20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers
In part 27 of our continuing 20:20 Q&A series,
the truly spectacular Andy McKee —master solo acoustic guitarist and instructor—
joins us as our guest in our Guitar Masters Special Editions.
Andy McKee’s music is heartfelt and pure. His “Rylynn”—featured at the end of this Q&A—showcases his remarkable skill and his ability to translate inner feeling into profound sound, which is simply an astonishing gift.
Humble and kind, Andy shares with us about creating, cooking, watching Avengers with Prince, expanding his musical horizons, and more. We eagerly look forward to Andy’s new music and what innovations he creates with synthesizers!
Welcome, Andy, and thank you for joining us!
20:20 with Andy McKee
NWM 1): Please introduce yourself, briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
Andy: My name is Andy McKee. I’m 41 years old, married with two children. I compose music primarily for solo steel-string acoustic guitar, but have recently been broadening my horizons into other instruments and genres.
NWM 2): What is a favorite of your songs? Please tell us a little bit about it.
Andy: It’s a bit difficult to pick a favorite, but I guess today I will say ‘Ebon Coast.’ It is one of the first pieces of music I wrote for baritone acoustic guitar. I began composing with a specific rhythm in mind, and I just began trying out chord voicings that I liked on standard tuned guitar, and before long, I had melodic ideas coming in and connecting all the changes together. It was a tune that came to me very quickly.
I actually wrote ‘Drifting’ when I was 19! I still feel like there is so much to learn.
NWM 3): Name three things that make you smile.
Andy: My family, music, and Greg Koch.
NWM 4): On YouTube, we have witnessed how you ‘magically [transform] the steel string guitar into a full orchestra via [your] use of altered tunings, tapping, partial capos, percussive hits, and a signature two-handed technique.’ We literally exclaimed, ‘Wow! It’s like magic,’ when we watched you play ‘Drifting.’
How did you develop your technique and mastery for your instrument?
Andy: Thank you very much! I was greatly inspired to pursue the acoustic guitar as a means of expression after discovering the music of Michael Hedges, Preston Reed, Don Ross, and some others. I initially thought the steel string acoustic guitar was sort of reserved for vocal accompaniment, but these players opened my mind to all of the possibilities of the guitar. Their use of altered tunings and unorthodox techniques was so fascinating to me.
I became very interested in the personal nature of solo acoustic guitar and using that as a way to communicate my inner thoughts. I practiced learning tunes from other players and eventually began writing my own music in my late teenage years. I actually wrote ‘Drifting’ when I was 19! I still feel like there is so much to learn.
NWM 5): What are your special interests beyond music?
Andy: I’ve been an avid fan of video games for most of my life. I find games to be more entertaining overall than passively watching a movie. I also enjoy cooking and have taken this last year at home as an opportunity to learn new recipes and try new foods. I love creating something delicious for my family!
NWM 6): You have toured in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America, including touring with such icons as Prince and Dream Theater.
Tell us about a particularly memorable performance.
Andy: Yes indeed, I have had the good fortune to tour all over the world and with some notable names as you have mentioned. If I were to pick an unforgettable performance, I would say opening for Dream Theater in Anaheim, California. I have been an admirer of that band since I was 14 years old. Getting to go onstage and open for them was sort of surreal; I wasn’t too sure how a solo acoustic guitarist might be received before a progressive metal band, but the response was overwhelming. Fortunately, most of their listeners are into all kinds of sophisticated music so it really worked out!
I launched an instructional guitar channel with the website TrueFire called ‘The Joy of Playing’ … that has been a lot of fun and really rewarding too.
NWM 7): What is a favorite or most enjoyable cover you perform?
Andy: I’m gonna say ‘Africa’ by Toto. I originally arranged that tune for solo guitar in 2004. It’s been crazy to see that tune make a resurgence in pop culture over the last few years. People love it when I play that one in a show!
NWM 8): Where were you and what were you doing when you realized COVID-19 had just changed your life as a performance artist?
Andy: It was this time last year and I had just returned home from performing in Tokyo. I had a few nights booked at The Cotton Club while I was there, and I remember Japan shut down all of their elementary schools to prevent the spread of Covid-19. When I got home, things started to ramp up in the USA, and suddenly my kids were staying home, and we were homeschooling them. I had a tour in Scandinavia and a stop in Brazil booked for April, but by mid March, those were cancelled.
Not long after, everything on my calendar was cancelled. As a result, my manager and I started to think of ways to stay busy and keep some money coming in. I launched an instructional guitar channel with the website TrueFire called ‘The Joy of Playing’ as a result and that has been a lot of fun and really rewarding too. Still, I look forward to playing music for people in a live setting as soon as possible.
NWM 9): You were the first artist to be signed by CGP Sounds, the record label founded by the legendary Tommy Emmanuel.
Tell us what it meant for your art to be recognized by a fellow guitar master and to receive such an honor as this.
Andy: Well, that was very special. Tommy is such a talented guy. He’s an unbelievable guitarist and entertainer. I can recall the first time I saw Tommy play, it was nearly 21 years ago now. He blew my mind, I had never seen anyone seem so effortless with every move on the guitar. He’s just a joy to watch. I never would have imagined we’d become friends a few years later, and that he would have me on his label one day.
NWM 10): What song/album could you play on repeat?
Andy: The album Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges
When I was on tour with Prince in Australia, he rented a movie theater in Sydney one night so that the whole band could watch the new Avengers film.
NWM 11): Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd?
