We had the good fortune of connecting with John McCabe and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi John, do you have some perspective or insight you can share with us on the question of when someone should give up versus when they should keep going?
I think the general rule is ‘don’t give up’. If it’s something that you enjoy doing, even if it’s not achieving the level of success that you originally planned, keep going. Keep making new songs, keep making new art. Do something every day, if possible.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I think that I am most proud of continuing to grow when it comes to writing, recording and new songs – or making new art. The art and the music tend to go hand in hand; I never release music without making the accompanying art. If I am producing an EP (5 or 6 songs), I start to map out what the accompanying art work will be, early in the recording process. The basic structure is I make one 12″x12″ piece panel for each song – and then make a front ‘cover’ and back cover, including the recording credits.
For my last solo ‘EP’ (“What For”, 2020), I ended up laying out 6 panels and made a single painting (when they were aligned) and then used separate panels for each of the tracks on the record. It’s almost equal effort to make the art as it is to write, record and produce the music portion.
Hopefully, it’s getting better: I look back to my first EP, “Flower Circle” – 2017, the songs and the art that I made for that record were well produced, but I believe that I have improved my songwriting over subsequent releases. And I have also learned a lot about the process (technical, timing, patience, etc.) about making better songs. Overall the technical and production aspects of my recent releases from this year in January / February (“Lightly, Sirens”) – illustrate those improvements.
The on-going primary struggle is finding and building an audience. I couple my solo music releases and my band’s (Good at Rockets) releases with playing local show, social media engagement, etc., but it’s hard to make a dent or move the needle.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
That is a tough one. I am quite the homebody – and spend most weekends with family, in the home studio recording, or making art for the next music project. And if my friend stays for a week. . . I might have to show them the door after a long weekend.
LA and Orange County are so vast, it’s difficult to pull it all in. So, if we would kick off the weekend with breakfast, there is a great spot in Laguna Niguel. I think that I drove past this place for 10 or 12 years before someone asked me to meet them there for breakfast. it’s been a staple ever since. Mollie Country Kitchen is located at the tail end of a very dodgy strip mall; there’s an old pet store that’s gone out of business, maybe a yoga place – and a chain pizza shop. As you enter, the pale pink booths, pastel flowered wall paper and ceramic chickens – sitting in faux window-mirrors might put you off. But the food is amazing; breakfast and lunch. Eggs, burritos, omelets, waffles. Have never had a bad meal there. Always a wait, but turns over very quickly. My biggest fear was that the show ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” would get wind of Mollies – and it would be ruined forever. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened.
A great place to walk off the 5,000 calorie breakfast is Dana Point harbor – or Badlands park (a nice stretch above the Pacific Coast Highway in South Laguna). Laguna Beach is a great way to spend the rest of the afternoon. For live music, I would take them to The World Famous Doll Hut (Anaheim). A recently re-opened punk rock club that, that, I believe, originally dates back to the 1980’s. It primarily caters to local bands and original music – and gallons and gallons of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I have had the chance to do solo acoustic spot there – as well as sets with our band, “Good at Rockets”. Small but fun to hang out.
Sunday head north to LA and Santa Monica. First stop, McCabe’s Guitar shop (no relation. . . but I think I got my first McCabe’s Guitar shop t-shirt in 8th or 9th grade). Amazing guitar store and I have had the chance to see a few shows there (John Doe, solo acoustic, years ago),
From Santa Monica, head downtown LA – and the Mark Taper Theater / Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. For the last 6 or 7 year (apart from the pandemic shutdown), we have had season tickets. So, I would definitely time the visit to coincide with a performance. Either pre or post performance, a meal at the Grand Central Market is a great wrap to the weekend.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My wife Charlotte and our daughter Lucy. My wife and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary this year. We originally met in Sydney (and married), when we were both working abroad; she’s in from New Zealand and I had moved over from Oakland, on a 2 year work relocation. 25 years later and are now in the process of doing the ‘college tour’ visits for our daughter, who will be off to university in the fall. New adventure for her – and empty nesters for us, come September.
It’s difficult to guess where I would be without them; their love, support and encouragement.
Other: Good at Rockets Band: www.goodatrockets.com
Photos and Art work by John McCabe