Name: Steven Dayvid McKellar
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Nationality: South African
Recent release: Steven Dayvid McKellar's Nama is out now.
If you enjoyed this interview with Steven Dayvid McKellar and would like to find out more about his music, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud. He also has an official website.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I guess it comes from simply being alive. Nature itself and everything around us is in a constant state of creation and movement toward life. I thought it used to come from a desire to be seen or appreciated, but I now believe it’s way more than that.
Dreams, personal relationships etc, play the role of teachers and guides and mirrors, for me. If I spend time observing their intricacy, I can broaden my view of the world.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I usually have a pretty clear idea of what I want before I get started, but that gets challenged, and morphs as I go along, and that’s really fun, to see how it creates itself. It’s a wonderful process, and can be a great testament to the power and precision of the intuition, the gut, the vibration, the thing which is in collaboration with external powers.
It’s taken me years to only begin to learn how to dance and play in the middle of all that, and not get in the way.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I find travel to be extremely stimulating and usually stirs something in me, some idea. And that’s usually paired with new observations, what I see in the world and therefore what I see in myself.
And I’m all about ‘early versions’. That, to me, is the meat. I am still learning this. That the conception of something is where the fire is at. Something can only be born once.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Nowadays I create with more flow and joy when I am relaxed and at peace. I meditate and journal daily, and that really helps me.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I usually have a vague idea I want to chase down. I chew on it for a few days or hours, and then I just dive in.
I’ve learned to love that first step, and not be afraid of it.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
They usually enter at the same time the music is being explored. The music brings images and stories to mind and I build on that.
And then I’ll walk away from all the instruments and focus on what I’m actually saying, see if I can make sense out of the ramble.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I think personal vulnerability and personal exploration make the best lyrics. Cold, hard honesty with oneself. It’s a mysterious magic that only the person writing can fully experience, that gut feeling or ringing of connection and truth. That’s what I’m looking for anyway.
And we can be so easily misguided from that by rhyme and reason and our desperation to be understood, accepted, loved.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Though curiosity. Just to see what happens. And a love for it. A deep love. But knowing when to stop and let something be, that’s hard sometimes.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I think that knowing what the core of something is, a song or a painting or culinary dish or whatever, is the key. To know what the soul of something is, the key ingredient. Cause if you know that and have that as your compass, then you can’t really go wrong. That soul will tell you what it needs to bring it to full life.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Oh yeah it’s for sure spiritual for me. It’s connection with the vibration of nature, the vibration of oneself. It’s impossible to fully understand or explain, and that’s partly it’s magic.
I think it’s every day life. We all do it. We are all creating constantly, every second. We’re creating our outlooks of life, the image of ourselves, the next scenario, our memories, the next cup of coffee, the next conversation, and so on. And we decide how that creation is gonna look and feel.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I come from the old school, recording studios, where you had to book a time and a place. And I think that’s been helpful in this day and age.
I’ll work on something within a vague time frame and when it’s not fun any more and I don’t feel it, I’ll stop.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
Again, I think knowing what the soul of it is, is key here. I tend to know right away whether I like something or not. But I have to be truly and brutally honest with myself and not overthink or second guess that ‘first kiss’, shall we say. That way I don’t have to review what I’ve done. I can just trust that intuition.
This is something I’ve learned through many, many years of trial and error. That I’m still learning. What we create is just … stuff at the end of the day. Tons of it is released in all forms every second of every day. It comes and goes and you just move on.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I’m not very techy, and don’t take pleasure in shuffling pixels on a laptop screen for hours on end. So I tend to work very quickly and very roughly, not thinking too hard about mic positions and effects and so on.
My set up is super basic. I use a SM58 or my iPhone for everything I record acoustically. And I take great pleasure in sending what I have to a talented mixer and seeing what comes of it. That’s always fun.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I don’t relate to that at all. Usually, by the time a record comes out or a piece of art is framed, I’m into the next thing already.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Well, I think I rambled on about this topic in a previous answer. :)
I think each form of expression holds its own adventures and lessons to be learned, about ourselves and life itself.