Kevin McHale Talks Debut Single “Help Me Now” & Forthcoming EP: Interview
Kevin McHale is a name Glee fans should already be familiar with. The Texas native played Artie Abrams on the mega-popular series between 2009 and 2015. And now, it is a name that all pop fans should start familiarizing themselves with. Last Friday (March 29) the 30-year-old broke new ground with the release of his debut single “Help Me Now.” A funk-laced anthem lush with vibrant strings and centered on his evocative voice, it is a strong introduction to the hitmaker’s musicality and earnest lyrical style.
On it, he seeks assurance about the security of a relationship with a loved one. “I got an insecure question. Do you still love me,” Kevin asks on the opening lines. “But even if you do, I won’t believe you. I’ll play out all these little games in my head,” he later admits before asking for a save on the chorus. The Justin Thorne-produced bop sounds like it hit. It also serves as the first taste of a forthcoming debut EP titled Boy. Due for release May 24 via innovative distributor & content platform Vydia, the collection should be on your radar after one listen to its lead single.
Last month I had the opportunity to hop on the phone with Kevin ahead of the release of “Help Me Now.” We talked about how he was feeling about releasing the project (“ready to hear people’s thoughts”) and reflected on what sparked his desire to return to the studio. The hitmaker shared some insight into recording the EP, his diverse musical influences and spoke about his tendency to see music in color. That’s not all, though. Kevin also opened up about the “Help Me Now” music video and alluded to plans to record a video for every song on the EP.
Press play on “Help Me Now” and dive into our interview below to learn more about what he has in store for us.
I’ve been listening to the EP for the last week or so, and there’s a lot of quality content on it. I was curious how you were feeling as you’re waiting for everything to drop?
It’s interesting. It is a weird thing. Okay, I’ve done this. I’ve talked about it. I’ve over-analyzed it. I’ve convinced myself it’s terrible. And then convinced myself it’s good again, and then also convinced myself it’s terrible. At this point I just want to put it out and if a handful of people or however many people like it or have fun listening to it or identify with any of the stories then great. I think I’m just so ready for people to hear it and to hear their thoughts on it. For example, I had a friend, one of my really close friends he was saying, like a song he didn’t like. And my friend Justin [Thorne] who produced all the songs was like “how do you not like that song?”
I like that someone doesn’t like a song because to me that makes it real. People have things they like and don’t like and can respond to it whether its positive or negative. So I think I’m just ready to hear people’s thoughts.
I think that’s the creative process no matter what. It’s like you go through the you love it, you hate it and then it’s time. It’s gotta go.
Yeah. It’s hard because, I sort of think what rappers do nowadays and how Ariana did her most recent album where you record something and you put it out almost immediately. And that way, it’s almost like a train of thought. It captures the mood of the moment socially or your mood of the moment. And I feel like it’s so, I just like that model. And I think it’s easy to do obviously when you’re in a position like she is obviously. Or when you’re in a position like some of these really successful rappers because you have the power behind you to just be like “Okay, I’ve done this song” and just put it out and know it’s going to work. So, like me doing an EP and having it be the first time something is coming out, it takes a lot longer than that sort of thing. So I’m like “Okay, just get it out there.”
How long have you been working on the project for?
It’s weird. I know it’s only five songs, but it sort of started in 2017 with me just messing around with my two friends Wednesday and Justin in the studio. And they were working on their own stuff, and we had all been talking about that I should maybe work on my stuff. They were pushing me, so it started with us just throwing out some random ideas and being like “well I kind of have this idea for a song” and then it was like that. But it wasn’t until well into 2018 that the songs were really shaping up and I felt like I could identify either a sound or myself was in the songs.
Where like “Oh these are a good representation of myself or where I am at the moment.” And that’s when I said maybe I should try to go pursue this and not just hold on to these songs. It took me a minute to figure out how I was going to go about doing that. How I wanted to do it. So it’s been sort of a slow process in that way. Yeah, it originally started like the end of 2017.
If you could list a couple artists who you say inspired you while you were creating who would it be?
I would say… who did I listen to a lot? I listened to Kevin Abstract a lot. His first album. And then that was around the time Brockhampton started to become a big thing. Randomly my favorite artists are just like India.Arie and Lauryn Hill and Robin Thicke’s very first album when he just went by Thicke. And I went back and listened to things that always used to inspire me. SZA’s album came out around then. I was super into that. In a weird way SZA was a big influence even though it doesn’t musically sound like it. But it was sort of liberating or freeing to hear the way she writes and the way she sings.
I’m always so self-deprecating, and I feel like it’s really hard to capture lyrically. And the way she would do it, it was almost this is the dream. How she writes is the dream. And she’s always so cool, but at the same time she’s singing about how she’s not cool. And it wasn’t like I set out to be like “I want to be SZA” because there’s no way in hell that that could happen. But at the same time it was just nice to see that she could be successful writing this way. Being super blunt and honest about herself, like the things that people don’t want to talk about. And that’s what I felt my approach was unintentionally. So it just was reaffirming the direction I was heading in.
How would you describe the sound of the EP?
