Chris McKay & The Critical Darlings
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Chris McKay & The Critical Darlings

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You've probably seen Chris McKay more often at other people's shows than at his own. The Athens-based songman makes a good living as one of the busier and more gifted concert photographers in these parts, and he can often be spotted in the photo pits doing the "first three songs, no flash" routine, snapping away at the prancing rock stars just above him. His band, The Critical Darlings, offers him the chance to trade places with his camera subjects, albeit on much smaller club stages. The CD's new CD, C'mon, Accept Your Joy!, gives a solid overview of the trio's talent for big, clever, Beatles-informed power pop, like if Jeff Lynne produced Cheap Trick or something. Not every song hits paydirt, but there are enough gems on this album, like "Towel Cape Song," "Phony" and "Colors In Black & White," that I'm thankful that this dandy little combo exists.

Jeff Clark - Jeff Clark - Atlanta, GA


DARLINGS MAKE TV DEBUT

Members of Athens band Critical Darlings knew it was going somewhere when they saw the band's picture on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” “They had a joke that they were telling and then for the punchline they used a picture of us and pasted most of Jon Stewart's face over mine,” said Chris McKay, singer/guitarist/songwriter for the band.

Stewart used the band's image to joke about his first high school band named “The Inside Out Bork Experience,” referring to President Ronald Reagan's Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

Before an appearance on the popular TV show, McKay and drummer Tom Bavis started Critical Darlings in 2004.

“We formed the band as just a fun outlet between friends,” McKay said. “I just called my high school friend from South Carolina, Frank DeFreese rather than put ads up and go on a search. He agreed to be our long distance bassist.”

However, others encouraged Critical Darlings' music so they began treating it as a real band, especially DeFreese, who moved to Athens from South Carolina.

“For the first year, we never booked our own gigs. We only accepted invitations to play,” he said. “I thought that was a great sign.”

Being compared to the Clash and Bad Religion, Critical Darlings still brings a unique mix of music. McKay calls it “power pop with rock overtones.”

Critical Darlings will open for Second Shift tonight at Tasty World.

“They're out supporting their brand new album, too,” McKay said. “The last time I saw them, they were opening for Weezer and The Bravery in Atlanta.”

In November Critical Darlings released an album entitled, “C'mon Accept Your Joy.”


Mandy Rodgers - Red & Black - University Of Georgia


Chris McKay & The Critical Darlings find an unexpected spotlight

Local bands work hard to get noticed, so it's kind of strange that for Chris McKay and the Critical Darlings, their first national exposure was the result of something completely beyond their control.

During the Oct. 27 broadcast of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central, there was a joke about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers getting the "Inside Out Bork Experience," which Stewart said was also the name of his high school band. The show then displayed a photo of the Critical Darlings with Stewart's face digitally inserted into the band. McKay said he never would have found out about the photo if bass player Frank DeFreese hadn't been watching the show.

"(DeFreese) builds his own instruments and saw that from across the room and said, wait a minute, that's my bass. He called me up and said 'I think I just saw us on TV'," McKay says.

Even more odd, the original photo had been removed from the band's Web site for at least six months. The most astounding coincidence, though, was that "The Daily Show" had completely edited out drummer Tom Bavis.

"The day the show aired was the day Tom left," McKay said.

The band released its debut album "C'mon, Accept Your Joy" in November, soon after "The Daily Show" incident.

McKay says that during recording, the band, "tried to put together a cohesive album, not a collection of songs. We left off some of our most popular songs because they didn't fit. We had to go and undo some of what we had done to make it more like a rock record."

Changes in personnel also influenced the band's sound.

McKay played in the band Star Zero with DeFreese and drummer Michael Rietveld, and then formed the Critical Darlings with DeFreese and Bavis. Since Bavis left, Rietveld has been sitting in on drums, and McKay says the band plans to have a more permanent drummer by January, while band members discuss adding a second guitarist and a keyboard player.

"Right now, we don't have back-up vocals live," he says. "The one show that we've done with the new guy, or the old guy depending on how you look at it, was more of a rock show. Generally we're a pop band, but that last show was rock 'n' roll."

McKay says the band tries to keep control of its image, "Daily Show" incidents notwithstanding.

"We control basically everything," he says. "We have a very specific image of ourselves. I don't even have that picture on my hard drive anymore; it's on a back up drive. And somehow 'The Daily Show' has it. However that came about, I'm happy."

