Brandon’s Luke McMaster knew at a very young age that he was going to make music his life.
Just having a short conversation with him about his favourite subject, one gets the impression that he truly is in it for the long haul. When it comes to the term artist, he’s the real deal.
His resume includes plenty of experience with so many of the key parts that make up any musical artist’s career. From singing to song writing, producing and performing, McMaster has built up a solid back catalogue of tunes.
Since his period with the gold-selling Canadian duo of McMaster & James or his more recent success with songsmith extraordinaire Jim Brickman, Luke has continued to grow as an artist.
Since his childhood days he can recall getting lost in thought while dreaming of one day becoming a recording artist, most times while listening to records from his favourite artists like Al Green, James Brown or Hall & Oates.
To this day, he still feels the effect of his dream state except now it’s when he gets immersed in writing mode for his own songs.
From those boyhood days to present day, you could say McMaster is living his dreams.
Check the track record:
• He’s formerly one half of the acclaimed McMaster & James
• He cut his teeth with some of the biggest acts of the day, from Chantelle Kreviazuk to Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera.
• He’s also collaborated with some of the hottest stars of today including working with global superstar Rihanna.
• Most recently, his collaboration with Brickman resulted in his smash Adult Contemporary hit "Good Morning Beautiful" charting No. 3 on BillBoard throughout the U.S. for three weeks while remaining top 20 for 15 weeks.
Yet through it all, he remains that humble Brandon boy who is still very much in touch with his roots when he sums up his career to date.
"As a songwriter and as a singer, I’m constantly growing," he said. "And that experience has continued to drive new opportunities and to work with many talented musicians — it’s a beautiful thing."
His upcoming All Roads tour will be his first major headlining tour. It starts next week in Dryden, Ont., and will take him through much of the Prairies. It will truly be a whirlwind tour — 15 shows in just under three weeks!
The Brandon concert is set for the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. (All tickets are $32. Prices include taxes and service charge. Book by calling the WMCA box office at 728-9510 or you can order tickets and choose your seat via the website at www.wmca.ca)
Happenings on the Scene caught up with Luke last week as he was putting the finishing touches on his tour preparations. The following is our exclusive Q & A session…
Frank: I see you’ve been keeping yourself busy — the All Roads tour looks like a biggie! What are your thoughts on returning home for a show at the WMCA?
Luke: It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid and saw the Crash Test Dummies there. Writing my first song in Brandon, buying my first guitar at Ted Good Music, so many of my friends and family were my first believers, my dad still lives there ... it’s what I dreamt of, to someday play at the WMCA for a hometown crowd.
You’ve created quite the musical catalogue over the years through McMaster and James and as a solo artist, not to mention the many artists you’ve written for. You have many wells in which to draw from to make up a set list. What can your hometown fans expect when they come to your show?
Well, Adult Contemporary radio has been incredibly supportive of my career. They’ve been playing McMaster & James songs like "Thank You" and "Love Wins Every Time," and my newer stuff like "Good Morning Beautiful", "All Roads", and my brand new one "NYC". My good friend Jim Brickman says if you’re lucky enough to have hits, you should play them! I totally agree so I’ll be doing all of my radio hits, but lots of new stuff as well — some classic cover songs from my All Roads album like "You Make My Dreams" by Hall & Oates, as well as some of my newer electronic infused tunes like "NYC". It’s the first time I’m headlining a tour so I’m like a kid in a candy store — I can play as long as I want!
Congrats on "Good Morning Beautiful" achieving top 3 chart status at Hot AC radio. Tell us about that song. When did you start the writing process with Jim Brickman and when did you realize it was not only going to work but become successful?
Thank you so much! That song was such a blessing in my life. It really validated to me, that I was on the right track by embarking on a solo career, which can be a scary thing when you’re used to being in a band or group — kind of like falling backwards with your eyes closed. Jim asked me to come to Erie, Pennsylvania nearly two years ago. I’ll never forget it because I hadn’t put winter tires on my car — you’d think being from the Prairies I’d know better! I barely made it there alive. It was full blown winter, with black ice and incredibly treacherous. I did make it, though, and it was the first time I’d ever met Jim. He’s a real character and like me, absolutely loves the process of writing a song. We basically spent five minutes getting to know each other before he said: "OK, I’ve got this idea for a song." That was it — we finished it in about two hours. To answer your question, I realized it was not only going to work but become successful on the car ride back to Toronto. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I called Jim and said, "I think we’re onto something" and he instantly fired back, " I’m so excited — it’s a hit!" Jim has had more radio play on Adult Contemporary radio than anyone ... ever. Including Elvis Presley. When he said that, I nearly ran the car off the road!
Speaking of "Good Morning Beautiful," it was the success of that song that helped you attain Bell Media’s Emerging Artist award last fall. Congrats on that. That must be one of the most amazing feelings as an artist — one moment you’re writing a song and the next thing you know, it rockets up the charts and you’re given major accolades and recognition for your efforts. What’s your take on that process?
To tell you the truth, all of my songs are my babies — but all of my babies aren’t necessarily "shining stars." I write a ton of songs that never see the light of day, and as an artist in any medium, it can be incredibly disappointing and frustrating when your art isn’t validated. I have a new song I’ll be playing at the show called "In & Out" and it’s about that very thing. There is a line in the song, "This life feels like a never ending roller coaster" and I feel that so deeply. You just never know, so when you finally have that one song out of 100 that you poured your heart into, that finally sees the light of day, it feels amazing. I’m really lucky though because I have REALLY supportive people in my life. I’m also really connected to my fans on social media, and am so moved when they tell me stories about how my songs move them. That is really food for the soul. A song doesn’t have to be a " hit " for me to consider it a success. If it moves just one person, helps someone get through something, or just put’s a smile on someone’s face, that’s a success to me.
