By Helena Hunt, Staff Writer
When Bryan senior Landon McGee plays the guitar, he closes his eyes. It’s not because he has the stage fright of a first grader playing a cow in his first school play. He closes his eyes because his music, even when it’s shared with an audience, is his own private world.
McGee’s music reflects that sense of privacy. It is hushed and intimate, even when he is expressing grand feelings of love, bitterness and regret. His latest (and first) EP, “Kite,” meditates on personal pain as well as imagined trips to Mexico in a ’69 Camaro. Each song is named for a bird, a conceit which McGee chose to represent the changefulness of the human soul.
McGee recorded “Kite” alone in his dorm room and his parents’ house after a time of personal defeat. His acoustic guitar and raw but melodic voice express the difficulties he used music to process. He’s seen music foremost as a means of personal expression ever since his lessons with Bryan rocker, Skot, at Lippman’s Music Co.
“Hair down to his butt, he’s wearing military fatigues and army boots, with a chain coming out of his pocket. And he’s just beaming. I walk up and he says, ‘Are you Landon?’” McGee said. “He taught me all about music being something you feel. I never had the classical training on the front end. To start out, it was all, ‘play what you feel, express yourself.’”
But now McGee has had the chance to take his self-expression out of dorm rooms and guitar shops to larger venues and audiences bigger than himself. This summer, McGee worked at the Grand Stafford Theater in Bryan as musician-in-residence. Here, McGee was able to open for headlining performers at the theater, record his own live performances and receive marketing materials for his act.
“It’s an idea to give musicians personal and professional development as musicians,” said Hannah Childs, the Grand Stafford Theater’s music producer. “Most of what we focused on was giving him promotional materials. We provided him with pictures, live recordings and we’re finishing a documentary from this summer.”
McGee also competed in the Texas Music Pickers Top Pick Contest at the end of September. The contest brought sixteen singers and songwriters to the Grand Stafford Theater to compete for $500, the opportunity to record a single and songwriting sessions with singers Tony Ramey and Drew Womack. McGee, a college student playing alone on an acoustic guitar, won the contest.
“That’s been a big breakthrough for me. Part of the prize is getting to work with some songwriters from around [Texas]. I’m excited to work with some guys who’ve worked with Willie [Nelson] and George Strait and some of those guys that are big,” McGee said. “I hope it’ll be less of a formal thing and more just building relationships with people who have good insight and advice for me to try to figure out how to move forward.”
McGee hopes to continue writing and recording music, although he doesn’t know what that may look like in the future. Although he came to Baylor with plans to pursue a degree in philosophy and eventually become a university professor, he has now decided that music, for him, is a more direct and meaningful way to comment on human life.
“I want there to be this other side of philosophy that’s digging into what it means to be a person and how we deal with the reality that we’re handed as people. Most of the time when I see a really good example of that, it’s done in fiction, or songwriting or whatever the case may be,” McGee said. “The more I’ve developed as I’ve been going through college, it’s occurred to me that that’s a place where I can make a really good contribution, more so than in an academic setting. I don’t get to make all the calls about how my life turns out, but I do get to dream a little bit.”
McGee’s album “Kite” is available for download on Bandcamp. He can occasionally be seen performing at open mic nights around Waco and Bryan.