle Carter strum,
so that's how it's played, just solo with harmonica. I've been trying
to learn that style for a long time, trying to perfect it as much as
I can. I can't believe that I'm putting a song on this album that I
wrote when I was 16. And now I'm 23.
__ "Who could I fool?/
The nightlife hands just dragged me in a big surprise/ I stole you from
your mama's eyes/ You found a way to my head somewhere up in space..."
__ It's about this girl I dated very briefly
and about almost getting busted by the cops at her place. She got busted.
I got away okay. It's half about that one incident and half about the
relationship in general. That would be the beginning of the lost weekend.
Definitely a dangerous girl. I only dated her for about two months,
but what she was into wound up taking up the next two to three years.
__ I saw that black smoke
rise, and I am washed in the blood/ I saw that black smoke rise, up
above me, up above me..."
__ That was just a title I had and wanted
to use it in a song. So I just stuck it on that song because I couldn't
think of another title. It seemed to fit I guess. Everyone seems to
think it's about 9/11, but it has nothing to do with 9/11. It's actually
kind of another drug overdose song. But where "Don't Lie Down"
is more literal, this is much more abstract. They're probably the darkest
lyrics on the record, with a lot of blood in it.
Carla Parisi / Wrecking Ball Media
973-846-0041 / email@example.com >>
At age six, when his
friends were getting G.I. Joe for Christmas, young Kieran McGee's father
gave him a cassette of Robert Johnson, and gave Kieran's older brother
a Guns N' Roses cassette. "I immediately liked both albums,"
Kieran recalls, "but Robert Johnson was the more lasting impression,
I think." The bipolar extremes of rock and folk - the King Of the
Delta Blues and hair-metal's primal scream - have been the heart and
soul of Kieran's music ever since. Along with the influences that have
washed up on the rocky shore of his life - Woody Guthrie, Skip James,
Black Flag, Nirvana, the Carter Family, and of course Bob Dylan and
the Rolling Stones - Kieran McGee is, as one New York journalist proclaimed,
"the real thing."
If it seems that Kieran has been driven by nothing but music since childhood,
well, "that's about it, plain and simple," as he would say.
From banging around pots and pans on the kitchen floor, to making up
his own melodies when he was six or seven and writing his first songs
down in notebooks (that he still owns), taping his songs and later figuring
out how to work his first 4-track Yamaha machine around age ten, to
writing all the songs for his first album at age 14, recording it at
15, and hitting the road to promote it during the summer he turned 16
- it's been a straight shot for folk-punk's youngest laureate. With
more than his fair share of stormy detours and lost weekends along the
__ ANONYMOUS, the third full-length album
by 23-year old Kieran McGee, builds on the experiences that coursed
through his 1997 debut, Left For Dead, and its independently released
follow-up of 2001, Ash Wednesday. The new album picks up on themes of
faith (religious and otherwise, in "Faithless" and "Good
Enough"), self-worth ("Waiting For a Friend," "I
Guess I Lied Again"), dangerous girls ("Odessa," "Big
Surprise"), the stillness of death ("Quiet"), ghosts
("The Second Time"), guilt ("Hope"), more than one
breakup ("Losing You Again"), more than one drug overdose
of a close friend ("Don't Lie Down," "Anonymous"),
and the Myth Of Sisyphus ("Lonesome Road").
__ The new album was produced by Steve
Rosenthal, known for his recent work in the studio with Ollabelle, the
homegrown group signed to T-Bone Burnett's DMZ label (via Columbia Records).
Ollabelle's rhythm section (bassist Byron Isaacs, keyboardist and guitarist
Jimi Zhivago, drummer Tony Leone) accompanies Kieran throughout most
of ANONYMOUS, proving themselves on tunes that range from twangy country
ballads to bashing rock numbers to the bruised and bloody title track.
"Lonesome Road" turns into a Woody Guthrie road song hootenanny
with banjo, guitar, mandolin, dobro and a spirited singalong chorus.