Did the songs on the All Roads album come quickly or had you been working on them prior to the sessions with Brickman?
One of my favourites on the album is the title track "All Roads" which I had written early that year on a vacation in St. Maarten. I have absolutely no natural sense of direction, and so am reluctant to wander in foreign countries without a compass or GPS. But because I was on a small island, my brother said to me, "Luke, even YOU can’t get lost here — it’s an island, dude! All roads lead back to here." I laughed, but also fell in love with that line, and wrote the chorus to "All Roads" during my stroll around the island. Before the vacation was over, it was pretty much finished. I wish it were always that easy.
How did you become involved with Jim?
We have a mutual friend, an amazing songwriter named Marc Jordan (he wrote "Rhythm of My Heart" for Rod Stewart). Marc has been like a mentor to me, and one day we were having a coffee and Marc said, "Luke, you gotta meet Jim Brickman." Marc knew that Jim is always on the look out for singers to work with, and so he introduced us and we really connected. What’s really crazy is that when I was a kid in Brandon, I had a dream about a guy, playing a song on a piano in the back of a pickup truck. No joke. Watch the video for "Good Morning Beautiful" — and I had nothing to do with the video concept! — Jim playing a piano in the back of an old blue Mercury pickup. You can’t make this stuff up.
I wanted to applaud you on the Luke’s Rant section on your website. Thanks for having the courage to speak out on various things. What usually sets you off these days?
People that text instead of talking. Don’t get me wrong — I text, too. But I feel like the world is losing that personal connection. I love technology and it allows me to interact with my fans in an incredible way — but I still love playing live. I could just release songs to radio or YouTube and iTunes, but I love to see my audience, to have a conversation with them. I also love making people laugh and joking around. There are only so many times I can write LOL before I feel like a fake — I mean, are you really always laughing out loud? I think that people need that human contact, whether you just say "hello" to someone on the street, or hear the warmth in a friend’s voice who is happy to see you. I actually wrote a song about it called "Say Hello" that I’ll be doing at my show on Oct. 5. It’about getting back to the old-fashioned notion of saying hello to a beautiful stranger instead of having my face buried in my iPhone.
The music world is such a multi-faceted beast of a business. Over the years you’ve been fortunate enough to get involved in several key parts of the music industry, including the main ones: singing, songwriting, recording and performing live in concert. Other than the actual performing aspect of your career, what is your favourite part of the music biz?
My favourite part would be songwriting. My nickname when I was a kid was "man from Mars," coined by my parents. I used to stare out the window or off into space, all the time in a constant state of daydreaming. Writing songs was a way to find an actual productive use for my annoying ADD! I can literally sit in a room for six hours with a guitar and a pad of paper and feel like it’s been 15 minutes.
It’s safe to say many people don’t consider songwriting to be a proper job. So let’s set the record straight right now. Describe the songwriting process as a regular occupation.
Well, I still have to convince myself that I have a real job. People like me who love what they do are incredibly lucky. I take it very seriously though, and have really studied the craft, and am constantly challenging myself and working hard to collaborate with great writers. I’m constantly taking notes during my travels, writing down experiences, listening to people’s stories. I think songwriters are students of life, and that’s one of the challenges, too — it’s very difficult to turn it off. It’s why I have a lot of trouble falling asleep at night.
How did you break it to your folks when you approached them with the news of wanting to become a full-time artist?
The first thing they asked me to do was play one of these "songs"! They had absolutely no idea I was that serious about it. I showed them a couple of things I was working on and they felt like there was something there. They knew me well enough to know that once I made my mind up, there was no changing it — so here we are!
You’ve been writing for many years and through those years you’ve had the privilege of writing with some high profile artists, including Brickman, Randy Bachman and Christopher Ward. What’s the most important aspect of collaborating with another songwriter?
Being open-minded, and also being confident ... which takes time. It’s easy when you write with Randy Bachman to just go with every one of his ideas — I mean the guy wrote "These Eyes" and "American Woman"! But even Randy wants what is best for the song, and was so cool when I made some suggestions, and even challenged one of his ideas (which was really nerve-racking!) I’ve had some fantastic writing experiences with young writers like Jesse Labelle. I co-wrote his hit song "Heartbreak Cover up" and even though he’s less experienced than me, he had fantastic ideas for the song. If I wasn’t open-minded, I might not have listened to his great ideas, and the song might not have been as big of a hit as it was.
There are so many behind-the-scenes jobs that need to be handled in order to make any artist’s career. Everything from production to marketing, there are just so many integral parts. You say you have a lifelong commitment to music. What can you see yourself doing in the music business 25 years from now if you’re not still performing?
Well, definitely writing and producing albums for other people — but I still plan on performing 25 years from now as well! I would also love to score movies. I’m amazed at what music does to film — a great score can make or break a movie. If you’ve ever seen video of a movie or TV show before it’s had the music added, it can actually be unwatchable. I love that collaborative process between movie writers and directors and the music composers.
Frank McGwire is a radio personality and booster of the music scene in Brandon and Westman.