The SURNAME is familiar but… just who is MacKenzie James Cregan?
Born to parents Jim Cregan and Jane Booke, Mackenzie James Cregan is a 22 year old singer/songwriter/musician from Los Angeles, CA.
With influences in 60's Rock, Folk & Psych, Mackenzie combines the songwriting style of Bob Dylan and Neil Young, with the grit of Dan Aurbach & Alabama Shakes. Keeping his roots intact, Mackenzie puts a modern spin on his music, giving him a unique sound that includes catchy Pop choruses and Psychedelic sections.
Mackenzie chats to Ian Roberts and gives an insight into his early years growing up surrounded by music and his rise to recording and performing – the influences and aspirations.
Ian Roberts: You picked up the guitar aged 2 years old. What are your earliest recollections learning to play?
Mackenzie James Cregan: Some of my earliest memories of playing the guitar are unsurprisingly watching my dad practice and noodle around on his Martin in the house. I had this little toy acoustic at the time and I’d try to match my hands to his. I didn’t know what chords were at the time, so I’d try to just copy exactly what his fingers were doing.
IR Did you feel you ‘had a duty’ to learn and carry forward your father’s craft or was it always in your blood?
MJC: I wouldn’t say it was so much of a “duty” but more of a tradition I wanted to start. It was sort of inevitable for me to at least give it a go, with all the guitars lying around the house when I was a kid and being around so many incredible musicians. But both my parents were never forceful about it. They saw that I loved it and just supported my passion. Honestly, I think if my dad had to choose a career path for me, he probably would have wanted me to be a doctor or something! Ha!
IR You began writing at an early age. Which artists and genres did you aspire to?
MJC: Well I grew up with a lot of the old stuff as you can probably imagine. It was my mother though who actually showed me The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, followed by Dylan, The Band and so many other greats from the 60s/70s. And then my sister and I discovered these old Chess Blues compilation CDs in our house, and both of us became obsessed with Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, etc. After listening to all that great music, I’d talk to my dad about his relationship with it, because he was still in his youth when it was coming up. But he told me if I was going to play guitar and especially be a rock n’ roll based artist, I had to study Chuck Berry. Listening to him solidified my decision to be not only a guitar player, but a songwriter and performer.
IR Growing up in Los Angeles what bands did you get to see play live in your teen years? What are you currently listening to?
MJC: I’ve had the privilege of seeing so many great artists, old and new, thanks to being around my musical friends and family. Just to list a few: The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, Jack White, Mac Demarco, Alabama Shakes, Tame Impala, Neil Young, ACDC and more I can’t think of at the moment. Right now I’ve just started going through the Flaming Lips catalogue. I listened to their debut album from 1986, and it so cool! It’s very punky and what they call “Anti-folk.” I’ve also been listening to Beck (no relation to Jeff Beck) and a really cool band called Harlem. I’m at a point of my life musically where I’ve been more open then ever. I was actually very picky about what music I thought was good or what was “correct” when I was younger. I never thought I’d get into anything that was considered “punky.” But I’ve realized that there’s so much beauty in all types of music, and it’s so important as a musician and artist to listen to as much as you can, and to study it deeply.
IR That’s some list and so diverse! Which of those listed would you say you lend yourself too the most?
MJC: I would say at the moment, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, and Mac Demarco. In the last couple of years, I’ve been really into Paul’s solo work, especially the music off of “RAM.” Mac Demarco is a more current singer/songwriter who I believe is one of the best artists of today’s indie rock era. Then there’s Neil Young whose music is so diverse. He can break your heart with a folky love song like Old Man or Harvest Moon, and then he can melt your face off with heavier rock tunes like “Cinnamon Girl” or “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Having that sort of dynamic as an artist is something I aspire to.
IR Tell us about the stunning track… ‘Woman From The East’. There are so many mixed genres in the make-up of the tune and the crooning vocals, mysterious lyrics blend so well, it’s fascinating for the listener. How did this evolve from ‘an idea’ to the finished piece? Is the song based on a personal experience?
