But after moving to Brooklyn last year, the solo folk and rock artist formed a band and is now ready to perform in a new city to a new audience.
With a number of recordings from back home, and several new songs made since he moved to New York City, McFadden put together the new project Animal Years with bassist Anthony Saladino, keyboardist Kevin Johnson, guitarist Matt Indellicati and Anthony Spinatto on drums.
With a new album scheduled to hit shelves on September 17, McFadden and Animal Years are ready to hit the road.
I sat down with McFadden last week at Au Gourmet Café at 126 Nassau Ave. in Greenpoint to discuss his past and just what brought him to Brooklyn.
How did your music change after starting Animal Years?
I started out playing acoustic guitar, so it was more singer songwriter-esque. I kind of decided to represent ourselves as a band. We are a band, but I’m the songwriter and I play pretty much all of the instruments on the album. Nobody has any creative input, and the last album I recorded on my own.
How did you first get into playing music?
Well, I had always been a singer, ever since I could remember. It was the one natural talent that I had.
When did that first begin?
I guess back when I was in church choir a long time ago, but I didn’t enjoy it. That was when I was like 10 or 11. I didn’t really enjoy music until I actually got into listening to music.
When was that?
Probably when I was like 14 or 15, I started to really enjoy music and research it.
What was the band that first got you?
Actually, it was probably rap music, like Outkast. That’s when I first started. I started to explore rap, and I did that for about a year and then my parents turned me on to John Prine, Bob Dylan, John Hyatt and The Band.
Do you think you’re parents were worried you got into rap music and that’s when they started getting you into their music?
No, actually I remember when we were driving to school, my dad worked for Baltimore city schools, he would have an Outkast tape that he would play. So my dad was always super open minded. I started listening to them, and when I started getting into playing the music, I just picked up a guitar when I was 15 or 16 and I just sort of taught myself.
Do you remember why you decided to get into that?
Some of my friends had bands in high school and I just really wanted to learn an instrument so that could be a possibility later, so when the opportunity came at any point I could just join a band.
Who was your biggest influence?
Singer-songwriters are what really inspire me. Ray LaMontagne is one of my biggest, Martin Sexton, Tallest Man on Earth and Jackie Greene. All those guys. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Ray LaMontagne before?
Yeah, didn’t he have a song on that commercial a few years ago?
Yeah, he had that dog food commercial. I couldn’t believe that because I had been listening to him for a while because Trouble was like my favorite album. It’s what really got me into songwriting. I really wanted to know the chords he was playing, how he wrote it, how he was singing, what the lyrics were about; that was really when I started to dissect music.
Did you always know you would end up being a musician?
When I started applying to colleges in my junior year of high school, I was already learning how to play guitar and writing songs. Looking back on it, I wasn’t really that good, but I always knew that I was a hard worker. I started my own landscaping business and I did really well with that, but I always just knew that college did not appeal to me and I never wanted any of the jobs that they were talking about applying for.
I wasn’t necessarily at all confident that I would be a musician, but I knew that could just make a much better living and be a lot happier right after high school if I did something else.
So you knew school wasn’t for you?
I was just never book smart. I didn’t care to retain information that I didn’t think was important, so anything I wasn’t interested in I would just zone out and do my own thing because it wasn’t important to me. All that stuff was just getting force fed in high school and I just hated it. People can be smart in different ways and there’s only one way to be smart in high school or school in general.
Did you play shows when you were in high school?
Yeah, I played a band show as Mike McFadden around coffee houses, the talent show. That was it, and then after school was when I started getting really serious about it.
So this is the first time you are playing as a band, and not under the solo name?
Yeah, but when I came here I had already recorded the album. I had a great band when I was leaving; I put out an album in Baltimore and put out a song that was on the radio down there called “Heart on Heart,” so when I moved here I knew a couple guys. My bass player Anthony, who was also doing some management for me, helped put together a backing band.
What made you come to New York?
Well I was working in Baltimore as a parking lot attendant. I became the manager of the department for two years. I could have lived comfortably the rest of my life. I could have retired when I was like 50 years old or something.
So you had this life set, what made you decide to come to New York and throwing all that away?
I can’t imagine waking up at 50 years old and realizing, “Wow, I didn’t do anything, I just never stepped out of my comfort zone.” I just was a parking attendant and I could have been making $100,000 an year and married with kids, but I never went after what I really wanted. That’s the most terrifying thing in the world, because you can’t get that back. You can only do it and go after whatever you want later.
Was it difficult to rebuild your band when you moved up here?
I had two guys, a drummer and a guitarist before I came up here, but the band came together really quickly. It’s been eight months basically and we’re starting to get things together right now.
When is the new album coming out?
It’s coming out on September 17. It’s called Sun Will Rise.
Where did you record?
I recorded three-quarters of it in Baltimore. Most of it I recorded with a drummer (Paul Rabut), but none of the guys in the band are on the album. I use a drummer who can’t play in my band because he lives in Miami, but he’s an amazing percussionist and I always get him to record.
This last album I actually flew him out, and all the guitars and everything and drums were recorded down there. I did whatever else I needed to do to finish it up here in my apartment. You’ll see on the album it’s recorded in Baltimore, and then I just listed a fake name for the studio because it’s just my apartment.
Look for the Animal Years debut album Sun Will Rise this September 17 at the band’s album release party at Rockwood Music Hall, 196 Allen St. in Manhattan.