Mike McKay and bandmates perform 'I Can Set You Free'

The Baldwinsville-based band prepares to release its debut album, Fortress, on Feb. 21.

Shortly before performing his song "I Can Set You Free" for a NewsHouse camera crew, Mike McKay asked if he could take off his shoes.

“I never play with shoes on,” he said. “My fans would know something is weird if I did.”

Barefoot and smiling, McKay and bandmates Dan Deming and Justin Costello launched into song.

McKay and his band, The Mike McKay Band, are preparing for the release of their debut album, Fortress, on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The EP features five songs written by McKay and produced by local sound engineer, Mike Roberts. On Saturday, Feb. 18, the band will host a release party at the Red House Arts Center, offering listeners a sneak peek at the new material. 

McKay’s prior studio efforts have been primarily solo endeavors. It wasn’t until last summer that he officially teamed up with Brad Moehringer (percussion), Dam Deming (guitar), Brandon Morse (drums), Justin Costello (guitar, piano) and Brian Cooney (bass) to form The Mike McKay Band.

McKay got his start about four years ago, playing guitar in coffee shops and open mikes in and around his hometown, Baldwinsville, N.Y. He recently gave up a two-year career as a competitive fisherman on the Bass Pro Tour and was looking for a new outlet. “I’ve always wanted my work to be something I love doing,” he said.

McKay’s music hasn’t allowed him to quit his day job at a moving company he owns yet, but like many musicians, he has high hopes. “Our shows draw bigger and bigger audiences every month,” he said, referring to the band’s monthly gig at Sharkey’s Eclectic Sports Lounge in Liverpool, N.Y. “Last month, you couldn’t even walk through the place,” McKay said. 

Prior to the band’s formation, McKay toured the East Coast as a solo act. While living in his Jeep (or on strangers' sofas), McKay wrote a few of the songs featured in the new album. “I wrote ‘Imaginary Stop Signs’ in Nashville while sleeping in my Jeep,” he said. It wasn’t the first time a song spontaneously sprang into McKay’s mind.

He wrote "I Can Set You Free" while sitting in a back room at Lock 24 Restaurant in Baldwinsville, N.Y. “It just came to me,” he said. “So I started scribbling the words frantically on the back of a place mat.” That place mat, he said, now rests in a safety deposit box belonging to his mother. She has no plans of giving it back.

The majority of McKay’s songs are inspired by love. Or, more accurately, a lack thereof. He channels young love and heartache into the new album, often fusing references to his own experiences or historical events. In the single “A Million Things,” released last November, he cites the Civil War, the moon landing, the Titanic, and Pearl Harbor.

The singer/songwriter hopes the new EP will introduce his band to a much wider audience. After all, he said, every songwriter just wants his music to be heard.

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