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Danny McGaw, former Kansas Citian, travels down new musical roads

Danny McGaw moved to California two years ago, after living in Kansas City for six years.
Danny McGaw moved to California two years ago, after living in Kansas City for six years.

The year 2016 has been busy and fruitful for Danny McGaw. The singer/songwriter from Manchester, England, spent many days in Northern Lad Recording, his home studio in Ojai, Calif., where McGaw and his family moved two years ago after six years in Kansas City.

Besides making two of his own records, including the just-released “Mystery Parade,” McGaw spent a lot of time recording other songwriters and creating music for placement in TV and films.

McGaw is in Kansas City for the holidays and has booked two shows during his stay: Dec. 22 at O’Dowd’s Little Dublin, which will include a reunion show by his Kansas City band Wells the Traveler, and Dec. 30 at Mike Kelly’s Westsider.

On Monday, McGaw talked to The Star about his year in music, which included recording a TV star and a response to the presidential election.

Q: You did a lot of studio time in 2016. Talk about some of your projects.

A: At the beginning of the year, I made a record for my friend TD Lind, who has toured with Wilco and Sting and has generally been well-represented. The single from that record is called “Bow Down” and has been played on Radio 2 and heavily featured in online publications all over America and England.

I made a single for a friend who’s an actor in the new “Twin Peaks,” James Morrison. He’s coming into the studio next year to make a full EP. He was also the main bad guy (Bill Buchanan) on the show “24” for the last three seasons. He’s a real good guy.

Q: You have entered the world of “targeted content.” What does that entail?

A: It started as trailers, which is where the biggest money is. But it has evolved into shorts, like lead tracks for television. Television is usually looking for only about three different topics of songs, so it’s a matter of hitting those topics. Sometimes they ask for specific sounds or styles, like Johnny Cash.

The project has become a partnership between me and (Lind). We use his voice, and I do all the production and play all the instruments.

I got commissioned to create a series of songs from the perspective of a bad man, like a classic nothing-to-lose desperado. Now you could write a thousand songs from a bad man’s perspective, and if you have the publishers, which I do, the targeted content can be really valuable.

Everything I create goes to people like Shapiro Bernstein, my New York publisher, and they are an absolute behemoth for TV licensing and film placement. And my U.K. publisher, Arlon Songs Limited, are the same in Europe. And they’re really egging me on to create my own sound library, basically.

Like they’ll say, “If you give us 50 pieces, we can really work for you,” and they’re really excited about it. The first thing I’m going to do in January is spend the month focusing on getting about 20 pieces to them. Then I’ll focus on making records again.

Q: How has all the studio work benefited you?

A: It has forced me to pinpoint my process so I can create something specific. And, as always, in everything I do, every recording I make makes me a better engineer.

Every time I play the bass guitar, it makes me a better guitar player. Every time I record a singer, it makes me a better singer. There’s this wonderful collective energy whether I’m working for other people or on the targeted content or making records for myself. And because of all these wonderful angles and me making all these recordings, everything is getting better. It’s a lovely moment.

Q: How has living in Southern California helped your music career?

A: The quality of opportunity from people who have been coming my way out there is mind-boggling. “Mystery Parade” has Jesse Siebenberg of Supertramp on drums. And the guitar player for most of the record used to play guitar for Engelbert Humperdinck.

People are coming to me and asking, “Let me work with you. Let me write with you. Let me play for free on your record.” We all play together every Sunday at this bar, a place in Ojai called the Vine, and the bar is full and the crowd is singing my songs back at me. It’s an incredible time.

Q: You just finished another album of your own songs. What’s that record about?

A: In the last three weeks, I made what right now I think is the best record I’ve ever made, but I say that a lot after I’ve just finished one. Eight of the nine songs were written since Trump won the election. They’re not overtly political but it’s a very specific record energetically.

There are no real stompers or any effort to move from the malaise caused by that moment. I mastered it three days ago. It took three weeks, the quickest I’ve ever done the complete process ever. It’s going to be called “Woodshed.” I’ll release it in February, I think.

Q: You have two shows scheduled in Kansas City. What are your plans for those?

A: O’Dowd’s will be the Kansas City release show for “Mystery Train.” It will also be a Wells the Traveler reunion show. I love playing there. Those guys are so good to me. I played there every Tuesday for five years. They basically paid my rent. Every time I come back it’s like, yeah, I’ll play there. I love them for what they did for me when I was in Kansas City trying to hustle.

The show at Mike Kelly’s Westsider will be an acoustic set with Chad Brothers plus a set by Super Massive Black Holes. For the final set of the night, I’ll sit in with Super Massive Black Holes and they’ll put their trippy, psychedelic sounds over my folk songs.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

If you go

Danny McGaw will play two shows while he’s in town.

▪ Thursday, Dec. 22, O’Dowd’s Little Dublin, 4742 Pennsylvania Ave. It will include a reunion show by his Kansas City band Wells the Traveler.

▪ Friday, Dec. 30, at Mike Kelly’s Westsider, 1515 Westport Road. He’ll play with Super Massive Black Holes.