Described as an ‘old soul, baritone, beatnik-folk singer/songwriter’ hailing from Regina, Keiffer Mclean is set for his first Canadian west coast tour. He performs in Red Deer at The Velvet Olive on June 24th.
Mclean had a very successful 2014 with the release of his debut full-length CD Drama in the Attic.
The album is a strikingly lush and original listen that received recognition from the 2014 Canadian Folk Music Awards garnering him a nomination in the ‘Young Performer of the Year’ category.
For Mclean, 21, a leaning towards music came early on. He started off taking piano lessons from his grandmother now and then, and then along came a guitar and that pretty much hooked him. During those teen years, a gift for songwriting also started to surface along with his baritone voice. It’s like several talents were forming at the same time, seamlessly merging as he approached his 20s and made the decision to follow a path to music full-time.
“I always knew that I wanted to do something in the arts,” he said. “I was really into photography and the visual arts, and then I found music, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. So right out of high school I started performing.
“And as I was growing up, a lot of my influences were middle-eastern and African,” he explains, adding that his father played percussion for a belly dance group, and his mom was a belly dancer. His aunt also played lots of Bob Marley during those formative years too. Mclean said many of the influences he heard during those years have seeped into the material he performs today.
In high school, he joined the choir pretty much as a joke. But soon the skill he displayed vocally proved to be anything but. “My friend and I were pretty immature at the time,” he laughs. “So I ended up a singing a bit, and I got really into it.”
Ultimately, as mentioned, much of his skills overall as a musician started to come together with the discovery he had a knack for songwriting. “I didn’t want to take lessons for guitar and my vocabulary on the guitar was limited. So I figured the best way to learn the guitar was to write – I thought if I kept writing new things, that would also give me direction. The writing aspect also came into it because I knew that if I was going to do music, I didn’t want to be only doing covers. Also, my voice is a little bit deeper than a lot of the stuff I was listening to, so I wrote to accommodate my voice. And then I just fell in love with writing, I suppose.”
For Mclean, the songwriting process is different every time a new tune comes to be. “I really make it a point not to limit myself in the process at all. When I started songwriting, it was to explore my guitar, explore my voice and explore my lyrics. So every time I write a song, it’s like a meditation and an exercise where I’m trying to go somewhere new with my thinking process.”
So really, it’s never a strict formula of writing music first, or coming up with the lyrics right off the bat. It’s far more of a mysterious, organic journey.
“The song is already kind of there – that’s how I like to look at it. You are kind of just digging for it in a different kind of way.”
It’s primarily a solo effort as well – Mclean isn’t one to typically collaborate with others when it comes to crafting new material. “I’m quite an introverted writer – I’ve only experienced the writing process with one other person and that was my best friend at the time. I find it hard to co-write. Songwriting is so personal.”
Often groups of people will come together in the songwriting world to create new music – a notion Mclean said he just wouldn’t be comfortable with. He can’t imagine blending so many differing perspectives into a single tune that would work well, unless it was about something comparatively objective.
When it came time to prep for Drama in the Attic, Mclean recalls having numerous songs to select from. “Generally I have 40 to 50 songs on the go at any given time. Generally, those songs connect to each other – like a stream of songs. It’s kind of representing a larger span of my life rather than just a day or week or something like that.”
The tunes that landed on the disc were selected primarily via their themes and keys.
“They all kind of tie into each other through a larger stream of consciousness and similar subjects I feel.”
Meanwhile, inspiration flows from virtually any source. “Anything – whatever ‘has’ me in that particular day or particular moment. And it can really vary – sometimes it’s music, other times it’s something weird,” he laughs. “It’s really just all over the place.
“Songwriting to me is like mapping out your mind – it’s like a medium for that.”