If you don’t know Edwin McCain by name, you’re sure to know him by his music. In fact, there’s a chance you got hitched to his biggest hit.
McCain stormed radio stations in 1998 with the hit single, “I’ll Be,” which Dr. Phil viewers voted the best wedding song ever written. The song found continued life on shows like “Dawson’s Creek,” “Higher Ground,” even as an a cappella gag cover on “The Office.”
McCain performs at Buckner Event Plaza on Friday evening, with local favorite Riley Green opening. McCain spoke to The Star about musical maturity, turning “Silent Spring” into a song, and building a better Slip ‘N Slide.
Q: Was there ever a moment when it clicked and you knew you were supposed to be a musician? Or did you kind of arrive before you knew it?
A: I wrote a song called “Silent Spring” that was derivative of a book written by a woman named Rachel Carson of the same name. I feel like that was maybe the first time I had tackled a larger idea and built it into a song.
The recording of it was fairly complicated, too. We took on this idea of a song with a big choir in it and big production, and I did it when I was probably 18, when I didn’t know any better. I listen back to it and I’m always kind of amazed that, at 18, we managed to pull that off.
If I had to put a signpost on it, that’d be one of the moments where I realized, “We might be able to do something with this.”
Q: Aren’t most 18-year-olds still writing about breakups and personal problems, not approaching novels and saying, “I want to take this and redevelop it and tell a story”?
A: I look at the songwriting I did in those days; I had those lofty, “change the world” kind of ideals that only people in their 20s can have … I look back on those ideals and it’s kind of quaint to me now. I was like, in a way, just a child standing out there singing in the rain.
Now, I try to find the poetry in moments that happen all the time, all around, and I think it’s a function of realizing how extremely lucky I am every day to feel poetic about the little things, not having to go out there and push a giant boulder up the hill.
I think you have to dream big when you’re that age — that’s the privilege of youth — but the reward is finding that what you’ve been out there looking around for has been with you all along.
Q: To have that kind of attitude, it would seem like you’d have to be a pretty positive person. Do you consider yourself to be an optimist?
A: I don’t know, not necessarily. I think I’ve experienced a lot. I’d kind of ridden the whole ride, and had great moments, and some regrettably horrible moments of anguish. I wouldn’t change it — it’s the experience, that’s the point. Driving from one extreme to the other isn’t really the issue anymore. It’s having that drive to just be a part of the ride is what I’ve come away with after 44 years.
Q: That sounds dangerously close to maturity.
A: Hey, I feel like I have the perspective and I understand it, but I’m still building the giant Slip ’N Slide in the backyard, because the Slip ’N Slides they make today suck. I’m an excellent father for 8-year-olds because I’m still a kid.
I have a sense of when there’s some trouble; I don’t do what I formerly would have done, which is get angry, say “I’ll fix this.” It’s a function of making so many mistakes that being still is the only answer (laughs).
The one truth that holds is that the hardest thing in the world to do is nothing. When something happens and every impulse and every fiber of your being says, “Do something,” I just force myself to be still. And it’s amazing how things work out all by themselves without me. I’ve learned that the universe doesn’t really need me at all (laughs).
Q: So you’ve got this big catalog of music — how do you decide what to pull from 10 albums, plus a lot of odds and ends?
A: I have a quarter of the songs be what I believe people want to hear, the ones that over the years people seem to want to hear a bit. I’ve thrown in tour songs that haven’t been on the setlist in a while, and we’ve changed it up to be something different to keep that excitement.
And a lot has to do with, “What can I remember?” I’ll curse myself for the second verse being different than the first verse. I thought I was being clever at the time, and there’s some chord change I forgot.
Q: The wrath of original songwriting comes back every time.
A: Some of the lyrics that I wrote in some songs, like “Jesters” … it was absolutely 100 percent authentic for me to be singing those words as a 20-year-old in a frat house. And now it’s hard not to sing ‘em with a smirk on my face.
Benjamin Nunnally is a freelance writer in Jacksonville. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.