Andy McKee is one of the world’s finest acoustic guitarists and it’s evident from the accolades he’s received throughout his career. It’s his youthful energy, attention to song structure and melodic content that elevates him above the rest. After nearly a decade without releasing new studio recordings, McKee returns with his six-track EP, Symbol, out Friday, September 17 on Mythmaker Records in conjunction with Cruzen Street Records.
“These are my interpretations of tunes that really inspired me,” says McKee. “I wanted to give listeners a chance to hear what I hear when I listen to this music. I also wanted to branch out a bit and include music that isn’t originally for acoustic guitar.”
While Symbol is a collection of inspired renditions, they are important song choices; artists that deeply influence McKee and song’s that connect to his musical past. He pulls from the catalogues of greats like Michael Hedges, Preston Reed, Billy McLaughlin and Prince. There’s “Ragamuffin,” the EP’s lead single, which is a nod to one of McKee’s biggest influences, Michael Hedges.
McKee notes that “Michael was not only a revolutionary guitarist on the technical side, his ability to compose for solo guitar was also genius. Most importantly though, he was able to search inside of himself and consistently pull up very human and evocative themes that made him a true artist. I’ll always be grateful for his music.”
One track that might catch fans by surprise on Symbol is McKee’s gorgeous rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” In 2012, McKee played alongside Prince in his band on the “Welcome 2 Australia” tour with the song being one of the setlist highlights.
“I had originally come up with the ‘Purple Rain’ arrangement to open the shows with while I was on tour with Prince in Australia,” recalls McKee. “I have played it occasionally since then while touring and figured I should finally get a recording of it down. One thing that I learned from Prince while we were on the road is that we both really admire Joni Mitchell. I used that as a reference when trying to describe what I do. Although some of what I do on the guitar is technically demanding, I don’t ever really want that to overshadow the music.”
Another standout from Symbol is Mckee’s take on “Chattanooga” by acclaimed guitarist Preston Reed. “In my opinion, ‘Chattanooga’ by Preston Reed is one of the finest fingerstyle guitar pieces ever written,” says McKee. “It’s just loaded with texture, harmony, percussion, and melody. I love the key changes and chromaticism between some of the chords. This tune really inspired me a lot.”
McKee, like many, was infatuated with the Rocky IV soundtrack, specifically the Vince DiCola compositions “War” and “Training Montage.” For Symbol, McKee and DiCola joined forces to craft “Rocky IV Medley.”
“That was about as surreal as it gets for me,” says McKee. “I became a fan of Vince’s work when I was six years old and I bought the soundtrack to the film on cassette. I used to listen to it all the time on my Sony Walkman and I really found that my favorite tunes were the instrumental tracks which were “War” and “Training Montage” from Vince. Those tunes awakened my mind to the possibility of being moved by music with no words. To be able to recreate those tunes with the electric guitar and play with Vince is really something I could never have dreamed of.”
Andy McKee entertains both the eye and the ear as he magically transforms the steel string guitar into a full orchestra via his use of altered tunings, tapping, partial capos, percussive hits and a signature two-handed technique.
McKee’s crossover success has helped him to achieve millions upon millions of YouTube viewers, underscoring his emergence as one of today’s most unique and influential artists. His song “Drifting” became one of the first YouTube viral videos with almost 60 million views. He has been featured as a cover story in both Acoustic Guitar Magazine in the U.S. and Acoustic Magazine in the UK. He also curates his own annual guitar retreat called Musicarium. McKee’s tour dates have taken him through Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, including tours with legendary acts from Dream Theater to Tommy Emmanuel.