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Interview with Chris McKay, September 15, 2018

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:15 - Early life and introduction to music

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Partial Transcript: Did you grow up in South Carolina?

Segment Synopsis: McKay talks about growing up in Camden, South Carolina. He describes learning about music from his grandmother who was a gospel singer. He discusses how she taught him how to sing harmony and play the guitar. He discusses being introduced to performance by watching his father play baseball and his grandmother sing at church.

Keywords: Lugoff, South Carolina; The Beatles; childhood; education; guitar; harmony; horses; liberal; parents; politics; school; sports

00:08:30 - Early bands

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Partial Transcript: Even the first real band I played in--I was probably, I was definitely 16, and some friends came up and literally kidnapped me...

Segment Synopsis: McKay describes joining his first band when he was sixteen. He talks about writing original music and playing covers of popular music. McKay discusses his frustration with fellow musicians who wanted to play hair metal music.

Keywords: Tanjent (band); The Beatles; bass; conflict; drummer; education; guitar; high school; music composition; song writing

00:22:00 - Original music and recording

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Partial Transcript: By anyway, a friend came in and saw us at a show in Columbia, which was the bigger town.

Segment Synopsis: McKay describes joining a new band that was more serious and played original music. He describes recording songs with the band and buying the rights to the songs after the band broke up. He discusses recording new material with a drummer which he released as a cassette tape. McKay describes putting together another band for a show that ended up falling apart due to conflict over musical style.

Keywords: Kiss; Metallica; Pushing Daisies (band); Rembrandt Pussy Horse (band); Rockafellas; bass; hair metal band; music studios; musician; records

00:38:16 - Solo career and move to Athens

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Partial Transcript: Were you thinking about getting out of South Carolina around this time?

Segment Synopsis: McKay describes spending a lot of time in Athens because his girlfriend went to the University of Georgia. He talks about not being able to find other musicians interested in alternative music styles which prompted him to record two albums where he played all the instruments except the drums. He discusses the importance of attending concerts of famous musicians to his musical education. He talks about moving to Auburn, Alabama after his girlfriend got a job there, but he states that he hated it so much that she quit her job and they moved to Athens, Georgia.

Keywords: Pink Floyd; R.E.M.; Robert Plant; college; employment; live music; performances; poverty; veterinarian

00:47:10 - Q-sign and the Critical Darlings

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Partial Transcript: We come to Athens, and for years I kind of languished

Segment Synopsis: McKay describes starting a band called Q-Sign which was named one of the best unsigned bands in America by Musician Magazine. He talks about how the band stayed together from 1995 to 1998 and released one album. He also talks about his later band called the Critical Darlings that had a small record deal and released two albums. He describes how both bands never became very popular in Athens but reached a national and international audience. He talks about how he avoided going on tours since he did not think it was worth ruining his local relationships.

Keywords: Madonna; The Beatles; fans; gigging; guitar; religion; song writing; the Vietnam War

00:56:50 - Photography career

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Partial Transcript: So I walked down to Flagpole Magazine one day. I set up a meeting with Ballard.

Segment Synopsis: McKay describes how he began taking photos of musicians for Flagpole Magazine. He mentions how other photographers mentored him, and he talks about how his connections through photography helped him promote his bands. He talks about getting photos of the B-52's and Iggy Pop published in Rolling Stone which brought him national attention. He discusses his choice to own his own images instead of working for a major company. He also talks about his experience at the BET Hip Hop Awards. He talks about his ongoing health problems which have recently prevented him from working.

Keywords: 50 Cent; Ballard Lesemann; Getty Images; MC5; MC50; Music Midtown; Retina; Wayne Kramer; WireImage; chronic illness; employment; health; race; rappers

01:12:25 - Interactions with famous musicians

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Partial Transcript: What was your process? So you wrote about the Rick Springfield gig.

Segment Synopsis: McKay discusses his relationship with John Mayer. He also talks about the use of personas by musicians, specifically discussing Kanye West. He talks about the detrimental effects of fame by discussing his interactions with Justin Bieber and his observation of Paul McCartney.

Keywords: Atlanta, Georgia; Centennial Park; Ringo Starr; album reviews; danger; fans; interviews; performance; stalking

01:25:54 - Photographic and musical process

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Partial Transcript: What was your gear when you first started taking pictures?

Segment Synopsis: McKay discusses his amateurish approach to both music and photography, talking about how his lack of professional training often helped him. He describes how older photographers showed him how to use his camera. He also talks about his experience in a Beatles cover band.

Keywords: Abbey Road Live; camera; flash; lense; music education; recording

01:32:45 - Athens in Harmony

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Partial Transcript: Do you want to talk a little bit about Athens in Harmony?

Segment Synopsis: McKay talks about participating in the first Athens in Harmony performance which paired musicians across communities for duets in an effort to break down racial barriers. McKay describes performing a gospel song with a local African American rapper called Squallé.

Keywords: Martin Luther King Day; church; grandmother; police; race; racial discrimination; racism; religion; segregation

01:41:26 - Changes in Athens

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Partial Transcript: I think she spearheaded the thing more recently in April for Ciné to raise the money to buy the theater

Segment Synopsis: McKay talks about changes in Athens, mentioning how many famous musicians from the Southern independent rock scene in the 1980s and 1990s have moved away from Athens. He talks about a changing musical culture and generational differences between older and younger musicians.

Keywords: B-52's; Ciné Theater; Drive by Truckers; Kate Pierson; Paul McCartney; Southern Rock Opera; Widespread Panic; fundraising