Thursday, September 5, 2013

New Residency: Christian McNeill at Atwood's

For me, Christian McNeill has always been one of those guys I know well (musically), but don't really know. I have seen him perform many times wearing many different hats, but never gotten to know him on a personal level. Needless to say, every time I see him perform I am blown away. He just has that stage and performing presence that most of us aspire to. After going through his answers to my questions below I get a much better understanding of him as a performer, a person, and an artist. I have to say that his responses are some of the most genuine, candid, and thoughtful I have seen in any interview, nevermind for this blog. Christian starts a new residency tonight at Atwoods, which extends through September and October. Something that you all should be checking out at least a handful of times if not weekly.

Read on too find out more about where this performer has been, where he is at and where he is heading...which is certainly to a place I am excited to be watching attentively from the crowd.

1)      What projects are you currently working on?

CM: I am currently working on three projects.

Christian McNeill & Sea Monsters put out a record earlier this year on local indie label Q Division Records, which was basically a culmination of a very successful five-year residency at Precinct in
Somerville. We have some Sea Monsters shows coming up in the New England area this fall and winter, and I'm looking forward to that.

After a 15-month hiatus from the music scene (I hate the word 'local'), I am excited to start a nine-week run of Thursday nights in September and October, at Atwood's Tavern in Cambridge. I have an incredible band for this run of shows with Marty Ballou on upright bass, Tom Arey and Dean Johnston on drums, Ben Zecker and Paul Schultheis on keys, and Eric Royer on banjo.

I am also working on a side project with my longtime friend and collaborator/producer Steve Fisk out in Seattle. Steve and I have been working together on and off since 1995. I have thoroughly enjoyed the fact that it's just the two of us making all the sounds and playing all the instruments on the recordings this time around, compared to the CM & SM record, which was also really enjoyable, but involved about 20 people. I think that fans of my music will be very pleasantly surprised in 2014.

2)      Why do we have the best music scene? (if you don’t think we
do, what do you love about the scene here in

CM: We have a pretty healthy music scene. Although it's silly to think or say we have the best music scene, instead we should be constantly trying to find ways to make it better for musicians and audience members alike. We have a healthy music scene because certain people put a lot of good energy into making interesting shows and fun nights of entertainment happen. Let's be real here, the scene is vibrant, in spite of a lack of real venues, and an alarmingly poor pay rate which hasn't changed with the rate of inflation since the 1970s. I love the music scene in Cambridge and Somerville, because of the musicians who keep it going, and the high standard of musicianship on
display almost any night you choose to go out. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of "Johnny-Two-Notes" and quite a few hobbyists around, but there are also some world class players out gigging 5 nights a week.

3)      Favorite OR least favorite/most embarrassing moment on stage
from your career?

CM: I've been singing (on stage and in choirs) since I was 5 years old. One of my proudest moments
That was in 1988, at a place called the Union Hall in Derry, Ireland. I was 15 years old, and I still vividly remember the show, and thinking to myself, "This is the first night of the rest of my life."
Fast forward 25 years to this past Tuesday night at the Somerville Theater, which I feel was just one of those perfect nights. The feeling of joy from the audience was palpable, and then Laura
Marling's smile and what she said to me as I walked off stage, confirmed to me that something special had just happened. I'm 41 years old now, and I'm a better singer and a better songwriter
than I was at 40, and 30, and 20. I'm proud of myself for continuing to learn and grow as an artist... and that I never gave up, especially since the music business has given me countless reasons and
opportunities to do so.

  4)      If you could collaborate with anyone from the area (general
New England) who would it be?

