Nellie McKay (born Nell Marie McKay on 13 April 1982) is an English-born American singer-songwriter, actress, and former stand-up comedienne, noted for her critically acclaimed debut album Get Away from Me and for her Broadway debut in The Threepenny Opera (2006), for which she won a Theatre World Award.
McKay (pronounced "McEYE") was born in London, England to a Scottish writer/director, Malcolm McKay, and an American actress, Robin Pappas. At the age of two, after her parents divorced, she moved with her mother to New York City, where they stayed until 1994. After one year in Olympia, Washington, the two returned east and lived in the Poconos, where McKay spent her high-school years. In 2000, Nellie McKay graduated from Pocono Mountain Senior High School.
In 2000, McKay started attending the Manhattan School of Music. (In fact, she wrote the first song in her debut album, "David" about David Eisenbach, one of her teachers from the school.) After about two years of attending the university, she dropped out. She started performing as a stand-up comic in Manhattan clubs, and eventually Greenwich Village's gay bars. McKay was briefly associated with New York's anti-folk scene and played alongside Jason Trachtenburg and others at the Sidewalk Cafe in 2002-2003.
In February 2003 McKay opened for the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players at Tonic, on New York's Lower East Side. Jay Ruttenberg, from Time Out New York magazine, attended the show and wrote a prominent feature on McKay. Shortly afterwards, several record labels contacted her and started a bidding war. She eventually signed with Columbia/Sony and started producing her first record in the late summer of 2003.
Her music has showcased different genres, from jazz to rap and disco to funk. Her eclectic style and sharp lyrics distinguish her as an original voice. Her songs sometimes have a political tinge; She is a vocal feminist, and wrote a satirical song relating to feminist issues called "Mother of Pearl". McKay also "is a proud member of PETA" (album notes), wrote a song ("Columbia Is Bleeding") dealing with the issue of Columbia University's cruelty to animals, and ("John John") about her feelings in favor of political candidate Ralph Nader as well as performing concerts as benefits for WBAI.
Get Away from Me
"The Dog Song" (2004)
30 second sample of Nellie McKay's song "The Dog Song" from her debut album, Get Away from Me.
Her critically acclaimed first CD, Get Away from Me, was produced by The Beatles sound engineer Geoff Emerick and released by Columbia/Sony Records in February 2004. The title is a play on Norah Jones' Come Away with Me. McKay is said to be the first woman to release a double album as her first release. Originally, her contract with Columbia called for 13 songs, but McKay aggressively lobbied her label for a double album, including bottles of wine, a PowerPoint slideshow, and a mock photo of her threatening Emerick with a gun. The studio agreed, but McKay had to underwrite production costs of the five additional tracks with $25,000 of her own money. Although all the music would fit on a single disc, McKay insisted on a double disc debut to "reclaim the feeling of flipping over a record" (Allmusic). McKay was one of the major breakout artists from the 2004 SXSW Festival and was a finalist in the 2004 Shortlist Music Prize, and Get Away from Me was on several "Best of 2004" lists. She toured amphitheaters across the northern United States in July 2004 as an opening act on the first half of the Au Naturale tour co-headlined by Alanis Morisette and Barenaked Ladies.
Pretty Little Head
"Long and Lazy River" (2006)
30 second sample of Nellie McKay's song "Long and Lazy River" from her sophomore album, Pretty Little Head.
Initial release date and delay
Pretty Little Head, which features duets with k.d. lang and McKay's co-star in 'Threepenny Opera', Cyndi Lauper, was originally slated for an 18 October 2005 release. The release date was delayed; initially, the rescheduled date was 27 December 2005; it was then subsequently announced that the release date would be 3 January 2006.
However, McKay announced on 19 December 2005, that she had left Columbia/Sony Records after a dispute over the length of the upcoming album. Just over two weeks following this announcement, a New York Times article surfaced stating McKay said she had been dropped by Columbia Records.
McKay wanted the full 65 minute, 23 track version of Pretty Little Head to be released, but Columbia was only willing to support a 16-track version that ran 48 minutes. (Columbia/Sony was so adamant about the abbreviated version that it sent copies of this version out as promotional copies to critics.) Executives at Columbia insist McKay understood the label wanted an album consisting of 15 or 16 songs. They would further claim the version that Columbia sent out was a mastered sequence that she herself submitted to the label.
