By Larry May
Edwin McCain’s career got a boost from good friends and fellow South Carolinians Hootie & The Blowfish. Edwin had been playing in Greenville for a while and doing all right for himself. I first saw him as an opener for Hootie in 1995. I remember a lone figure, longhaired and earnest, with a gospel-tinged voice that blew through the crowd noise like a siren. Months later, when his first hit single “Solitude” began to chart, I couldn’t forget how impressed I was with his live performance.
Edwin McCain’s new CD, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is due out on June 24th. He is also playing at Workplay on August 18th, so his Alabama fans should get a healthy dose of Edwin McCain this summer. I spoke with him recently about the new record, tour and general life stuff recently. When he talked about his new album, a covers record, he was pretty excited. “ Kevn Kinney from Drivin N Cryin had been bugging me to do a solo record for ten years. I didn’t take it seriously until I thought about recording these songs, each of which I truly love. So we recorded it, and Time Life offered to put it out. I don’t have a contract anymore, so I do each release as a one off “.
We spoke for a while, and we touched on several areas of his lengthy career. We talked about his thoughts on the longevity of his popularity, and why he feels so close to his fans. “ My fans are usually college age, and they are great about telling each other about me and sharing their love of the music. In fact, I’d love to do a tour of nothing but colleges. That would really take me back to my roots. But that is just one subset of fans. I will always have couples that use “ I Could Not Ask For More” and “I’ll Be”, at their weddings. I have a feeling that song will be played at weddings a hundred years from now. The funny thing is that I didn’t really want to do that song. Atlantic Records wanted me to work with Diane Warren on it, and I had no idea who she was. Now I know her as one of the greatest living songwriters alive. But then, I just knew the label wanted me to be on a soundtrack. It went nowhere until a radio station in Salt Lake City started playing it, and in three weeks I was on all the late night talk shows, Leno, Letterman, Rosie, you name it. That was a great time, being on Atlantic, and I will always say that Jason Flom, their label head, never lied to me about one thing. That’s very rare in the music business.”
Lest anyone be under the impression that Edwin is jaded about the music business, he doesn’t count the bad experiences as anything but just that, experience. He explained,” I’ve learned a lot, and have taken my fair share of shots. But I’ve learned not to worry about Soundscan, BDS, all the industry stuff, because I would make myself miserable. I make the records, and depend on a label to worry about sales and promotion. I was recently offered a chance to run a small label, and honestly kicked it around. Then I figured out how badly I hate that stuff. I only want to do exactly what I told my dad I would do years and years ago, which is to go play, build a regional following and sell a few thousand CDs. I saw my favorite artist, David Wilcox, do it that way and that is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I don’t worry about trying to write a hit, because the most unlikely things become hits. John Popper from Blues Traveler gave me the best advice, he told me not to write something that you aren’t prepared to have as a hit. Because those are often my least favorite songs. I don’t listen to a lot of other music, because it tends to influence my songs, and they become derivative. I have to live with my songs, and the meanings sometimes change. “Solitude’ was about my best friend when I was young, and that song is absolutely about the way events really happened. But everybody thinks it is about me. But it is definitely not about me. So you see how things get changed. These are some of the things I’ve learned about the music business”.
When he isn’t playing or writing, McCain is just like any other father with small children. He is fluent in Dora the Explorer, and writes silly songs for his kids. He hinted that they might be good enough to put out as a record one day. But he also has bills to pay, and knows that the road is looming. But he is looking forward to it. He has what he calls an “optimistic theory”. He explains, “ Money is tight these days. So instead of driving hours to see a huge concert and blow hundreds of dollars, they can stay close to home and let me bring the show to them in their town. For twenty dollars. What’s better than that”?