Ever have an experience at a live music show where you felt like the performers were singing about something that you feel you have experienced with them? Like you could share common memories with someone you’ve never met? Well, the exchange that happens when you listen to Doug McKenna’s first solo album, “I Wrote These Songs Specifically For Now” is something like that. You feel things that are eerily familiar. You hear the words of a delicate thinker, an articulate writer. You want to listen with your heart and you want to hug the person next to you. Calling it “feel-good rock” would not do it proper justice, however. Heartfelt, thoughtful, energetic, literate, studied, honest. These are things that more accurately describe both the songs and the singer.
Doug McKenna has led a life that lends itself to creating music with a distinct sense of nostalgia. Raised in a supportive, loving military family that moved around the globe during his childhood, he often finds himself looking back on his life – through music - with a wistful, melancholic perspective and a love of storytelling. And with stories like his, who wouldn’t? His earliest musical memories conjure images of a group of Army Cadets singing in a Glee Club that his father – an Army Officer – oversaw. He went through puberty in Germany. He first learned to ski in the Italian Alps. He picked up his first guitar in Kansas. He traveled to India and met Mother Teresa at her home in Calcutta. As a result, an undeniably “worldly” wisdom permeates his voice as a writer.
But there is much more to Doug McKenna than simply being a grown-up “army brat” with a load of frequent flyer miles. What is most unique about him is how down-to-earth and community-oriented he is despite the time he’s spent in transit. What’s more, he has the rare skill of being able to convey this in his music without sounding too, well, “mushy”. There is a strong sense of emotional responsibility that comes across in his songs – similar to the likes of R.E.M., The Cowboy Junkies, and The Indigo Girls, the artists who first inspired him to play music.
Since he was a young boy, but especially during high school, Doug was an active participant in church music. His first official live audiences were comprised of members of his local Catholic community, and he soon became known for his ability to both “freshen up” traditional religious hymns and write original songs suitable for a formal Catholic mass.
While getting his Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Notre Dame, Doug formed musical bonds with his colleagues in a band called “George and The Freeks”. Being in his first official “band” was an eye-opening experience for Doug, playing for enthusiastic college students who were looking for a good time. And on all accounts, “GATF” delivered - they had a relatively large local following. As is the case with many college bands, though, the group dissolved as the members graduated. Upon graduation, Doug and a few musician friends moved together to Washington, DC, where he formed a new band, a trio called “Hoobajoob”. In DC, Doug developed a home recording studio in their basement, and like many independent musicians, started his own record label, Weakling Records. Hoobajoob enjoyed playing gigs around town for a few years, but soon members were getting married or moving, and they decided to disband.
Doug now finds himself living back in South Bend while his wife, Claire, is in law school at his Alma Mater, Notre Dame. His home recording studio is still in full effect, and he continues to write and record music - this time as a solo artist, with the added challenge of playing most of the instruments himself. With “I Wrote These Songs Specifically For Now”, he brings his worldliness back home, in a most touching and personal way. The songs bring forth comparisons to Glen Phillips, Ryan Adams, David Grey, and even Dave Matthews (he’s a skilled guitarist and singer!).
Despite the suggestion in its title, the songwriting that appears on “IWTSSFN” took place over several thoughtful years’ time. The same goes for the development of the singer/songwriter that has finally emerged in this, the first solo album to Doug’s credit.
Over the years he has learned so much and grown as a musician – and each song is a record of a moment captured so purely, so genuinely, that you can’t help but feel that you might have been there to experience the moment with him. One thing is for sure: the listening experience, most simply put, is timeless.
~Sara Tekula, 2002.