By S. Blanco - Athens Banner-Herald


Chris McKay & The Critical Darlings
C'mon, Accept Your Joy
Independent Release

When a guy names his band the Critical Darlings, one of two favorable scenarios will ensue: Either he traffics in ear-shredding noise or some other ironic genre, or his music steadily improves toward earning the name. Fortunately Chris McKay, Frank DeFreese and Tom Bavis are far from the former and now one long stride closer to the latter. It's always nice to see local acts hone, refine and grow in Athens' fertile musical soil. On C'mon, Accept Your Joy! Chris McKay & the Critical Darlings have done just that.

More than anything else I've heard by the band or the solo stuff released by McKay, the new album is sharp, bright, and, most of all, a hell of a lot of fun. Opener “Towel Cape Song” is the best example and could easily make it on the FM radio dial. There's a vague but strong taste of Cheap Trick's “Surrender” in its muscular smiling power-pop, and that's always a selling point. “Down” begins as the album's requisite acoustic ballad, then veers abruptly from Daniel Johnston to Elvis Costello's Attractions. “Until the Road Ends” brings back that ‘70s power-pop vibe.


Michael Wehunt - Flagpole Magazine - Athens, GA


This is the most difficult time I’ve ever had trying to review an album…I respect the hell out of it.

My respect is from the result of being able to listen to music and know, with moderate certainty, what was probably easy to pull off and what was probably challenging and difficult.

I can’t imagine that this was an easy album to record, and I know it wasn’t an easy album to mix. The sound runs the gamut from incredibly rich and atmospheric to, basically, a flat almost garage sound.

This album is fun to listen to. The stereo is constantly utilized with different effects and sounds playing off one another between the speakers. The production value is very high and done well. The tracks stand alone and exist without the construct of the album.

As an added bonus they also flow into one another because there are no pauses between songs. I definitely prefer this as the beginning of the next song is never jarring or out of place.

The best example of this is between the first two tracks, “Towel Cape Song” and “I Know Too Much (for my Own Good).” I had to look at my player read out to confirm I was on the second track.

I love the way “Phony” kicks in with its gritty, bluesy ‘70s flair. Also, the guitar solo is one of the best I’ve ever heard. It’s like a long, trippy ride that ends up exploding when you get back to the base. I love how the original lick comes back after the solo. How that’s handled on any album is one of my favorite rock devices.

“Towel Cape Song” is a nice starter as a solid pop rock number that also greatly utilizes a solo. This one is much simpler than the one in “Phony” but really adds another dimension to the track.

“Colors in Black and White” and “I’ll be Fine” are probably the two tracks on the album that stand out the most from the rest from a sound perspective. Their composition and melodies are less textbook, and they fit nicely as, “okay, now try this flavor,” additions. Meanwhile, “Taking its Toll” is just a beautiful song and its super extended sing-along fade out had me scratching my head trying to figure what it reminded me of. (Let’s just say I had to break out some old Prince to put my finger on it.)

C’mon, Accept Your Joy could have been recorded in 1969 or 2030. It samples many sub-genres within Rock and Roll, but it always remains Rock first and foremost.

This has always been true with McKay. He has the skill to give you something unique and, at the same time, give you something you swear you’ve heard before. Pile all of it into a quality recording, and you can’t ask for much more.

I really hope I get a chance to see some of this stuff performed live.

Benjamin Sadler - musiclivewire.net


PERFORMANCE ART:
(Chris McKay & The Critical Darlings Challenge Audiences To C'mon, Accept Your Joy. The debut album from the local power-pop trio was released last week.)

Chris McKay has no interest in telling people what to think of his music. The frontman for local trio The Critical Darlings - guitarist-vocalist-songwriter McKay, drummer Tom Bavis and bassist Frank DeFreese - is perfectly happy with an audience drawing its own inferences from his tunes, and this attitude is markedly different from that of the many artists who complain that their audience just doesn't "get" them. McKay (whose photography appears frequently in Flagpole ) is happy with people getting whatever they can.

Musically, the band resides in the power-pop category, but has been compared to artists ranging from The Knack to Bad Religion. "The beauty of this band is that what you see is not necessarily reality," says McKay. "A lot of bands are hung up on their reality being the one that comes across. Whether you like us because we sound like Kiss or Rush or the Beach Boys, I don't care. I think people see all different parts that are there, and we just don't hear them until they're pointed out to us."

For this writer's ears, though, the band's debut album C'mon, Accept Your Joy! , released locally last week, sounds decidedly more Rick Springfield than Bruce Springsteen, and more Raspberries than Ratt. There's a definite feeling of 1970s AM radio surrounding the Critical Darlings.

