The best interviews are those that were never scheduled.  Impromptu sessions can catch both the interviewer and the interviewee off guard completely.  Fortunately, for this particular interview, the questions and answers were free flowing and lasted for a good couple of hours.

Chi McClean (first name pronounced “Chai”), the blond, singer-songwriter from Long Island, called me en route to San Francisco.  What was originally planned as a “quick hello” over coffee found itself transformed into a full-blown interview over Greek food. 
Not that I was complaining.

In my home county of San Luis Obispo, CA, I search for local and traveling acts.  The singer-songwriter showcase, “Songwriters at Play,” first introduced me to McClean.

He was the featured performer for one particular showcase, and I, along with many others, found his voice to be very pleasing.  Accompanying the long, blond hair of the avid surfer is something a little rootsy, a little country, and a little bit rock and roll. Chicken shawarma for dinner with the musician sounded like a great idea.  Why not?

“I actually started with jazz.  In New York, before moving out to San Francisco, I looked on craigslist and found metal groups.  My day job consisted of a button-down shirt and khakis and that didn’t match with the leather, and burly physiques of Harley riding guys!” said McClean.

Scratch the heavy metal idea.  McClean’s music style, which finds itself deeply rooted in Americana, could not come at a better time.  In an industry that still makes the majority of its profits from popular music, music fans are finding themselves turning back to their roots.

McClean grew up listening to a lot of Southern rock.  He names the Allman Brothers as a huge influence.  Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Black Crowes are favorites as well. When we talked about the recording process of his follow-up album to Something Out There, McClean told me about a little trip he took to Nashville.

“When I went to Nashville, it changed my songwriting process.  Although the album is not country, it is slowly morphing into Americana.  It’s rootsy, more than the last album. Some country has great lyrics and musicianship,” said McClean.

He has a sensitive soul.  His guitar skills are apparent of years of training, and his lyrics, mostly about relationships and “love stuff,” are genuine.  McClean said that songs that mostly focus on happier subjects tend to be “pretty cheesy.”   

He and I both acknowledged that singer songwriters tend to write about “glass half empty” subjects more often than not.  Other musicians have told me in the past that a consistent level of “happy” can no longer reach a level of satisfaction.  Although songs may be melancholy, McClean and most others are actually quite content in their personal lives.

That is a very good thing.  McClean has hit the road hard, with a gig as far south as Lestat’s Coffee House in San Diego, and back up the west coast to his base of San Francisco.  He is working hard on his next album and playing gigs and attending music conferences with any chance that he gets.

“I’ve attended songwriters conferences in Colorado… have attended South By Southwest… as well as Durango’s Songwriters Showcase.   My goal is to travel, record and hit wineries soon,” said McClean.

What could be more relaxing than a glass of wine and music?  Keep an eye out for this guy.  Sometimes a pleasant evening is best left unplanned.

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