Monday, October 10, 2011

Andy McKee raises guitar playing to a new art form, coming to Chicago as part of "Guitar Masters" tour


When Andy McKee started playing guitar as a youngster, he had no idea he someday would be considered a guitar master.

McKee,, will perform with fellow acoustic guitarists Stephen Bennett and Antoine Dufour as part of the "Guitar Masters" tour, which comes to Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, on Oct. 17.

The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $20, available at

I had the chance to talk about McKee about the tour and his unique fingerstyle guitar playing, which has made him a YouTube sensation.

Q - When you first started playing guitar, did you ever think you would be on a guitar masters tour?

No. When I started out, I was just like anyone else, I guess. I was trying to learn some of my favorite songs and figure out how to play guitar.

When I was 19, I started to compose my own music. It's been crazy how it has taken off on the Internet and everything.

I'm sure that is a big part as to why I'm on the tour.

Q - Speaking of that, back in 2006, the live version of your song "Drifting" garnered more than 40 million hits on YouTube. That's just a mind boggling number.

Yeah, it is. It's still hard to believe at times. We just had this idea to put some videos on YouTube.

We didn't have any idea it would take off the way it did. Instrumental acoustic guitar, you know, has never been a real popular thing.

Q - Were people interested in your technique? What do you think it was?

Yeah, I'm sure that was the first appeal. I was playing the guitar in an unusual way on "Drifting."

I would like to think the music kept people interested as well.

Q - Why do you like fingerstyle guitar playing? To me, it really brings out a real percussive sound.

Well, I was definitely inspired by some of the more modern acoustic guitar musicians like Michael Hedges and Preston Reed and Don Ross.

What really draws me to the guitar is that there are a lot of creative possibilities with that instrument.
You can pluck the strings or you can tap them against the fretboard. With the left hand, you can tap notes, and pluck other notes with your right hand.

There's just all these sort of different textures and things. So I like to experiment with all of that, and it keeps it interesting.

Q - I guess things are pretty busy for you with the birth of your son. Is it hard to balance music and family life?

My son was born back in April. We're still kind of figuring it out, I guess you could say.

This "Guitar Masters" tour is going to be for a few weeks, so it's going to be tough, for sure. I really love having this time at home right now and being with my wife and son and getting to bond with him.

But you've got to make a living, of course. You've got to put the bread on the table and everything.

Q - Speaking of making a living, the music industry is ever changing. You've railed against people who download your music illegally.

There were a couple times where maybe I went a little too far in how I worded things, but I'm trying to just appeal to people that this is how we make a living.

It's just strange to me that people think that 99 cents is too much for a song. I just try to bring an awareness that guys like me in the acoustic guitar genre, we're definitely not making millions of dollars.

Q - But it does seem like you use the Internet to your advantage. Has it helped bring you closer to your fans?

Oh, absolutely. Putting the videos on YouTube helped people discover the music.
I try to stay in touch with people on my Facebook page. There's really where I am quite active. The Internet has been really beneficial for guys like me.

Our genre just isn't particularly popular. 

Q - Guitarist Eric Johnson has been a big influence on you. Have you met him?

Yeah, actually I met him last year on the "Guitar Masters" tour. It was great to finally meet him, and not only that, to get to play with him and collaborate with him. It was sort of the ultimate musical experience really for me, to meet the guy that made me want to play guitar when I was 12 years old.

Q - What did he say about your stuff? Did he like it?

He was very kind, actually. He had some very nice words, and it was just really cool to get some sort of praise from a musical hero.

We've stayed in touch since then, and we're hoping that maybe sometime down the road we can collaborate on an album together.

Q- On your last album, "Joyland," you have a lot of original songs on there, but you also cover the song "Everybody Wants To Rule The World." What made you want to do that song and how did you approach the song?

I'm 32 now, and I kind of grew up listening to '80s pop music. I try to get all the melodic ideas, and try and cover some of the other bases, the harmony and some of the percussion.

When I start playing, people can recognize what it it. But it is a bit tricky When it comes together, it's really fun to play one of your favorite '80s songs.

Q - Are you working on any new songs?

Yeah, I've got sort of a collection of ideas, but I don't have any songs done yet. 

I honestly have been too busy with my son, I guess. I hope to have a new album out next year.

Q - What do you like about being part of the "Guitar Masters" tour?

Well, it's fun to collaborate with other guitar players. It's fun to come up with ideas to add to other people's songs, and likewise, to see what other guitar players can add to my tunes.

Q - Have people come up to you and said that you've inspired them?

Yeah, and that's really the biggest compliment for me. That really means a lot to me.