Marty McKay is a talented multi-instrumentalist from Switzerland. Although he made his original steps in the hip-hop scene, he’s since expanded his grasp to melodic rock. New York City Dreams is his new album; a solid, passionate concept piece, as much a rock opera and love story about a woman as it is an impassioned ode to its namesake city. Marty was gracious enough to get at us with some responses to questions we had about his work.
Hello! How are you today?
Great. I’m a bit short of sleep, but that is usual these days. And I can’t wait till winter is over, it’s too damn cold outside, and the sun is barely out. But enough complaining.
How did you first get into making music?
I started buying vinyl records and DJ-ing when I was 15 or 16 years old. I remember working my ass off during my free time so I could afford Technics turntables and a mixer. I wanted to be a hip-hop club DJ but realised pretty quickly that mainstream rap was changing in a way I didn’t like. And you can’t go to a party and only play underground stuff, so that plan got cancelled.
One day I found out about a contest where you had to send in a rap song, and the winner could perform in front of 15,000 people. So I switched one of my records to the B-side and started practising—and won. I was 18 years old and suddenly in front of so many people. A few years later I switched back to turntablism, battle DJ-ing, and rapping. Then, after listening to heavy rock music, I started singing.
If you had to describe your music in a few words to someone who had never heard your work before, what might you say?
Energetic, melodic, alternative.
Your new album, New York City Dreams, is an ambitious piece of conceptual rock, all tied together by a love for its namesake city. First off, what inspired you to base this album on NYC?
A woman. I happened to be in NYC to promote my debut record Sin’s Disciple and first book Dante’s Disciple. On the first night I went for a nightcap with a friend of mine, and there was this cute waitress. We started to chitchat, and she kept coming back to our table. At some point, her boss even gave her a dirty look. She was really curious, in a good way, and we connected pretty quickly. This doesn’t happen a lot me. It felt like I had known her for a long time, which sounds a bit cliché, of course. At the end of the night we exchanged numbers, and that’s how it all started. A story about NYC wasn’t planned or intentional even though it’s my favorite city. New York City lives and breathes as if it had its own consciousness.
Is there anything you can say about the album’s concept? As far as I can tell, it’s a bittersweet love story, with all the emotional extremes a failed romance would entail.
That sums it up pretty well. The musical concept was to have a mix of alternative rock with a slight ‘90s touch, enriched with film music elements to emphasize the story aspect. New York City Dreams centers on the city, the girl, and the dream of making it big. The love element is more about the fear of losing someone, being spiteful, and regretting it later on. I had a similar concept on my debut record. A green small creature once said “fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering” and that’s also part of the album’s concept.
Now that the album’s done, what are your thoughts on it?
I’ve been living with those songs for over a year now, and I still love and enjoy them very much. I’m proud that my team and I achieved that, because that’s not easy to do. The experience also inspired me to explore more aspects of rock music in upcoming projects.
What’s the songwriting process for Marty McKay?
I usually start with the big picture and then focus. For example, I have a theme in mind for an album and then brainstorm lyrical ideas for that particular theme. That means just a simple piece of paper, a pen, and lots of contemplation. Once a song idea begins to form in my mind, I start looking for reference songs, collect samples, and make rough sketches. I write the outline for the song and define how it should progress. It’s all a big puzzle that wants to be put together. From that point, I work with my team to bring in more creative ideas, and we go back and forth to improve a song until it stops at an interesting place.
How did you go about writing the lyrics for New York City Dreams?
Some things on the album were tough to write about, because it was almost a year ago when it all happened. So you then need to put yourself in that position again; you need to see it and remember exactly how it felt at that time. What did the room look like? How did it smell? What was the weather? And so on.
Were there any collaborative efforts with other talents on this album?
Oh yeah for sure. Alberto Pistolera is the man I wrote all the songs with. He’s from Hollywood and one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. Michele Chiavarini added film music and orchestral elements to the album; he’s a genius as well. Daniel Brecher mixed my record, and he went all in, too. We worked hours and hours on it until we were all happy. Creating an album is always team effort, and if the chemistry is right, you can achieve great things.
Do you have any favourite songs on this album? If so, why?
I love all the songs; otherwise they wouldn’t be on the album. I’m most proud of the fact that this album has no fillers. Each song is great, and I really mean that. My favorite changes and depends on my mood. That said, “Another Life” is probably the one I’m most proud of. It shows so many different sides of me: soft vulnerable singing, heavy growling, a bit of rap, and lots of emotion.
Although the new album is strictly alt rock, you used to be in the hip-hop scene, including opening for Vanilla Ice at a point. What was your experience as a rapper?
Rap is more ego driven and therefore much more competitive. But my past experiences have been great because I got to work with a lot of incredibly great artists, who, many times, also happened to be great spirits. It’s a blessing to be around such personalities and work with them. So I’ll definitely continue and make more rap records because I love it.
What inspired your transition from hip-hop to rock in the first place?
The theme of New York City Dreams just didn’t call for rap. It would’ve felt wrong to rap about the stuff I’m talking about on that record.
Do you think that, irrespective of genre, your music draws from the same types of feelings always?
Yes. But this time the music is much more accessible and easier to swallow. The first record was pretty dark and heavy in many different ways. The new one also has those touches, but there’s definitely more light.
What have you been listening to lately? Anything you might recommend?
The main inspiration for my sound was a band called Black Lab. You definitely have to check them out; their music is beautiful.
What’s in the future for your music?
I’m working on album number three with one of the greatest hip-hop lyricists of all time, Canibus. Besides that, I will probably start to work on another rock album pretty soon, but it’s going to be heavier, with more screaming.
Any last words?
Check out New York City Dreams. You’re going to love it.