__ The drum seat
for the opening number, "Faithless," is taken over by the
legendary Levon Helm of The Band. Levon's daughter Amy Helm is one of
the two female vocalists in Ollabelle, and she adds a sweet Virginia
touch to "Odessa." Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley shows
up on four tracks, and lets it thrash on "The Second Time"
and "Big Surprise." "Don't Lie Down" and "Waiting
For a Friend" feature Southern blues guitar phenom Sean Costello
(who is only a year older than Kieran, and cut his first album a year
before Kieran's, which makes them contemporaries). Guitar chores on
nearly all the remaining tracks are handled by Kieran's longtime accompanist
The exceptions are the moody "Quiet," an elegy which Kieran
fingerpicks on acoustic guitar accompanied by Zhivago on keyboard; and
"Hope," a solo by Kieran on guitar and lavaliere harmonica,
a traditional folk style he's been working on for some time. It happens
to be a song that he wrote when he was 16, and he is frankly amazed
that he had the balls to put it on an album that's coming out when he's
__ ANONYMOUS is the latest album release
from Stanton Street Records, a new label introduced in 2003 by The Living
Room on New York's Lower East Side. The first-look music club has built
a reputation as the launching pad and safe haven for such names as Norah
Jones, Jesse Harris, Dayna Kurtz, Jesse Malin, Julia Darling, and other
singer-songwriters based around the city. At the ripe old age of 23,
Kieran McGee is in pretty good company.
* * *
born in the summer of 1981," Kieran once wrote, "while a Beatles
marathon played on the radio in the nursery at New York Hospital."
In one way or another, the music has been playing ever since, you could
even say it was in his genes. His mother is a photographer who worked
for Atlantic Records back in the day; and his father is a journalist,
rock writer, magazine editor, and author. "The earliest memories
I have are being three years old and falling asleep to Buddy Holly or
Richie Valens records," Kieran says. He was raised on the Upper
West Side until his parents split up when he was 12, then moved up to
the Hudson Valley.
__ The same year he received that Robert
Johnson cassette, and fell in love with country blues, Kieran began
an annual tradition of summer road trips with his older brother Travis
and their dad (often falling off the map, incognito, for weeks at a
time). They'd travel across the country, stopping at minor league baseball
parks, visiting family throughout the South, and soaking up music along
the way. On one trip, his brother and a friend were in the back seat
making up "joke lyrics" to popular songs. Kieran found it
easier to make up his own melodies and started writing down the songs.
He'd remember the melodies and figure out how to play them when he got
By then, years of watching MTV had convinced him
to become a drummer, while his brother played guitar. Kieran tried the
guitar, but his hands were too small to handle the instrument, so he
used a slide, just like the great blues players he emulated. He learned
how to play harmonica, too, and soon added piano parts to the songs
he was accumulating. In his own way, he drew the three-chord connection
between Woody Guthrie and the punk bands he loved, Black Flag, the Circle
Jerks, Hüsker Dü. "A lot of my friends who were into
that type of music were very puzzled and upset that I listened to country
music," but the music of Johnny Cash and the Carter Family resonated
with Kieran, alongside blues mandolin player Yank Rachel, Sleepy John
Estes, and his personal favorite, Skip James of Bentonia, Mississippi.
__ One perennial stop on the road trips
was Bubba Sullivan's record shop in Helena, Arkansas, a blues capital
and home of Sonny Boy Williamson. When Kieran was 13, he told Bubba
how much he liked Skip James, who died in 1969. Bubba directed the travelers
to blues guitarist Jack Owens, known to be a contemporary of James,
also way down in Bentonia. In his 90s, Owens welcomed them and was joined
on the porch by Bud Spires on harmonica, a great bluesman in his own
right. They played for six hours, put away two quarts of whiskey, and
Kieran was able to hear the link from Skip James. "It's not the
type of thing you're gonna forget," Kieran says, drawing connections
to Charlie Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson.
__ On yet another road trip, Kieran's dad
was on assignment to cart Buddy Holly's amplifier from Texas up to the
Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland (for whom he serves as an assistant
curator). En route, they made a side trip to pick up Richie Valens'
guitar from members of his family. Overwhelmed by fate and temptation,
Kieran played the two museum pieces together as his good karma meter
went into overdrive.
