4
Apr

Interview: Andy McKee

Andy McKee is one of my favorite guitarists. I’m not just saying that because I got to interview him, it’s true. Like a lot of people, I first noticed him when his Drifting video went viral.

What I love about him is that unlike other ‘slap guitarists,’ he doesn’t rely on that technique for all of his work. A lot of his other songs are ‘traditionally played’ and they’re just as amazing.

Two weeks ago I wrote an article about the Top 10 Ugliest Guitars and Andy‘s harpguitar (pictured above) came in second. I said it resembles a deformed penis. Andy’s fans weren’t too happy with it, as you can read in some of the comments. But what did Andy think of the article? How did he go from listening to metal to the acoustic guitar and does he like sweatpants? Make the jump to find out!

Oh, and today is Andy’s birthday so wish him a happy birthday on his Facebook page.

Dose of Metal: Hi Andy! Thanks for doing this interview… How are you?

Andy McKee: Great man! I just got home from France about 4 days ago, I had some pretty hardcore touring so far this year with gigs in California, Texas, England, Scotland, Ireland, and France. My wife is due to have our first son any day now so it’s an exciting time around here at the minute!

DoM: I have to start with my article about ugly guitars where your harp guitar was featured. How did you find it?

AM: A friend had sent it to me in an email. I thought the article was pretty funny.

DoM: You seemed to take the jokes well but some of your fans were pretty upset. Do you think I went overboard with my description of it?

AM: Nah, not really man. I know it was all in fun! The harpguitar is definitely an unusual looking guitar. I’ve actually been playing a new harpguitar designed and built by Michael Greenfield (who also builds my other guitars) for about 18 months. I would say that it looks decidedly less like a deformed penis than my older harpguitar. 😀

DoM: Why do you think some of your fans took it the wrong way?

AM: Well you know, people don’t like to see the musicians or music that they like insulted I suppose. You can make a connection with music in a very personal way and to hear anything negative about it can be upsetting. I think people just forgot or didn’t realize that it was all in jest from the start. Plus, you even pointed out that the article had nothing to do with musicianship in my section of the article!

DoM: What’s your take on our site? Do you think blending humor with metal writing works or not?

AM: I read a couple other articles and thought they were pretty funny. I love metal, but I honestly never got into the whole “attitude” bad-ass shit. It always seemed to me that if you were trying too hard to look like a bad-ass, it’s probably because your music is lacking. I always loved bands like Pantera where it was all about writing some killer riffs, drinking some whiskey and having a good time. So anyway, yeah I think metal and humor works!

DoM: OK, now that we got out of the way, what have you been up to lately?

AM: Yeah man, just touring like a mofo, playing video games, and waiting for my son to be born!

DoM: Metallica and Pantera are amongst your influences. How did you go from metal to the acoustic guitar?

AM: I still love listening to metal, but I switched to the acoustic when I was around 16 years old. I heard a great guitarist named Preston Reed that was doing a guitar clinic in my hometown and I was just blown away by what he was doing with the steel-string acoustic guitar. Altered tunings, tapping, percussion, all of that stuff. I later discovered guys like Michael Hedges, Billy McLaughlin, and Don Ross and I listened closely to their CDs and lifted some techniques and styles (like any good musician, no?) and sort of blended things and changed things and came up with my own style as the years went by.

DoM: Do you have any interest in the electric guitars nowadays?

AM: Yeah, but it’s pretty much confined to my home-studio and consists of me playing along with my favorite CD’s for fun. I haven’t ever really written anything on the electric guitar.

The video that made Andy famous

DoM: If you were to join a metal band right now, would you be the lead guitarist or the rhythm guitarist?

AM: 10 or 15 years ago I definitely would have said lead, but nowadays I would probably say rhythm. My lead playing isn’t quite what it used to be, in all honesty. I think there is a lot of pressure to play fast when it isn’t really necessary all of the time. If I were a lead guitarist, I would hate that pressure. I would rather just write some crushing guitar riff and rock the hell out!

DoM: Had you known your Drifting video would go viral, would you have changed your clothes?

AM: Hahaha, yeah man I probably should have worn my Abercrombie & Fitch get up. I was actually wearing a pretty funny shirt but you can’t see it, it was Peter Griffin but done up like Che Guevara.

The perfect tshirt for viral videos

DoM: I think sweatpants should be socially acceptable. Do you agree?

AM: Of course. An entire sweat-outfit would have been ideal.

DoM: The hardest thing about playing your songs, in my opinion, is making your hands work independently. Almost like playing the piano. Did you spend a lot of time mastering that art or was it all just natural from the get-go?

