Paul McNees (The Mockingbirds)
“My music has always been about the personal connection established between collaborative artists; about the alchemy of the creative process. I love the fact that a musician might hear a particular note – that magical note – in a chord that I would never in my life have heard.” This is an apt description of Paul McNees’ (aka The Mockingbirds) new album, Lacuna. Recorded over a three-week stint with a group of stellar Bay Area musicians (Alex Kelly – cello, Lisa Mezzacappa – upright bass, Dan Cantrell – accordion and saw, Mark Growden – banjo, harmonies, production and musical direction, Jameson Clay Koweek – guitar and mandolin, and engineered by “super genius” Myles Boisen), Lacuna is a work of subtle beauty. With delicate string arrangements composed by Mark Growden, and a set of songs dealing with the recent passing of Paul’s father, Lacuna moves deftly through the variegated landscape of human emotion.
“My first thought was to have the album be, in large part, about the collaborative process. I was working with poems written by two close friends – Daniel Ari and Terence Keane. Then, in May (2011), my father passed away and it brought a new, somewhat deeper quality to the album as I tried to transform my grief into art, into something of beauty.” Lacuna is certainly of a different ilk than Paul’s first Mockingbirds record – Songs and Other Delusions (2006). Songs... was a much more sardonic, quirky affair. Paul played most of the instruments and recorded the whole thing on his home studio. “That album was really about documenting the songs I had written that didn’t really fit with the material I was playing with my other bands at the time.”
Paul has been quietly involved in the Bay Area music scene since about 1995 when he met Daniel Ari and Steve Holzberg and joined the bass-poet duo as a multi-instrumentalist. Bass Line Dada released two albums – Shoulder of a Hungry Man, and Brainstorm – and had a loyal fan base of those who appreciated their particular brand of offbeat humor and dada-esque musicality. (Hence the name.) On the other end of the spectrum was Hoarhound, a project formed from the husband-wife duo of Ari and Lawrence Fellows-Mannion (Ari is now with Loretta Lynch) and Paul again on multiple instruments. Hoarhound (sadly) only released one EP before parting ways. During the day Paul was busy as a Montessori teacher and ensemble music instructor for elementary school children.
Music has been an important part of Paul’s life since he was just a wee lad. His parents were both dancers and would cart him along with them to their square dances, line dances, and ballroom dances. He would sit quietly along the sidelines and watch as his parents spun, and floated across the floor to the music. Paul started playing the drums at eight years of age and was instantly transfixed by rock and roll. (A friend of the family [accidentally?] bought young Paul two records for his 8th birthday: Rolling Stones – Goat’s Head Soup, and The Moody Blues – On the Threshold of a Dream. He has been an avid listener and collector ever since.) Paul was experimenting with tape loops and bizarre “songs” during his high school and college days and proceeded to earn his BA in Audio Visual Art – which in 1987 consisted of photography, video, and music.
Paul’s passion for music has never waned. He has been called a musicologist, an audiophile, and, of course, a “music geek”. His appetite for new and fresh sounds is voracious. He now writes about music and its relationship to philosophy on his blog (lacunamusic.org) and is in the beginning phases of writing a book on music and philosophy with a Whiteheadian philosopher named Eric Weiss. “Music, to me, is one of the great mysteries of human creativity. When and why did humans decide to blow through that pipe and create a melody? Why is rhythm such a fundamental element in practically everything we do? Why do harmonies stir the soul in such profound ways?” These are the questions that inspire Paul’s musical journey. Things can be said in song that would otherwise render one silent.
The Mockingbird’s new album, in particular, is a gesture towards elucidating concepts otherwise quite difficult to put into words: the love of a child for his father (“I don’t want to know right now/What time holds for you/ I’ll just gather in this moment/ For another minute/ Or two.”); the liminal space between life and death (I lay suspended ‘tween the light and the darkness/The solid silence will catch me when I fall/Even though I’m afraid I know/Eternity calls me/Into the lacuna...); and the feeling of a young soul in an old body being days away from his own passing (“Though I have grown old/My bones are worn/I can still feel my feet/Dancing up a storm/With your mama in my hands/A Dixieland band/And the locusts keeping time with their song.)
Lacuna reunites Paul’s musical conspirators and brings them under one roof. Daniel Ari has contributed lyrics to three of the songs, along with another Bay Area poet, Terence Keane, and Ari Fellow-Mannion has graced two songs with her lovely, shimmering harmony vocals. “I am very proud of this record. It has a certain quality of transcendence and is very much a group effort. I could not have done it without the community.”