If you've ever attended a wedding, chances are good you know Edwin McCain, whose 1998 smash "I'll Be" left the orbit assigned to regular hit records and became something of a go-to standard for anyone looking for a first-dance song. The South Carolina native has successfully fostered a career in rock-soul since; he released his latest album, "Mercy Bound," in August, and will perform for a second year Saturday at the Jasper County Farmers Market in Ridgeland. McCain spoke with Lowcountry Current from a rare break from the road at his home in Greenville.
Question. How did "Mercy Bound" come about?
Answer. What I love about Maia (Sharp, producer) is that she likes to put these sounds into the tracks, little harmonies and keyboard and toy piano parts. She calls them fairies, I call them ear candy -- almost inaudible little splashes of magic. She's got this -- I don't know how to say this, really -- this womanly way about the way she cares for music, and I think it comes across in a very comfortable feeling. It reminds me a bit of Lindsey Buckingham; he's got a really interesting style and dynamic like that. Another songwriter like that for me is Bob Mould. I wasn't really a big Husker Du fan, but then Mould put out that "Workbook" record, and it was obvious he was more of a melodic person.
Q. I have to say, I wasn't expecting Husker Du to come up in an Edwin McCain interview.
A. It's weird because the music that I write is so different than the stuff I listened to growing up. I was a big fan of TSOL, Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, and before that I was into, like, Earth, Wind and Fire. You know what I listen to exclusively in my green pickup is "Back in Black" and "Van Halen 2." That one's a great driving album, but there's plenty of moments that make you laugh out loud -- I picture David Lee Roth as some weird combination of Benny Goodman and Al Jolson, with maybe a little bit of Cab Calloway mixed in. He's a showman; he adapted to the times and did whatever was necessary to shine on stage. Cab Calloway wore a white suit; Roth just had long hair and pink spandex.
But the catalyst for me was a songwriter named David Wilcox, he's the one who inspired me to be a songwriter. He has a real gentle spirit, he approaches all this complicated human experience with a very empathetic way.
Q. Did you ever have a hair-metal phase?
A. In high school I was in a band and wanted to play Cheap Trick, Poison and Motley Crue, and one of the guys in the band had a dad who was an old-school guitar player. He was kind of the coach, and he made us learn the Spencer Davis Group and listen to Tower of Power and all these other semi-unknown but incredible musicians like Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It was like being educated; whenever we thought we were pretty good, he'd play some ridiculously complicated music and go, "Yeah, you're not good." So I grew up with reverence for all these great musicians. I'm grateful now, but at the time it used to piss me off. Like, "Why can't we play Cheap Trick?" (laughs)
Q. What sort of things do you bring from those kinds of bands to your shows now?
A. Well, our shows are different. The miracle that happened that allowed three of our songs to be forever associated with weddings, it's a gift. Weddings are timeless, they don't have an expiration. But I'd say the second half of our set is rocked-up soul. One of my favorite things is to have the husband of a wife who dragged him out to the show tell me, "I was dreading coming here, but man, this rocked." It's cool -- there's a bit of a preconceived notion about what we do, but by the end of the night I hope we've had the opportunity to explode it.
Q. Can you talk a bit about your history with Hilton Head Island?
A. Well, Shannon Tanner was very influential in my world early on. I was struggling, just a wannabe acoustic solo guy, and Shannon took me under his wing, helped me get gigs, taught me things. To this day I look up to him as an older brother.
I have great memories of Hilton Head. My uncle lived in Beaufort and obviously lived in Charleston, so a good part of my heart is in the Lowcountry. And I love love love playing in different settings and a little bit smaller towns. I put together my own touring rig, stage, PA and lighting, so I can go in and play for these smaller cities and people who are really excited to see you. They haven't had the opportunity to be jaded yet. They're happy to be there, I'm happy to be there. It's the best-case scenario.