AM: It took some practice for sure. One thing that really helped was learning the piano piece “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin. I am not a very good pianist, but I really wanted to learn that song so I worked hard on it and got most of the tune down. It has these very independent parts for the right and left hand, very syncopated. In the end, I think I was able to transfer some of that right and left hand independence to the guitar.

DoM: When you wrote Drifting, did you come up with the melody first and then decided to add slapping to it, or was it the other way around?

AM: It was more the other way around. That tune in particular was really influenced by the playing of Preston Reed and I wanted to give that percussive guitar thing a shot. So originally, the tune started with me banging around on the guitar with a simple chord progression and then later I started to hear that melody in my head. Then it was a matter of figuring out how to play them at the same time.

DoM: Before your huge internet following, one of the most famous acoustic guitar videos was Justin King – Phunkdified. There was no YouTube when it first got big but it was on all the video sites. Have you ever seen it?

AM: Sure! Yeah, Justin is really tearing it up in that video.

Justin tearing it up

DoM: Your cover of Africa had a lot of views on YouTube and then it suddenly disappeared. Why was that?

AM: I am not entirely sure. Candyrat Records (my former label) are the ones who had it up. They may have received an order to take it down or something. There are re-posts of it though as well as live versions that people have filmed at gigs so it’s all good.

DoM: Your videos are very popular and one of the most popular videos on YouTube is funtwo’s Canon Rock. There’s still hope left in this pop/auto-tune/Pro Tools music world, right?

AM: Definitely. I discovered a very young guy named Andreas Varady last year and he is one of the best jazz guitarists out there. He’s been on late night TV in Ireland and was recently on the cover of Guitar Player. I can hardly believe he is only 14 years old! I know jazz isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he is an incredible musician and guys like him give me hope for the next generation.

DoM: Was it really you on The Pirate Bay commenting on your own album’s torrent?

AM: Yes sir.

DoM: Do you think piracy is wrong if someone downloads an album but then decides to buy it if he likes it? Do you agree that without piracy, a lot of musicians would get way less exposure?

AM: Well musicians, like anyone else, are trying to make a living in this world. One of the ways we do that is offering recordings of our creations for sale, much like a painter or film producer. And often it is for a comparatively paltry sum of money like 99 cents a song. We also use tools on the internet to gain exposure like Youtube and Myspace where we offer videos or samples for free. But unfortunately, some people or perhaps even most people these days don’t feel any guilt about taking away some of the income that we are trying to make. I just don’t understand it. If you really appreciate someone’s work, is 99 cents a song or even 15 dollars for an album too much money? At the same time, I think it is pretty awesome that Radiohead offers their music for free and simply ask to pay what you feel it is worth. Of course, they have already secured millions of dollars and perhaps money is not much of an issue for them. All that musicians like myself can do is kindly ask that if you enjoy what we do, please help support us.

DoM: I’m writing a follow-up to the “Ugliest Guitars” article next Friday. This time it’s about beautiful guitars. Any suggestions?

AM: I think Michael Greenfield is making the most beautiful guitars out there. Check out his site, they are the only instruments I use. I’m not too much of a gear heard, so I can’t really point you in the right direction I’m afraid.

DoM: Here are three very different guitar players, feel free to write your opinion on them:

James Hetfield

AM: One of the greatest riffmeister’s of all time without a doubt. Master of Puppets is one of my favorite albums, it was intense and very creative. If I were to be completely candid, I hate every Metallica album after the Black Album. Load, Reload, St. Anger… I am just not a fan at all. Oh, and James is definitely THE guitarist in that band.

Tommy Emmanuel

AM: He is insane! I first heard Tommy kind of early on for an American, it was back in 2001 at the Walnut Valley Festival. In 2007, I was fortunate enough to tour with him in the UK and then we just played together in Bangkok at the end of 2010. He is just an unreal guitarist, completely mind-blowing and one hell of a showman! It was a bit nerve wracking thinking about going on stage with him for an entire tour, but as we went I realized that we are two really different kind of guitarists offering different musical experiences. He comes more from the Merle Travis genre and I come more from the Michael Hedges camp. Anyway, he is certainly one of the finest guitarists to ever pick up the instrument in my opinion!

Buckethead

AM: Alright, actually he is INSANE. His command of the electric guitar is staggering and he is so creative as well! I have a bit of a hard time listening for too long as there doesn’t seem to be a lot of melodic content to hang on to, but that’s just my take. I used to be able to listen to guys like Buckethead or some of the old Shrapnel Records guys for hours, but all the weedly-weedly licks got a bit stale to my ears after awhile. I’m sure this might get some “#$%^ you Andy McKee, Buckethead smokes your ass!” comments but I am just being honest. But like I said, he really is a staggering guitarist.