McKay is probably better known around Athens and Atlanta for his live concert photography, and a look around his portfolio at www.concertshots.com reveals one truism about the man behind the Critical Darlings: McKay has a huge soft spot for the kind of showy, arena rock exhibited by bands like Van Halen. "That's 'cause those guys gave you something to shoot from a photography standpoint," says McKay. "I don't have a problem with showmanship. As much as I love Athens, that's the problem I have with the Athens music scene. So many bands don't even take the time to tune their instruments. I've spoken with so many bands that like the same stuff, but they say they can't do it because they'll look like idiots. I think that's false. What's going to stick with you is something happening from a visual perspective. Those are the shows I enjoy."

McKay, who had soured on the whole band experience after being in some other combos, was doing photography full-time and making music for himself on the side. "I'd been 'round the scene a good while," says McKay, "but I had trouble finding the right people to play with. I had insisted I wasn't going to be in a band the same way again. I was going to be playing with friends.

"I wasn't going to go looking for a bass player, so I actually called a friend from high school. We didn't take it all that seriously; it was just for us friends to play together. That's why we're called the Critical Darlings. It was a joke name, 'cause we were just having fun, so hopefully people got the joke."

After only a year together, Chris McKay & the Critical Darlings have covered a decent amount of ground. They've been touted on Internet sites dedicated to underground bands and were recently surprised by seeing their songs rise up the local charts in Chattanooga, TN, of all places.

"It was WAWL in Chattanooga. That happened through photography," says McKay. "I sent some MP3s to a friend that I had made thorough a borrowed camera at the Midtown Music Festival. This guy called me back and said that the station director wanted us to play this anniversary party for the station. A TV station interviewed us; I don't even know who they were. We got put up in the Reed House, this gorgeous, palatial place. I figured we were only getting played to promote the show. Since that time, the record has gone from No. 10 to No. 7 up there. Now 99X is playing us in Atlanta."

C'mon, Accept Your Joy! was, according to McKay, painstakingly recorded and mastered. "Some of these songs are holdovers from the other bands I was in," says McKay. "That's the beauty of the Critical Darlings. These guys wanted to go through everything I've ever done and pick their favorites. So that's refreshing to have guys that are into what you do and don't have to put their foot down and insist that every song be a band original."

During this process, the group repeatedly crashed the hard drive of local studio Downtown Athens Recording Company and actually went through the mastering process a full two times before being happy with what transpired. McKay says he's been accused of perfectionism before, but that the label just doesn't fit. "I get tired of people calling me a perfectionist," he says. "I'm not. I've taken to calling myself a 'satisfactionist.' We just want it to be as good as it can be. We don't want to have to say, 'Yeah, it's good... except for this one thing'. We want it to be good and be done with it."

Relative success aside, McKay simply desires a connection with his audience and maintains a strong proclivity towards making this project as fun as it can be. Citing Fleetwood Mac, he says, "Their energy is more focused inward, but they have this communication with the crowd, and that's what I want. I don't have to be in a band, but if I'm going to be in a band, I'm going to ask for that connection whether or not I get it. I basically want to be the kid playing in front of the mirror."

Gordon Lamb - Flagpole Magazine - Athens, GA


All the way from Athens, GA Chris McKay and The Critical Darlings came to Chattanooga Monday to help the city's best college and alternative rock station, 91.5 WAWL celebrate its silver anniversary.

The trio is a power pop act with good songwriting sensibilities that not only had the kids digging their sound, but the administration as well. The band (that admits it doesn't know how to classify their sound) is definitely not your typical Athens, GA poser band or tribute to Michael Stipe.

The look and sound of the band is very much power pop. Think of The Knack from the Get the Knack days or Material Issue from the Destination Universe era. With slick sounds, hummable choruses and a semi-Brit-pop look, Chris McKay and the Critical Darlings dress to impress and are a band to look for in the future.

The Critical Darlings are a throwback to the way rock should be played – with enthusiasm and showmanship, as well as crisp and inventive writing. The band can be heard on WAWL, which is airing two tracks off the upcoming release (due September 13). If you want to find out more about the band go to www.criticaldarlings.com .

- Wm. Alexander - Enigma Magazine


From the Athens Banner-Herald (June 16, 2007)

Speaking of unseen

Chris McKay heads down new road musically, takes step away from photo work

By Chris J. Starrs | Correspondent | Story updated at 8:03 PM on Friday, June 15, 2007

In addition to his considerable skills as a rock-and-roll photojournalist, Chris McKay is best known for the infectious pop tunes he's created with his band the Critical Darlings. But after years of carving out a canon of feisty compositions, McKay is veering in a slightly different direction these days.

