Chris McKay

Musician Chris McKay poses for a portrait. (Courtesy/Chris McKay)

“Well, if you don't wear a mask, you're showing what an ass you are,” sings Chris McKay & The Masketeers in their new song of the same name.

The song, which released on Aug. 3, is a public service announcement turned anthem promoting mask-wearing to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Red & Black spoke with the song’s writer, Chris McKay, to discuss the song’s creation and message.

Red & Black: What inspired you to write the new song?

Chris McKay: Basically, because of some health issues that I have, I’ve been immunosuppressed, and that was frustrating enough. My wife had been allowed to work from home as an illustrator and had been doing well but the Georgia state government, not being as proactive as they need to be, decided that everybody needed to go back in [to work]. This wouldn’t have been so bad had there been a mask mandate at the time, and there was not. It was just, “maybe you should, but if you don’t wanna, who cares, right?” My wife came in from work that day and said, “well, everybody was good except this one person in the office who outrightly refused [to wear a mask], he will not wear a mask under any circumstance.” And of course, he's one of the people that I kind of address in the song if you listen to it. This person is a Christian and allegedly this person is pro-life, and yet is going out and in my opinion endangering pretty much everybody for no good reason whatsoever, other than ego. And she walked in and told me and I don't know how it happened but I had my guitar in my lap at the time and I said “well how about this,” and I literally played the song from start to finish.

R&B: Would you say the style of the song is similar to your other work? What influenced the musical production of the song?

CM: It's similar enough, I mean I've done my own solo stuff for a while and it's power-pop or, for lack of a better term, kind of classic rock. I was a member of Abbey Road LIVE! for many years so I did a lot of The Beatles stuff. The difference between this one and my other songs, to me, is the energy from the other players because I tend to just record everything myself because I can. I wanted this one to have a bit of a different feel.

R&B: You worked with several other musicians on the song. What was it like working with so many people?

CM: I reached out to some friends, Bryan [J. Howard], the bass player for Cracker, jumped right in and was like “I'm glad to do a bass track for it.” My friend Jason NeSmith from Pylon Reenactment Society and a bunch of other great bands said he'll put on some piano and mix it for me. John Neff used to be in the Drive-By Truckers has been playing with Mike Mills and he put on the pedal steel. Adam Poulin put on fiddle. My drummer, Andrew Hanmer, played with me in a band called The Everywhen and he was also in Abbey Road LIVE! and he jumped in too, so that's why I'm saying it was so easy. The thing that was weird is that the bass player, the pedal steel player and the piano player hadn’t heard what the others were going to do. That could’ve been a complete train wreck. I wanted to have a little bit of sloppiness to have that kind of old rock feel, but that could have been a complete disaster. But, fortunately, they’re far more confident musicians than I am.

R&B: What were some of your hopes for the song? What has the response been like?

CM: I put out music all the time, through social media, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I have my little fan base of people and I do my music for me and for them. So [I’ll get] a few hundred views maybe, if I'm lucky. This one just exploded like within the first few hours and it was like “huh, looks like one thousand people that have seen this already kind of weird.” It's not being promoted, it's not on iTunes, it's on nothing. I just posted it. I did eventually put it on YouTube, but I didn't even have it on there at first. It's nothing like a big name thing, but I think it's at seven or eight thousand views right now. People are sharing it for something that’s lo-fi just recorded in our bedrooms and houses and not released anywhere which is pretty impressive. It’s a PSA. Anytime it can be mentioned– wear the damn mask! Don’t be an idiot.

R&B: There’s a pretty clear message in the song– wear a mask. Is there anything else you’d like to say to members of the Athens of UGA community?

CM: As someone not a part of that community at this point in time, but I spent plenty of time there during my days in the college scene, I got to admit, it's been very disappointing to see that so many college students right now don't seem to be taking it seriously. And I don't understand it. I haven't been able to make it work in my mind but I've seen it. I've seen photos and videos taken downtown, where people are just out in the open with no masks acting like it's exactly the same as it always was and it's not. My hope is they're okay, but I hope they don't make someone else sick. It's simple. It's irritating to wear a mask, I hate it. But it's necessary right now and if we could just do it for a little while so we don’t drag this thing on.

Q&A has been edited for length and clarity

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