Jason McCue’s – WASTELAND
Fluff & Gravy Records (2019)
Plus: An Interview with McCue and His Band
Words by Aarin Wright, Photos by Marcus Shriver (Lead Photo by Jake Hanson)
Witnessing the trajectory of an immensely talented local artist is a unique gift for Seattle-area music fans. You might just watch one place in the under-21 Sound Off! competition, record a KEXP in-studio performance, tour across the United States, or sign with a beloved Pacific Northwest record label. If you’re Jason McCue, you do all the above and more, then quickly follow up with your most ambitious LP, WASTELAND, which was released today on Fluff & Gravy Records.
A masterful product of McCue’s experience with touring, WASTELAND highlights his finger-picking skills and intensely ineffable vocals. Although entirely recorded in McCue’s bedroom, you’re transported to the passenger seat beside him, traveling through previously unfamiliar counties and highways. As he reprises “what a mess, what a mess,” you think of the state of the environment. Of your past relationships. Your overflowing laundry basket.
Nada Mucho sat down with McCue and bandmates Katie Hanford (bass) & Michelle Nuño (drums) after their first live performance together on Sunday, July 21 at Capitol Hill Block Party. We learned more about the new record, upcoming collaborations, and touring horror stories.
Nada Mucho: This is the first time y’all have played together live! How was it, and how’d you all get connected?
Jason McCue: I had the time of my life.
Michelle Nuño: Yeah it was great.
Katie Hanford: It was great.
McCue: Katie & I knew each other from high school. We played in a band together then.
NM: That was over in Philadelphia?
Hanford: Just outside.
McCue: Yeah, West Chester. And then Michelle and I met through this thing called the Northwest Folklife Rock Lottery. The gist of it was they got 25 musicians to come to The Crocodile at 9 a.m.. And they divvied us up into five groups, and we were in the same group. We had to write three to five songs to perform at The Crocodile that night.
Nuño: Like that same day.
NM: Jason, you wrote and produced all of your albums yourself. What was it like to bring more people on board?
McCue: Oh, it was amazing. All of the songs and recordings that I have are just little things in my mind that would hopefully work out if they all came together. So when the chance came to make it real, I don’t know, I was really nervous about it. But these are two extremely talented musicians, and I thought it came together super well. And I couldn’t be more excited about it.
NM: Do you think you’ll play more shows together? I know Katie’s about to move [to Philadelphia], so that’s a bummer!
Hanford: I would love to play more shows together.
Nuño: I’d be more than happy to do so, I’m not moving so…I’ll be here!
Hanford: Yeah it’s bad timing. I’ve been telling him for years that if he ever wanted to do a full band set I would gladly play bass. So it finally happened, but it’s really bad timing that I’m leaving in five weeks.
McCue: I’m happy that it happened though.
Hanford: I’m happy that it happened too. It was fun.
NM: So we’re at Capitol Hill Block Party, which is known as a space that not only has big national touring artists, but also really awesome local acts. Each individually, what are some local bands that you’re really digging right now?
McCue: Oh yeah Moon Darling! Obviously.
Nuño: Thank you. That’s my other band. I also play with a project called Kuinka, but even if I wasn’t playing with them they’d be a notable act for me. Because it’s kind of like a couple different genres mixed together. Normally I would be like…folk music isn’t really my thing, or like they’ve got a harmonica and a banjo. But then you listen to them and you’re like, oh shit, this is very danceable and catchy and great. And they’re quickly becoming one of my favorite bands, and I feel really lucky that I get to play with them.
NM: I should have asked to begin with, but Katie and Michelle, what are the other projects you’re involved with? Michelle you’re in Moon Darling and Kuinka, and Katie?
Hanford: Yeah, I’m in this group called Pastel Dream, they’re kind of like a shoegaze, dream-pop group. And to answer your other question, this is one of those moments when I’m going to go home to go to bed tonight and be like, ah shit, I forgot! But I have a really good friend who’s in a band called Biddadat. They actually played Barboza last night, and they’ve definitely become one of my favorite bands. Just like, super fun to see, and they’re also a power trio, and I have a special place in my heart for power trios. Then I always have a soft spot for the punk scene here. Naomi Punk, they’re Olympia-based and they’re great. And Weed out of Vancouver is really good. And then there are so many other bands…like I’m going to find your email after and be like, I forgot this one!
