Jack McNally totally didn't know today is Jack McNally Day

Categories: Interview
jackmcnally2.jpg
Photo courtesy of the artist

When your name is also part of the moniker for one of the country's premier music schools, you have to be sure you're releasing an album on the right terms. For Jack McNally, co-founder of the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, the process took 28 years to make sure everything was done exactly as it should be.

McNally's debut album, the appropriately named Take Time, is released today, and it was well worth the nearly three-decade wait. Over that period, McNally was busy growing and finessing his school, curating and developing some of the best musical minds. Now, on Take Time, McNally employs a multitude of talented faculty members, alumni, and students to round out his traditional folk sound. It's a twelve-song slice of Americana meets contemporary country that would fit comfortably in between George Strait and Jeff Bridges. McNally's voice is old-school deep and clear, and the expert instrumentation on his album make for an enjoyable, easy, no-brainer listen.

Ahead of McNally's CD release show tonight at the Sound Bite Café (on the third floor of the McNally Smith College of Music), Gimme Noise caught up with the man himself to discuss the show -- and to break the news about February 15 being designated as Jack McNally Day.


Gimme Noise:So, I'll start with the obvious question: What took you so long to make an album? Why is now the right time to release it?

Jack McNally:
You know, I did a lot of recordings for very many years. I was kind of a singer-songwriter... In 2008, after I left the presidency [at McNally Smith], I started writing tunes again. After I got 20 tunes, that's when I started thinking about putting this album together, and I was like, "Let's do it right." And how cool would it be if we used these great, talented people around the college -- the instructors, even the kids.

I hear old, old country when I listen to your music. What did you grow up listening to? What has influenced your sound?

The first thing would be the Beatles, and my earliest influence would be Elvis. I was just knocked out by Elvis. With the Beatles, I listened to every single thing they did. I was deeply in love with Joni Mitchel and Paul Simon, of course. If I were to take three albums to be buried with or to my island or whatever, I think it would be the Beatles' White Album, maybe one of Joni Mitchell's albums, and then either one from Paul Simon or Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan.

Tell me about your album. It sounds pretty traditional, lots of folk-country stuff. How did you decide that that was the category of music you were going to record?

Well, it wasn't like I looked up on a shelf and said, "Well, do I wanna do blues or folk or pop?" and pulled down a binder. I mean, I was playing in the '50s, and in the '60s it was Elvis and the Beatles, and it was the songs and the lyrics that always attracted me. Bob Dylan became a huge figure in my life, and James Taylor, and it's always been about the song for me. All these tunes are little stories in a sense, so I come from that tradition of folk and pop and rock, when the lyrics are first and the orchestration is second. All this stuff popped up in my head... I always tell students to just allow yourself to write silly stuff. Just write and write and write, and that allows for the deeper stuff to come. One day, I was sitting with my kids in my cabin, and I was like, "Give me any topic," and they said, "Big Foot," and I thought, "What a ridiculous topic," but I did it anyway and it made it to the album.

The release show profits will directly benefit Hand in Hand for Literacy, a nonprofit. Tell me a little more about what that organization does and why it's important to you.

Hand in Hand for Literacy was started by my wife a couple years ago, after working in Africa. She started as a volunteer there five or six years ago, and there was a village there that had these children that were going to school, and were uniformed, but there wasn't a single book in the village. All the learning was done on chalkboards. When she left, she decided that she was going to bring books to that village.

So over several years, she raised money single-handedly, and we would go over there and mix concrete for a library in Senchi Ferry, Ghana. We fell in love with the people and the process, and started our own little 501c3. Right now we're building a library for a village called Challenging Heights in Ghana, and what's special about this project is that many of the children in the school there have been taken from the modern day slave trade. The man who runs this place is himself a man who got himself out of the slave trade, and there's 700 of these kids who are rehabilitated. There's a school, but once again there's no library... So all the proceeds from this event, plus CD sales, any artwork sold, and proceeds from the silent auction, that all goes 100% percent to Hand in Hand for Literacy.

It looks like you have Mayor Coleman playing at your release show. Does he also appear on the record?

Mayer Coleman is not on the album, but the album wouldn't exist without him. Back when we were trying to get the school started, Mayer Coleman was a councilman from St. Paul who came over to the original school [in Minneapolis], and he walked around and he got it. He said, "We would love to have you in St. Paul, let's figure this out," and the city was very, very generous in helping us move there. If it weren't for him, St. Paul wouldn't be as vibrant as it is, because we've got hundreds of kids roaming around doing all these creative things. [Mayor Coleman] will be playing at the release show... So I've been giving the guy lessons for five or six years, and I thought he would kind of peter off, because he's a busy guy, but no! He comes in for his lessons week after week, and he's practiced! I don't know where he finds the time. So he'll be there at the show, and he'll play on a couple of tunes that I wrote.

So, what's next? Do you have another record in mind, or is it too soon to ask that?

Not at all! I've got another 27 tunes waiting to be recorded. I'm ready to do something else. I'm really looking forward to getting back in the studio and recording the next. Hopefully I'm just going to keep recording stuff.

Are you planning on touring at all?

I don't see myself as a touring artist. It's not the stage in my life for that. What I want to do is write. I see myself as a writer. [Laughs] Would I go on American Idol? Probably not.

February 15 has just been proclaimed Jack McNally Day. So now you've got your own holiday. How does that make you feel?

What? Are you serious?

Um... yes. Mayor Coleman and Mayor Rybak both declared February 15 Jack McNally Day.

You're not serious. You're pulling my leg. This is a cruel joke.

....No sir. Would you like me to forward you the press release?

Yes! [Laughs] I'll be darned. I'm speechless. What do you say to that? Holy smokes.

The Jack McNally CD Release Show and Benefit Concert will take place this Friday evening, February 15, from 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. at the Sound Bite Café on the 3rd floor of the McNally Smith College of Music. No cover. All proceeds from album sales go to Hand in Hand for Literacy. 


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