One of Music Connection’s Top 100 National Live Acts, Mark Mackay has been captivating audiences with his blend of country and rock and roll for the past few years. On May 1st, the singer-songwriter-guitarist, who has opened for artists such as the Marshall Tucker Band and Richie Sambora, released his latest album, Trials & Tribulations, an eight-track collection that showcases the artist’s dynamic sound. In advance of a busy summer, Mackay took some time to speak about his roots, the album, and more.
Originally, you are trained as a classical pianist. How did you segway from piano to guitar and country music?
Well, my parents forced piano lessons on me when I was a little kid (laughing), threatening to take away baseball if I didn’t play, so I kept playing and after I got the hang of piano, they got me a guitar around nine years old and I just took to that, even making a cassette tape that said 'featuring 9-year-old guitarist Mark Mackay (laughing). I started trying to write songs when I was a teen, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. Then, right around college, I started writing more and it blossomed into something I did all the time.
Was country the music you were always interested in?
I grew up with my folks playing a lot of Rock and Roll in the house, but they had a country cassette tape in the car that I really gravitated to - and the rest is history.
Currently, you’re based outside of LA, will you continue to live there or make a move to Nashville?
I’ve been trying to move to Nashville for the past four years now, but we keep getting busier and busier on the West Coast. It’s one of those things like every time I expect to be in Nashville, calls come in for gigs here. I love L.A, but Nashville is my favorite city in world, so for now, my time will be split between the two.
On May 1st, your latest project, Trials and Tribulations, was released?. What’s the significance of the album’s title?
I started cutting songs and designing the album over a year and a half ago with someone who was my sounding board, but eventually, I didn’t think the album was me. So, I scraped the whole thing, stayed on the road, and wrote more songs...and lost touch with my friend. It was a long emotional period to get to yesterday and when speaking with my now-producer I told him all that happened and suggested that I should call the EP Trials and Tribulations - and he agreed that should definitely be the title. It was a long road, but I can honestly say I love everything about this album, which is something I would have never been able to say about the last one.
The album is a mix of songs you wrote as well as songs by others like, like Jeffrey Steele’s “I Can’t Stop You.” What drew you to record those songs?
There are certain songs that I have probably listened to once a day for ten years and that’s one of them. For the EP, I picked songs written by others that resembled songs I would write and had a message - and I think there’s a message with “I Can’t Stop You.” We changed the feel of the song a bit, but also stayed true to it; and I think that’s the same with “I’ve Already Won” which was a song shopped to another artist, but when the writer [Debra Gussin] saw me play, she thought the song would fit my style, so recording it was a no-brainer.
I really like the message of “I’ve Already Won.” Is there any particular reason you placed it as the lead track?
I play these songs live so much and a lot of times when I open for someone, I have 30 minutes to get my point across and I think “I’ve Already Won” instantly resonates with everyone – it has a familiar chorus, good groove, and obviously a good message, so I like to lead the discussion with that one.
Another one of my favorite tracks is “Better In Love” Is there a story behind that song?
That’s one of my favorite songs I have ever written. I escape to the beach, one spot in Malibu in particular, and one night it got to be 1am and I couldn’t come up with anything so I closed the notebook and decided to go for a walk on the beach. As I was walking, I saw this couple who were holding hands and looked like the happiest people in the universe, which was the exact opposite of me at the time – and I said to myself ‘Man, it’s better to be walking on the beach in love than to be single’ and right then I knew that was a song and I literally ran back from the beach and wrote the thing in thirty seconds.
I have heard many artists say that the best songs were written the quickest.
You have supported so many varied artists on tour from 38 Special and Eli Young Band to Tracy Lawrence, and Cole Swindell. It speaks to how versatile your music is.
I appreciate that and I think that’s right. A year and a half ago I opened for Frankie Ballard whom I love and I ended up writing a set list on the fly. It was a different crowd than I expected and I thought maybe I geared the set list towards a too mature sound for younger country girls, but I was wrong about that – they really enjoyed it. We’ve played with so many varied artists from Old Dominion to Marshall Tucker and the songs definitely have that crossover appeal where we can make different fans happy. I love hearing from fans who say that we remind them of Marshall Tucker and when fans want to come up for photos – it’s nice to speak both languages.
Ending on a lighter note, do you have a current guilty pleasure song?
Jackie Lee’s “Getting Over You.” I just came off the Joe Nichols tour with him and I didn’t know his material that well when we began, but that song has a hook you can groove to! I have it on in the car and people are like, ‘I cannot believe you listen to this!”
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Purchase Trials and Tribulations HERE