From my review of Cusique’s Salvage the Ghost EP, which dropped in January:
“The 2014 sophomore album by Cusique songwriter Patrick McKay, Jr was Wedding Ring, a collection of fourteen instrumental-heavy tracks dealing with themes of alienation, renewal, and impossible love. On Wedding Ring, McKay enlists a myriad of other musicians to help fulfill a decidedly rich, dynamic sound. The result is a technically-fascinating record that seems to celebrate itself.
Clocking in at twenty minutes, Salvage the Ghost effectively revamps and reinvents the lyrical/musical concepts introduced by McKay on Wedding Ring. The sound is concisely rendered; simultaneously bombastic and minimal; with McKay playing most of the instruments himself.”
I met Patrick at the WV Governor’s School for the Arts in 2014 and have been infatuated with his music ever since. Patrick gave me the opportunity to ask him some questions about his new EP. We talked The Life of Pablo, boredom, American Psycho, and more:
LN: How did making an experimental album from an entirely new perspective affect your creative process as a songwriter?
PM: It really affected my writing in a big way. I found that in my previous projects I was settling a lot. There's not much inspiration in recording with one cheap microphone and an iPad. Pretty much the sounds I got were the sounds I got, and nearly nothing sounded the way I wanted it to, but the electronic instruments on Salvage the Ghost really turned that around. The tweakability of the individual parameters of the synthesizers and electronic drums made me feel like I was really in control of what I was making. It was a whole new experience, because I was finally able to capture the sounds in my head. From a writing perspective, I can just say that this made the creative process much more appealing and liberating. It also inspired me to branch out from my existing ideas and expand my thoughts as to what I could do to make the tracks better. The choice to include electronic instruments brought about an elevated level of productive creativity from myself.
What albums have you been into lately? Are you listening to anything right now?
Recently, nearly everything I've listened to has been rap or hip hop oriented. Kendrick released his new project and I've pretty much had that on repeat since its drop. Kanye’s The Life of Pablo has also been on my listening list frequently. Other than that, I've spent a few hours listening to Dire Straits, Sun Ra, and Jaco Pastorius, mainly.
Let’s talk about The Life of Pablo, I’m still processing untitled unmastered. What do you think of it? Any problems, is it brilliant, favorite song ?
I really enjoy the direction Kanye went in with this album regarding its production and stylistic changes from his previous albums, as well as revisiting some of his familiar techniques. As far as the album as a whole goes, the individual songs really hold the listening experience. Sometimes, the album tends to trail off as a composed piece, but many of the songs are just so irresistible that I can’t help but listen to them all. I'd say that my favorite song would have to be either the two “Father Stretch My Hands” tracks or “Real Friends.” I think Kanye’s return to soulful production and feature-heavy tracks has really served him well on this album.
I think something significant about Pablo is that the features are more vital to the structure of the work. On Dark Fantasy the features were important but, for the most part, ornamental, like ‘Ye was still at the center. On Pablo he seems to share equal power with, like, Chance the Rapper, The-Dream, Ty Dolla Sign. Frank Ocean. He really gives them the spotlight. Any thoughts on this? It’s a different angle on collaboration theory, certainly.
I think the features on TLOP really are a fundamental element of the tracks, which I like. Kanye has always been held in high regard for his ability to collaborate on his work, and I think TLOP exemplifies that trait in a really special way.
Do you have any expectations for Kanye’s upcoming album, currently entitled “Turbo Grafx 16”?
I try to never expect any one thing out of an artist like Kanye. I think he's very progressive and tries to spearhead new movements in music, so I really can only expect him to be ahead of the curve.
Concerning my review of Salvage the Ghost, did you think it was accurate? I wrote about it from a thematic standpoint. Did I get it right?
Salvage the Ghost was thematically much different from my past works. Going into the project, I had a distinct feeling that it was absolutely necessary for me to make this EP. You were right when you said I was bored and upset, because really I was feeling that way with myself. When I put out Wedding Ring, I kind of stopped paying attention to it or trying to support in any real way. I pretty much stopped pursuing my music altogether. Writing music and lyrics seemed like more of a task than a passion, and it really just rubbed me the wrong way. Salvage the Ghost was more of a message to myself than anything. I had to tell myself that if music really was important to me, it was time to write and record again. It was made out of the necessity to express myself in the way I can best. I needed to hear that message from myself. That's really what the EP’s purpose was.
