The album is a great showcase of McKee’s alt-country acoustic guitar work, as well as her impassioned vocals. “My guitar playing is pretty raw and untrained, but I think it works well with my voice, which can often sound slick and almost operatic,” she says. “I’ve never pursued technical proficiency on the guitar, because I think part of my style is this erratic, almost accidental sound. I really like it when somebody sounds like they don’t know what they’re doing, but there’s a lot of feeling and soul in their playing. In that sense, Neil Young is a huge influence on me.”
The acoustic timbres for Peddlin’ Dreams were tracked by McKee’s husband and producer, Jim Akin. Akin used a Studio Projects C1 mic and a Studio Projects T3 tube condenser to document McKee’s guitar parts. The duo has a studio at home, so McKee could record whenever the mood struck her, and document her feelings—and subsequent approach to her songs—throughout the day or throughout the week.
McKee was exposed to an immense variety of music growing up in Los Angeles, thanks in part to her father. “He knew I wanted to sing and not go to the university,” she recalls. “So he would take me to the record store every weekend and buy me stacks of records. I guess he figured it was cheaper than a college education.”
Along the way, a teenage McKee found herself digging into punk rock—an experience that changed and expanded her overall outlook on music. “I got to know people in that scene,” she says, “and everybody was an archivist. It was like a badge of honor if you had a great vocabulary of early music. So I got turned on to the history of rock and roll, and I learned a lot from that.”
And despite this near-endless supply of influences from which to draw inspiration, it was McKee’s brother, Bryan MacLean, who had the greatest impact on her songwriting—right down to the Gibson Hummingbird she plays.
“I fell in love with the birds on the guitar,” she says. “I thought that guitar was so magical. It’s also kind of my lucky guitar, as well
as being really nostalgic, because my older brother always played it when I was a kid. He was in Love, one of the big cult bands in Los Angeles in the ’60s. They did a psychedelic-folk thing, and they were really ahead of their time. My parents would take me to see them play at the Whiskey on the Sunset Strip when I was three or four. I saw them play with the Doors a lot, and I also saw shows by Frank Zappa. When you have those types of experiences to draw from, I think songwriting comes more naturally, because you have this huge lexicon you can access anytime.”