In celebration of NZ Music Month, we check in with kiwi singer/songwriter Jamie McDell and discuss all things music, life in lockdown, inspiration and her upcoming projects.
What first got you into music?
Music was always playing in the background of my childhood everywhere we'd go. Both my parents would sing and play guitar at small family gatherings so it was a natural thing for both me and my sister to get into and enjoy with them. I particularly loved the harmonies and storytelling elements of old Country & Western music my parents would perform, I think it's shaped my natural writing and singing style quite heavily today.
How would you describe the music that you typically create?
I enjoy mostly writing songs on the acoustic guitar, it's a very raw and organic way of making music and means you can't hide behind the production. I like the challenge of making sure the lyrics paint a strong picture and structure so that the song can stand on its own without too many bells and whistles (sometimes literally). I love carrying this type of feel through to the finished recording in that I try to stay true to the sentiment of the song by keeping the vocal very feel-driven, not over-sung or tuned, emotion over perfection. I think all these elements, paired with my influences, are what lead me to be placed in the Americana genre, which vaguely means music that stays true to traditional sounds of country music.
What is your creative process like?
These days it varies often! The key, for me, usually is to genuinely feel strongly about something. Easier said than done, but I do find it challenging to jump into subject matter that I haven't personally experienced. This means I have to be constantly aware and on-call to grab a pen and paper whenever something rattles me. These are my favourite songwriting moments when a song comes out clearly from start to finish in a matter of minutes. These are admittedly rare occasions so I like to make sure I have prepared for them and lately I've been doing this by reading a lot, writing diary entries, and practising guitar chords or coming up with riffs so that when that inspiration hits I've put in the groundwork to thoughtfully create.
If you could go open a show for any artist who would it be?
It would have to be Jimmy Buffett. His albums were the soundtrack of my upbringing. We spent a lot of my childhood on the water, and Jimmy's stories are very relevant to that lifestyle so I'd love to chat through some sailing tales with him in person!
What is one message you would give to your fans?
Kindness first. People are very rarely just mean, or bad, or bullies, or wrong. Practice empathy and understanding of their journey and context and what lead to where they are now. Notice those things, try not to pass judgment and try your best to be part of the solution.
What is the most useless talent you have?
I can do a very good Australian accent, I just can't see it coming in handy!
What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?
This is an interesting question for me right now as I've had to really put an involuntary pause on my music career while we work through this pandemic. I've just come out of recording a new album and we had plans to tour this year and continue to develop my career in North America but these things aren't possible right now for obvious reasons. In having this space to test the waters and focus in on other projects I'm no closer to knowing exactly what I would do, however, I have certainly found joy in getting back into design projects, reading & writing, gardening, drawing and building. I certainly feel very grateful to be in a position to have this freedom to create without life's stresses weighing on myself and my family and I'd love to combine my skills or collaborate with a friend on something that might give back to a community in need.
How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?
There are of course negative impacts on the way in which we value creatives and music-makers in that we are very accustomed to having the ability to listen to music anywhere, all the time, nearly for free. I do like to believe, even with this level of accessibility, the true music fan is still alive and well though, out their supporting musicians not only via streaming but through buying records and merch and tickets to shows. What I personally find exciting about music and the internet is that it gives artists more opportunities to choose a career independent of labels. The platforms can be used by artists successfully whilst they maintain their creative control and I think this will continue to change the landscape of the music industry as a whole as indie labels start to rise and innovate a more collaborative, lucrative, honest, and artistic environment.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
"If you want to run, run. If you want to sail, sail. If you want to sing, sing." It may sound simple, but it's something my Dad said to me as a teenager and I think it was important in helping me understand the control I had over my own life and the idea of not waiting around for somebody to hand you an opportunity, to make something happen for yourself. I do think from then on I was a lot better at just simply giving things a go without fear of failure (failure doesn't really exist, it's just a learning curve).
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
In country music, not so evident locally, but in the US there's a real lack of equality and diversity being represented on commercial radio. I'm not sure exactly how it got to where it is but it is clear that the majority of songs on the radio are performed by males all singing predominantly about similar subject matter. I know there are many wonderful female country artists creating great songs that speak to many different perspectives and complexities involved in everyday life, and I'd love for these perspectives to be represented and celebrated by the commercial industry. I'm sure there are similar inequalities that are present in many other genres and facets of the industry, maybe this could be where the conversation starts.
What’s next for you?
I am finishing off an album! Pushing plans I had this year to next and taking this time to be creative in other ways, enjoying the nature that surrounds me here in British Columbia, learning from good friends, and not putting too much pressure on myself to fill the gaps.