Growing up, Charleston-based singer/songwriter Matt MacKelcan considered particular albums as defining periods of his life. “Neil Young’s Live Rust, Dave Matthews Band’s first album, Pearl Jam’s Ten — I look back on those albums and remember how I was feeling at those times,” he says. “My own new album is about how I’m feeling right now.”
MacKelcan’s previous album No Turning Back picked up steam last year with heavy radio play and several high-profile tours. He will release a new six-song EP titled Slow Down this weekend at a CD release party at the Windjammer. Produced by Aaron Tap, best known as pop-rock songwriter Matt Nathanson’s guitarist, it’s a fine effort.
“We did a thorough job with this,” says MacKelcan. “I’m proud of it, and I’m really excited to hand it to people. When you tour as much as we do, with only one album, people kept asking us for more. It was time to do it, and we did it right. These songs are a step up. I challenged myself lyrically and melodically with this record.”
After playing the L.A. Film Festival and South by Southwest last year, MacKelcan assembled guitarist Daniel Crawford, drummer Brent Caldwell, and bassist Konrad Gorski and toured with country-rock star Corey Smith (including a sold-out Music Farm show in September) and Nathanson.
“I met Aaron when we opened for Matt,” says MacKelcan. “I gave him my CD, and we kept in touch. Aaron produces a lot of stuff and approached me about doing something. It was cool that he wanted to do it because he liked me. It was an organic process. It wasn’t like some producer thinking he could make a buck. It was natural.”
The album is somewhat of a time capsule of MacKelcan’s current life as an emerging songwriter and performer. “It’s definitely an album of someone trying to figure it out,” he says. “Just look at the song titles: ‘So Far,’ ‘Chances Are,’ ‘What Happens Next?’ They all have that circle-of-life stuff. So they kind of go together. They work.”
Over a period of months, Tap and MacKelcan collaborated on songs and ideas from opposite coasts and gradually recorded the album at Awendaw Green and Rollercoaster Recording in L.A.
“The joke was that we got more done in three days together than in six months talking on the internet,” chuckles MacKelcan.
On the title track, MacKelcan sings sophisticated pop tunes and his catchy voice brings to mind Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind — one of the many bands in different styles he’s opened for.
“We’ve been lucky to be able to straddle genres a little bit,” he says. “We’ve done some gigs with country and Americana acts like Corey Smith, and we’ve done straight pop, some jammy stuff, sort of all over. And that exposure to different fanbases is great for us. And even in those different crowds, no one has yelled, ‘You fucking suck’ or ‘Get off the stage.’ So I think of that as success.”
While the past couple of years have been full of new experiences for MacKelcan, one recent night stands out.
“I got the first Blues Traveler album when I was in the fourth grade,” recalls MacKelcan. “And here we were opening for them in Jacksonville. I look out at the audience as we were opening, and John Popper’s standing there watching. And then I’m behind the merchandise desk as they play, thinking, ‘I’m opening for this? Wow.’ Afterwards, Popper asked me for a CD. As we’re leaving, he whispered in my girlfriend’s ear, ‘You should be proud of him.’ I heard him say it and just got chills on my back. That was so cool.”