From snowman to burning boy
Joe McKee. Picture: Supplied.

Once upon a time, a Perth band called Snowman were one of Western Australia's great hopes on the world stage. They released three outstanding albums, moved overseas, and got some terribly credible recognition from a website called Pitchfork.

But unfortunately, fame and fortune were not to be, and Snowman broke up. While the bass player and the drummer made babies, the band's driving force, Joe McKee, returned to Perth, to where it all began, and set about creating his own happy ending.

Then, in no time, he was back with a debut solo studio album called Burning Boy. And what a pleasant surprise it was. Taking a logical step forward from Snowman's last album Absence, it maintained that record's atmospheric edge, while trading percussion for strings, and otherworldly for ghostly. McKee, now based temporarily in Melbourne ahead of another shot at the world stage, agrees.

"I do, yeah," he says. "For me it feels really natural, I suppose because I wrote all that Snowman stuff, it just feels like this was what would happen next.

"I suppose you form certain habits. (Snowman) were always fond of breaking our habits, that was our kind of modus operandi, we tried to reinvent the way we did things with every record. I think we achieved that. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and just explore the freedom I had because, you know, it's a beautiful thing having a band but you are locked into a certain kind of – four people and what they are capable of – when you're writing for those people.

"So I suppose it's having the freedom to go well, I don't care how I'm going to interpret this live, I'll work that out at a later date, lets just make a record and explore whatever avenue I so desire. These songs are all very cathartic and escapist songs for me because at the time when Snowman was ending and I was in love so it was quite a big, intense period of my life."

Lyrically the album tackles everything from the politics of mining in WA to more personal matters, although it's often hard to understand everything McKee's singing thanks to the haunting vocal effects.

"I always hide behind things," McKee admits. "I'm reluctant to bare my soul, because I don't think it's really an attractive thing to see anybody's soul. I'm more attracted to a person, sexually speaking, when they are fully clothed and wearing something beautiful, not when they're gallivanting around with nothing on. So that's kind of what I'm saying; I'm always going to hide behind my bed of reverb."

Despite having lost the momentum Snowman had built over years of hard work, and the acclaimed live show that went with it, McKee appears very comfortable with letting the past go and getting on with the future. He's also embracing the control that being a solo artist allows.

"It instantly felt very natural to do it myself. At the time I was in Snowman, each record that went by I was more of a control freak, so this was just teaching me to just be in total control.

"But then live, I actually had to learn how to make this an engaging experience for people. Snowman were a completely magical thing in my opinion and I certainly don't harbour resentment or regret or anything like that, it was a big wonderful thing between four people and we created some magical moments on stage. It's a different energy live now, like I'm drawing people in with silence a lot more than with noise. Everything is very intimate.

"From the very beginning, I’m not going to beat around the bush, I think a lot of people were confused about whose involvement (in Snowman) was more significant, that kind of thing. But I was completely happy to be the driving force because of that control freak kind of nature, it runs in my family."

Burning Boy is out now. Joe McKee plays the Rosemount Hotel on Friday August 24.

The West Australian

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