DoM: Any last words for people reading this interview?

AM: Well, thanks for checking this interview out and keep playing. I’ll be touring a lot, probably for the rest of my life so keep an eye on AndyMcKee.com or check me out on Facebook. I run my own fan page there and answer questions, talk about video games or whatever the hell ya want!

DoM: Thanks a lot for your time!

AM: Thank you for having me.

Hi Andy! Thanks for doing this interview… How are you?

 

 

Great man! I just got home from France about 4 days ago, I had some pretty hardcore touring so far this year with gigs in California, Texas, England, Scotland, Ireland, and France. My wife is due to have our first son any day now so it’s an exciting time around here at the minute!

I have to start with my article about ugly guitars where your harp guitar was featured. How did you find it?

 

 

A friend had sent it to me in an email. I thought the article was pretty funny.

You seemed to take the jokes well but some of your fans were pretty upset (as shown by the comments we got). Do you think I went overboard with my description of it?

 

 

Nah, not really man. I know it was all in fun! The harpguitar is definitely an unusual looking guitar. I’ve actually been playing a new harpguitar designed and built by Michael Greenfield (who also builds my other guitars) for about 18 months. I would say that it looks decidedly less like a deformed penis than my older harpguitar. 😀 http://greenfieldguitars.com/greenfieldguitars.aspx?section=66&storyid=281&par=g

Why do you think some of your fans took it the wrong way?

 

 

Well you know, people don’t like to see the musicians or music that they like insulted I suppose. You can make a connection with music in a very personal way and to hear anything negative about it can be upsetting. I think people just forgot or didn’t realize that it was all in jest from the start. Plus, you even pointed out that the article had nothing to do with musicianship in my section of the article!

What’s your take on our site? Do you think blending humor with metal writing works or not?

 

 

I read a couple other articles and thought they were pretty funny. I love metal, but I honestly never got into the whole “attitude” bad-ass shit. It always seemed to me that if you were trying too hard to look like a bad-ass, it’s probably because your music is lacking. I always loved bands like Pantera where it was all about writing some killer riffs, drinking some whiskey and having a good time. So anyway, yeah I think metal and humor works!

Ok, now that we got out of the way, what have you been up to lately?

 

 

Yeah man, just touring like a mofo, playing video games, and waiting for my son to be born!

Metallica and Pantera are amongst your influences. How did you go from metal to the acoustic guitar?

 

 

I still love listening to metal, but I switched to the acoustic when I was around 16 years old. I heard a great guitarist named Preston Reed that was doing a guitar clinic in my hometown and I was just blown away by what he was doing with the steel-string acoustic guitar. Altered tunings, tapping, percussion, all of that stuff. I later discovered guys like Michael Hedges, Billy McLaughlin, and Don Ross and I listened closely to their CD’s and lifted some techniques and styles (like any good musician, no?) and sort of blended things and changed things and came up with my own style as the years went by.

Do you have any interest in the electric guitars nowadays?

 

 

Yeah, but it’s pretty much confined to my home-studio and consists of me playing along with my favorite CD’s for fun. I haven’t ever really written anything on the electric guitar.

If you were to join a metal band right now, would you be the lead guitarist or the rhythm guitarist?

 

 

10 or 15 years ago I definitely would of said lead, but now-a-days I would probably say rhythm. My lead playing isn’t quite what it used to be, in all honesty. I think there is a lot of pressure to play fast when it isn’t really necessary all of the time. If I were a lead guitarist, I would hate that pressure. I would rather just write some crushing guitar riff and rock the hell out!

 

 

If you had known your Drifting video would go viral, would you have changed your clothes?

 

 

Hahaha, yeah man I probably should have worn my Abercrombie & Fitch get up. I was actually wearing a pretty funny shirt but you can’t see it, it was Peter Griffin but done up like Che Guevara.

I think sweatpants should be socially acceptable. Do you agree?

 

 

Of course. An entire sweat-outfit would have been ideal.

The hardest thing about playing your songs, in my opinion, is making your hands work independently. Almost like playing the piano. Did you spend a lot of time mastering that art or was it all just natural from the get-go?

 

 

It took some practice for sure. One thing that really helped was learning the piano piece “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin. I am not a very good pianist, but I really wanted to learn that song so I worked hard on it and got most of the tune down. It has these very independent parts for the right and left hand, very syncopated. In the end, I think I was able to transfer some of that right and left hand independence to the guitar.

When you wrote Drifting, did you come up with the melody first and then decided to add slapping to it, or was it the other way around?