McKay, who will appear with the Critical Darlings Thursday at Tasty World, recently "co-wrote" a pair of songs with none other than The Who's Pete Townshend and is in the process of putting the final touches on a new tune that will be highlighted by the contributions of one of the rock world's most valuable sidemen.

"It's actually all a bit overwhelming," says McKay.

Although he's never met the legendary British icon, McKay received word earlier this year that Townshend - along with programmer Dave Snowdon and composer/mathematician Lawrence Ball - had taken digital data supplied by McKay (including sound bites and photographs) as part of their "Lifehouse Lottery" to create two synthesizer-driven pieces of music that are somewhat reminiscent of the opening movements of Who classics such as "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Eminence Front."

"The whole thing with Pete Townshend was a fluke," says McKay, who took Townshend's photo late last year when The Who visited Atlanta. "It may not wind up on the next album, but I'm sure I'll wind up doing something with it."

The South Carolina native, who moved to Athens seven years ago, has definite plans about another song he's written entitled "Something Unseen."

"My original band was a power-pop trio, and I tend to write layered, harmonic songs with lots of counter melodies," he says. "My goal is to write more advanced songs than regular pop music, which is where 'Something Unseen' enters the picture. 'Something Unseen' is a departure from what we usually do in that it's an epic-type, piano-based tune that will be the closing song on the next album."

Although McKay has exceptionally capable co-conspirators in guitarist Joe Orr, drummer Josh Couillard and bassist Frank Defreese, none of them are a piano player, which clearly provides the heart of the song.

"I began thinking of who, in my wildest dreams, I'd want to play the piano," says McKay, "and I came up with two names - (the late Queen vocalist) Freddie Mercury and Mike Garson, who played on so many of David Bowie's great albums. Obviously, Freddie Mercury was unavailable, so I decided to try and find Mike Garson."

Garson, who has also added his piano prowess to recordings by Nine Inch Nails, No Doubt and Smashing Pumpkins, was contacted by McKay through his MySpace page and indicated a willingness to sign on for the project. Then McKay sought out Athens producer-musician Dave Barbe, who has manned the board for a host of notable acts, including R.E.M., Drive-By Truckers and Son Volt, to gauge his interest in working on "Something Unseen" and the next Critical Darlings' album.

"I've wanted to work with Dave for a long time because I love what he does, and I'm arrogant enough to think I can add to what he's done," says McKay. "When I met him, we started talking about music and it was like visiting with a family member. So now I'm totally blown away."

"In early June, I'll be working with Dave on the basic track and then we'll send it to Mike, who'll add his piano parts," McKay said earlier this year. "It's kind of interesting that the last song will set the mood for the album. We're going to play some shows first and then start on the album in a few months."

McKay's latest exploits come on the heels of the release of the Critical Darlings' debut album, "C'mon Feel Your Joy," which was recorded in 2005 but wasn't issued for national distribution until early May.

"Things are working on a fast track," he says. "We played our first show with Josh in April and within a few weeks we signed an indie deal to distribute the album, which we recorded two years ago. We held off on releasing it because we were waiting to find the right drummer. Now's the time to maximize our efforts."

With his music prominently on the front burner these days, McKay is taking a respite from the world of photographing rock concerts and rock stars.

"I've made a conscious decision to back away from photography," says McKay, who began his career as a lensman shooting for Flagpole and for the last several years has licensed his work through New York-based Wire Image (which is owned by media titan Getty). "I'm focused on the band now. I'm willing to take this chance because I believe in the people I'm working with and they believe in the project."

Chris McKay and the Critical Darlings

When: Thursday

Where: Tasty World, 312 E. Broad St.

Call: (706) 543-0797

Online: www.tastyworld.com, www.myspace.com/criticaldarlings - Athens Banner-Herald


Rockdale Citizen/Newton Citizen
The accidental artist

Songwriter, band to perform in Olde Town

By Chris J. Starrs
Staff Correspondent

Although he fell into to his "day job" as a music journalist and concert photographer five years ago, singer-songwriter Chris McKay knew years before that he wanted to be a musician … sort of.

"I'm not a musician," said McKay, who is scheduled to perform his listener-friendly pop songs July 13 at Club 908 in Conyers. "I'm like a regular person. I've had a hard time dealing with musicians and I've gone through a lot of bands. I keep trying to get out of the game, but I keep getting pulled back in."

Although serious debate could ensue about McKay's description of himself, his music has been garnering lots of attention, so much so that he's temporarily abandoned his work as a photographer (his work can be found on the pages of Rolling Stone, People, Entertainment Weekly and Time, to name a few) to focus on writing, recording and performing with his band, the Critical Darlings, and selected rock luminaries.

