I recently got to sit down with Heath McNease (and by sit down, of course, I mean e-mailed) and talk to him about the life and times of a man who never sleeps. With more albums out in the last year than many artists have in their entire careers, I wanted to find out just what makes the man tick, what inspired an entire 8-bit Nintendo themed album, and why it’s hard for indie artists trying to make a buck in today’s world.
So first off, I’ve gotta ask… with 3-4 albums out in the last year alone, do you ever sleep?
One of the songs on the album (“Mmmm… donuts!”) takes on the theme of judgmental Christians, talk about what brought that about:
I just think there’s a weird dynamic in some facets of the culture. I acknowledge that while some people may not be doing things the way i’d do them…if there is fruit from that…i should be happy for them, and acknowledge their actions as fruitful. A lot of christians don’t judge people by the fruit they help tend. They judge strictly on what they see or hear. I was trying to draw the parallels to make the point. I’ve never smoked or had a drink in my life, and that’s a standard that tons of christians hold people to, but I don’t do those things for health reasons. not moral ones. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still a flawed person. And it doesn’t mean that because you don’t struggle with one thing that you’re exempt from struggling altogether. Some parts of Christian culture just really enjoy casting stones with NO idea as to what is truly going on in the hearts of people. It’s hurtful and divisive. So i used The Simpson’s as my way of talking about it. haha.
Word is that you’re working with For Beats Sake on further installments of “Nintendo Thumb.” Any plans to make something happen with this in the near future?
We’ve definitely talked about doing another one. I can’t say it’ll happen in the near future. It takes him a lot of time to make that happen, and honestly…I think the mixtape has benefited me far more than him, because he can’t tour and promote the product. so…I think we’d like to do another one, and i think we will, but i’d like to find avenues to make it more beneficial because people get stuff for free, and that’s great, but it takes hundreds and hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to make these projects a reality, so it’s important to not just do it for the sake of doing it.
What was it like making the awesomely 80’s music video for “Kaint moov nuthin?”
Haha. I honestly had nothing to do with it at all. Me, playdough, and RedCloud were doing a “whose rhyme is it anyway” show in chicago when my man Danny Hidalgo hit me up. He said he wanted to make a video to that song and wanted to know if he could record me rapping with the guys for it. So that’s really the only involvement i had. He came to the show, recorded us…and that was it. He did the rest on his own. He’s an incredibly talented dude.
Did RedCloud resent having to be toad?
Was he toad? haha. I honestly never even paid attention to that part. I was to busy looking at how long and homeless my hair was. Serves him right if he was Toad.
After “Nintendo Thumb” you teamed up with Playdough for “Wed, White, and Wu.” What made you two decide to get together and sample over some Wu-Tang Clan tracks?
Well…indie culture kinda dictates your actions. It’s hard to go 18 months without putting things out. So i like to stay active. Playdough and I were both in between projects, so i thought doing the Wu Tang thing would be fun, because we could have a blast with it without having to produce and make beats. The songs wrote themselves pretty quickly because it was all just a bunch of nonsense. People have really enjoyed all of the mixtapes me and Playdough have put out, so it was a great move. Wu Tang is just such a pivotal group in hip hop history, and i was a little too young to be aware of what they were doing at the time, but i’ve become a historian and sorta caught up on what i missed. And they really resonated with me.
Your most recent album “Thrift Store Jesus,” covers a lot of ground. What made you decide to record so closely on top of the other albums?
Just to keep things moving. As I said, I don’t really have the luxury of resting on my laurels. I have to keep putting music out, and there were a lot of serious things on my mind that essentially wrote themselves. Questions, doubts, stories, observations…the album is truly an extended look at how the mind processes every facet of life. Life, death, morality, money, spirituality, justice, sex, fear, etc. It covers my own thoughts and reservations as well as the sentiments of other people told through first person songs.
In the title track of that album you say, “I’m praying to a thrift store Jesus, He looks a little like me.” Do you feel this better represents yourself at some point in life, or where many Christians find themselves?
“He looks a little like me” is basically just a line saying that Jesus just looked like a normal guy, and he would’ve been lost in a crowd in today’s world. Isaiah talks about how “when we see Him there is nothing we should desire of Him.” he wasn’t a super model. He wasn’t a celebrity. He was just a carpenter. His holiness transcends those things. But as a person on the outside…He just looks a little like us.
What was your favorite song to record on the new album, and why?
Haha. I don’t think I had a favorite on this album, because 1) the mood was more serious and tense and 2) there was very little time to think about having fun. I’d say “under her pillow’ was one of my favs because I got to use a fun distortion amp. Same with “a lesson before dying.” I used a tiny commando mic and ran it through one of Jeff Tweedy from Wilco’s old amps. Those vintage song effects are hard to create.
It seems like your albums always feature a “who’s who” of underground hip-hop. Out of all the artists you work with, who’s most likely to keep coming back on future albums?
Well…my albums never really feature many people. The mixtapes usually feature a lot of people. For the albums I always keep it very limited. There were only two songs with collabs on the new album. I don’t like to include a lot of other people’s lyrics on my albums, because I feel I already have a great idea of what I want to do with it. But for mixtapes…it’s a free for all. I just love rap. I love mixtapes. And I love emcees coming together, but my albums are always pretty personal. So Playdough, RedCloud, and Pigeon John are the ones that i really keep in mind.
Let’s talk a little bit about the music industry. Your last couple of albums have either released for free or through the “pay what you want” model. Why do you think so many artists like yourself are going this route, or the kickstarter route?
Haha. They’re doing it out of necessity. Nobody pays for anything anymore, dude. Seriously. Nothing. In fact…an indie artist charging for an album almost seems like an insult to a lot of listeners now. So artists are just learning how to adapt and keep moving forward. It just means your live show will become your bread and butter, and your new music will be the thing that keep your live show fresh. NOBODY wants to give stuff away for free, but figuring out ways to do it while still moving forward is a mandate at this point.
Now, you’re also a worship pastor. Have you ever thought about sitting down and doing something of a hip-hop worship album like the “Sinner’s Prayer” album from the 90’s?
Haha. I’m a touring worship leader, not a worship pastor. haha. Don’t ever call me a pastor! haha. Too much pressure. I’ve never considered doing anything like that. I think mg! captured the essence of that kind of album, and it had some songs on it that weren’t so great. I don’t know if it’s a medium that can be sustained by my artistic tendencies for a whole album without having elements of cheesiness attached to it, or it might become so serious that it collapses under the weight of itself. I think the songs that really worked on “sinner’s prayer” were beautiful, and I still listen to them, but i don’t know if it would work for me. A song or two here and there that have that vibe is more than enough for me. Maybe i’ll change my mind one day…but i don’t see it happening. I don’t feel called to it.
Ok, let’s get silly for a moment. If you were interviewing you, what would be the one question you’d be dying to ask… you?
Boxers or briefs.
Oh, and what’s the answer to that question?
Ok, last question. Who’s better Superman or Batman?
Bruce Wayne is better than both of them. Handsome, rich, intelligent, sociopathic. What a combo! Superman is just too powerful. His universe leaves no room for me to feel pity for him. Batman is a character with pathos. A character with flaws and limitations, but a character with a fat bank account. I like that. Gimme the bat belt. Ladies love the debit card in the bat belt.