COME LEARN A THING OR TWO ABOUT SINGING
Our singer-songwriters come with a certain Chico-area quality. You can hear the cheap beer and the weed, and the ease with which that Chicoan can coast through the week, or the month, or the year, without ever really having to prove him/herself. As an artist, you can similarly coast to the top of your genre with just a little bit of elbow grease, simply because everyone else is too busy enjoying the park.
Kendra McKinley’s of a different caliber. I mean, she actually graduated from college! (Music, classical guitar, UC Santa Cruz.) She absolutely shreds on the guitar, the piano, and most memorably with her voice. Her bright eyes and relaxed smile can fool the unwary Chicoan into thinking she’s another one of us—a happy-but-lazy-pretty-alright musician—but the moment she opens her mouth to sing, the truth is made clear. Kendra kicks way more ass than a lot of us.
Her voice instantly transports me to some place in between the rom-com Before Sunset and the animated fantasy Spirited Away; it carries the tender romantic French-ness of one and the smiling freshness of the other. Listen to her album Chestnut Street while you read this interview, you’ll hear what I mean. Yum.
What was the most recent song of someone else’s that brought tears to your eyes?
A song my big brother wrote: “24th Corridor.”
To what extent would you say living in Santa Cruz informed your album Chestnut Street? In what ways is it different to be writing the next LP in San Francisco?
Most of those songs were written while living in a big yellow house with four of my best friends on Chestnut Street. That environment nurtured my songwriting tremendously… The house itself sort of served as a muse. Now living in San Francisco… I’m just gathering inspiration from a slew of new influences; people, places, experiences, etc.
Would you say your dreams affect your music? Dreams like the ones when you sleep.
They don’t affect much. I write them down as much as possible… but have yet to turn one into a song. I like to write about what I know, what I’ve experienced; I like to keep my dreams as enigmas.
Tell me about the subjective feelings (or memories?) that went into your song “Canyon Canon.”
That was a poem written by my dear friend Claire Williams, who also lived on Chestnut Street. I was in a composition class at the time and wanted to turn her piece into a song. I wrote the poem in pen on the inside of my arm so I could look at it and think about it. When I was in the shower, the melody came to me instantly and I rushed out to record it.
What was a song you particularly enjoyed writing?
I liked writing “Convince Me That I’m Not Just Wasting My Time.” I was paying homage to the Tin Pan Alley songwriting style, but then I found my own chord voicings in an alternate guitar tuning. It was an interesting exploration.
Any advice for people wondering if pursuing a degree in music is right for them, as opposed to skipping college and going straight to writing/performance?
One of the most valuable aspects of studying music at UCSC was that it introduced me to a number of incredible people that I might not have met otherwise. As far as whether or not school is right, I can’t answer that. It is entirely up to the individual. Though I will say that I loved studying music at UCSC. It was also over immediately after it started… If anything, school provides the vocabulary necessary for deeper study. But the most educational thing you can do is listen and play as much as possible.
See Kendra McKinley perform live at 1078 Gallery on Saturday, August 16th, alongside Geoff Baker and Michael Bone. Doors open at 7:30pm. $5-$10 sliding scale.