NM: Speaking of albums, Jason you’re about to come out with a new one on August 16. [WASTELAND out today on Fluff and Gravy] Can you talk about what writing that album was like?
McCue: Yeah totally. Most of the music I write comes out of just messing around on a guitar and putting lyrics to what I just messed around on. And then I record it in my room with like a $30 RadioShack USB microphone. It’s called WASTELAND, it’s coming out August 16. A lot of the lyrics are kind of the product of starting to tour for the first time. Taking a lot of road trips through this country that I live in, that I’ve seen like 30 percent of maybe. A lot of the imagery kind of just came from traveling.
NM: So in the record you mention the concept of “mess.” What does “mess” mean to you, what are you referring to?
McCue: It can mean a lot of different things. I think it’s kind of up to the listener on what specific “mess” they want to make that. It could be anything between growing up into an adult and realizing that being an adult is not clean at all. It could be environmental. It could be political. In my mind it was kind of a combination of, well all three of those things. The album deals with growing up and trying your best to do that in a way that is good. In a way that doesn’t hurt anybody or mess anybody up, you know?
NM: Is writing a cathartic process for you? Does it help you deal with things you see or are going through, or is it more of an observation?
McCue: More of an observation I’d say. It’s just fun, it’s what I do for fun. It’s my video game.
NM: This is the second record you’re releasing with Fluff and Gravy. How’d you get hooked up with them?
McCue: Well the last record, PANGEA, I was about to do that independent. But I just threw it around to one or two different record labels just to test the waters. And I found Fluff and Gravy because I’m a huge fan of one of their artists, Anna Tivel. And I’ve been a fan of hers for years. And I just thought, oh well, maybe I’ll send this their way and see what comes of it. Luckily they got back to me, asked me a few questions, and I was like…here are your answers! Sure enough, I released the record with them, and they’ve been nothing but saints to me. They’re really great people.
NM: You’re about to go on tour again. It sounds like this new record came out of touring, are you anticipating to write more? What are you looking forward to about touring?
McCue: I’m not going to go into it with any expectations that another album, or even another song, will come from it. I’m just excited for it in general. I love road trips, I love meeting new people, and I love playing music. What I’m about to do encapsulates all those things. And for when I do want to sit down to write new material, that’s just a well of stuff to think about. To try and make it happen.
NM: Do you have any quintessential road trip stories, or any wacky things that have happened?
McCue: I’m sure I can come up with something. I went on the road to California and back last September. There were a lot of, just, situations…maybe not situations. Shows I was happy to be playing, but I had no idea why I was playing them. For instance, when I was in Portland, I opened for a swing dance band. The entire audience was like 55 to 60-year-olds who were there to swing dance.
NM: Did they try to swing dance to any of your songs?
McCue: No, not at all. They were mostly confused to why a kid with an acoustic guitar was singing about the continent Pangea and zoo animals. They were just looking at me, they didn’t even clap after my songs. The room was silent. I would just play a song and say, “Thank you! Okay!”
Actually this is the only time I’ve ever gotten heckled in my entire life. There’s that song, “Can’t Remember” where every other line ends with the words “can’t remember.” So after the song ended, I tried to make a joke and say, that song is called …huh! What’s that song called? Cause it’s obviously called “Can’t Remember.”
Nobody laughed. And then I started playing the next song, about 10 seconds into it this older lady in the second row shouts.
“This kid’s fucking hilarious!” I had to stop playing for a second, I was just looking around like…help! And then as soon as the swing dance band started, everyone got up from their seats and started swing dancing. I just watched it, it was beautiful.
NM: Do you think you’ll take that experience for future shows? Like nothing will ever be as weird, or as strange?
McCue: Not just future shows, but future situations in life in general. I think I’m a lot better at handling strange things that are going on because of the swing dancing thing. I like to hope so at least!