It’s not every day that a top selling musician turns away from commercial success to do music on his/her own terms. Edwin McCain made the decision to walk away from a path that led him to fame and fortune so he could stay true to his musical ideals.
The path McCain has chosen has resulted in half a dozen albums that were released under the radar. Don’t feel too bad though, McCain will always be known as the man behind two of the most successful wedding songs of all time, “I’ll Be” and “I Could Not Ask For More,” not to mention that those songs are karaoke, singing competition, and dance competition staples. Music is his passion and he is continuing to pursue and succeed in that field just in a different capacity, one in which he sets the rules.
Pop-Break was fortunate enough to talk to Edwin McCain about the musical journey he has taken, his storytelling roots, and what it’s like to sing “I’ll Be” at karaoke.
Edwin McCain: It’s Edwin McCain!
Pop-Break: Hello! How are you doing?
EM: Well. How are you?
PB: I’m doing very well. Thank you so much for taking the time to give me a call. I really appreciate it!
EM: No worries.
PB: I’m so excited that you are coming to New Jersey. It seems like you’re constantly performing live and you just released your live album this summer. What is it about the live shows that appeal to you the most?
EM: Well I guess really it’s how I started out. There really wasn’t any really thought of recording music when I started playing. It was just me and a guitar playing for people and figuring out how to make a living doing that. So that’s always sort of been your first love, playing for people, that connection of the instant feedback. I make records or write songs or whatever and most of the time I like what I’m doing, but that’s just between me and the music. It’s nice to go out there and make that connection and play for people. You send the music out there into the universe and you don’t know how people will respond to it when they listen to it and you don’t get any real feedback from that so for me it’s just really about the interaction that I love.
PB: Awesome. Since we just got the live one, when does the next studio album come to us?
EM: I don’t know! I’m trying to figure out whether I’m going to do a full on ten song record or whether to just release songs in bunches of three. I don’t know. I think that I can probably release more music more regularly if I did it in smaller bunches and I know it would obviously save the issue of trying to actually print CDs and all that. You just release it to iTunes, makes it a lot easier. I don’t know. that’s a conversation I’m having with myself currently.
PB: Well hey, we’ll take any new songs when we can get them. I’ve seen you live a couple of times actually and I think you are a phenomenal storyteller. Obviously through your songs but I also remember you telling great stories about your songs. Do you see yourself as a storyteller?
EM: Absolutely. I think that’s one of the reasons I play music. There’s a guy, David Wilcox, that I was introduced to when I was young. I was 10 years old and he’s a storyteller/songwriter solo guy who travels around with a guitar and he’s impressive. It’s just in the way that he manages to sort of lead an audience through an experience with stories. That interaction impressed me as it did the songwriting itself, and I think the combination of the two becomes extremely powerful. It’s not really me telling you how to hear the song as much as it is ‘here’s what was happening to me when I wrote it.’ Everyone’s interpretation of it is different, but for me the experience is of telling the story and reliving the moment. Personally, it is just fun and funny because most of the time the things that inspire songs are; some of them are heavy or poignant, and some of it is just literally absurd, and I think that the stories are kind of important to show both modes.
PB: Well what’s your favorite story behind one of your songs?
EM: Oh God I don’t have a favorite. It’s kind of like saying “what’s your favorite picture in a photo album of your childhood;” they’re all sort of interconnected memories. I guess if you forced me to pick, on any night it’d be the one that got the biggest laugh.
PB: Good point! Alright well you kind have been all over the map with music. You were on a major label, you opted to leave, and you’ve kind of been bouncing around indie labels since then. What prompted you to go out on your own and kind of do this on your own?
EM: The label president at Atlantic at the time, when it was Atlantic, Jason, he and I were really good friends and we’re still really good friends to this day. We’re working on separate project for ESPN together right now. It’s kind of funny actually, our friendship was such that it was kind of clear that I had come to the end of my usefulness for Time Warner and Atlantic. I wasn’t really having a good time in that mode because it requires an incredible amount of time, effort, and energy focused on promoting single songs and there is a lot of promotion that goes into it; and at the time I obviously wanted to play ball and do everything that I could. I think I went in and did it as good as anybody could as far as putting in the effort and doing the radio promo and jiving and doing all the things I was asked to do. But anyway, it was becoming real clear that I wasn’t really enjoying that as much as some people do. And there are people, friends of mine, that are extremely famous and they love it. You know they love all the promo. Honestly, I just had kind’ve gotten to the point where it wasn’t really doing it and it was easier to get back to the indie life of making your own: being your own boss; making your own schedule; and being more focused on the real, the meat of the thing, which is going out and playing shows and enjoying playing music.
PB: Well you say you have these friends that are super famous. You can’t forget that you are famous too. I mean is it strange for you to hear everyone covering your hits from American Idol auditions to Justin Bieber to everybody covering “I’ll Be.”
EM: It doesn’t bother me at all! I think it’s hilarious. I crack up every time I see that. I guess it’s kind’ve lost on me a little bit. I don’t think of myself in that way so it’s funny, I mean I love it and I always know when it’s happening too because my phone blows up. Like I will just get like 100 texts from people whenever somebody sings it or if Dancing With the Stars or anything pops up. I mean it’s incredible.
