Singer-Songwriter Nellie McKay Dishes on Writing, Touring and Performing

The artist is playing Arden Gild Hall this Friday, April 20. Her seventh studio album, ‘Sister Orchid,’ drops next month.


She’s performed on Broadway, NPR’s “Tiny Desk” concert series and the big screen. (You might recognize her from the 2007 romantic drama “P.S. I Love You.”) She’s drawn acclaim for her musical performance in a revival of “The Threepenny Opera,” as well as in the off-Broadway hit “Old Hats.” McKay’s seventh studio album, “Sister Orchid,” will be released May 18. See her perform before that at Arden Gild Hall on Friday, April 20 (tickets available here).


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How would you describe the music on your upcoming release, “Sister Orchid?”

Music to be played at the bar at the end of the world.


How does writing for a musical differ from writing an album?

An album is more immediate and it’s more personal. It’s better.


How long does it take to write an album compared to a musical?

The same time, only when you’ve written a play or musical, you’ve only begun. Then the decades pass, trying to see it to fruition. Once you’ve finished the argument with yourself, the argument with other people has only just begun.

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What happens in a typical day on tour?

Driving. Sound check. Show. Crappy TV. Driving. Sound Check. Show.


How are you traveling for this tour? A bus?

This is a solo tour, so it’s probably a car and a dog.


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What do you like to do to pass time while you’re on tour?

There’s never an excess of time. It’s lovely to have a day off.


Have you been to Delaware before?

I have been to Delaware. Love Delaware—so pastoral. A cousin in the family was a cook for the du Ponts in Wilmington.


Where are your favorite places to play?

My favorite cities would be Minneapolis at the Dakota, Feinstein’s in San Francisco and anywhere in Rio de Janeiro.


You have described yourself as an “annoyingly vocal advocate.” Have you always been this way?

Always. Music is not that important, really. If you want a better world for the most harmed and exploited among us—which are the animals and the people who live in misery around the world—you need a different system where people can live with dignity. We can have universal basic income, single-parent healthcare, universal childcare, a living wage […T]hese things would go so far to creating a more equal society.


Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Potato chips!

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