CM: Through Sea Monsters, I spent five years collaborating live on stage every Sunday night with the best people around this area. I got to work with Jesse Dee, Dwight & Nicole, and Tim Gearan on a regular
basis. Plus, people like Ryan Montbleau, Rex Complex, Gretel, Miss Tess, Chris Trapper, Will Dailey, Sarah Borges, Danielle Miraglia, Jenn Kearney, Eric Royer and Dennis Brennan were all regular guests. And let's not forget about the incredible musicians and soloists involved in that project over the 5 years. People like guitarists; Lyle Brewer, Duke Levine, Kevin Barry and Tim Pike. The horn section with people like Scott Aruda, John Aruda, Paul Ahlstrand, Jeff Galindo, and Dana Colley. Bass players like Michael Miksis, Lou Ulrich, Claire Finley, Mike Rivard and Andrew Mazzone. Drummers: Tom Arey, Dean Johnston, Benny Benson, Andy Plaisted, and Jeremy Gustin.
Viola and violin by Laurence Scudder, Damon Liebert, and Dan Keller. Piano and organ by Ben Zecker, Paul Schultheis, and Qwill. Mandolin with Jimmy Ryan, Matt Glover, and Sean Staples. I could go on and on.... It was an incredible life experience, and was a Sunday night phenomenon that will never happen again. Not with three vocalists and a band like that, no way. We also in our own way helped to galvanize a music scene that, quite frankly, was split into many little camps back
in the middle of the last decade. Musicians are a funny bunch sometimes. I also remember the fear in the eyes of some performers when I explained how the show worked... some people can roll with the
improvisational punches, and some people can't, but a lot of wonderful things happened as a result of that band being a collective melting pot, for sure.

Regarding the future, I would like to collaborate more one on one, in the studio, and on songwriting partnerships.

5) CM: Three records that shaped me when I first started playing... how
about three sets of three?

The Beatles - Revolver (1966)
The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
The Beatles - The White Album (1968)

The Velvet Underground and Nico - (1967)
The Velvet Underground - (1969)
The Velvet Underground - VU (1985)

That Petrol Emotion - Manic Pop Thrill (1986)
That Petrol Emotion - Babble (1987)
That Petrol Emotion - End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues (1988)

These really were the records that I was freaking out over in my formative years. You could also add the first and eponomously titled Fugazi record from 1988 to that list as well.

Three records I am currently listening to, and loving?

Mieka Pauley - The Science of Making Choices (2012)
Willy Mason - Carry On (2013)
Lyle Brewer - Live at Q Division (2012)

As a bonus, the last Tim Gearan album "Riverboat" (2012) is also fantastic... it's a sad indictment of our scene, and maybe that we live in a bit of a media black spot, that this record didn't get more
love and much deserved attention.

6) CM: Why is creating music so important to me? It's a part of me. It's a natural extension of me. It's all I've ever wanted to do. My first memories of life as a 2- or 3-year old are musical ones. I used to
make up songs to sing myself to sleep in my bed when I was a little kid. I would hear this music that I didn't quite understand, but I knew that I loved how it made me feel.

Music has saved my life. In turn, it is important to me to convey the emotions that other people might struggle to find the words to express. If someone is having a tough week at work, or just had a
shitty day in general, and they come to my show, and they are smiling and having a great time, then I am doing my job. That is our role in society isn't it? It's so simple, and yet so important.

I don't share my love of music for fame, and certainly not for fortune, because as young men the members of my first band walked away from a huge opportunity to achieve that. We saw behind the curtain at Oz, and really didn't like what was there. Some people have 5-star ambition and 1-star talent. They're good at show business, they want to play the game, and so they succeed. If
you're primary goal is to make music to be famous, then you really need to be good at show business, you really need to want it, and be ready to play the game, because that's all it is. You also probably
shouldn't hang around the Boston, Cambridge, Somerville music scene for too long.

  7)      Do you have any "guilty pleasure" music? Something the
world may be surprised to hear you listen to?

CM: I really liked the single "Get Lucky" from the latest Daft Punk album — Random Access Memories. It really is a guilty pleasure. I mean, the lyrics are a complete joke, but it's just really great pop music, and pretty fun to bust a move to when no one is watching.

  8)      Aside from music, do you have any other pastimes? What
would you want people to know about you aside from your musical

CM: My love of film just might rival my love of music. I passionately love films of all kinds, if I'm not working on a song, then I'm probably reading about a movie, or watching one. I actually have a great idea for a screenplay that I plan to start working on in 2014, and it's an area people might be surprised to see me involved in, in the future.

  9)      Anything else you want to plug or we should know?

CM: If you took the time to read this, THANK YOU. Please continue to support live music in this city, and please encourage your friends to do the same.

That way we can hopefully keep doing this...

Check out Christian McNeil online at:

And be sure to get on over to Atwoods starting tonight and over the next few weeks for his new residency...I am sure you will see a few of those names mentioned above sitting in on a few of these nights. Music at 10 PM, cover is only 5 bucks.

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