PB: Did anybody covering it or anybody using it shock you that you got a text about?
EM: Oh no. Nothing surprises me anymore. I mean every once in a while I’ll be like wow really? Okay. But nothing shocks me. I’m flattered every time; it’s incredible. It’s a lucky thing to ever have a song on the radio to begin with and to have one that just keeps going and going and going and every wedding season you have a new life. It’s bizarre. It’s an incredibly lucky thing that has happened to us.
PB: Did you ever think or expect that you’d have a song or two that are the biggest wedding songs ever.
EM: No no. Not me. I was just trying to get a gig at the Mexican restaurant. That was my big idea that started all of this. No clue.
PB: Have you ever thought about entering into a karaoke competition and singing one of your own songs?
EM: I’ve never entered a competition at karaoke, but I’ve definitely sung it at karaoke a couple of times. It’s always interesting too because I don’t tell them who I am or anything. I’ll just go sing it and whoever the guy is running karaoke goes, that’s pretty good man. Pretty good! You don’t sound as good as the real guy but pretty good.
PB: That’s funny. Obviously you do a lot of touring and singing; do you have a favorite place that you’ve performed at?
EM: We have our favorites. I mean we really gotten into the quiet seated listening rooms. That seems to be where we have the best musical nights and it doesn’t matter where that is. We’ve had that moment in someone’s house or performing arts centers around the country. We also have the fortunate benefit of being able to play larger outdoor gigs like large municipal gigs or outdoor amphitheaters. They’re family friendly deals where it’s a few thousand people and we still get to do that. That for us is a lot of fun so we play in both modes. We have the best of all worlds really., all the way up to playing with the Atlanta Symphony. We play with them every other year. As musicians go, we’re pretty spoiled in all of the different formats that we get to play because I think that some people get pigeonholed into one or the other and they wish they could play with a band or they wish they didn’t have to play with a band and we get to do it all which is great.
PB: Well you guys tend to cover a lot of songs I’ve noticed. I love your “Romeo and Juliet” cover. What prompted you guys to start covering other peoples’ music as well as playing your own?
EM: Well honestly, it’s usually just songs that I’m a huge fan of that I’ll cover, but, for instance, we’re playing the Rock Boat and part of the program is these specialized fun nights for people to play covers so they ask us to learn certain songs. We’re going to play a couple of Stones songs. Then there is an 80s night where I signed up to sing a George Michael song so there are all kind of reasons why we end up knowing how to play covers but most of the time it’s because I love the song and only some of the time it’s because somebody forced us to do it.
PB: Nice. Alright, I’ve got two more questions for you. What song are you most proud of that spans your career?
EM: Well the obvious answer is going to be “I’ll Be” but it’s hard to be proud of that song because there is no way I could sit here and tell you that I had any idea it would do what it’s doing currently and continues to do. I think if I stripped all that away and said what song I’m most proud of it’s a song called “See Off This Mountain.”
PB: I love that song!
EM: And the reason is because of the story that it tells about my grandmother and my uncles and my childhood. It’s about a real place and the song continues to reverberate through our family. It has new meaning every year as my kids grow up on that mountain too and, to me.
PB: Okay, now my other question that I have that kind of goes along with that! Obviously you’ve written some songs with some really funny messages and really serious messages like “Good Enough.” Do you ever worry when you release a song with a distinct message that there could be some backlash from it?
EM: Nah I don’t. What other people think or say about me is none of my business. I don’t ever worry about that. As long as I’m not being malicious. I’m not trying to be vindictive, but having a point of view is what makes us interesting and some of my most interesting friends are what a lot of people would say are totally obnoxious and some people love them. It just depends on perspective. One of the greatest things I’ve ever learned in my life is that what other people think or say about me is none of my business.
PB: That’s a great perspective. It makes me laugh because then I’m thinking of “Radio Star” and I’m like yeah, no, I can totally see that!
EM: I think that was a time in my life when I started making fun of the, actually that’s a perfect example of where I was the moment when Jason and I decided it was time for me to go back to being independent. That song served it’s purpose!
PB: One last thing, what can we expect from you in the upcoming months?
EM: Oh gosh. It’s kind of crazy I’ve got so many things working right now but I almost feel silly talking about it. I’ve got a couple of different television projects in the works, one that I’m in as a principal character and another I’m working on behind the scenes and I may actually be on camera, I don’t know yet. Lets see what else I have going on other than raising three children, obviously working on new music and I’ve currently got some new songs that I’m putting some finishing touches on. I know there’s something I’m forgetting to tell you about right now. Driving the bus to the gig today. I’m bus driving today. That’s my job currently. Just really kind of keeping it cruising along as it goes.
PB: Well I’m excited and I’m so glad you’re coming back to Jersey and you’re going to be playing at Revel. I love seeing your show live. I think you’re a great song writer but seeing it live is just so much better.
EM: I love that compliment too. It’s one of my favorites. That’s good because that’s what we like doing!
Edwin McCain will perform at The Social at Revel Beach in Atlantic City on Saturday March 29th. For tickets, click here.