The open road has long been a common narrative within literature and works well as a plot device for a young protagonist’s growth into adulthood. On the road, they can see new things and meet strange and fascinating characters that push said protagonist to view the world in ways they never dreamed. Today, Seattle singer-songwriter Jason McCue is our protagonist and he’s ready to share with the world what he found on the much-mythologized and all-too-real “open road.”
Immediately following his graduation last year from Seattle University with an Environmental Studies degree, McCue embarked on his first official tour. All alone and armed with nothing but his guitar, a few changes of clothes, a sleeping bag, and a gripped baseball bat named “The Convincer,” he set off for as far as the country’s borders would allow him to go without a passport. His education flashed before him as he drove into the desolate landscape of the country, which frightened him as he slept on the sides of highways, suffocated him as he drove through ever-engulfing forest fires, and consoled him as he became more capable of conceptualizing what it means to be an adult in America.
These experiences became fodder for the 2017 Sound Off winner’s forthcoming album WASTELAND due out August 16 via Fluff and Gravy Records. McCue tries his hand at several sounds on the new record, flirting with idiosyncratic versions of full-production and full-volume rock songs as well as his bread and butter of hushed, intimate songs. The stories are often gritty and grim, as is the case with the record’s title track, which KEXP is premiering and exclusively streaming for 24 hours ahead of its official release tomorrow, July 19.
“Wasteland” sees McCue questioning the nature of and pathway towards adulthood while displaying an appropriate-for-2019 dose of political disgust with the lyrics “The bond that kept my head intact unglued / As I vomited red, white, and blue” and the repeating line “What a mess you left behind.” The song is one of the more classic McCue tracks on the record, with an intricate finger-picked guitar arrangement, brilliantly visceral lyrics, and lush, quirky instrumentation. McCue had this to say about the song:
WASTELAND follows last year’s brilliant PANGAEA, McCue’s breakthrough record that combined geology with concepts of nostalgia in countless ingenious ways. Sonically somewhere along the lines of Elliott Smith or Sandy (Alex G), it’s McCue’s inventive songwriting that really makes him stand apart from legions of indie folk artists near and far. In that sense, I see him more akin to art-pop luminaries like Björk, taking inspiration from nature, political unrest, or personal strife and packaging it masterly and inventively within the framework of a concept album.
Back to that concept - the open road. McCue’s experience sounds far more hallucinogenic and slightly nightmarish than the light, fun, and fancy-free picture we may have in our heads about jumping in our cars and just driving. Astrobiologist Carl Sagan (seems apt to bring science into this conversation) may have said “The open road still softly calls” but it doesn’t mean it had anything nice to say.
Jason McCue will perform at Capitol Hill Block Party this Sunday, July 21. In August, he’ll embark on a tour behind WASTELAND with dates TBA.
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