"I've made a conscious decision to back away from photography," said the South Carolina native, who has lived in Athens for nearly seven years. "I'm focused on the band now. I'm willing to take this chance because I believe in the people I'm working with and I believe in what we're doing."

Thanks to a recently cut distribution deal, McKay's 2005 album "C'Mon, Accept Your Joy" has met critical and audience acclaim throughout the Southeast, and the band's MySpace page (www.myspace.com/criticaldarlings) has enabled his music to reach many listeners, including fans in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he's received many compliments from that town's indie-rock community.

"When we decided to make a record, some songs were leaked to a Chattanooga radio station and it was in their top 10 with international artists like the White Stripes and Coldplay," he said. "We were just up there recently and had an amazing show. Since I'm from out of town, I'm considered a national act there. They did a two-page article on us in the newspaper, which I'd imagine is pretty rare for an out-of-town band."

McKay's earliest musical memories including sitting in with family members, including his gospel-singing grandmother. He's happy to take the vibe anywhere, and his upcoming engagement in Olde Town is a reflection of his desire to get out and play.

"Bill Turpin, who is the father to one of the guys in Collective Soul (Will Turpin), hosts a singer-songwriter series, and he's been on me for a while to come over to Conyers and perform," said McKay, who also recently played in his home city as part of AthFest, the annual three-day music festival.
"I don't know how it's all set up, but I'm going to bring at least a couple of people from my band because I feel most comfortable in a band situation. So I'll probably do the singer-songwriter thing and then see if I can do an electric show afterwards. I don't know how well that will all fit in, but I'll give it a shot."

Even with "C'Mon, Accept Your Joy" keeping his performance schedule filled, McKay has found time to engage in other projects that find him in collaboration with some of British rock's royalty. He recently co-wrote two songs with legendary Who guitarist Pete Townshend and is in the process of getting famed pianist Mike Garson (David Bowie, Smashing Pumpkins, No Doubt, Nine-Inch Nails) to contribute keyboard tracks for a new McKay composition.

The Townshend project came as a result of being selected to contribute digital data to the rock icon's "Lifehouse Lottery" project, where the information supplied by McKay was used to create a pair of synthesizer-centric sound shapes, reminiscent of the intro music Townshend composed and performed for classics like "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Who Are You?" and "Eminence Front."

McKay was able to communicate with Garson to add piano tracks to the song "Something Unseen," which takes a decidedly different approach that other Critical Darlings songs.

"This will be the song that closes out the next album, which I hope we'll be able to get working on later this summer," said McKay, who added he recorded the song at Chase Park Transduction Studio in Athens with producer Dave Barbe (Drive-By Truckers, R.E.M., Sugar, Son Volt) and Drive-By Truckers drummer Brad Morgan.
"Dave, Brad and I have really worked well together. We've been able to bounce a lot of good ideas off each other. We've been working on Brad's (drum) tracks and then we'll finish up my part of it and send it off to California for (Garson) to do his thing. This is something that's different for me. I'm a generic pop guy, so this is definitely pushing the envelope," McKay said. - Rockdale Citizen


Chris McKay has become a familiar face to me. As someone who has covered hundreds of concerts over the years in and around the Southeast, you get to recognize some of your contemporaries. I had seen Chris numerous times in “the pit” while covering festivals and other concerts in Atlanta. A stroke of bad weather and a borrowed camera brought the two of us together a few years back at Music Midtown. Since that time Chris and I became fast friends and also discovered he had his own band, The Critical Darlings. Having met many a journalist-artist over the years I was impressed by what I heard. Apparently so are others. After being in slow motion for the last year trying to shore up his lineup, McKay has now come out firing with a national distribution deal, gigs galore, and people writing about him instead of the other way around. The Critical Darlings are composed of McKay on vocals, guitar and keyboard, Frank DeFreese on bass, Joe Orr on vocals and guitar, and Chattanooga native Josh Couillard on drums.

How long has the band been together?

The band originally formed in ’04 over rock trivia. It was kind of a challenge to see if we could do something. It was never meant to be taken seriously. We put together a set list and people started inviting us to play. So for a year, that’s all it was – people inviting us and we’d come out if we could. After about a year, we thought we’d try something and see if we could really do it. So we went in and recorded that first album.

Were you guys basically friends to begin with?