MJC: Well, so many of my songs are autobiographical, including that one. It was based on a really cool girl I met in New York (hence the “East” part), and the girl I’m supposed to be talking to throughout the song is a girl that was the complete opposite of who I would consider to be my “dream girl.” And I guess for some reason, based on those two different contrasting experiences, it inspired this bizarre song. I don’t really know how it became this weird song with all these different genres intertwining. All I know is that I wanted to try and write and produce something out of the ordinary. Therefore, the drum part became this sort of industrial tom-based groove, and the 12-string electric guitar blended with the acoustic gave it some folky/psychedelic overtones.
IR How do you layer a song… firstly the vocals? How does it evolve?... using Woman From The East as an example, it’s the drums then…?
MJC: With a song like that, when you’re beginning to build it up in the studio, you first want to make sure you get the tempo right. Usually, I’ll want to get the drums done first, having the drummer play along to a guide guitar, guide vocal and click (metronome). I’ll either play and record bass with the drummer, or do that next. Vocals and any lead guitar would be the last things I usually record, because I want to make sure the rhythm section is tight as ever, so the vocals and lead instruments can be placed on top nicely.
IR When you pen a song where do your ideas come from, those that are not autobiographical?
MJC: Ideas like that usually come from other people’s experiences, or scenarios that could happen at any given moment in anyone’s life. As a writer, I’ve always learned its extremely important to keep your ears and eyes open . Even when you’re just doing something simple like picking up food from a local take-away or reading a novel. You never know when any type of inspiration will cross your path.
IR Do you have your own recording studio at home in LA?
MJC: I’m currently in the process of updating my studio setup. Which in this case just means getting some new mics some new studio monitors, and other bits and pieces.
IR Have you ever sat in and witnessed any studio work with your father? Learnt the recording process, picked up some tips?
MJC: Absolutely! However, a lot of my witnessing of his studio work has been from his studio at his house. He’s given me a lot of tips about mixing, and great ways of how to begin a session. Probably the most valuable advice he’s given me in terms of producing and being in a professional studio environment was studio etiquette and as a musician, being patient with yourself. If something isn’t nailed on the first take, it’s important not to beat yourself up. Cause that can take you out of the moment. And then in many cases after seven or more takes, you’ll realize that takes one or two were the best ones!
IR Studio etiquette? Can you explain that please?
MJC: Based on what I’ve learned from my dad, as well as working with others, you have to understand what your roll is in a recording session, as well as the rolls of others. For example, if there’s a primary producer in the room, they have the final say no matter what. Usually it’ll be once they have an agreement with the artist. If it’s a team effort, you sort of have to put your ego aside, and be open to other people’s ideas. With that being said, if it’s a producer/artist/writer, they’re usually going to have some sort of vision, and it’s important as a musician or engineer not to get in the way of that, but to help bring that vision to life!
IR Do you have ambitions in producing other artists in the future?
MJC: I do, but at the moment I need to focus on my music, and once I get to a place where I feel ready, I’d be more than happy to produce other artists.
IR Your father has been with some great bands… Family, Cockney Rebel, Farm Dogs (with Bernie Taupin) and Rod Stewart. Do you listen to his back catalogue and take any inspiration in terms of your songwriting and playing style?
MJC: I do! I’ve listened to a lot of what he’s done with Rod and I even learned how to play his solo from “Make Me Smile” during his Cockney Rebel days. I have to say that whole album “Best Years of Our Lives,” without being biased, has actually become one of my favourite records of all time. However, my favourite stuff of his, is what he did with his old band from the 60s, “Blossom Toes.” I feel that music is so ahead of it’s time. And all my music friends here in LA, who are super into their indie/psychedelic rock all think it’s super cool!
IR Wow, I just asked Alexa to play Blossom Toes and she found them...! My initial thoughts… early Pink Floyd !
MJC: Yeah! Totally! I think they played some shows together in the mid-sixties. Such a great time for music. Can’t imagine what it must have been like to be right in the middle of that!
IR Do you have a favourite track your father wrote with Rod?
MJC: Yeah! It would probably be “Blondes Have More Fun.” It’s a great rock tune with a tongue and cheek attitude. Always a jam when I hear it!
IR Do you play any other instruments?
MJC: Yes. I’ve been recently working on my bass chops, and I play some drums and dabble on piano. One of my upcoming singles is featuring me on everything EXCEPT drums.
IR If you could choose a legendary drummer to fill who would that be?
MJC: Definitely Levon Helm. If I decided to be strictly a drummer, that’s the guy I’d want to emulate 100%!