__ Meanwhile, by age 13, Kieran was scouring
the papers to find "open mic" nights at clubs in New York.
He'd show up with his guitar at the Sidewalk Café at 8:00 and,
if he was lucky, would get to sing a few songs five or six hours later.
School was getting to be an afterthought (to his parents' dismay). The
Bitter End treated him kinder, booking him for regular gigs that turned
into a residency for a while.
__ It all coalesced at age 14, "when
I discovered French symbolist and surrealist poetry, Taoism, Woody Guthrie,
and the Beat generation writers." As a writer, musician and painter,
he found that his notebooks, tapes, and canvases could barely contain
his output. Kieran began sending out cassettes of his songs to record
companies. Baltimore-based indie Clean Cuts Records (distributed by
Rounder) bit first, intending to cut an EP with Kieran, but it soon
expanded into a full album. He recorded 18 songs in three days, a dozen
of which made it onto the CD, Left For Dead. Kieran played most of the
instruments (except bass, accordion and violin) and wrote most of the
songs, except for the Carter Family's "Brown Eyes" and two
more from Woody Guthrie, "With My Brother Dead and Gone" and
"The Buffalo Skinners."
__ The CD was issued in midsummer '97,
to take advantage of the annual road trip as a means for Kieran to promote
the record wherever he could. Bubba Sullivan arranged for him to play
the Helena Blues Festival; and in Los Angeles, he played live on KCRW's
"Morning Becomes Eclectic" radio show. They coincidentally
found themselves in Okemah, Oklahoma on the day of the annual festival
honoring the town's most famous son, Woody Guthrie. "I went to
the town newspaper, saying, 'You gotta listen to my record, it has three
Woody Guthrie songs on it, and I love Woody Guthrie,' and the woman
was like, whatever, and just threw it to the side."
__ Kieran continued to play New York clubs
including the Bottom Line and the Elbow Room, both gone now. At the
Lakeside Lounge, the owner suggested that Kieran hook up with two young
musicians in Memphis, Cody and Luther Dickinson, sons of famed producer
and keyboardist Jim Dickinson. The boys were in a band called Gutbucket
and had not yet morphed into the North Mississippi All-Stars. Kieran
went to Memphis with Jeremiah Lockwood, and they met the brothers the
day before they recorded at Sun Studios.
__ Unfortunately, the news at the end of
the sessions - that Clean Cuts had gone under - sent Kieran into a funk.
When he finally returned to Memphis in 2000, the multi-track tapes were
gone. "In retrospect," he says, "the fact that I wasn't
able to go back and mix it or overdub or anything almost makes it sound
a little more live. They're just rough mixes. They actually sound pretty
decent." He wound up releasing Ash Wednesday on his own, and original
copies remain true rock treasures.
__ Kieran spent the next two years writing
and painting, grieving for his girlfriend who died, and playing occasional
gigs with his brother Travis in a band called Automatic. When Kieran
moved to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, he hooked up with Chris
Walsh and started cutting demos on Walsh's digital home setup. At the
same time, Kieran found a new outlet for live performance at The Living
Room, slowly developing a following of regulars over nearly a three
year period. Walsh eventually hooked up producer Steve Rosenthal with
a CD of Kieran's demos, and within six months the deal was done and
he was in the studio recording ANONYMOUS.
__ "I hope that people can relate
to at least some of the things that I'm talking about. What I like to
do, not always successfully, is write about a specific thing that has
happened to me, but write it in a way that can be universal. People
can read into it what they want without having to know exactly what
I'm talking about. I can say what I want, but at the same time, not
isolate myself from the person who is listening to it.
__ "Like 'Losing You Again,' I'm sure
there's probably a lot of people who go through that all the time. There's
some serious subject matter on the album that hopefully people would
be comforted by, knowing that the same thing happens to others. Whenever
I hear that in an album, I always latch onto it, it's a comforting thing.
So even if it's not a happy, upbeat, happy-go-lucky album, you can still
get something positive out of it. That's about it, plain and simple."