Pat McGee: Raw & Rockin’

On the Saturday of SPW, I sat with Pat McGee by Taylor Lake discussing a wide range of issues: his thoughts on being compared to bigger name bands, life on the road and ownership issues. He was laid-back and gregarious, never pressing about time even with his performance at Delta Upsilon only an hour away.

SD: I saw on that your music is described as pleasantly anonymous and thought it a strange combination. How do you feel about that?

PM: It’s not described that way by me. I don’t know – I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. You know, we’re one of those bands that’s, sort of, well, if you like this band you like that band. People are always like, well what do they sound like? In the early days it was like, well they’re like Dave Matthews; that’s just ’cause we’re from the same state and, there’s a band named after a guy and that’s about where it ends. We’re much more of a pop rock band. You know, we were a jam band, sort of, but not on the hippie side of the jam band world – if there’s such a thing as a non-hippie jam band. We were like this band that just had a really good time on-stage.

And you know it was never about making the same set list every night; we winged it every night. I think one of the main things was that we toured so much. And that any band that tours that much – they throw you into that world of like, oh, they must be a jam band. So we sort of started off in that world. When we went in to make records, we wouldn’t put these jams on these records, we would make these four-minute pop songs.

So, I think people have a hard time figuring out what we are. They’re like, wait a minute, these guys do these shows that have these long jams and stuff but they also have these songs on the radio. I mean Dave Matthews is the same thing. You do know what you’re gonna get when you go to see Dave Matthews. You pretty much know what it’s gonna sound like. I mean, we change things up a lot – even the band’s sound over the last six years.

SD: I was actually going to ask you about line-up changes. You definitely have a new sound on your new album.

PM: I mean, I’ve always been a much bigger fan of hard rock music than the music I actually play live. Because when I started I was playing acoustic guitars by myself in bars and you can’t get up there and pull off hard rock songs by yourself because it just – it’s a little bit ridiculous. I also am a big classic rock fan, like the Beatles and James Taylor, but, like, those are the songs you learn when you’re attempting to be the acoustic guy in the bar. You had to know those songs back when I was doing it.

I don’t know if they’re still doing as much classic rock as John Mayer and Dave Matthews covers – I never really got into that world – I was already making original music by the time those guys had started doing their thing. But, you know, Dave Matthews Band was never an influence for us. I mean, they played literally across the street from me every night in a huge club and I played in this little bar.

The first time I actually saw them was in this 15,000 seat place in Virginia. And that’s the first time I was like, what the hell is up with this band? I got it the first time. You’re like, whoa, I get it then, and that was when their first record came out. They were like gods then.

SD: You guys are actually compared to them, Hootie and the Blowfish, the Spindoctors and Train.

PM: Spindoctors. I’m gonna say, I own all those records, I wouldn’t say I’m a big Hootie fan although we did tour with them and those guys put on a hell of a show. It’s like a more rockin’ version of Jimmy Buffett. I mean, I think what they’re doin’ is great; it’s not necessarily music I would put in my CD player and listen to.

Spindoctors, I used to be a big fan of. I mean I was a big fan of those guys when I was a fan of Blues Traveler and those guys were big at the same time, and Train I’ve known for years.

SD: Did they [Train] have an influence?PM: Nah, because by that time we were already on our fourth CD by the time I heard Train’s first record. I actually prefer Train’s earlier music. I’m one of those guys who usually likes the earlier stuff. To me, they sound like a poppier version of Led Zeppelin.

[Interview stops briefly as I pull someone out of lake who fell in.]

PM: So um, anyway, I’m a fan of all of those bands but the bands that influence our music are much older bands. I mean, we don’t still listen to it, but we listened to so much of it growing up that you can’t get away from it. So when you go write a song, I’m not going, oh I love the new… I love the new Switchfoot, Sugarcult record. That record’s awesome. Big fan. So I mean, I like that kind of music; I’m a pretty big fan. But I mean, I’m also a huge Metallica fan, and people wouldn’t associate that with our music. I know my limits as a singer and a guitar player and I’m not going to get up there and try to scream out Metallica songs, because, you know, it’s not believable.

SD: I’m very curious to know if there’s a different vibe between the East Coast and the West Coast. Does it compare? What’s it like?

PM: The East Coast is so different in its own right. Sections of the East Coast are so different; Boston’s so different from New York and even Philly. You know, you get into the Carolinas and that’s a way different vibe than playing in D.C. So, going out to California and playing in San Diego – the vibe out there is definitely more laid back. San Francisco is more open-minded – they’ll listen to, sort of, anything and everything. So, you can get there and not worry so much, should we play the hit pop songs. We can play the songs we think are cool; you can usually get away with that out there. When you’re playing other places you might not be able to get away with that. South, usually they want to hear what they want to hear.

SD: I totally agree. I mean, but still, it’s refreshing to hear songs you haven’t heard so many times.

PM: I mean, we do very different shows. When we do acoustic tours, we get to do all the songs that we wouldn’t necessarily play. Just ’cause there’s a lot of things I wrote that, that playing at a thing like this… Like we’re gonna play all the upbeat stuff today