Yeah, that was how it began. It was me and the drummer (Tom Bavis) who were in rock trivia. I was doing some demos just for myself but he wanted to hear them. I didn’t know he drummed. After I gave him a CD, he came to trivia the next week. He said, “Great recordings man, but the only problem is you need a drummer.” And he kept pointing at himself. What? You play? Let’s do something. I didn’t look for a bass player. I looked up an old friend of mine from South Carolina and see if he wanted to play bass. He actually moved to Athens to play with us. And he’s still with me now. It was really that simple and off the cuff – just fun. And we recorded the album in ’05. That was the year you had us up in Chattanooga last time. Our drummer left right after our CD release party. We had offers to put the record out and I wouldn’t take them because I wanted to be able to support it and do it right. We still played shows throughout 2006, but it was with a fill-in drummer. If it was a show we felt like we couldn’t turn down, we’d take it. Other than that it was nothing. We got Josh (Couillard) to join the band in February of this year, and then bam, the floodgates opened. Everything went crazy. I was so happy that not only were we not forgotten, but people seemed interested. Within a month we were signed to this indie record label and had people working for us and a national distributor and dates along with offers coming in from everywhere. It’s awesome. I can’t believe it.

You wear two hats – one as a musician and one as a music journalist/photographer. How do you balance the two?

I don’t. It’s one and the same to be honest with you. I know that sounds kind of weird. To me I’m doing the same thing when I’m at a show. You probably understand. When you’re there it’s the same just from a different side of the stage. It’s all the same environment whether you’re in the picture or taking a picture. Music is all I do. That’s all I’ve ever done. I worked as a deejay very briefly. I’m a photographer, I’m a writer, I’m a musician. That’s all I do 24 hours a day is music. Either I’m listening to it or I’m trying to take what I’ve heard from other people and put it into my own thing.

Seeing that you’re both the press and the artist, do you think there are times when there’s animosity from bands towards the press. If so, can you empathize with those feelings?

Animosity from others? Because there’s none with me. When a photographer comes to our show I generally tell them flat out – and some press are a little bit hesitant or they think I’m kidding around – I say you do what you need to do to get the shot. I don’t care. I was recently late for an interview. There was actually a misunderstanding that I was supposed to be there earlier. I felt bad and he just hung out. I invited him to the rehearsal and he shot the entire rehearsal. It was an extended interview with everybody and we had him out to the next couple of shows. I’m all for that. As a photographer and as a writer, the best results I’ve gotten are when people made me feel comfortable and gave me the access. We want people to write and feel comfortable around us and to believe in the project too – be a part of it. Because I’m not out here to make enemies. I want people to enjoy it. That’s one of the reasons why I’m out here doing it.

A lot of times the bands believe the press is the enemy.

Yeah, I don’t know why they would think that. I understand if somebody says something bad about you. Everybody’s had something bad about them written. So what? That’s one person’s opinion. That’s fair. It’s their business. So what? I’ve written plenty of bad things. I feel that’s the one good thing about being a person that’s been a writer and a musician is that if somebody has a criticism, I understand it as a criticism. And if it’s a personal attack, I’ll take them up on it. I heard B.B. King one time say “If you love what I’m doing, tell somebody. Spread the word. If you don’t like what I’m doing, come tell me.” That struck a chord with me. That’s the way I feel about it. If somebody doesn’t like it, I want to know why. I’m not necessarily trying to change their mind, but yeah, I want people to be happy. Otherwise go find something you’re happy doing.

Coming from Athens, GA which has a long musical lineage, how have you fared in such a celebrated music town?

Remarkably well. I thought we’d be considered way too cheesy and over-the-top rock and roll. We have guitar solos. (laughs) When we started the band it was something you really didn’t do in Athens unless you were either being ironic or an indie-type person who played your heart out on the guitar but purposely didn’t tune the guitar so it would sound indie. You know what I mean? We’re not doing that. We want to put on a show. We want to sound good. We want to have a good time and just be the best band we can be and blow away any band on stage with us. We don’t always do it. We’re going to try every night and we do have a pretty good success rate. I thought in Athens that would be a strike against us for trying. So far, maybe it’s bias because a lot of them know me or whatever. I’m not going to say; it could be. I’m not going to say that it’s not because I don’t know why they’ve been so nice but I’m quite thrilled. One thing I can say is that it’s not bad that we’re getting that kind of coverage nationwide now. People in other areas are saying that they’re into us. So I’m trying to take that as the people weren’t biased and that we’re actually doing something right and I’m trying to run with it and not just over think it. If I do, then I’ll screw up for sure.

Seeing that you are on both sides as the artist and the press, have you been able to whatever knowledge you’ve gained to help assist the band?