 

 

It was more the other way around. That tune in particular was really influenced by the playing of Preston Reed and I wanted to give that percussive guitar thing a shot. So originally, the tune started with me banging around on the guitar with a simple chord progression and then later I started to hear that melody in my head. Then it was a matter of figuring out how to play them at the same time.

Before your huge internet following, one of the most famous acoustic guitar videos was Justin King – Phunkdified. There was no YouTube when it first got big but it was on all the video sites. Have you ever seen it?

 

 

Sure! Yeah, Justin is really tearing it up in that video.

Your cover of Africa had a lot of views on YouTube and then it suddenly disappeared. Why was that?

 

 

I am not entirely sure. Candyrat Records (my former label) are the ones who had it up. They may have received an order to take it down or something. There are re-posts of it though as well as live versions that people have filmed at gigs so it’s all good.

Your videos are very popular and one of the most popular videos on YouTube is funtwo’s Canon Rock. There’s still hope left in this pop/auto-tune/Pro Tools music world, right?

 

 

Definitely. I discovered a very young guy named Andreas Varady last year and he is one of the best jazz guitarists out there. He’s been on late night TV in Ireland and was recently on the cover of Guitar Player. I can hardly believe he is only 14 years old! I know jazz isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he is an incredible musician and guys like him give me hope for the next generation.

Was it really you on The Pirate Bay commenting on your own album’s torrent?

 

 

Yes sir.

Do you think piracy is wrong if someone downloads an album but then decides to buy it if he likes it? Do you agree that without piracy, a lot of musicians would get way less exposure?

 

 

Well musicians, like anyone else, are trying to make a living in this world. One of the ways we do that is offering recordings of our creations for sale, much like a painter or film producer. And often it is for a comparatively paltry sum of money like 99 cents a song. We also use tools on the internet to gain exposure like Youtube and Myspace where we offer videos or samples for free. But unfortunately, some people or perhaps even most people these days don’t feel any guilt about taking away some of the income that we are trying to make. I just don’t understand it. If you really appreciate someone’s work, is 99 cents a song or even 15 dollars for an album too much money? At the same time, I think it is pretty awesome that Radiohead offers their music for free and simply ask to pay what you feel it is worth. Of course, they have already secured millions of dollars and perhaps money is not much of an issue for them. All that musicians like myself can do is kindly ask that if you enjoy what we do, please help support us.

I’m writing a follow-up to the ‘ugliest guitars’ article next Friday. This time it’s about beautiful guitars. Any suggestions?

 

 

I think Michael Greenfield is making the most beautiful guitars out there. Check out his site, they are the only instruments I use. I’m not too much of a gear heard, so I can’t really point you in the right direction I’m afraid.

Here are three very different guitar players, feel free to write your opinion on them:

– James Hetfield

 

 

One of the greatest riffmeister’s of all time without a doubt. Master of Puppets is one of my favorite albums, it was intense and very creative. If I were to be completely candid, I hate every Metallica album after the Black Album. Load, Reload, St. Anger… I am just not a fan at all. Oh, and James is definitely THE guitarist in that band.

– Tommy Emmanuel

 

 

He is insane! I first heard Tommy kind of early on for an American, it was back in 2001 at the Walnut Valley Festival. In 2007, I was fortunate enough to tour with him in the UK and then we just played together in Bangkok at the end of 2010. He is just an unreal guitarist, completely mind-blowing and one hell of a showman! It was a bit nerve wracking thinking about going on stage with him for an entire tour, but as we went I realized that we are two really different kind of guitarists offering different musical experiences. He comes more from the Merle Travis genre and I come more from the Michael Hedges camp. Anyway, he is certainly one of the finest guitarists to ever pick up the instrument in my opinion!

– Buckethead

 

 

Alright, actually he is INSANE. His command of the electric guitar is staggering and he is so creative as well! I have a bit of a hard time listening for too long as there doesn’t seem to be a lot of melodic content to hang on to, but that’s just my take. I used to be able to listen to guys like Buckethead or some of the old Shrapnel Records guys for hours, but all the weedly-weedly licks got a bit stale to my ears after awhile. I’m sure this might get some “#$%^ you Andy McKee, Buckethead smokes your ass!” comments but I am just being honest. But like I said, he really is a staggering guitarist.

Any last words for people reading this interview?

 

 

Well, thanks for checking this interview out and keep playing. I’ll be touring a lot, probably for the rest of my life so keep an eye on www.andymckee.com or check me out on Facebook. I run my own fan page there and answer questions, talk about video games or whatever the hell ya want!

Thanks a lot for your time!

 

 

Thank you for having me.

Photo credit: Alteredtuning & Christine Porubsky
Thanks: Jason Consoli


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