Edwin McCain

Lost In America

Edwin McCain has a romantic soul and a way of investing life’s everyday moments with a poetry all his own. Lost In America, his seventh album, and Vanguard Records debut, is another collection from a man whose career is marked by his talent for delving into the human condition and producing songs of uncommon insight and compassion. “I live my life and I write about it,” McCain said. “I take whatever happens to me between records and spend time thinking and feeling it through, then I draw on the lessons I’ve learned and try to find the music in it.” It’s the same method McCain has used since he first picked up a guitar and decided he wanted to be a wandering troubadour.

Like his past albums, Lost In America is marked by McCain’s finely crafted meditations on the human condition. The music may be more electric than before, but McCain’s sympathetic vocals retain the ability to touch the hearts of listeners and pull them into his stories. “Gramercy Park Hotel,” the first single, is a sarcastic look at the movers and shakers in the entertainment industry, based on a trip McCain took to New York City for a music industry dinner. Its loping groove, sing-a-long chorus and Larry Chaney’s Joe Walsh inspired doubled guitar solo make it instantly memorable. “Black And Blue,” a poignant portrait of a young, troubled, drug addled woman, co-written with Nashville heavy Maia Sharp, features Craig Shield’s sinuous sax work, McCain’s acoustic and Larry Chaney’s funky rhythm guitar fills. Long time friend of the band Bill Mallonee, formerly of Vigilantes Of Love, contributes to “Welcome To Struggleville.” “The song captures the life of a musician,” McCain says. “The long tours, missing your family, all the heartaches and hazards of life on the road.” McCain delivers the surrealistic lyrics in a soulful, anguished tone that intensifies the song’s inherent drama. On the anthemic title track, co-written by McCain and Sharp, McCain’s vocals walk the fine line between hope and despair. The song combines the impulses of Heartland and Southern rock for a tale of America’s blue-collar workers, a population trying to find salvation in a world torn between material pleasures and mind numbing labor. “I was writing in a bar in Florida when this guy plopped down next to me and started spinning his hard luck yarn. The first verse is a paraphrase of his tale and the character took off from there.” “Babylon,” another Mallonee tune, is a brutal song of love gone wrong. It closes the album with an almost heavy metal arrangement, one of the hardest rock performances the band’s ever waxed. Riley’s screaming solo, McCain’s powerful vocal and the pummeling back beat of the rhythm section underlines the bitter frustration of the lyric. “It’s darker, rougher and more aggressive than anything we’ve done before,” McCain explains. “It lets you know what kind of band we are and what we can do live. We wanted to go out with a bang, not a quiet acoustic track like we’ve done on most records.”

Lost in America was recorded at McCain’s OMG Studios in his hometown of Greenville, SC, and produced by Noel Golden (Matchbox Twenty/Lee Ann Womack). “It’s an up-tempo record, shorter than other albums we’ve done,” McCain says. “Ten songs that are lean and get right to the point; when you finish listening to it, you’re ready to hear it again. It was done live in the studio, everybody set up and playing together. We’ve been together so long as a unit, that playing is second nature to us now; recording it as a band gave the music a lot more energy.”

The McCain band includes McCain on vocals and acoustic guitar; Craig Shields on Wurlitzer, piano, B3, saxophones and accordion; Larry Chaney on acoustic and electric guitars; Pete Riley on acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and background vocals; Lee Hendricks on bass guitar; Dave Harrison on drums, percussion, and background vocals.

McCain credits producer Noel Golden for the album’s bright, live feel. “He did a great job of capturing us when we made Messenger back in ‘99. His ability to cut to the chase and get the best out of us made us respond with some of the best recorded performances we’ve ever turned in. There was a feeling of camaraderie in the studio that made everything click. One night Pete, our guitar player, who’s from Liverpool, started playing something. It was around the anniversary of John Lennon’s death. I’d been toying with the idea of writing a song about Lennon’s assassination and it threw itself together that night. It was fast and furious; in the can in a single burst of spontaneous creativity.”

Lost In America sees McCain collaborating with other talented Southern songwriters including various members of his band, Kevn Kinney of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, and Maia Sharp, a good friend who’s had tunes covered by Bonnie Raitt and Trisha Yearwood. “I’ve always been impressed with Maia’s ability to stick with a song and make it the best it can be. For a long time I wasn’t too good at finishing a song when it got difficult. She’s inspired me to finish what I sit down to do, to rewrite and rewrite, to question what I’m doing and make each draft better. Writing from somebody else’s perspective challenged my thought process and made me think in other ways.”

Lost In America also shows off a potent live energy past records have failed to capture. “There’s an aggressive side to our music that you might not expect if you’ve never seen us in a club,” McCain explained. “We wanted to play in the studio just like we play on stage. I like making records, but playing live is my passion. When [I started the band] we used to do 300 shows a year. These days it’s 100 to 150, which is a lot more manageable.”

