interview: cameron mcgill

cameron mcgill & what army

An unexpected emergency room trip and road closures prevented me from actually sitting down with Chicago singer-songwriter Cameron McGill last Sunday before his show at the 506, but he was kind enough to answer some questions from Florida via email this week. Behind the jump, Cameron talks about Chicago, touring with Margot & the Nuclear So-and-So’s and his new album, plus gives me the best answer to “Cubs or White Sox?” that I’ve ever gotten.

Cameron & What Army are out on tour with Margot & the Nuclear So-and-So’s for another week; you should go see them.

1. What I miss most about Chicago is the food, and also the public transportation (I hate having to own a car). Give me a few of your Chicago favorites — venue to play at, venue to see a show at, place to get a late night meal, El stop, neighborhood, Chicago band that isn’t you.

Lincoln Hall is a wonderful new venue in Chicago. We just played there at the beginning of this tour. Late night food is pretty good at Pick me up Cafe. I have no favorite el stop, really, maybe the one that is closest to home. I prefer going to Lincoln Square or Andersonville to drink, there’s a great bar in Andersonville called Simon’s. Though the Map Room on Armitage is important as well. I’ve been there long enough that I seem to know 10 different Chicago’s, so it’s always changing for me. As far as bands go, I’ve been into Miles Nielsen’s record, Cass McCombs, Maps + Atlases.

2. You and your band are touring with Margot & the Nuclear So-and-So’s right now, but you’re also playing with Margot during their set. Have you played with them before Buzzard? How’d this tour pairing come about?

I have known the Margot folks for many years, and have been a fan of Richard’s songs for just as long or longer. I recorded on a few songs on Animal!, and started playing with the band about a year ago, right before we started the sessions for Buzzard. It worked out that we could travel together and our band would be able to open the east coast portion of the tour. It seems to be a good fit all around.

3. You’ve got a lot of people riding in the big black tour bus; what are you guys listening to while you drive? Any vicious arguments over what is and isn’t listenable? You can tell me: who’s got the most guilty-pleasure taste in bus music?

The bus is so loud, there is no collective listening system, everyone has to have individual devices/headphones. Plenty of arguments, but only on where and when to stop and sleep and eat and drink. Everyone is watching the Wire and discussing Lights Over

4. You grew up in Champaign, IL, and you’ve been in Chicago for 12 years. What did you do in the intervening years? When did you start playing music?

Yes, that’s correct, I spent a lot of time in Champaign preparing to leave, I guess. I did go to school there for a bit and until recently had some family still there. The intervening years sounds ominous. They probably were. Bounced around a lot, traveled around playing in bands for quite some time, went to Europe to walk around, almost died, wrote a book of poetry, and fell back in love with Chicago courtesy of Carl Sandburg.

Did about a year on the road with Rachael Yamagata which took me across Uhmerica a zillion times and to the UK and Japan. Those years were always music and part-time jobs, scrapping by. I started playing music early on, but only in the way that i liked making up melodies. Had a piano when I was younger, not sure I really started writing songs till about 8th grade maybe.

5. I usually don’t have a hard time making comparisons in sound — “if you like [so-and-so], you’ll like [this other band]” — but your stuff, both solo and with What Army, has defied my ability to categorize (which is definitely a good thing). Who were your influences when you were starting out? Has that changed? Is there anybody really rocking you right now?

Starting out it was a lot of my dad’s records: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Neil Young, The Beatles…I still love all of that, but it always changes. I like The National and Spoon quite a bit, new Arcade Fire record is quite beautiful. Before and during the writing of the new full-length I was listening mostly to The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Tom Waits’ Alice, and Rufus Wainwright’s Want One. I fell in love with the poet Jack Gilbert, whose book, The Great Fires, changed the way I think about pretty much everything.

6. Top 5 Desert Island Albums. Go.

Blood On The Tracks, Astral Weeks, Live Rust, Revolver, Pet Sounds.

7. You just finished work on your next full-length with What Army, due out in March next year, right? Tell me a little about your writing process, and about the new album.

Yes, it is almost completed. Upon the return from this tour, we have a few things left to do on the mixes, and then it will be wrapped up. The album is going to be called IS A BEAST. Most of this album was written at my girlfriend’s apt on her grandfather’s old acoustic guitar.  Most of the songs started out very stripped down, but never with the intention of being recorded that way. We approached this record different than any other one I’ve recorded, which is to say, we had not been playing any of the songs live prior to bringing them into the studio. We did rehearse them a bit, but we had no pre-conceived idea about what the songs should sound like, so it was easier trying a lot of new approaches in the studio. got another album written and am going to try to convince my friend dan johnson to produce it. he is a genius songwriter from Detroit.

8. You live in Chicago; I can’t not ask this, but you can not answer it: Cubs or White Sox?

Chicago Fire.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mom says:

    Excellent Qs. Excellent As. !!

  2. pam says:

    Yeah, I think my Cubs vs. Sox answer is Hawks.

    1. That is also an answer I approve.

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