Photos by Nathaniel Legg

Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Philadelphia’s Jason McCue. Together we discussed their first time playing music, balancing being a musician and college student, their upcoming album “Screen, Turn On” and so much more!


1. Hello! Mustard is grateful to have you join them. How are you?

Hi, Mustard! I’m doing well, thank you for having me.

2. When did you first begin playing music? Do you have a song or album that helped kickstart wanting to make music?

I’ve always had music in my life in one way or another. I started spending a lot of time learning guitar in high school, and then tried songwriting shortly after that. There were a bunch of artists that made me want to start writing my own songs, like Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Joni Mitchell, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I’ve been a Beatles nerd forever too. 

3. You moved to Seattle for college, and there, gained notoriety for placing first in the 2017 MoPOP Sound Off! Could you share more about this event? What was it like placing first?

Sound Off was really fun! It’s essentially a battle of the bands for music acts in the Pacific Northwest who are 21 and younger – I was 20 at the time. I loved the whole experience, especially getting to meet such incredible artists. Placing first was definitely a trip, and helped to open up doors to play different venues and festivals around Seattle. And part of the prize package was a drum set, which has allowed me to add a full band sound to my recordings. But, the best part of the whole experience was meeting other musicians and making new friends.

4. How did you balance college and being a musician? Was there any overlap?

You know, I’ve always liked having two different things to focus on. In college, it was kind of nice to have a buttoned-down daytime persona along with a music life I could pursue at night. Plus, my college had a great underground music scene, so it wasn’t too hard to combine the two. 

Photo by Nathaniel Legg

5. Who (or what) influences you?

Lately, I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from nature and the relationships in my life. It’s funny, the pandemic really shifted my approach to being creative. Before, I think I was more ready to mold something out of what was wrong in the world, and the areas for improvement. But the past few years, there’s just been so much negativity and sadness lobbed at us from every angle, that I’ve become more inclined to look toward what brings me joy and light.

6. What is your songwriting process?

Songwriting most often starts with noodling around on the guitar, usually while barely even paying attention to what I’m doing. Like, while just listening to a podcast or drinking coffee in the morning. But when something sticks, I’ll record the melody in my phone and try to build off of it, until I can establish a clear-cut verse and chorus section. I’ll take notes too, so I can start thinking about song elements, like where the drums come in, how many verses there are until an instrumental section – things like that. 

Once I have the song structure down, I’ll record the acoustic guitar track in GarageBand, then the drums over that, then the bass, then electric guitars, and finally vocals (if I have lyrics by this point). 

7. In 2018 you released “Pangaea.” How did the super-continent help inspire this release? What was the process behind this album?

I took a class during my senior year of college about prehistoric geography and mass extinctions, which I just loved. I think a lot of the imagery in Pangaea came from what I was studying. A main theme of the album is how relationships are affected because of changes in distance and time, and I thought Pangaea itself was an interesting metaphor for that concept. Recording the album was a lot of fun, especially because that was right after Sound Off gave me the drum set. A lot of that process was learning how to record drums on my own with just one USB-microphone. 

8. You followed up “Pangaea” with Wasteland. Was this album a response to society at the time? Do you still consider us to be in a wasteland?

Wasteland referred to what the world was starting to look like as a result of climate change, more so than a response to society. I wrote a lot of that album while on the road for Pangaea, and during that summer, the west coast was dealing with devastating forest fires. It felt like I was driving through a fun-house with those mirrors that distort everything. The title is also a reference to T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” which explores the post-WWI generation, and how they lived in a world that was recently destroyed by the war. I think the ways the earth is changing today – and how younger generations will deal with those changes – is reflective of the themes in the poem.

9. Mustard loves the concept behind your upcoming album “Screen, Turn On.” Could you share more about this album? What can fans expect from this album compared to your previous work?

Thank you, I’m excited to share the new album soon. I mentioned it earlier, but so much of my approach to songwriting has changed as a result of the pandemic. I think because such a devastating event has taken up so huge of a space in our lives, it started feeling better to point toward positivity in my music. Screen, Turn On is a celebration of what gives me joy. 

Compared to previous albums, people can expect a very crisp recording quality of these songs. I didn’t leave anything anything on the table after making this album, so the dynamic range of this album is (my favorite kind of) dramatic.

10. Do you have any upcoming shows?

On Sunday, September 11, I’m playing opening for Mitch Davis at Kung Fu Necktie in Philly. 

11. Where can readers listen to your music? Do you have a preferred platform?

People can buy and stream my music on Bandcamp!

https://jasonmccue1.bandcamp.com

Or just search “Jason McCue” on Spotify, Apple Music, or wherever you like to listen.

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