Wesley McKinney, a Chicago artist by way of Peoria, made a gutsy move this year: tying a new concept album to the roiling and contentious world of politics. Recognizing the divisions being sown over party ideologies, he took a stab at trying to bridge the gaps and repair some of the rifts with his “Indivisible” concept album.
With Validity, McKinney harnesses vocals that sound fresh off a theatrical stage and catchy songwriting built around various genres to release a new song every month (many with video loops, as well) since August, chronicling a story about a political couple with secrets to hide. The “Indivisible” project, which will continue through January 2021, is his attempt to spotlight the universality of some of our problems and speak to finding common ground. “The whole goal is to remember we are human and can unite against hate,” he said.
McKinney answered a few questions for us about this week’s release — “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” — and the project in general.
When you first introduced the “Indivisible” series of songs, you said you started it as a way to process all the animosity growing around us and to find ways to unite people. How does that goal stand now that you’re a few steps into the project?
Well, we still have a lot of work to do, especially with what we are seeing regarding the election and its aftermath. But I stand firmly in my belief that music is healing and has the power to unite. People on either side of the aisle have complimented the songs that have come out, giving me hope that this concept album is helping in that regard. It’s easy to look at the differences between ourselves and others, but for this global society to function, we need to realize we all breathe the same air and none of us are better than the other. When I see people at concerts coming together from all walks of life and jamming out to the same song, it gives me hope that this isn’t a fairytale dream but something we can work to be better at everyday. I’m dreaming of the day when we are able to pack into venues again so I can play these songs and watch people come together over music.
This week’s release, “Nothing Can Stop Us Now,” is the fourth in the “Indivisible” project. From what mindset does that song come? What were your thoughts that lead you to write that one?
Every song that has been released so far has been part of an ongoing weekly project I do called the #OneHourSong. I sit down with a blank piece of paper and a timer and within the hour write and publish a song. This specific song was written in November of 2017 while I was watching “House of Cards.” I was intrigued by the concept of a political couple who had a public relationship but also their own private secrets. I kept thinking about how public service usually begins in a place of good intent, but power and greed can quickly corrupt the best of us. Any other couple would probably just end it when things go awry, but if your reputation depends on being together, you’re stuck. How do you solve that problem? The song argues that their need for power keeps them together.
Of the songs you’ve released so far, which do you feel has been the most satisfying challenge to tackle?
Every song has been satisfying, but I would say “Put Them in the Streets” has been the most satisfying. It was the first single released, and I had been teasing the song and building it up for quite some time. So many friends and family members messaged me saying they loved the song and it was stuck in their heads. The song was originally written because I received some negative comments on previous materials I had released. The lyrics were a reply to the person who hated my music, they thought they were tearing me down, but they only made me better. On the macro level, the song is about taking your ideas and sharing them with the world. We all have a duty to make the world a better place — it’s our job to take our ideas and put them into action to achieve that goal. These songs are my way of trying to make the world a better place.
The songs in this concept album all have unconventional structures and sounds, with each telling its own story almost like in a musical soundtrack. How does your background and musical training inspire that novel approach to songwriting?
I love that it reminds you of a musical soundtrack! I grew up performing in musical theatre, so it still runs through my veins to this day. Not only did I perform in theatre, but choirs and a cappella groups as well as being a classically trained pianist and singer. That background, plus my love for indie pop rock music from artists like fun., Jukebox the Ghost and Mika and legends like the Beatles and Queen gives my music this unique blended sound. Paul Norman, the producer for “Indivisible,” recognized that and really helped me dive into creating something fun and exciting. Paul began by listening to my demos, and we would record right over them — I would play a bass line and he kept pushing me to hear things I hadn’t imagined the first time around. We went through this process track by track, and I credit him immensely for helping me write the catchy riffs you hear in the songs. Whenever we finished an idea, but it wasn’t quite “there” yet, we would turn to a Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber song to see what catchy hook like songwriting element we could utilize. You could say unconventional, but from classical music to Taylor Swift, I’d just say eclectic.
If fans want more behind-the-scenes stories about how each song was written and recorded, they can sign up for the exclusive journey at www.wearevalidity.com/lpindivisible.
Aside from the “Indivisible” project, what have you been keeping busy with during this year’s pandemic? How have you stayed connected musically to the scene? And what are your next steps as an artist?
While this project has kept me busy, I work out an awful lot. When my gym was closed in the darkest hours of quarantine I made it a goal to learn how to handstand walk, because I didn’t have equipment for much else. I’m still trying to balance better, but I can at least take eight steps upside down, so that’s exciting! I also started a joke cooking show called “Wes’s Cooking Corner” between March and May. I’m notoriously terrible at cooking (unless it’s steak on a grill) so I was making fun of myself and cooking shows. I taught viewers how to make ice (got it out of the freezer), soup (boiled a pot of water) and ice cream (got snow from outside)…among other things.
Thankfully social media helped keep us all connected throughout quarantine and I was lucky enough to have some great friends host virtual open mics and we were able to share songs with each other’s fans that way. Moving forward, I want to connect with as many people as possible so I can write music that they love. The beauty of releasing a concept album one song at a time is that everything is done already — so I have already begun thinking about my next project and what I want it to be. Nothing is set in stone yet, but I think some big things are on the horizon.
Sometimes colder weather inspires people to stay in and relax or tackle long-standing projects or goals. As we cruise through fall and into winter, what are some things you’d like to accomplish?
Believe it or not, I never watched a single episode of “Game of Thrones” while it was being released. I never had HBO, and by the time it was wildly popular I felt like I was too far behind. I’m savoring the episodes, not binging them, so I will probably finish the series this winter.
I also have a spare bedroom in my place right now, so turning that into a functioning music studio is on the top of my list…as well as laying the groundwork for the next Validity project.