Cutting his songwriting chops for years writing for musical heavyweights such as Celine Dion, Michael Bolton, and Joe Cocker, singer Steven McMorran now has the chance to make a name for himself with his own music.
The band, made up of McMorran, guitarist’s Josh Dunahoo and Mitch Allan, and bassist Erik Kertes, recently signed with Descendant Records/Sony Music and will be releasing their debut full-length album, Calling Birds, on March 5. The album is the follow-up and continuation of the band’s 2010 EP, Ring the Bells.
I had the opportunity to talk with McMorran and Dunahoo before their show at The Living Room on January 15 to discuss the band’s musical influences, Calling Birds, single “Say the Words,” writing songs for well-known musicians, and finding their own voice.
When did you guys decide that you wanted to get into music?
Steven: I graduated college to be a doctor and then by the time it was time to go to med school I decided I didn’t want to do it. [I] took a year off; wound up in a band in LA, that band fell apart… I had nothing to do with writing by then, but I started writing songs, and eventually turned it into this, now that we have Satellite. That’s a very short version of a long story.
Josh: I wanted to play music when I realized I’d never be an NFL football player and there was no money in playing video games. I was very young, like…14. This is Erik…
(Bassist Erik walks up…)
Josh: Tell her when you wanted to play music…
Erik: My dad is a bass player, so I’m a bass player. …And his father was a musician and his father before that was a musician.
Josh: All the way back to Abraham…
Erik: Yes, exactly. It’s true. All the way back to the Old Testament.
Who or what inspired you to write music?
Steven: I think…ugh… I started playing cello when I was in fourth grade…
Josh: Nerd Alert!
Steven: …And I stuck with it all the way into college and… I was never great at it, but I always felt connected to the simpler songs that I was able to play with, and…
Josh: …Like “Hot Crossed Buns” (::laughs::) …
Steven: …But I did connect with that, and… Finding that in myself started to really influence me and do that.
The bottom line is I realized really early that I connected something important in me through music, so I had to refine it.
Could you tell me a little about your debut full length album that’s coming out in March?
Josh: We took a long time to write and record this because we wanted it to be perfect. So, when we were not happy with something, we’d scratch it and start all over. So, I feel like this is the best effort in the culmination of all of our musical efforts and, like, journey of where we’re at right now, and I think we’re very proud of everything that we’ve put out.
Steven: And specifically, we put out half the record in an EP called Ring the Bells. And then this is the rest of the record total, and it’s called Calling Birds. So we feel like we’ve got at least some presence out in the world of music, and now this is the rest of us… is what we would say.
The first single, “Say the Words”… could you tell me a little about the song or the video?
Steven: The video for “Say the Words” is like a rabbit hole. I had just moved to Nashville and I was kind of the new kid in town. I felt a little strange and… the task at hand was to show people… What was being said was “show people who you are Steve.” And so, I made something that looked kind of like a collage of home videos and I didn’t like that. I didn’t want to exploit the home videos, right. But, it is what I was thinking about when I was singing the song, so that’s important. Started building in this idea of being something more than the sum of your parts, being able to do more than you think you could, like the floating kind of thing. It’s supposed to hint at maybe just admitting the truth, whatever that is, leads to something even better than you imagined. That’s kind of what the whole theme is. So the video is some sort of homemade effort in doing that, and demonstrating that idea.
You’ve actually written songs for major artists. Could you tell me a little about that?
Steven: I wrote a song for Celine Dion, which led to a publisher and some more songs written with rock ‘n’ roll artists like Michael Bolton and… I just got one with Joe Cocker I’m pretty proud of. But the point is that… I think I started writing so many songs for that publisher that I wanted to define what kind of songs I would sing if I were writing for myself. And then Satellite came out of that. And that’s a really good feeling. It helped me decide what kind of songs I really want to write.
What’s the difference between writing for others and writing for you?
Steven: It used to be something that it isn’t now. It used to be I would go into a songwriting session and kind of impersonate other writers that I respected. And then writing a Satellite song, I wasn’t impersonating anybody. I felt like I was being myself. And now that I’m coming back around it, like, really trying to write for… I mean, still writing songs and some of ‘em just are going to be for other artists, I would hope, but I’m still just trying to be myself in that process and that’s sort of new for me. But that’s part of the journey I guess…