McCain has also signed on as host for a new television program entitled “Music Road” on the Turner South Network. Featuring up and coming as well as established artists, “Music Road” will air 22 episodes a year in the Southeastern U.S., debuting in April 2006. “We’re traveling around the south, highlighting regional bands. The great musicians that you won’t see on MTV - unsigned acts, hard working indie musicians that have no plans for fame, they just want to be out there doing what they do, playing for the people. We also have musical legends and heroes performing on the shows.”

Edwin McCain was born in Greenville, South Carolina, where he still lives. “My sister is a great singer, my dad played guitar and sax in swing bands in college, my mom plays piano. They’re all good musicians. When I was young, my dad made me promise to never be a musician. He should have said never be an accountant. He sealed my fate by telling me not to do something.”

Like many Southern kids, McCain’s first singing experience was in the church choir. He credits his ability to sing harmony and project himself into his songs to the early training he got from choir director Bob Powell. Another influence was David Wilcox, who also once recorded for Vanguard. “David’s an amazing wordsmith. I first heard him when I was 17. He could take complex emotions and used beautiful language to infuse optimism and hope into the darkest situations. I thought he had an interesting life - traveling around, playing music and being an artist. If I could pick a way to go, I thought it would be a good way to live.”

McCain picked up guitar as a teenager and was playing cover tunes in bar bands while still in high school. He attended the University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston before chucking academics to live the life of a wandering minstrel. “I met a guy named Shannon Tanner who played in all the little bars in Hilton Head, SC, in the summer, St. Croix in the fall and Vail, CO in the winter. He taught me how to get gigs, how to manage my money, how to grab an audience, how to make a living as a musician no matter where you were. We’re still good friends.”

McCain got bored doing covers and started slipping originals into his set. He finally put a band together and started an endless tour of bars, colleges and frat houses. During his years on the Southeast bar-band circuit he rubbed shoulders with many up-and-coming acts, including a then unknown outfit called Hootie & The Blowfish. “Darius (Rucker) and Mark (Bryan) saw my show at a tiki bar in some Holiday Inn and asked me to open shows for them. I was opening shows for them when Atlantic signed them. Atlantic signed me too. Then Dave Matthews got signed. In a few months anyone in the Southeast who had a rock band got signed.”

McCain’s debut, Honor Among Thieves, captured his acoustic based blend of folk, pop and soul accented by some funky electric guitar, a horn section and backing singers. It did well, but nothing could have prepared him for the frenzy that was created by his second outing, Misguided Roses. “We did it as a band in the basement of a friend’s house in Nashville, living together and playing to a DAT recorder. The label wasn’t checking on us, so we made a quirky record. It turned out to be a good move.” The popular WB TV show “Dawson’s Creek” played “I’ll Be,” one of the album’s most romantic ballads, on an episode of the show and sent McCain’s career into overdrive. Misguided Roses went Gold; the song went Top 10 and was voted one of The Greatest Love Songs Of All Time by VH1. He was also invited to sing the song on Dr. Phil’s syndicated show in 2005 after Dr. Phil’s audience had voted it their favorite wedding song. “You can’t disagree with having a hit like that. It still gets about 2,000 spins a week. It’s like having a winning lottery ticket. The benefits of a hit like that lets us keep playing the music we want to play.”

Atlantic wanted McCain to stick to the winning formula. His next album, Messenger, featured “I Could Not Ask For More,” a tune by Dianne Warren - writer of hits for Elton John, Cher and Chicago. The song hit, but McCain wasn’t satisfied with the album. “They didn’t trust my writing, so they got Dianne to write me a song, and put it on the Message In A Bottle soundtrack, and while it was a success, I didn’t enjoy the label dictating what we had to do as opposed to us doing what we loved to do.” McCain’s final major label effort, Far From Over, was an energetic, stripped down, garage band album. “It was dark and full of crazy rock’n’roll stuff, a mindless rock record. It insured that the label would drop me. I stand by the songwriting, but the music was out of hand.”

After leaving the majors, McCain went back to his songwriter roots with The Austin Sessions, an indie project, with McCain on acoustic guitar and vocals backed only by Larry Chaney (acoustic guitar) and Craig Shields (sax). It’s an intimate album of McCain originals and carefully selected covers. For Scream and Whisper McCain signed with DRT and enlisted his full touring band. It’s a collection that balances his acoustic and no frills, rock’n’roll sides. Which brings us back to Lost In America. “This is a band record. We all put our individual spin on it, and working on songs as a band really improved the quality of the music. Everybody’s heart and soul went into it. Now it’s time to get out there and play it live.”