It’s definitely your most concise work to date. Wedding Ring was, in my opinion, a triumph, and it’s a joy to listen to, but Salvage the Ghost is just razor sharp. It’s so cool. The lyrics are great poetry. What are some specific works that influenced the lyrics in Salvage the Ghost (literature and albums)? And what are you reading currently?
As an EP, there isnt really a specific thread throughout each of the songs, but I tried to make it as cohesive yet varied as possible. The purpose being the revitalization of my creative vigor, it was important to me to try and expand my writing style and the subjects I’d cover lyrically, as well as composing music that would facilitate that. “1100 AM” is mainly inspired by Coast to Coast AM. I wanted to make a track that reflected the chaotic nature of the paranormal and extraterrestrial activity that's discussed on the show, musically and lyrically. I listened to old clips of the show with Art Bell and a lot of the callers on-the-air to get inspiration for most of the lyrics. It's a really interesting show. “Ox” is probably the most personal track as far as lyrics go. It's the only one that really addresses a certain event in my life that I needed to express my feelings toward. Lyrically, I tried to find in myself to make them especially my own, but Sufjan Stevens was a big influence in that process. Because his lyrics are always so personal, he kind of inspired me to make mine that way. “slowdrive” is a little more thematic than that. I tried to make the lyrics match the airy synths and background vocals, which required some vagueness as to the actual subject of the song. It sounds like a cruising song, but it really is more introspective than that. I'm happy with the balance in the lyrics. But as far as influences go, I was inspired by a variety of things. First, Hank Williams. I didn't really intend for this, but “slowdrive” is essentially written like a sad country song, and Hank Williams’ lyricism really inspired my approach to that style. I was also listening to some modern-day “new wave” and electronic artists, like Wampire, Purity Ring, and music from the Drive soundtrack. All that contributed to the instrumental, but Hank was my go-to for the lyrical approach.
I'm actually reading American Psycho currently. It's a great read. The vivid imagery in the narrative and the references to the pop culture of the time period are inspiring as a writer of both music and lyrics. The “yuppie” culture on top of the absolute horror of Patrick Bateman’s psychosis makes the narrative really intriguing.
I haven’t read American Psycho but Bret Easton Ellis is one of my favs, The Rules of Attraction is a good novel. I think Patrick Bateman’s brother Sean is the protagonist. Bret Easton Ellis is one of those voices that sticks in your head afterward while you’re writing.
You’re an independent artist with a pretty fulfilling career, especially considering your age. What’s it like for you to be marketing yourself and trying to get the McKay name out there?
Without the resources typically available to musicians for promotion and marketing, it's difficult. I'm no expert on marketing, not to mention I don't have a huge supply of money to promote my music at a professional level, but I try to make it work. Social media and live shows are really the best tools an independent artist like me has to work with, though putting Salvage the Ghost on some of the major music outlets really did help as far as promotion goes. It looks more credible. But yeah, it's not easy, but it's necessary.
Are there any musical/lyrical concepts you experimented with on Salvage that you think you’ll expand upon in the future?
Definitely. “1100 AM” was probably the hardest song I've ever written, lyrically. I really did enjoy the challenge though. I liked being unfamiliar with how to execute the subject in a way that really appealed to it and built upon it. That mostly goes for the other songs on the EP as well. It was definitely my most difficult project to date within the creative stage, but it really did pay off. But to answer, I definitely see myself taking on challenges like that in the future. I just got so tired of writing songs about love and heartbreak, it was only right that I threw myself for a loop.
What project(s) are you working on now, and when will we hear?
Right now, my main focus is on performing live. I'm getting together equipment and a band to do it, and I'm really excited to start playing live again. I think the songs on Salvage the Ghost will really benefit from the live setting. Other than that, I have some things floating around. There's a couple rappers that are looking to collaborate, and I'm starting to conceptualize my next project. I have a good idea as to how I want it to sound. All I need to do is some writing to match that, but I'd say you can expect to hear from me later this year.
Okay, I’ll ask some little questions:
That's tough. The Beatles were just so good as a collective. I don't think I really have a favorite, because I appreciate their individual contributions more than the individuals. Probably Paul or George, though.
Do you keep a diary?
I used to when I was younger, but I found out that my everyday life is not that noteworthy, so I quit.
Facebook or Twitter?
The concentrated idiocy of Facebook makes me prefer Twitter, but I don't really do either all that much.
Ramones or Sex Pistols?
I like the Ramones more. I got a Ramones CD for Christmas one year when I was little, so I guess I'm just more familiar with their music.
Thin White Duke. The Berlin albums are some of my favorites of his, and that persona in that era of music just really works for me.