Scott MacKay last released a record in 2015, and has spent most of his time since then holding a pen rather than a guitar. He took a lyric writing class from a professional songwriter (Marty Dodson) and travelled to Nashville to take part in Nashville Songwriters Association International’s (NSAI) Advanced Song Camp where he learned to better his craft. However, after four years, he’s back with a brand new track, “Half of Everything”.
I got the chance to talk to Scott about how he first got into making and performing music, what made now the right time to release new music again, whether his songwriting process has changed since he started infusing more humor into his songs and more. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
I was a late bloomer. When I was in university, my buddy had mentioned that he was going to take guitar lessons. It was something I was interested in as well, so I mentioned it to my mother. That Christmas, Santa got me some lessons. I went through a period of learning and playing other people’s songs and started playing at an open mic at the campus pub with friends. It wasn’t until I took a stab at writing my own stuff that I got hooked though. Once I got a taste of creating original material, I was all in.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
It was a mix of things, but I do remember watching Tim Chaisson perform (before he started The East Pointers) and left feeling inspired. Down the road, he got me my first official gig, opening up for him and his band at a local pub and I think that partially gave me the confidence to pursue music.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music, so if you had to describe the music you make without using genre names, how would you describe it?
For this particular project, my goal would be to deliver songs that have original ideas, are narrative, have elements of humor, connect with people and/or make them think. I don’t want listeners to be confused when they listen to my songs. I want them to be able to clearly understand what’s happening and that’s why I’m so drawn to the country style of songwriting which has a lyrical focus.
Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
Hayes Carll, Brandy Clark, Shel Silverstein, Charles Bukowski, Randy Newman are just a few. I’m mainly influenced by writers because I’m drawn to the lyric component of songs.
Your new single is ”Half of Everything”. What’s it about?
I would describe it as a quirky classic country narrative that showcases the absurdity of splitting things 50/50 in divorce.
“Half of Everything” is the first time you’ve released new music in a couple of years. What made now the right time to release new music again?
I didn’t want to prematurely release something and regret it. I’m at a point now where I have a collection of comical traditional country songs that I’m happy with and I think they reflect a part of my personality that isn’t all that evident in my previous work.
Something I’ve always been curious with songwriting is how topics come to mind. Did you know what you wanted to write about going into the song session that birthed ”Half of Everything” or did it just come about organically once you were in the session?
I came up with the title “Half of Everything” first which intrigued me. I wanted to take the idea of splitting things 50/50 in a divorce and illustrate the absurdity of it in a wacky way. After twenty-one pages and lots of umming and hmming, I finally arrived at a lyric I was happy with. I typically write without the guitar and with a melody in mind, once the lyrics were finished, so was the song. This song was written over several writing sessions. Once I had the rough draft complete. I let it sit for a week or two and then came back to it with fresh eyes and ears. Most times. I’ll see or hear things that need changing that I wouldn’t have noticed in the first session and this was true for “Half of Everything” as well.
I know that during the time between your last record and releasing “Half of Everything”, you found that the songs you were writing for yourself were infused with humor. Did your songwriting process change at all or just the content of the songs?
Yes and no. I read a couple of books by Sheila Davis who focuses on lyric writing that I swear by. I would recommend her books to anyone who wants to improve their lyric writing. I also took an online course with a professional songwriter and learned some different writing techniques that I have since applied. One of the techniques that I’ve started using since my last record is a thing called Song Mapping. It’s no different than outlining a story really. You write a sentence about what your verses, chorus, and bridge (if you have one) are going to be about. Once it’s mapped out, then you just start putting flesh on the bones.
Was there any major changes made to ”Half of Everything” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
Danny [Ledwell – the producer] had me try a few things. We tried making the tagline more of a chorus but that didn’t work out. We cut single words here and there that weren’t necessary. For instance, we cut out the “your” in this line to make it a little tighter: “I get half of your shoes, your high heels, and leather boots.” My initial vision was to treat it with traditional country instrumentation and arrangements but we decided to take it in a different direction, based largely on how the drums were played.
What are some music industry-related goals or benchmarks that you’re aiming to reach in the next couple of years?
Songwriting is what I value most, so any sort of recognition concerning that aspect of the music industry would be the ultimate compliment.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
I’ve been reading a lot about virtual reality and how that might make its way into relationships. There was a dude in Japan who actually married a virtual reality character which I find fascinating. I also love thinking about the morality behind it all and the double lives people may be tempted to lead.