After seven albums and many years of solo music making, roots rocker Rich McCulley is still finding new inspiration in life. With his latest record Out Along The Edges, he writes of both love and loss, the good and not so good, and hard and better times. McCulley, whose credits have included tunes appearing in several movies, as well as television shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Cold Case,” among others, recently answered his Essential 8 and talked songwriting, the story behind the album's title, and more.
Did you have a musical mentor? If so, who was it and how did they influence you?
My friend, bandmate, and co-writer Duane Jarvis was a big mentor and influence on my approach, unfortunately he lost the battle to cancer a few years back (RIP DJ). I learned so much from him, so much about less. He always pushed to get the most out of a little, fewer chords, less noodling on guitar, leaving a lyric open, no fluff, just get to the heart of the matter of the song. A very Zen approach, I often find myself thinking what would DJ do when writing.
With your songs, is there an “a-ha” moment when you know they are completed?
When it feels done, sometimes its quick, sometimes I keep working on it for a while, but when it feels right, even if I know there are some imperfections, I’ll keep playing the song and at some point those “fixes” reveal themselves. I try not to get to hung up or force it.
What’s the story behind your album’s title?
“Out Along the Edges” is a song I wrote with Will Kimbrough about our children. The 1st first verse is basically my boy, and the 2nd verse is his oldest daughter. We both feel that our children, reeled us in and made us real. Having a kid pretty much changed everything in my world, both in perception and reality.
Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?
I write what I know. My songs are almost always about either my experiences, people I’ve known’s experiences, or just the world around me. If I can’t get something out of my head, I write a song about it.
When/where do you do your best writing?
For me there are no rules. I write all the time and in many different locations and situations, some songs are better than others. Often I don’t even know if it’s any good till later. I write a lot here in LA, I go to Nashville and write, there are songs everywhere floating in the air.
Do you write about personal experience, the experience of others, observations, made-up stories, something else or a combination?
Uh, I already kinda answered that, see above! But I’ll add this, sometimes I leave it to the listener to guess if a song is about me or an observation, it’s best not to reveal too much.
What’s the best advice you have ever gotten from another musician?
To write songs that are "Universal”. A few years back I was playing a show at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. A friend of mine (who was a great musician and in some cool bands), told me after the show that the new song I played that night was heads and shoulders above anything else in my set. He said I had some good songs but that one was great because it, was universal, EVERYONE could relate to the lyrics. He told me to write songs that were personal yet had something that everyone could get. He left me on my own to figure that one out. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he knew what he was talking about, he had written a ton of big hits in the 80's! Once I figured this out, is when I started really getting a strong reaction from people regarding my songs as well getting a lot of my songs in TV and movies!
What’s the best advice to give to a musician just starting out?
Turn down, shut up, and listen.
Watch "The Pilot" video HERE