Another Side of Edwin McCain
Singer-Songwriter-Storyteller Learns by Doing

By Lee Valentine Smith

In the late '90s, the voice of Edwin McCain was so prevalent on commercial alternative radio that his hit "I'll Be" became an inescapable staple of the format. Today the legacy of the song lives on with covers on The Voice and assorted talent competitions. But McCain has moved on - he's now an indie artist and plays much smaller, intimate shows than during his heyday of the big festival stages of Music Midtown.

Currently touring the country after the release of his latest EP, "O Edwin, Where Art Thou?," the affable artist still calls South Carolina home and stays true to his southern roots. INsite caught up with him early one weekday morning before he plowed into a forestry mulching project near his home-base in Charleston.

It's a bit of a surprise to see that you're the new spokesman for the FAE, USA corporation. How'd that come about?

I own a forestry mulching business and the president of FAE reached out to me about doing some music for a commercial. I said I'd be glad to, but I'd rather be a spokesman. He said, 'What do you know about forestry mulching?' I sent him a picture of my machine and he just started laughing.

This is an interesting new side of Edwin McCain.

Well I've been doing some real estate development for a while. Then I got stuck with some raw land and it was overgrown. So I rented a machine and about halfway through the first day of running it, I was like, 'Oh I've gotta have one of these. I don't know why I need it, but I've gotta have one.' Then it branched out into doing some land management for people on the side with some other guys that are experts in developing land for wildlife. I think it's good because my kids can see a work ethic; it's not like I'm just sitting around waiting to play gigs on the weekends.

It's great to hear that your work week is so diverse.

Oh yeah, I'm always doing all kinds of stuff. I've got a piece of a medical waste business and just all kinds of stuff going on - including a boat restoration business. I'll do just about anything because for me it's about learning something. I enjoy the process of learning something I knew nothing about to begin with.

The boat restoration project even turned into a TV show [Flipping Ships on the Animal Planet network].

Yeah but for me it's all storytelling. Television was interesting to me because you have a lot longer than three and a half minutes to tell a story. I'd never done television and I was curious about what it looked like from the inside.

How'd you like it?

Well I loved the people I worked with, but my takeaway from it is that I really don't want to do television. Even in the non-scripted realm, it's hardly spontaneous. What I really like about playing live shows and being in front of audiences is it always has the potential to be very spontaneous. You never know what's going to happen. Television is anything but that. The repetitive nature of it is the rub, I think. Then we added the pressure of making it 15 days from when we found the boat until we had it finished and even without a crew filming you, that would be an ambitious timetable. When you have a crew who wants to shoot it over and over again, it makes it extremely difficult. So we were staying up till 5 o'clock in the morning sometimes. The last five days of every shoot turned into a grueling marathon. It was a challenge for me and there were days it got really frustrating. But every time that'd happen, I'd gently remind myself, 'Hey you asked for this, you jackass. This is your idea!' But the lesson was good. I forced myself to sort of occupy a mental space that I don't typically possess. I have a bit of a target-lock issue - once I decide to do it, I can't come off it unless it's done.

In your own 20s in the '90s, you arrived on the scene at a really good time for music and the industry in general.

Oh at the zenith of the record industry, absolutely. I got to be in on the tail end of the old-school music business. I got to record on two-inch tape and play gigs with B.B. King and Ray Charles and ride the wave of the big business at its absolute height and then basically check out of it. It would be unbelievably arrogant of me to think anything but it was when we were and not what we were. It was the time that provided everything. Now I'll admit that "I'll Be" is a good song; that's been proven by the legacy of it. However, without the available capital that Atlantic Records had at the time - and a bunch of shuckin' and jivin' on our part - to get it on the radio and spinning it in the right direction, it would have never happened.

Now that you've been an indie artist for a decade, what are the biggest changes you've seen?

Every nine years or so, the music industry goes through these huge technological changes and honestly I'm just as fascinated by it all as anybody. The entire industry has flipped. It used to be we'd go on tour to support a CD, now we put out a CD in support of a tour.

You have the freedom now to do any type of gigs you want.

Yeah, it's never bothered me to go back to playing the smaller places I play now. I was never a gig snob. There are a lot of people that are like, 'Well we can't go back and play that place.' Well why not?

Edwin McCain will play at the City Winery on Saturday, November 25. For more information, please visit citywinery.com/atlanta

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