all featured photos taken by Ben Vogelsang [instagram: @ideamachinestl]
Music plays a big part of our lives, but it goes so much deeper than just the final songs. Here’s a Q&A with Kellen McKay (vocals/backup guitar for Stacked Like Pancakes) on writing music.
How long have you been doing music for?
“I’ve been influenced by music since youth when my dad would come home from work and play guitar for hours almost every day. I always had a knack for replicating sounds I heard in music with my voice or with instruments that were available to me, so my parents put a few instruments in front of me to help and I really clicked with the drums. When I started SLP in high school, I was initially the drummer, but I found that it was hard for me to lead the group from behind the kit, so I picked up the guitar and started singing and writing songs. I’ve been a drummer for as long as I can remember, and went on to study percussion in college”.
How did you know you wanted to do music?
“There were a few pivotal moments for me, but one in particular was when I was in high school. One of my good friends who was also a percussionist played a marimba solo for me to prepare for his college auditions. I was mesmerized by the fact that he was holding 4 mallets – two in each hand, on top of the beautiful piece of music he was playing. As he was playing, I thought to myself, “I want to do this. I want to reach that level and make people feel the way I feel right now about his performance.” And so I practiced for hours a day and prepared for my own college auditions the next year. It is a drive that stays with me today; I have the same commitment to the highest quality performances with my band”.
What’s your process for writing music? Are there certain places you like to go, foods you like to eat? Where does the mental process happen?
“My music and songwriting happens almost exclusively in my bedroom, and usually between 10pm and…..some time in the late night / early morning. It’s when my mind is most focused and I can get completely lost in it. I’ve tried to write music in other places but I end up getting frustrated very easily and have always come back to my bedroom. I wrote my first songs with a tape recorder my dad gave me, sitting on my bed in my old house with my acoustic guitar, and a notepad to write lyrics. I now have an open white desk with my macbook, I use notation software, and I split the lyric-writing between a notepad on the computer and an actual notepad. Writing lyrics on my computer is sometimes necessary if my brain is moving faster with ideas than my hands can write, but physically writing is still more cathartic and can help develop certain songs better for me. Overall, I am extremely private with my songwriting. For the most part, I don’t think anyone has ever really seen me write music”.
What have you learned about working in music since your first album release?
“Oh boy. A lot has happened since 2011. Well, when we released that album that year, we were tricked by a concert venue in Scranton, PA called the Croc Rock Cafe into thinking that we were going to play alongside Reel Big Fish and Streetlight Manifesto. Four or five other bands were also promised the same thing. None of us did, but we all sold $20-25 tickets for this show. We sold something around 140 tickets worth, which meant 140 of our fans drove from Baltimore to Scranton (4 hours) to see us “play with Reel Big Fish.” We played in a sweaty basement that might not have even been attached to the building with the venue, there was no air conditioning, and we were never anywhere near the artists. For as awful an experience it was overall, we still played a hell of a show and had the whole crowd dancing with us. It taught me that in the face of even the worst adversities, the music can still overcome. We went on tour with Reel Big Fish in Fall 2016”.
Is there a particular moment or memory in music that stands out to you?
“Some time in middle school, I went to my first concert at a music venue at a place called Recher Theater in Towson, Maryland. My dad took me because I couldn’t drive yet. When I saw the bands perform for a packed crowd where everyone was dancing and singing the whole night, I knew I wanted to be the one on the stage in the future”.
Is there an achievement you’re most proud of currently? Why are you proud of it?
“I feel that the achievement I am most proud of will always be our most recent achievement, because I am wholeheartedly proud of each of our accomplishments. I’m proud of our performance at the Warped Tour kickoff party in March, and I’m extremely proud to be on the Warped Tour this Summer”.
What inspires you?
“I know this is kind of a vague and boring answer, but the truth is that literally everything and every thing that exists and does not exist has the potential to inspire me. I’ve written a poem about a rock before. I’ve written songs about fictional events and experiences. I’ve also written songs about very real events and experiences. I challenge myself with every song I write and I make every effort to not be limited to even my own imagination”.
Why did you call it ‘Stacked Like Pancakes’?
“My mom will claim that it was because she was making pancakes for dinner the night I had the first rehearsal in the basement. I honestly can’t remember if that’s the truth or not. But I do remember sitting with my two trumpet players at the time in a swift brainstorming session. The band name has no meaning. I never really cared about what the band would be called, I just wanted to create and perform music”.
(In reference to your last single/album) If you could do it over again, what would you do differently, if anything?
“This is the ultimate question in life, isn’t it? haha. Of course there are a multitude of things I wish we could go back and do differently in terms of the songwriting, the production and mastering, and the release of the album. But there’s no sense in dwelling. The way that I think about it is this: Our 2011 debut album and our latest album from 2015 are perfect. In that, they are a perfect representation of what we were capable of and where the band was at the time. It’s about the growth from these releases, not about what these releases could have been (and are not)”.
How do you feel about the end result of that single/album?
“I am extremely proud of THIS IS US, our latest album from 2015. I wish that the initial release was bigger than it was in terms of overall numbers, but we still had a very successful sold-out CD release show in our hometown. We learned a lot from that release and we’re looking forward to having a much bigger impact for the next one”.
What’s next?/ Should we be expecting another album from you?
Outside of recording an album, what are your ambitions for the near future?
“There are a lot of things happening in the world today and in our country that I have strong emotions and disagreements with, and I want my voice to be heard and mean something. Once my band reaches a certain level, I will be undertaking some musical and societal side-projects”.
In general, what’s your favourite part of the album-making process and why? (Writing, recording, album art, etc?)
“This is a tough question to answer, because I don’t really see it is being sectioned off into these different aspects. Especially for this next album, it’s all one whole idea. But there is a certain magic that happens sometimes when I first introduce a new song I’ve written to my bandmates. The enthusiasm they have shown for the new music I’m writing has been extremely gratifying”.
What would you say to a younger person who is pursuing a similar path to yours?
“Keep the drive. Be ruthless. Surround yourself with people who share similar passions and ambitions, and people whom you can share the dream with. Don’t force friendships and relationships to be forever. Put yourself in positions to meet new people and expand your networks until you are constantly surrounded by people who truly support you. And give back. And most of all, be kind”
Read our last article on Stacked Like Pancakes here