Absolutely. Completely. A lot of it is about who you know but the thing is if they don’t like you they’re not going to do anything with you anyway. There are plenty of people that I know that have friends, and they know these people and they can give them all these things. And they wont because they don’t have what they need to do it. Knowing the promoters has helped. But I never went out looking for it. I didn’t even tell people I was in a band that I worked with as a photographer until they found out on their own. You may be the exception. It usually just comes up in conversation at some point and it’s like, “Oh, you’re in a band?” I always call it my secret identity when I’m a photographer. When I’m playing I can say the other’s my secret identity. It’s kind of mixing up now that people are really getting to know who the band is and what I do on both sides. It’s kind of more common knowledge. But there really was a time when nobody knew either. It was like you knew either one or the other. But now that it’s coming together, I’m friends with some of the promoters of these shows, and I’m going to use it. (laughs) And I’m not thinking twice about it.

Your 2005 CD, Come Accept Your Joy was well-received. Were you able to get any momentum to help broaden your fan base?

That’s a hard question to answer to be completely honest with you. The album was released two days ago. I put it in some local stores here in town when it was finished, but it never got a release. I think, if I recall correctly, our CD release party was October 8 of 2005. We did a show the following weekend at the 40-Watt opening for Cowboy Mouth. Our drummer quit two days later. And again, I just sat on it. I don’t want to do it wrong. Why just half way do it? If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it really right. I pulled everything back and literally the record got national release May 8. I’ve been using the stuff for promo and it’s gotten a lot of coverage. We ended up on the Daily Show for one little thing. It was a fluke. There’s so much stuff going on now. I co-wrote a couple of songs with Pete Townsend via a lottery online. I don’t know how much you know Dave.

How did that come about?

I don’t know if you know, but he’s got this thing called the Lifehouse Method. It’s basically a software based around the sounds used for algorithms he made for “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Baba O’Reilly”. “Eminence Front”, “You Better You Bet” and all of those songs with the weird keyboard segments. Back then he used a method of taking specific facts. For “Baba O’Reilly”, his guru was Meher Baba so he took his birth date, facts, dates and put different numbers in a machine and it made music out of it. So he wanted to expand that and bring other people in. I heard about this thing called Lifehouse Method they were going to be introducing in May of this year. I went to the website and it wasn’t up yet. But I put in my information and it said you may win the chance if you want to participate in three audio portraits. Put in the reason why you should do it and I put in some answer. An hour or two later I got a thing back with. “Congratulations, you’ve won the Lifehouse Lottery. You can sit for these three audio portraits.” I thought everybody got it, so I told all my friends, “Do this man, it’s awesome”. And nobody else got it. Huh, maybe it was kind of a lottery. It is a program where you take five different settings. There’s a voice setting. I used some voice tracks from one of our songs. There’s a rhythm setting so I used some raw tracks. Then I put in some facts. I even put in a photograph. And what it does, the computer program turns all of this information into ones and zeroes. It turns it all into binary and then it spits it back out as music. And the way it works is that the copyrights are shared between me, Pete Townsend and the creators of the software. So I have these three pieces of music, and one of them, our guitarist Joe found a way to work it into one of our songs and it fits perfect chord-wise and structure-wise. The changes work fine with one of our songs. So yeah, hopefully we’ll have a co-write with Pete Townsend on the next record which is rather surreal since I never met the guy.

How are the new songs you’re writing different from what was on the first album?

A lot more layered. We’re doing a lot more harmonies now. Not to sound like a jam band – you know we don’t sound like that, but there’s a lot more groove and swing involved which we hadn’t done much of before. We were a little bit more strict rock with the first record for some reason. We’re kind of delving more now. And while we’re not trying to be Stonesy per se, we are trying to get some of that swing from “Beast of Burden” and “Waiting On A Friend”, to try and get that mood. We’re trying to mix that in with what we do and add it to the rock and big guitar solos. Once we got Joe in the band, while I’m a pretty competent guitar player, Joe can dust me. So when you’ve got the two of us together, it’s pretty wild. When we played on stage together for the first time, it blew my mind on some of the new material – just the way it came to life. Everybody played everything just like it was written in fairytales. It was like you hear in the fantasy movies and the things where everybody is sugarcoating everything. It did really seem like it was a different kind of entity than just the four guys on stage. There was something else that none of us can do alone. We keep trying to capture that. Right now we’re hitting it pretty regularly. I don’t know how long it’s going to last. It can’t last forever with something that good. Right now we’re firing on it and I’m taking advantage of it.

What aspect of music do you enjoy the best?