McKay expressed her concern at a concert in West Hollywood, 29 November 2005, at the Troubadour, going so far as to distribute the personal e-mail address of Columbia CEO Will Botwin at the performance. As a result of this, Botwin agreed to the 23 track release but was fired by Sony. The subsequent management team dropped McKay from their artist roster. She claims it was probably 'best for everyone.'
Initial reports stated that McKay would release Pretty Little Head on the Internet sometime in January, with a conventional release as early as February; however, this did not come to pass. Her record label troubles were documented in the March 2006 issue of Wired magazine. The article also mentioned the (illegal) availability of the full-length album in MP3 format on the internet.
Similarly, the music chain HMV Canada promoted Pretty Little Head as having a Canadian issue date of 7 February 2006, but no release occurred.
Resolution and new release date
After nearly nine months of ironing out the legalities between labels, Pretty Little Head was released in the United States on 31 October 2006 on McKay's own label, Hungry Mouse, and was marketed by SpinART Records. Like its predecessor, the album was divided in two discs and included a 44-page color booklet. The album included the intended 23 tracks as originally planned. Release of the album in other countries, including Canada, was delayed until 21 November 2006.
After SpinART declared bankruptcy in 2007, Pretty Little Head was released by Sony in its original, 23-track 2-CD version, effectively bringing this album back to Columbia.
McKay's third full-length studio release debuted on 25 September 2007. With both of her previous albums lasting over 60 minutes and spanning two discs each, Obligatory Villagers, with only nine tracks (ten if purchased from iTunes), totalling just about 30 minutes was her shortest release to date. Reviews were generally positive, though some fans felt the album's new direction didn't have the same bite and wit that McKay's previous outings had provided.. The album was produced on Nellie's own label, Hungry Mouse, and released by Vanguard Records.
Normal as Blueberry Pie
On October 13, 2009, she is scheduled to release her fourth studio album, Normal As Blueberry Pie - A Tribute to Doris Day. The album will contain twelve covers of songs made famous by Day, as well as one original tune.
McKay's cover of the Beatles' "If I Needed Someone" was included on the 2005 compilation This Bird Has Flown - A 40th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles' Rubber Soul.
Before splitting with Sony, McKay wrote and recorded several songs for the motion picture Rumor Has It.... The songs were eventually released on the iTunes Store on 27 December 2005.
On 1 February 2007, McKay joined Laurie Anderson, Joan Osborne, Suzanne Vega and the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra for Four Scored, a single performance of reworked songs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
"Take Me Away" (2007)
30 second sample of Nellie McKay's Christmas song "Take Me Away".
McKay has been performing some new material at her recent concerts. One of these songs is called "The In Crowd." McKay has also written two new Christmas-themed songs, "A Christmas Dirge" and "Take Me Away," both of which are available on her web site.
Other projects McKay has been reported to be working on include a musical film now in pre-production called The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom based on a graphic novel by Katherine Arnoldi and an original musical about a tenant's organization.
In 2007, McKay also played the role of Ciara in P.S. I Love You, a film directed by Richard LaGravenese and starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler.
In 2006, McKay made her Broadway debut as Polly Peachum in the Roundabout Theatre Company's limited-run production of The Threepenny Opera, co-starring with Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper. The role earned her a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Debut Performance.
All Nellie McKay lyrics
- Baby Watch Your Back
- Change The World
- Columbia Is Bleeding
- Ding Dong
- Dog Song
- I Am Nothing
- I Wanna Get Married
- I Will Be There
- Inner Peace
- It's A Pose
- Long & Lazy River
- Mama & Me
- Manhattan Avenue
- Pink Chandelier
- Real Life
- Suitcase Song
- The Big One
- The Dog Song
- The Down Low
- There You Are In Me
- Toto Dies
- We Had It Right
- Won't U Please B Nice
- Work Song
All lyrics are property of their respective owners and are strictly for non-commercial use only.