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Interview: Jeremiah McKinley
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I have always wanted to make music, but it wasn’t until my brother (Noah McKinley Smith) and I (Jeremiah Christian Smith) watched The Head and The Heart at the on their Signs Of Light tour at the Ritz in Raleigh, that I pulled the trigger and picked up a guitar. I had maybe learned three chords when I started writing my own songs and I have been hooked ever since. My Brother had guitar lessons when he was younger and around the same time I started, he picked the guitar back up. After a couple of months, we were writing songs together and sending pieces back and forth to help each other out. If I was not writing music, I imagine I would still be doing something creative. I was a painting major in college and have always enjoyed the process of creating something, so I look at music as just one of my creative outlets.
What do you like to do when you're not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I am usually drawing, painting, or watching football. We grew up playing sports, so we are always in the mood to watch college football. Lately, I have started to illustrate some of our released song titles into their own little series of drawings. I enjoy trying to capture the themes of songs with a picture that can say it all. I listen to a lot of books on tape as well, and it seems very day I will hear a word or phrase that will trigger a new lyric or song idea.
How long has your band been around?
We have been around since 2018, releasing our first single Hanging On/ Creekside in 2019.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
We are based out of Kernersville, North Carolina. Growing up in rural North Carolina we were exposed to a lot of country bluegrass, and blues music, so a lot of that has seeped into what we make and like to play.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you.
Jeremiah McKinley is a mashup of our names. I am Jeremiah Christian Smith and my brother is Noah McKinley Smith. When playing video games as children we would create a character for us both to play with, and Jeremiah McKinley was the only name combo that sounded cool to us. When we decided to start making music it was the only name we could agree on. For the record my first choice (Jeremiah) was The Sheppard Hill Gang, since we grew up on Sheppard Hill Road, but I got vetoed and we settled on Jeremiah McKinley.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
Right when we started gearing up to play more live shows the pandemic hit, so we don’t have a lot of best and worst to pick from. We are excited that now that things are opening back up we can fill up the calendar with some dates.
BEST SHOW: We recently had a trailer show at our house. We invited a lot of people from the neighborhood to bring some chairs and some beers. We stood on an old flat trailer and cranked up the volume. We now hold a monthly trailer show around the area in between other gigs. You bring the beers and we’ll bring the party.
WORST SHOW: Over the summer, while Noah was in college, he worked at a Moravian summer camp. We were scheduled to play in a lineup for their 60th anniversary celebration, but most of the people that attended lived an hour and a half away. With that in mind, and a late evening time slot, there weren’t many people left in the crowd by the time we got up to play. So, we basically had an open rehearsal for the camp staff and the few others that stuck around.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you haven't already?
I don’t think we have a favorite venue yet, but one we are dying to play at is The Ritz Raleigh. That is where this all started for us, and we’d be thrilled to come full circle and standing on the other side of that room.
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket?
Well my brother Noah would kill me if I didn’t say John Mayer, who is one of his biggest influences on guitar. I would say I’d love to play with Tyler Childers and The Marcus King Band as well. I think our music styles would really mix well for a great show and have all three of them on repeat when I am listening to music.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band?
Don’t wait around for permission to follow your passion. If you want to do something you just have to go for it. Make sure also that you are playing with people you gel with. If you’re not having fun while you’re playing, then you’re doing it wrong.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Noah would have never stopped taking guitar lessons as a kid, and I would have started learning a lot sooner.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Our first release Hanging on/ Creekside still has the most meaning to me. We come from a small town and had (still have) no clue what we were doing or how to accomplish our goals of making music and getting it to the world. We struggled to figure out the recording and producing process on our own. I am not the most tech savvy person, and protools can be very daunting if you have no clue how to work it. But through trail and error we put out a song we are very proud of. Eventually we would like to re release some of our earliest songs, now that we have better equipment and more knowledge of how to record. But we are still very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I think our favorite to play is Long Night Long Story. It is a newer song that will come out on an album next spring. It is a high energy groove and I am spitting out words at a high rate, and while I barely left myself room to take a breath it is a real fun one to play live. Our most requested is Senior Year, a tale of a boy and girl that meet at a summer bonfire just before she heads off for college. They spend the summer falling in love only to be torn apart by distance, but the repeating words from the chorus keep them sane. The best things always take some time. It is one of our best stories and I think it really connects with people, as they are able to interject themselves into the situation.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Every song is different. Some start with a word or phrase and others start with a chord progression or a riff one of us has stumbled into. I find that my inspiration for lyrics seem to strike when I am taking a shower. So much so that any time I’m writing something new or strumming something I will get the rhythm in my head and go run and turn the water on. We are inspired by everyday life. Sometimes you see someone in the supermarket and think of a story of their life, and sometimes we’ll hear a word or phrase on the tv and it starts an idea. We have some personal stories we have written as well but even if the story isn’t true it comes from a real feeling or place. We write a lot of stuff together, but when we’re apart one of us will start a song idea and send it to the other to help fully flush it out.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
We like to capture feelings, both in their immediate moments and as they come back to us in retrospect. For example, Noah wrote “It ain’t easy” (Scheduled to release in November), while riding on a mountain road, in a torrential downpour, in the back of a pick-up truck. The song is about feeling cold and alone, feeling the pressure to find your way when it feels rocky and uncertain.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Karate show downs!!! Just kidding. Being brothers isn’t always easy but we generally get along really well. We both bring something different to the table and when there are any disagreements, we tend to lean on the others expertise. My brother Noah is a far superior musician to me, so if he has an idea to help me with the structure of a song I am all ears. I tend to be a little better at lyric writing than playing so sometimes I will help him flush out a chorus idea or add a verse to a song he’s working on.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that's coming up?
Our plans for the future are to be booking and play as many shows as we can. We do have a single coming out in November called It Ain’t Easy, and are working on a full album to come out in spring of next year.