On a good night, it’s just performing at 100 per cent. I was trying to think of it the other day for some reason. I was trying to think what makes me happy in my life. One is playing music and the other is making people happy. And that’s in every aspect of my life. It doesn’t mean I’m going to go out of my way. You can ask anybody. I’m definitely not a “yes” man. The “Critical” in the name is a description of us personally, too. We can all be pretty tough. But yeah, I want people to be happy. I want them to feel at home whether it’s with the live environment or anything else. So to me, we did six shows in the first two weeks that the band started playing and have had a couple of weeks off since then and for the first time in my life, I had a ball at every single show.

What have you learned from the journalism side of the business that has helped you with the band?

A lot of it is from being able to hang out with your heroes and talk to them as people. First of all you see that they’re more or less normal, which sounds fine in words, but until you see it in practice I don’t think it necessarily relates to most people. But a lot of it to me was seeing that they’re really into music. I would see a guy – and I’m not trying to name drop, but I’d see a guy do a sold-out show and come backstage where they were recording the show. I was invited on the bus and we were hanging out. All he was concerned about was, “Oh man, I missed this note on that one song. I can’t believe I did that. It sucks!” And it was a perfect show to everyone there. It wasn’t that he was that down. He was like, “I’ve got to do it better next time.” And he was trying to figure out ways to improve himself. I remember hanging out backstage one time and getting into a conversation about, “Who do you want to see reunite?” So then everybody starts going through their dream list. They’re just excited about music. One time I was out with one artist during sound check. The singer was next to me listening to the bass player and the drummer going, “Can you believe I get to play with those guys? I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” That enthusiasm is contagious. That’s a kind of thing that puts it in a different light for me because I really don’t want to do it if I’m not enjoying it. And I won’t. A lot of people say that and don’t mean it. I took this time off the last year because it wasn’t worthwhile overall. If you hear of us performing and there’s a date coming up it’s because we believe in the project. There’s something there worthwhile. And it’s not just one person dragging the others along. Everybody’s working their butts off to the same goal to capture that moment. It’s the only way that it really works and that’s what I’m trying to keep as long as we can. And again, I don’t necessarily expect it to last that way forever, but during this little golden Camelot time while we’ve got it, I’m going to run with it.

- Dave Weinthal
- Enigma Magazine - Chattanooga, TN


Discography

C'mon Accept Your Joy (Side B Music 2007).
Satisfactionista (Feb. 2009)

Tracks from Joy have received airplay across the world on commercial and college radio including "Towel Cape Song" appearing at # 7 on the College Music Journal (CMJ) chart for Chattanooga, TN, even topping Paul McCartney.

Since then, "Towel Cape Song" has received significant spins at over 150 stations around the world from ports as distant as New Zealand, Poland, England and all over the U.S. "Sometimes I'm Sam", "Into My View", "Taking Its Toll", "Colors In Black & White" and "Until The Road Ends" have also received airplay on radio, worldwide podcasts and internet broadcasts.

Photos

Bio

Hailing from South Carolina and choosing Athens, Georgia as his home, nationally known photographer Chris McKay earned a couple of handfuls of ASCAP Music Awards for his solo work but had wanted to be back in a group since his days with Q-Sign, which was named "one of the best unsigned bands in America" by Musician Magazine.

In 2004, McKay and his bass-playing high school friend Frank DeFreese formed The Critical Darlings. When word started to spread, the offers for shows came. "For the first year, we never booked gigs. We only accepted invitations," McKay said. "I thought that was a great sign."

Eventually, the Darlings went into the studio to record C'mon, Accept Your Joy! Before the CD was finished, leaked tracks had garnered airplay in 3 states. Since the official release of Joy, the songs have been picked up by over 150 stations around the world (from Poland to New Zealand to London and back to the States).

In 2007, the Critical Darlings expanded to a quartet (with the addition of guitarist / vocalist Joe Orr and drummer Joshua Harrison) and started work on their second album, titled Satisfactionista, with GRAMMY nominated producer David Barbe (R.E.M., Drive-By Truckers, Cracker, Betty Lavette) behind the board. Of special interest is the collaboration with David Bowie's inimitable pianist Mike Garson (Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans) who appears on the track "Something Unseen" (which also finds Drive-By Truckers' Brad Morgan on drums).

After working on the album for nearly a year, Satisfactionista is now complete and is available through iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Target and many other digital outlets, with a physical release set for February 13, 2009.

If that's not enough, The Darlings were named as one of the "top ten best acts at the 2008 Atlantis Music Conference" by Target Audience Magazine and are one of the first bands chosen to employ Pete Townshend's Lifehouse Method in co-composing several tracks with The WHO's songwriter / guitarist via software that produces a unique song based on data input.

It's no wonder that Lee Valentine Smith of Creative Loafing has named the Critical Darlings "a great little buzz-worthy band" and dubbed McKay "power pop potentate."