Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting the 27-year-old singer/songwriter can attest that Nellie McKay may be from a different decade. Since the time-travel theory is out of the question, fans will simply have to welcome this old soul as a breathe of fresh, optimistic air, stumbling over innocent sentences punctuated with just the right amount of self-deprecation to keep her honest and human. Hidden between every “Oh, gee” and “just lovely” is an extremely talented young woman, dedicated to not only her art, but to a crucial cause—animal rights. An animal activist since the age of seven, McKay weaves her vegan ethics into her work, putting more soul behind her genre-busting brand of music than the majority of today’s acts. Her latest album, Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day, pays homage to her longtime musical and personal idol. This 13-track masterpiece is bursting with Day’s timeless tunes and infused with McKay’s contagious spirit. VN recently sat down with the New York-based artist, currently touring the US, for a sneak peek behind the scenes.
VegNews: You’re a long-time fan of Doris Day. When and how did you decide you were going to record this album?
Nellie McKay: It was suggested to me by my A&R [Ed. note: A&R scouts new talent and develops current artists]. It isn’t something I would’ve had the chutzpah to do myself, but it’s just been such a delight—so much more fun than recording my own songs. I would think that this is an album that grandmothers could enjoy.
VN: What do you hope your fans and listeners take away from the album?
NM: You want it to make people interested in the canon of Doris Day. I would like it to lead people to discovering her music. Otherwise, music is so personal. People can take it in the car with them, or listen to it as they’re going to sleep, so maybe to help someone personally.
VN: What about Doris Day’s music do you think is so beneficial for people to rediscover?
NM: It’s reassuring. In addition to being such a retro figure, she was involved with a cause [animal rights] that is still so far ahead of its time. She works for people moving forward, and for looking backwards. I think she helps put a little pep in your step.
VN: How does veganism impact your music?
NM: It is nice to be able to make music that reflects what you care about. Like “If I Ever Had a Dream,” on the album—that’s about the animals. We’re hoping to make a video that incorporates Doris Day’s activism, me at home with my doggies, shots of animals in exploited circumstances, and animals being treated well, and juxtapose them and come up with a video that reflects that it’s a dream of a world without all this human-imposed suffering. People can call it sentimental, but it’s just that basic thing—it’s not nice to see some body or being that is in pain, and people have that gut reaction. They want to ignore it because they like the taste of their burger, or their chicken, but most people do have empathy. I think that’s what scares them so much.
VN: When did you start performing, and when did you know you wanted to be a singer and songwriter?
NM: When my grades got so bad, everything was pretty much ruled out! I don’t know, I was just reading all of those biographies, alienated from my peers, and I always loved a pretty picture. When you’re in showbiz, it’s kind of like eternal childhood. The play never stops, and who wouldn’t want to be in show biz?
VN: if you had to sum up your life philosophy in a sentence, what would it be?
NM: Just try to be more like a dog.
VN: Anything else?
NM: If people can keep on going vegan, and we can get health care, I’m going to be set for the next 10 years.