UCR Interview- John McCool of Memphis McCool

By: Kevin Rolfe

Memphis McCool is a band located right here in Utah. They’ve been assembled for just a year and already they’re playing festivals, and art shows. They’ll be at Park Silly Market this Sunday, June 2. I had the opportunity to speak with John McCool about the band and his experience in music. I really enjoyed our conversation. Hope you do too! Here it is…

Utah Concert Review: So first things first, what’s your role in the band?

John McCool: All right, my name is John and I am the lead guitar player and the songwriter.  But I kind of define myself as the primary song generator.

UCR: Nice. And how did you guys all come together as a band?

JMcC: The lead singer, his name is Andy, we’ve actually played in bands and played in a lot of things together over the years. We decided to do this band because it was a different thing. We’ve been in a rock band in a pop band in cover bands and everything else and we just wanted a new slant. We decided to look for some players and just kinda happened to run into the drummer and he suggested a bass player, Walley.

UCR: How would you describe your sound.  What would you call it? Is it a certain style?

JMcC: The term that we have come up with is “Power Soul”.  We use that to distinguish from the fact that we’re not really a traditional soul band. We don’t have horns and a keyboard player.  We’re more like a rock band.

UCR: A rock band but it has a soul feel to it?

JMcC: Yeah exactly.  We tried to be inspired by the Memphis thing so we really did think a lot about the music that came from Memphis and Chicago and New Orleans. All those kind of like Wilson Pickett and Ottis Redding and that sort of thing. But since we’re all rock players it definitely has a rock feel.

UCR:  So what type of shows/ venues do you usually try to play?

JMcC:  Well we’ve only been doing it since last summer, so we’ve tried to focus on music festivals and art festivals and things like that because we’re all original pretty much.

UCR: So you’re saying all your music is original.  You’re not like a tribute or cover band?

JMcC: Yeah we don’t do any kind of covers or anything like that. The whole idea is to be an original band.  We look for things that are more like a showcase gig. So it’s a little hard for us to be a typical bar band because we don’t do Dead covers or “Sweet Home Alabama”.  We really need to be in a place where can get the energy going and do a set or two. That’s where we’re going to thrive.

UCR: How do you feel that’s gone over? How have you been received?  Do people warm up to the band pretty quick? Or does it take a minute because they might be expecting covers?

JMcC:  I think because our stuff is pretty approachable, you know, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s not art, it has a groove.  I think if anybody can catch the groove I think they’re pretty good with it.

We’ve all played in cover bands, I did it for a long time. It’s interesting if we throw in a cover you see people react to it. So there’s always a little temptation of “Okay maybe we should do more of this.” Then really quick, “No, that’s not what we’re gonna do”.  We’re gonna stay true to ourselves and pretty much do originals.

UCR: Well I really admire you for that. I’m sure it’s difficult when you get that reaction from a cover to not do more.  But the satisfaction of getting a great reaction from a song you’ve penned I’d imagine is that much better.

JMcC:  Totally.  And like I said, the groove and the accessibility of the music lend itself pretty easily.

I think we realized there are two parts to music.  There’s always the performance side. If you’re going to be in a band you’re going to want to perform.  But there is also the recording side. We’ve decided to take a different approach when it comes to recorded music.  Our first project had six songs on it. We sent it to radio and the program director told me “Well it’s not a single it’s a little different than an EP, and it’s not really an album”. So I said “You know those terms are all sort of vinyl related terms. In the old days, we would have to make music fit the little plastic device.  Now we can just make music. We don’t have those parameters to live in anymore. So we just made about a half an hour of music because that’s probably a digestible chunk for somebody who’s just hearing it for the first time. So we decided that goal is to release music in digestible chunks you know maybe every 4 months. So a constant stream of smaller bites.

UCR: How much time do you spend in the studio?

JMcC: I really enjoy being in the studio. So I do spend a fair amount of time in there. But my theory with this type of project was to try to keep it simple.  So I tried to imposed limitations on what we do. So we try to record all of the basic tracks at the same time. So the whole project sounds consistent. The goal is to keep it stripped down so it’s all straightforward. I think people who listen to recorded music want something more genuine. At least on this side of things. I think people are tired of loops and samples and overproduce stuff. Not that there’s not a place for that. But we just wanted to keep it really genuine and authentic.

UCR: Do you remember the very first concert you ever went to?

JMcC: Yes. When I was a kid my parents would always take me to live music and it was mesmerizing.  I don’t know if I would count that as a concert though. I would say the first concert I went to was The Charlie Daniels Band.  I was a little little little kid but I was just like “I want to go to this concert”. But I have just craved live music all of my life, especially in my teenage years. So I’ve seen a lot of bands!