Andy: Led Zeppelin for me. I love both, but Jimmy Page’s riffs just kill me everytime. He’s a genius.
NWM 12): Strangest road story?
Andy: When I was on tour with Prince in Australia, he rented a movie theater in Sydney one night so that the whole band could watch the new Avengers film. It was awesome!
NWM 13): What is something that has surprised you in your life or career? Tell us a bit about it.
Andy: Getting praise and encouragement from some of the people that inspired me has been one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises in my life. It’s always nice to get a compliment, but when it comes from someone that was fundamental in your development as an artist, it practically alters your reality!
NWM 14): Your ‘Drifting’ has more than 59 million views on YouTube, ‘Rylynn’ more than 33 million, and ‘Into the Ocean’ 11 million-plus. These remarkable numbers certainly reflect you skill and dedication to your craft.
How do you regard achieving such astounding numbers?
Andy: Well, I guess I’m just happy that people liked it enough to share it and tell their friends about it. It’s made it possible for me to go and perform, you know, which is more important to me. It was nearly 16 years ago that I initially put videos on Youtube. At that time, there really wasn’t such a thing as a ‘viral video.’
I didn’t really have any intentions other than hopefully some people would see it and like it and maybe I’d get some opportunities out of it. Nowadays it’s possible to have an entire career based on Youtube, but that isn’t particularly interesting to me. I love playing for people in person and shaking their hand at the end of the night to say ‘thanks for being here.’ It really means a lot to make that connection in the real world.
I feel like my talents would be best used to come up with beautiful music to help people in a difficult situation.
NWM 15): What is a core tenet by which you live your life or approach your music?
Andy: Be kind, respectful, and be honest. I really think these tenets help us all get along and I try my best to live by them. My approach to music is similar. Although I enjoy doing covers sometimes, my favorite thing to do is reach inside and find something meaningful to say with music. I try to write music that has a universal feel to it, something about joy or sadness. I don’t really want to write music that is just technically impressive for the guitar. I feel like my talents would be best used to come up with beautiful music to help people in a difficult situation.
NWM 16): Please share a unique childhood experience that you feel helped contribute to who you and your music are today.
Andy: That’s a great question. I think a formative time for me was when I moved away to another state when I was 9 years old. It was just me and my mom and my brother. Since I was in a totally new situation, I kind of became a bit more introverted, and I would listen to my Sony Walkman all day.
If it was a school day, I would listen to music on the way to and from school. I got really into it, and I think it helped me deal with this new, unfamiliar life. I listened to bands like INXS, Iron Maiden, Paul Simon, Art of Noise, and the soundtrack to Rocky IV was a favorite as well. I didn’t pick up the guitar until four years later, but I started to develop a profound relationship with music at that time.
NWM 17): If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
Andy: Michael Hedges. Unfortunately, Michael passed away in a car accident in 1997, and I did not have the chance to meet him or see him perform before his death. He is my biggest musical influence.
NWM 18): Apart from live music, what are you most looking forward to when things return to ‘normal’?
Andy: I really cannot wait to see my friends. I have a lot of friends in the guitar community that I usually get to see a few times over the course of a year when I’m out touring. Some of them are in Canada, some of them are in California, some are in Pennsylvania, some are in Europe, just all over the world really. I can’t wait to see them, give them a hug, and have a beer together. I’m also really looking forward to hosting my music camp, Musicarium, again as soon as possible. It’s such a good time!
I usually feel out-of-place when I’m around other guitarists and they start to ‘talk shop.’
NWM 19): What is one thing you would want our readers to know about you which we might not know to ask?
Andy: I’m not really a guitar geek. I usually feel out-of-place when I’m around other guitarists and they start to ‘talk shop.’ I’m kind of ignorant of that stuff. I’d rather try to make people laugh by saying something goofy.
NWM 20): What’s next for Andy McKee?
Andy: I’ve got a few projects that I am working on this year. One is a collection of covers of tunes that really inspired me. One is going to be new acoustic music. Another one is going to be primarily synthesizers and will be mostly ambient music with subtle melodies interwoven. One is a sort-of 80s-inspired collection of original music featuring electric guitar and synthesizers! I’m enjoying trying new things and not boxing myself into the acoustic guitar. I can’t wait to share this new music and see how it makes people feel!
Andy McKee “Rylynn”
Andy McKee is among the world’s finest acoustic guitarists. His youthful energy and attention to song structure and melodic content elevates him above the rest. His crossover success has helped him achieve millions of YouTube viewers, underscoring his emergence as one of today’s most unique and influential artists.
He has been featured as a cover story in both Acoustic Guitar Magazine in the U.S. and Acoustic Magazine in the UK. He is the figurehead of the unique Guitar Masters tours. McKee’s tour dates have taken him through Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America, including tours with legendary acts including Prince and Dream Theater.
Andy released a live album in 2015, featuring tracks from his entire catalog. Live Book was recorded live in December 2015 at the Melting Point in Athens, Georgia, the Red Clay Music Foundry in Duluth, Georgia, and Workplay in Birmingham, Alabama.
McKee was the first artist to be signed by CGP Sounds, the record label founded by fellow guitarist Tommy Emmanuel. “I’m honored to be a part of his label. I heard Tommy years ago at a festival in Kansas and was blown away by his playing and performing, and I still am,” McKee stated. “To be the first person on his label was surreal, and I’m excited and proud to be a part of it.”
To learn more and buy stuff visit https://andymckee.com/
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