IR IR Your mum is a renowned celebrity designer. Your ‘fashion sense’ has its own stamp. Is fashion something that excites you?
MJC Fashion is extremely important to me. I always have to leave the house looking fresh and feeling clean. And it’s really cool how fashion plays such a big part in music. Some of the most iconic musicians are also some of the biggest fashion icons. It is definitely one of the things that defines who I am!
IR …and your mum wrote songs and worked with producer Desmond Child who produced Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Joan Jett. I read somewhere that she pushed you into singing as well as playing? Did she ever put anything down on record herself?
MJC: Yeah, my mom told me if I wanted to be in music, I had to be the singer as well! Ha! Not something I was planning on turning down by any means. She just sort of reminded me how much I loved to perform, and I already had so much admiration for guys like Rod, Mick Jagger, and Elvis Presley. And yeah she has some demos that I’ve heard. She sounded a bit like a female Elvis herself. But obviously the recordings had that classic Desmond Child 80s rock production, which was very fitting for the time. She definitely had the vocal chops back in her day and was pretty much my first and only vocal coach. Think I only had one proper lesson other than her giving me some pointers when I was younger.
IR You are currently living in Liverpool, why Liverpool, what was the draw?
MJC: I have actually just moved back to LA from Liverpool. It was an interesting experience, but I realized it wasn’t the right place for me. I’m very excited to be back in my home town and to catch up and collaborate with some old friends, and to continue making music!
IR Your latest offering is a 5 track EP…”The Bedroom Sessions”. Firstly, can you enlighten us of the title? You produced and play all the instruments on the recording..?
MJC: Yes! I wanted to produce something that was very stripped back. I literally wanted the EP to sound like it was made in a bedroom. It was really done next to my bedroom in the living area of my flat in Liverpool. And yes I played everything on the record and produced it myself.
IR In my humble opinion there is a definite ‘Lennon’ flavour on the opener ‘Choke’… indeed I can hear the great man singing it! Is that something you wanted? Did your time in Liverpool inspire this?
MJC: That’s quite the compliment, and I thank you for that! John Lennon is one of my biggest heroes, and I actually did want to go for that sort of Plastic Ono band type of sound for that song. I’m glad someone has caught on to that. The song originally had a sort of waltz feel to it. But it was actually a friend of mine who suggested to try it with a more 2/4 feel instead of 3/4. I took his word for it, and I have to say it totally worked!
IR We can all read between the lines and all come up with different scenarios with regards the storytelling on this EP… Can you give us your insight track by track?
IR Thanks. I expect you have more tunes in your locker. What is your next project?
MJC: I am planning on releasing a few more singles throughout the rest of the year, along with a potential EP. Will definitely keep all of you posted as they come along!
IR You’ve been spotted on stage with Cregan & Co a few times. Is playing live and touring something you relish?
MJC: I absolutely love being on stage. It’s even more fun when I get to share the stage with my dad. It’s sort of our version of playing catch in the front yard. We both love it, and it’s such a fun way to spend time together. Also, because I love to travel, touring is a dream for me. I’ve only done a few small ones with my own bands. But I look forward to doing more and hopefully land a major one when the time is right!
IR So you have a group of mates who you can call on? Touring with a band would be your preference?... or solo in the style of, let’s say, Ed Sheeran?
MJC: Playing with a full band is and will always be my favourite way of performing. I dig the solo acoustic thing, which is even better when I have a second musician on electric guitar.
IR Looping is such a talented art, something that fascinates me. Have you mastered the art?
MJC: I haven’t tried doing the loop pedal thing yet. I guess I always aim to have a full band behind me when I play shows, so I haven’t thought about purchasing one yet. But I’m sure I’ll experiment at some point.
IR Each of your releases, We’ll Be Here, Woman From The East and The Bedroom Sessions would appear to have no genre correlation. Would you say that you are still searching for your niche in the music industry? In terms of your musical career, where would you like to be when you are 30+?
MJC: I am definitely still on a journey to finding my “sound” so to speak, but I do feel its important to keep my listeners involved in the process. I’m currently in the process of recording quite a bit more material and I can’t wait for you all to hear it! When I’m in my 30s, I just hope to gain more listeners, and to be living my life as a working musician.
IR What do you miss living away from LA? What do you enjoy most living in the UK?