UCR: What do you remember about that Charlie Daniels concert?  

JMcC:  I remember that it was in the big open arena  And we were on the floor. And I am really short, so from then on, I realized I really need to get a seat instead of standing in this crowd of really tall people.

UCR: Do you remember the first time you ever performed live?  

JMcC: Oh yeah for sure. I was in my very first band. They were called the convertibles. We were sort of I guess like a punk alternative kind of band. It was at a pizza place.

UCR:  It seems like pizza places are great for concerts when you’re young.  I don’t know what it is about that but so many people started at a pizza place.

JMcC:   Yeah. I guess if you can’t get into a bar.  You know the process of making music it all starts somewhere. There’s somewhere where somebody is writing songs whether it’s a band or an individual. Wherever you live you practice in the basement or living room garage. And then we all play places like I suppose if you’re from the country the first place you played was a barn. I suppose if you’re from England the first place you played was a pub. Our journeys are all actually pretty similar even though they might sound different.

UCR: Do you remember how you felt playing that gig? Did you feel prepared?  Were you pretty nervous?

JMcC:  You know it all goes by so fast. It’s this thing where you walk on you play and you walk-off. Then when you come off stage you’re kind of like “Wow, what just happened?”. And I think becoming a professional musician as you get older you begin to control what’s really going on. You become more in control and less of a passenger I think.  You get better at relating to the audience and reading the audience and reading your bandmates. I still get the same sensation when I play. I walk out and I get really excited. It takes me a minute to kind of find my footing. No matter what kind of gig I’ve ever done it usually takes me a couple of songs before I’m like “Okay I know what’s going on.”

I really love every aspect of the experience. I kind of joke about it that I love driving home really late at night and I love moving my gear. People say they hate that stuff. I just think it’s all part of the experience. And I just think you should enjoy it while you can do it.

UCR:  What would you say has been your most memorable performance?

JMcC:  I’d have to say it’s a handful of shows. You know I’ve played so much and the part that I really love the most is when your band actually gets tight enough to where it becomes second nature. Or you can kind of just put it on autopilot and enjoy the ride. It’s really fun being in a band. And that’s true with every band I’ve ever been in.

UCR: What was the best concert you’ve ever been to?

JMcC: The band that pops out in my mind is U2. I’ve seen them twice. And they just absolutely blew me away.

UCR: Which tours did you go to?  Do you remember?

JMcC: The first time was in the 80s. I was a really young guy but they were so raw and I kind of appreciated it because it wasn’t all kinds of laser beams it was just a band getting after it. Just four guys. I know the last time I saw them was probably early 2000s. Of course, their shows have grown to the stadium level. I think I probably paid 10 bucks to see them the first time and a hundred bucks to see them the second time. But both times I just walked out thinking wow what a really cool experience.

I’ve seen so many shows it really is hard to pick. I’ve just seen so much great stuff. And I would encourage people, there’s just so much great live music you just have to get off the couch be willing to find something. There’s anything from big stadium shows to the coolest bands in the world playing these little places with 40 people.

UCR:  Well it’s like your band, Memphis McCool playing Park Silly on Sunday.  I mean people get to see a good band right on Main Street in Park City. The weather is going to be beautiful it’s an amazing town. What’s better than that? It’s just about getting out there and finding it or seeing it.  I think people think that they have to pay top dollar to go see these big-time touring bands but some of the best stuff that’s around is right in our backyards from bands that are here locally.

JMcC:  Yeah. It’s out there! And in this town, there’s so much great music! A lot of times it’s even free.

UCR: Before we go, please tell me about the other members of Memphis McCool.  

JMcC: I have found myself to be just totally blessed with the talent that is in this band.

Andy Lynner- He played in LA. He played on the strip.  I think he played bass in a metal band and he’s done singer-songwriter stuff.  

Bob Smith- He’s probably in three or bands now all over town. He plays in the Gorgeous Gourds.

Wally Barnum- Used to play with Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band.

It’s just great playing with these kind of quality musicians.

We also work with a guy named Jeff Burgener. He’s kind of the fifth member of the band. He’s our studio guy. He keeps me in line when I asked him ‘Do you think I can do this?’ He’ll say “Hmmm, maybe you shouldn’t.”

UCR: It’s good to have someone like that.  

JMcC:  Oh yeah. And he’s the tech guy and I’m sort of the creative guy. I really need that so he’s just been super helpful in the process of making these recordings too. We couldn’t do it without him. I’m blessed to have all these guys because they bring the music to life. I can write songs but it’s not until these guys get a hold of them and rework them that it really comes together. That’s what’s been really special for me about the whole thing.

Memphis McCool will be playing all over Utah this summer. To find out dates, locations and to hear their music, click here.

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