“I love listening to music but I don’t always get inspired as directly. I went to school for video editing and before I went all in with music I was making songs and kind of treating them as movies, like trying to make a psychedelic movie.”
Tonight I am sitting with Kevin McDaniel, creator and front man of Nancy Whitaker, who recently released his debut album, Our Hallowed Pictures. The album is cinematic and introspective, rich in synth textures and heavy hitting drums.
Kevin sets the scene by recounting the making of the album’s first track ‘A Misunderstanding of Trust’ back in 2019. His senior thesis was a music video for a song that had yet to be recorded. With the deadline quickly approaching, Kevin sat alone at the seat of a grand piano in the theater of Fairleigh Dickinson University. In the empty theater, he played the hauntingly beautiful opening chords of Our Hallowed Pictures.
KM: This is my sink or swim song. I wanted to make sure if anyone decided to play this album, this would be the first thing they would hear.
In a Tapedrop exclusive interview, I asked Kevin to take me through a few of his favorite songs off the album to learn more about him as a musician and his art in general.
KM: I wanted to make an album that had chords like Pet Sounds (Beach Boys) with the same sonic tendencies as Congratulations by MGMT.
We’re spending the evening in his converted attic apartment in Montclair, New Jersey, where almost the entire floor plan has been outfitted as a DIY recording studio. From the slanted ceilings, out to the stairwell landing, to the drum set cloaked behind layers of heavy sound dampening blankets. The space doubles as an electrical workshop. Kevin has been testing each room to find the best spots to record.
KM: I recorded Our Hallowed Pictures in a basement as best I could with just my computer, doing all the tracks, recording bass, guitar and drums. But the basement wasn’t soundproof so everything had an echo. Now that I have a more comfortable place to work in, I feel like I can be a little bit more particular.
Outside on the driveway, we have a cigarette and a heavy hit of nostalgia as Kevin tells me about his first experiences listening to and creating music.
KM: I remember getting Green Day’s American Idiot for my birthday whenever it came out. That was the first time I ever found music that I liked. Within that year I heard ‘Day Tripper’ by The Beatles. I was all about pop punk until I heard the Beatles and then from age 10 to now I’ve been obsessively diving into 60’s bands.
Back upstairs, Kevin shows me his Beatles inspired track off the album, ‘Just Enough’, a dreamy headphone vibe with a grooving bass line that carries us through colorful forests of guitar licks, plains of reverb and valleys of delay.
KM: I just remember I spent so long recording the bass on this song.
SM: Why is that?
KM: I couldn’t get the bass to sound right. And then I decided, ‘Fuck it, I’m just going to try to do a McCartney bass line.
SM: What was your favorite lyric?
KM: The first line, ‘we’ve sold our days goodbye in hallowed little pictures where a face can hide.’ The album title is a reference to the song. It’s saying, you’re not actually seeing anybody. You just see what they’re presenting you.
SM: That kinda makes me wonder about why you chose the name. I mean, as a twenty-something guy, why did you choose an old woman’s name for the project?
KM: The last name Whitaker just sounds a little spooky. Nancy Whitaker sounds like every scary old lady in every ghost story. If someone asked you, ‘have you heard the story of Nancy Whitaker?’ I’d be like, ‘No, but I fucking want to!’ It also allows me to write from a more personal place because I don’t feel like people are listening and saying, ‘this is exactly how Kevin, the person I know, feels innately.’ No, that’s just a made up name and it happens to be my words.
Summer 2022 has been a breakout season in the bar/venue circuit for Nancy Whitaker. Kevin told me how the exposure has given him time to experiment with and hone his performance style.
KM: I’ve played enough shitty shows in my life now that I don’t get embarrassed in front of an audience from acting a certain way. I used to be self-conscious, then something clicked in my brain like… ‘people paid to see me, so I better fucking do the thing.’ I don’t have to stand there holding a guitar with my shoulders slouched, wearing a baggy shirt, being uncomfortable on stage because they fucking paid to see us and we’re going to flaunt it.
Nancy Whitaker is essentially made up of a merry band of highly skilled musical technicians. Kevin chuckles as he tells me how he met all the characters.
KM: I went to school with Ben Carolan. He plays bass in the band. Ben’s younger brother, James, plays kit. The two of them are just absolute madmen at music. James had a roommate, Jordan Stackhouse, who is also a virtuoso. He can play literally anything. I met him through James, only a couple of times before we had our first full band practice. Two days before our first show, he showed up and he was just so good. Drew Mullins plays all the textural synths. If you give Drew a sound, he’ll make the craziest sound you’ve ever fucking heard from an instrument. If you’re in a band like this where you write all the songs and give them to people, you should try to be the weakest link. Everyone in the band is just my friends that are way better than me at doing the thing that I did.
The opening beats of Paintings, the fourth track off the album, plays over Kevin’s speakers.
KM: This was another song that was done in one night. This record took a while to do but honestly most of the tracking was done whatever day I started the song. Once I start tinkering on a song, I have a really hard time stopping. I want people to be like, ‘Oh, that’s his?’
SM: What’s your favorite lyric from this song?
KM: ‘We’re moving in fractions of gasps and reactions…we’re silent with linings between both our eyes.’ It’s the idea of flirtation in just eyes. No one has to say anything. It’s telling a story from the perspective of a girl and a guy that once knew each other and accidentally re-meet at a club.
With a little more than a buzz going, we find ourselves back on the driveway for another cigarette.
KM: You have to believe in what you’re making and believe that it’s important. If you don’t, everything you’re making is just like everyone else. I think in ways that are at least important to me and I feel the need to exercise that.
SM: So if no one heard your music, would you still do it?
KM: Honestly, if no one heard my music, I’d probably do it more!
SM: That’s awesome.
KM: I wouldn’t be constantly worrying about what people are going to think about it. Honestly I still get nervous with all this stuff, but the whole thing is, it’s cool when you’re 21 to be in a pretty good band. When you’re 25, it’s good to be in a band that’s going somewhere. What’s not cool is being 35 and being like, ‘yeah, I haven’t put out music but I’m getting around to it.’ Life is finite. You need a friend like James who’s going to be like, ‘You’re kneecapping yourself if you don’t get this places, you know?’
It’s been a great start to an exciting journey ahead for Nancy Whitaker. Be sure to check out their new album, Our Hallowed Pictures on all streaming platforms and keep up to date with upcoming shows by following them on Instagram.
Live session director, videographer, editor, and staff writer for Tapedrop since 2019
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