MJC: I really missed my mom, my sister and my friends. I have a lot very talented musician friends here in LA, and I’m extremely happy to be back and to collaborate with them again. Also, my sister just had a baby girl and I’m very excited about being an uncle! However, living in the UK had it’s good times. I made some really cool friends and got to play in some really cool venues around Liverpool. Learning more about UK culture was really cool and it was fun to embrace it, rather than just observing it.
IR Rod Stewart is currently on tour and you were spotted in Southampton recently… what did you think of the show?
MJC: Rod’s voice has aged so gracefully, and he still has such a killer tone. It’s always had that rasp, but it’s evolved into a more intimate sounding vocal, which I really admire. I’m just waiting for him to release another in-your-face rock n’ roll album, which will remind us of his days with The Faces and his earlier records such as “Every Picture” and “Gasoline Alley.” I think if he channelled that sort of vibe again with his voice now, it would sound amazing! But I love his current live band. They’ve all got great chemistry and it’s inspiring to watch great musicians do what they do best!
IR A Rock n Roll Album with Stewart/Cregan writing credits, stripped back, not over produced is what we all would love to hear!
IR Back in the day young bands and artists, like Rod and your dad, did their ‘apprenticeship’ hoping the break into the business through touring… endless gigs travelling up and down the road networks in beat up vans, sleeping in dodgy hotels night after night. These days, with the ever-evolving social media platforms, singer songwriters are using these platforms to get their music out there… what are your thoughts on this? Is it increasingly difficult to get recognised now that thousands of other artists are utilising these media outlets?
MJC: It is definitely difficult to get recognized. The way to get any significant amount of streams on Spotify is to get on playlists. This isn’t always easy. That’s why it’s so important to have the right contacts, and to use them wisely. And of course playing live is so important. Being able to put out the best work you can on a recording and then following it up with an awesome live show, in my view, absolutely puts you in a great place for success.
IR What are your thoughts on tv talent shows such as the X Factor and The Voice?
MJC: I don’t watch them. They exist to entertain people, and there’s definitely some talented singers that come out of them. It’s not a route I’d want to take, but I understand why they exist.
IR Thanks so much for the musical insight Mackenzie… now some serious questions!
You are throwing a dinner party for 10 world famous guests past or present. Who would you invite and why?
Mackenzie was interviewed 10th – 21st June 2019
Need to know more..?Search Mackenzie out here…
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Rod's outfit for the evening was complete a blazer and matching trousers, to which he attached his phone.
Strolling along in a pair of funky loafers, the musician looked in high spirits as he made his way to the taxi.
Rod, who sported his signature spikey silver mane, took a few minutes getting adjusted in his seat before he headed home.
His sighting comes after he confessed that his wild bachelor days are behind him after finding the love of his life following years of 'boring sex' with 'models left, right and centre.'
Heading home: Cutting a dishevelled figure, the rocker wore his striped tie completely undone around his neck, while his white shirt was unbuttoned to flash his necklaces
Loose Women welcomed back Penny Lancaster on Tuesday, who had been away from the show for a few months while husband Rod Stewart was on tour. Penny had a lot to fill the panel in on, including some exciting family news. The mother-of-two revealed that she had spoken with Rod about possibly adopting a child, but that her two sons were happy with their family unit as it was. As a result, they decided to get a dog, who is due to join them later in the week. Penny said: "We even considered adopting, but after discussing it with the little ones, they said they love our little brood the way it is, and that there may be too much of an age gap. So we are getting a puppy instead."
Penny continued to say that Rod would also have been up for adopting a child. "He's got eight children altogether. We are fortunate enough to have a big house, there's a spare room. Extra love and funds that families need these days. And we thought 'why not, give another child that needs a home a home'. But it has to be a consideration of the whole family, not just Rod and I, so as I say, we have decided on getting a puppy instead and they are coming on Thursday from Battersea. It's a mix between a Labrador and a Poodle, so a Labradoodle. It's a girl, and it's blonde, so I think we will call it Blondie."
Around 50 trucks are used to carry everything needed from one tour location to another, while around 600 staff are working on site. This includes up to 50 contractors with companies including catering, electricians, riggers, security, publicity, bar staff, car parking, and paramedics. It will take around 7,500 working hours to build the site.