Midwest Music Summit
Graffiti is usually looked upon as vandalism. But one particular piece of this “street art” inspired Kelley McRae to write a song about one of her favorite musical artists.
“One day, I was walking around the warehouse district in Brooklyn, when I came upon some graffiti that read, ‘Johnny Cash died of a broken heart.’ And that gave me the idea for the song, ‘Johnny Cash.’ I had always been fascinated with Johnny, and his relationship with his wife, June.”
The song “Johnny Cash” is one of 11 original compositions on Kelley’s debut CD, Never Be. And while she does think of herself as a songwriter first and foremost, McRae also likes to sing and play her music.
“If I had to choose one [career], I would be a songwriter. But to sing and play something you’ve created and to see it performed by other musicians is great. I think it’s a privilege to create something and to see it performed live.”
When you hear McRae’s voice, there are touches of Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell and even Aretha Franklin. Her music is definitely folk, with some country and gospel influences evident throughout. The songs on Never Be aren’t flashy, but the music and lyrics are intricate, and easily captivate the listener’s ear.
McRae pointed out that it only took nine days to complete the album. And for McRae and her roommates Sarah Fullen and Virginia Krull, who sang harmony vocals, it was definitely a learning experience.
“We spent six days recording and mixing the album. Then, a month later, we went back in the studio for three days, during which time I recorded another song.
“We were pretty green about recording an album. When we’d sing, we would listen to each other on the headphones. In the studio, hearing ourselves that way, we had to learn to sing a little bit differently.”
McRae added that when it comes to recording her material, she strives to get the heart of each song on the record.
“J.D. Foster [the album’s producer] would direct me vocally, and through him, I learned that ‘less is more.’ I think because of the acting classes that I had taken [in college], I was unafraid to try different things, vocally.”
When it comes to performing, McRae prefers the “bar settings. My favorite venues are the intimate ones. I like for people to be able to get up and move about. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some great shows in theaters, too!”