Chris McKay 's Got Some New Critical Darlings

Power-Trio Expands with New Wings and Wheels

Flagpole Magazine (Athens, Georgia - Sept. 28, 2011)

You can't keep a good band down. Especially if that band contains Chris McKay , a man who does not know how to quit.

“In the words of John Wesley Harding, if I were a band, I would've broken up a long time ago,” says McKay. “As for what keeps me going, apparently, I don't know when to stop. And, in this case, that's a good thing.”

After undergoing an ever-shifting cast of band members and the departure of co-founder and longtime bassist Frank Defreese to the Netherlands, things weren't looking too great for Chris McKay and the Critical Darlings . So, McKay did what he always does: rock on.

The Critical Darlings name had already seen many different lineups over the years; maybe it was time for a change. McKay thought that maybe he'd keep some old material and create a new group with new songs and possibly new lead singers. He wasn't exactly trying to keep the old band name alive. But after what McKay describes as a “near mutiny,” it quickly became clear that his new bandmates didn't want to be anything but the Critical Darlings . And so, with the blessings and encouragement of Defreese, the Critical Darlings began again together and better than ever.

Backed by Alex Grizzard on drums, Adam West on bass [ed. note: No, not that Adam West] and Ash Miltiades on guitar, McKay decided to add a previously missing element to the band: a female singer. Specifically, a female vocalist/percussionist/pianist named Kate Powell . The addition of new members has meant an expansion in live sound, something McKay is quite happy about.

“The amazing thing is that I always heard piano parts and keyboard parts in my head,” says McKay. “And sometimes female vocals and harmony guitars and on and on, and as a three-piece, they were virtually impossible. Now, I can write something and make it happen. It's hard to answer that way, because it sounds like I didn't have freedom before, which I did. We just have more ability.”

That new ability has produced a slight change in the Darlings' sound. While there are still echoes of the power-pop trio, the fleshed-out lineup has produced more experimental rock sounds as McKay figures out how to utilize his new bandmates' individual styles.

“Ash was in Guff all those years and toured everywhere. He's a pro. He's like my musical director basically. And Kate just keeps pushing us to go crazier and crazier. It's like Ash is the wheels and Kate is the wings. And the other three of us just do what we can to keep straight down the path. It's even cooler because they are polar opposites in so many ways, and it really shouldn't work, but so far, it's been great. My only regret with the new lineup is that we don't have more Kate and Ash songs in the set yet.”

But what hasn't changed is McKay's dedication to pleasing his fans. McKay writes more songs than he can possibly record. So, instead of paring down the list himself, he asks Critical Darlings fans for input. The band presents rough cuts of songs on its Facebook page, and whichever songs get the most positive feedback get considered for the album. It's not a hard and fast rule, but McKay says the votes tend to be great guidelines for the band.

“I want people to enjoy what we do,” says McKay, “and I want them to know that they have a part in it, because they do. Any band really does that anyway, just not as obviously. Do you really think that when a band performs a new song to the audience that they're not swayed by the audience reaction? If the song continually fails, I guarantee it won't be used. If it's a favorite, it's there. What's the difference? We just point-blank will ask. We do. I'm proud of it. The Satisfactionista album was MUCH better because of that.”

With some great shows behind them and a string of promising gigs this fall, the Critical Darlings aren't looking to stop any time soon. And that suits McKay just fine.

“I don't stop for the same reason that I don't stop breathing willingly. I don't stop because this is what I do.”

Jordan Stepp




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