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Red And Black
Chris McKay and the Critical Darlings
What is your full name and position in the band?
Name, rank and serial #, eh? This is Chris McKay. I'm the singer / guitarist / songwriter for the band.
How long have you been performing with Critical Darlings?
I formed the band with drummer Tom Bavis at TransMet rock trivia nights in early '04. He heard some home demos I'd done and said "all you need now is a drummer" while not so casually pointing at himself. So I took him up on it! We formed the band as just as a fun outlet between friends. In fact, when we decided that we really wanted to try something and needed a bassist, 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. And that's the way we worked through the summer of '04. We did a handful of shows, just for fun. In fact, the name "Critical Darlings" is evidence that we didn't take it seriously in the beginning. Tom and I were both critics (contributing a lot to Flagpole) and we were these little, skinny, "darlings". And, of course, we're extremely critical and tough on ourselves. So it was just an in-joke. Then when people started responding and encouraging us, we decided to try to make a go of it as a real band. So Frank made a leap of faith and left his job and home in SC to jump in over his head here in Athens. I decided if he could take it that seriously, so should I. Then last fall, we started in earnest. For the first year, we never booked our own gigs. We only accepted invitations to play. I thought that was a great sign...
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
Power pop with rock overtones. In person, we come off much heavier (I think) than the record. It's probably because we're a 3-piece and the layering of the album isn't there. We have to pull the essence of it and run with it. With live power pop, the "power" just seems to translate more than the "pop". In reality, what I do is singer-songwriter stuff, it's just amped up to such a degree that it's definitely "rock". And I really like the fact that we keep getting compared to classic punk bands like The Clash and Bad Religion even though I really can't see it myself. That says more about our energy than our songs. To me, we're really just a flat-out rock band.
What's your favorite venue to perform at in Athens and why?
Oh, c'mon, do you really think I'm going to choose? It's like trying to choose a favorite song. Who do you love more, your Mom or Dad? You can't go there. It's all different. We're really at home in Tasty World because that's where we played our first show. Plus, we recorded the album upstairs there at D.A.R.C. So even though we haven't been back since the spring, it always feels like a homecoming. The Georgia Theatre is great because of the big stage and ambience. We were lucky enough to play to a packed house there at only our 5th show. We were the opening act and we were terrified but the audience was so supportive and with us. It's a memory I'll always take with me. I think that's where we came into our own. We've got lots of friends at the 40 Watt and it's always an honor to play there. Plus, the sound system is so amazing. You can't help but feel like a rock God on that stage. We just opened for Cowboy Mouth there in October. What an amazing staff! Then there's The Ritz which we just hit for the first time a month ago. It's the most beautiful venue in town. Everyone one there was so cool and helpful. The lights and the stage there are unreal. Then there's Washington Street Tavern...yep, that tiny place. We won a battle of the bands type thing there early on and then used that tiny downstairs room for a "residency" where we worked out most of our material in front of whoever happened to show up. So you see what I mean? I can't possibly choose. These are all vital places to us.
What have y'all been up to lately - the new album, etc.
Getting the word out about C'mon, Accept Your Joy is the main thing. We got really lucky that a couple of songs were leaked ahead of the release. We wound up reaching #7 on the CMJ charts for Chattanooga, TN thanks to WAWL, the college station there. And #1 and #2 were The White Stripes and Coldplay - so it wasn't just locals. We were absolutely blown away. They picked us up just 'cause they liked the tune. Then they invited us to play their 25th anniversary celebration. They treated us like kings. We can't wait to go back up there. Since then stations in Atlanta and South Carolina have started playing us, too. So far, though, I don't think we've been played in Athens so that's something I need to pursue myself. These other stations came to us. But we need some play here at home.
How long did y'all work on "C'mon Accept Your Joy?"
We started work on Joy back in February of last year. We worked on it on and off until the end of May and then mastered it, re-mastered it, put together the art work and had it manufactured during the summer. We did have promo versions available by mid-September but we didn't officially release it until the second week in November. That's when it hit all the stores. So it's really only been out for about 3 weeks at this point. Still totally fresh. And so far, I've been floored by the responses. I'm proud of the record but I'm shocked that other people seem to be taking to it like they have. As a non-indie rock band in Athens, I thought we'd be fighting an uphill battle but so far it's been fantastic.
Is anyone performing with/opening for y'all at Tasty World?
Actually, we're the opener for Atlanta's reigning local rock champs Second Shift. They're out supporting their brand new album, too. The last time I saw them they were opening for Weezer and The Bravery in Atlanta. Someone told me that the last time they played Tasty World it was a sellout. So it's definitely going to be a solid rock and roll night. There may even be a 3rd band. I'm not positive if we'll be on 1st or 2nd so come on out early if you can!
Will y'all be doing covers and originals on Friday?
We'll be doing a handful of songs from C'mon, Accept Your Joy obviously. Then we'll add a couple from our next album which is already written and ready to be recorded. Our founding drummer Tom Bavis just left the band a month ago and I managed to get another high school friend to fill in until we get a permanent replacement. His name's Michael Rietveld and he's even more of a rocker than Frank or I. At our first show with him, we did pull out one really obnoxious rock cover to close out the night. Who knows? We may do it again. But we don't really decide exactly what we're going to do until we're onstage and doing it. We usually print out a set list and then ignore it.
How did y'all get the opportunity to perform on "The Daily Show"?
We didn't actually perform on The Daily Show. 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. He said that we were his "first high school band" which I thought was extra-interesting because at the moment, we're all high school friends! The only way we even knew about it was because Frank (our bassist) was watching the show and caught it. He builds his own custom basses and just happened to recognize his design. Then we went to the Comedy Central website and the clip was up there for our confirmation. If not for him, I would've never even noticed it or known about it. So right on, Frank!
What was "The Daily Show" experience like?
Truly surreal. I don't even know how to describe it. We don't know how they found out about us, we don't know how they got the picture (it had been removed from our site for at least 6 months) or anything. It was just a fluke, freak thing. The weirdest part to me was that it aired the day that our original drummer left the band. When The Daily Show touched up the pic, they changed my face to Jon Stewart's, did some touching up to Frank and put logos on our shirts. But they totally removed our drummer and put in someone else. That was kind of spooky. I took it as a sign. What else could I do?
What's coming up next for Critical Darlings?
Who knows? We're thinking of expanding the lineup. I write a lot of harmony vocals and right now, I don't have anyone that can do the backups live. That's probably another reason we lean harder on the rock stuff at the moment. We're talking about adding in an accessory musician if we can find the right personality. We'd love to find someone willing to play guitar and / or keyboards. So if you think you're up to it, get in touch! But you've got to not only be able to harmonize but be able to take your life getting significantly stranger! We've opened for A Flock Of Seagulls, heard non-released songs of ours show up on the radio and somehow wound up on The Daily Show in the last few months. Who knows what's around the next curve? But we're excited about it.