Nate McKee, who writes and records as the Answer Page, says he went into debut album “Orca” with no expectations. That disc, released a year ago, made him something of an indie-blog darling. It was featured on Altered Zones (Pitchfork's DIY blog) and BIRP and made best-of lists at Decoder Magazine, Houston Calling (and topped my 29-95 list). Not too shabby for a completely DIY project.
“Because I’d never played shows as the Answer Page and was really new to the local and online scenes, I wasn’t expecting people to get too excited,” McKee says. “Now, I’ve got a really awesome listener base all over the world that sort of came upon it virally.”
The pressure was on, then, for follow-up “Featureless Beast,” released this week.
“I knew that following up an album that people used to form an impression of you as a musician can be really difficult,” he says. “I wanted to show that I’d grown both as a person and as a musician.”
Mission accomplished. “Featureless Beast” is a graceful, gorgeous record, boasting thoughtful songwriting and more confident vocals. McKee again handled every aspect, from songwriting to instruments to mixing and mastering in a spare bedroom. He’s also distributing it directly from home (and painstakingly crafted several handmade booklets for preorders). So much personal care translates to a rich, full-blooded listen. Every song is a joyous discovery.
“I wanted it to reflect the excitement and general happiness of being a young person entering the adult world for the first time,” he says. “I knew that there was going to be a lot more energy on it.”
“Featureless Beast” is the second part of a trilogy chronicling McKee’s life from 2001-2006. He moved from Maryville, Mo., to Lawrence, Kan., in 2003, hoping to refocus his life and energy. During that time period, McKee had his heart broken and lost his mother. (He settled in Houston in 2008 and is a learning commons manager at the University of Houston.)
The disc’s opening track, “Sunflower,” beautifully captures that sense of hope. It’s the sonic equivalent of a sunrise, the break of a new day after so much darkness. An instrumental version of the song is being used during Sporting Kansas City soccer games and in a promotional video for the soccer MLS professional team.
“The song really embodies how exciting and frantic it felt to move to a place where I knew no one and had no real plan,” McKee says. “I couldn’t wait to wake up every day and explore the new sights and sounds and meet as many people as I could. It took me out of a really dark and sad place and helped me grow into the person I am now.”
McKee has yet to tackle his final frontier, so to speak — the live show. But he’s getting there and promises to be at a venue near you. Eventually. Maybe. Probably.
“I just wanted to write albums and establish myself as the Answer Page, a songwriter and a producer. I’m not sure how a year has already passed since that all happened,” he says. “I know it’s a nontraditional route, but for me, it’s always been more challenging to write and compose material than it is to perform. I don’t want to do anything that will distract me from that energy.”