If there’s anyone who knows how to “Put Up a Good Fight” and usually come out victorious, it’s Jason Lee McKinney. Featuring the single “Put Up a Good Fight,” McKinney is set to release his eighth studio album Pieces tomorrow, February 20th, a new set of songs that sees McKinney hit a new creative peak, affirming his place as one of the most musically diverse artists. Pieces sees the artist create his own mishmash of Americana and soul equipped with elements of roadhouse rock n’ roll, blues, and country all fitting under one musical umbrella. These are all the ‘pieces’ that define McKinney as an artist, a man that revels and lives for the "groove" and the "funk" in music.
Since he first got into music, McKinney has always loved these aspects that are particularly evident soul, old school R&B, and jam bands which has motivated him to write songs in this spirit but fuse it into his own special arrangement. Pieces is just another step forward in not only the creative life of McKinney, but also his life as a very multi-talented individual. In addition to his musical side, McKinney is also quite the intellectual and maintains a whole second career as a college music professor. He holds a Doctorate, MBA and a BA in Management, which makes it even more incredible that he somehow has time to both teach and serve as a recording, touring musician.
While away from the classroom, he’s hard at work at either writing new music or touring with his live band. McKinney and his troupe of like-minded musicians have earned wide praise for their celebratory live show, bringing together a talented group of musicians who know how to play off of his soulful R&B vocals. With such a diverse range of talents, it makes you wonder whether there’s anything McKinney can’t accomplish if he just puts his mind to it.
With so much to discuss and a new album ready to arrive tomorrow, there was no way we could pass up an opportunity to speak with McKinney one-on-one. We recently chatted with him about “Put Up a Good Fight,” the new album Pieces, and life as a college music professor.
I always like to begin by asking artists about the writing process behind a particular track so take us through how “Put Up a Good Fight” was written and how you came up with the melody and lyrics.
Jason Lee McKinney: “Lyrically the song is about the temporal nature of life and taking into account the reasons for existence. Life has no refunds and the worst way to spend the time is to live in a self-serving manner. The melody actually came to me pumping gas one day as I was thinking through the lyrical themes. The way the ’I got one bullet in my gun’ naturally cadenced to me lent itself to a Maxwell type R&B melody (which I love… Urban Hang Suite is one of my all-time favourite albums).”
“Put Up a Good Fight” is one of the bluesier, slower-paced tunes on your new record Pieces. How did you come up with the really stellar blues rock riff for this song?
McKinney: “Both the melody chords for this song were written before the chords. I thought a more modal approach to the chords would emphasize the lyrical tension as well as bring a haunting quality to the melody. The guitar riff was written during a soundcheck at a show right before we recorded the album. The band was vamping on the chords, with so many layers I wanted to add some simplicity back into the song so I just started playing a simple pentatonic riff over the modal chords and it worked.”
From the sounds of Pieces, it seems as though you were going for a really diverse guitar-based record with every song offering something a little different. Was that your intention when you started writing Pieces or did it just wind up that way?
McKinney: “We have always held in tension the influences of blues, folk, soul, and Americana. Some albums or songs may lean more one direction or the other but all of those influences are consistently there in our music. As a writer, I have never avoided the paradox. A lot of the artists I admire were pretty genre-bending themselves-, Prince, Willie Nelson, Sly Stone, Tom Petty, Bob Seger, etc.”
To switch topics completely, I must ask you about your intellectual side, since you hold a Doctorate in Leadership. What led you so far down the academic road that you pursued a Doctorate degree?
McKinney: “There are really two reasons, the first is that I am just a curious person. I want to not only know how stuff works but why and who developed the theory in the first place. As nerdy as it sounds I really love to learn. The second is that with every misstep I made from a business perspective in the music industry, I determined to not only learn how to avoid making that mistake myself again but also help others avoid that mistake the first time. Those two reasons combined led me to get an MBA, Doctorate and now pursuing another masters in philosophy.”
You are also a college professor in addition to being a musician. What led you towards pursuing both music and academics? And are you currently teaching?
McKinney: “I am currently teaching. It makes life busy teaching and touring as well as family life. I believe firmly in passing on wisdom gained from hard experiences and bad mistakes as well as information gained from traditional academic structures. I aim to help others be able to gain the knowledge I have attained while being able to avoid the discomfort I had to experience to gain that knowledge.”
Watch the music video for “Sacred Southern Soul,” from the 2017 Sacred EP:
How do you balance writing, recording, touring and teaching? That seems like an overwhelming amount of time and work. Congratulations though on all of your accomplishments!
McKinney: “It isn’t easy. I think what I have found over the years is time management and intentionality are important. The trick to both of those is presence. I try (though not always successfully) to be fully present where I am at in that moment. If I am writing I fully immerse myself in writing, if we are touring in Africa then I try to be fully there, if I am in the classroom the same. If I am playing basketball with my six-year-old I am fully there. That means in some respects being able to in the moment, compartmentalize, and focus fully on what is at hand. That being said if and when push comes to shove my wife and kids are far more important than any song, or show, or lesson I might teach.”
Upcoming Tour Dates:
02/28- Bokeh Lounge - Evansville, IN
02/29 - Lafayette’s Music Room - Memphis, TN
03/14- Carpe Artista - Smyrna, TN