I would say that there’s a little something for everyone. I sort of feel like it crosses over to several different genres. Fundamentally it’s pop music, but I feel like each song has a different musical genre influence. But the thing that connects it are the lyrics and obviously my voice and the way it’s vocally produced. Sonically, it’s pop. It’s R&B. And it just has those influences throughout the entire thing. It’s sort of hard for me to place exactly what it could be compared to or what it sort of sounds like.
I listen to every type of music. And I think that was also a big challenge of why it took me so long to put out anything. Because I was like “well I’m a fan of all these different types of music. How do I capture that?” And the point is you don’t have to capture all of that. Once I let go of that these things started to come out. Then it was like we could put a little bit of this funk guitar in this song. Or we could do something more pop here. Have these two sounding guitars here. Where you can instill these influences more indirectly in each song.
You’re leading the project off with “Help Me Now.” Why did that sound like the right song?
It was sort of, I sent the song out. Which is nerve-wracking, sending music out to anybody. I sent it out to a group of people whose opinions I normally trust in music and other things. Just sort of like how do you feel about these songs. I didn’t say what do you think should be first. And the one that had the most impact or immediate response was always “Help Me Now.” I’d say nine times out of 10. For me, I didn’t want to sit there and over-analyze and be like “this song could do this” or “this song makes me look like this.” No, if that’s the song people are feeling immediately, let’s just go with that.
That’s sort of the way in. The gateway drug. That’s the easiest to to get where you can immediately respond to that or feel something, then I didn’t want to fight that or question it. And I also had a feeling that that should be the one, too. I think it sort of encapsulates me as an artist and as a person more than any other song because it is sort of, it does have this groove. This sort of funk thing. The lyrics are super self-deprecating. And I’m singing like an insane person, like a stupid person at the end. Like howling. I feel like that kind of represents me pretty well. So I felt good about it and having it confirmed by a bunch of my friends and family that I sent it to was reassuring.
Can you talk a bit about it was like working on that song in the studio?
Well, that song was random because we were actually, I was working with Justin again who produced the entire thing. We were working on a different song that he did not like. And I was like “no we have to do it. I love it.” But he was like “this song sucks.” That’s also our relationship. It was just brutally honest all the time, which I respond to much better. He was like “let me just try, let’s try something new, something different.” So we just started making this track, and I had this sort of thought in my head leading up to it for a couple weeks of a song I wanted to work on. I was waiting for an opportunity to do it, and he starts working on this track. And I spit out the song in like 10 minutes. He worked on the track, turned around and was like “what do you think of this?”
I was like “great, I have the song. Give me the mic.” And then I sang it through one time for him. I was ready for him to sort of tear it apart because that’s where we sort of were at mentally. I was like he’s not going to like anything I do right now. He was like “oh, yeah I like that. That can actually really work.” And I was like “cool, great. Let’s do that then.” It was the last song we did, and it was the one that came out the fastest. But I think it was because I had already been going through all these parts like “oh I hate this part about me. Let’s really just dive into that and look at all the ugly.” So it came out really quickly. And it was very therapeutic in like a word vomit. I would say it happened the most organic out of all of them.
Are you thinking about a music video for it at all?
Yes. Definitely thinking a music video. We’ll probably have music videos for all the songs. Because I sort of think visually like that. When I hear anybody’s songs, or if I watch a video everything is very. This sounds weird, but I do think in terms of colors. When I’m writing a song or hear a song I immediately attach colors to it. Or some weird, abstract idea. So we wanted to do that anyway for these songs. Hopefully, the whole thing will have a good visual impact. We’re going to shoot a bunch of the videos mostly this month. At least three of them. We were just prepping and planning and getting all of those together.
What color did you see when you were working on “Help Me Now”?
For some reason I see red and white. No idea why. Couldn’t tell you why. There’s not necessarily any significance to it. I’ve just always thought that way. Like the single cover for “Help Me Now” is all red. The video won’t necessarily be red. But for single covers I try to attach the colors that I feel to the song titles.
I love that. I actually just interviewed LEON and we had the same discussion about how she saw her whole album in color. It’s such an interesting parallel.
That does make me feel a little more sane. Luckily, Justin Thorne, he understands that. He’s like “what color do you see.” And I’m like “I see red and white.” And he’ll be like “interesting. I see blue and orange.” And I’ll be like “no, you’re wrong.” And we have this whole debate that doesn’t actually matter because there’s no colors attached to anything.
I tend to agree with you. In my mind it’s a very warm song, so you’re totally right.
Thank you. I appreciate your support.
Do you think you have any plans for performances moving forward or are you more focused on the videos right now?
I feel like that is the natural progression of things. I will definitely be doing that. I feel like right now it’s sort of full-on video mode. Because it’s sort of a big task to put together basically 20 minutes worth of video content and throw it all together in the next month. But the live performance aspect is always sort of ruminating in the back of my head. What it would look like, what it would be. So that is almost simpler to me. Luckily, I have a lot of talented friends who i can trust. I know who I want to go to and talk to about how do we make this thing happen.
Obviously you released a lot of music while working with Glee. How does it feel now working on your own music instead of working on covers. Can you talk about how the process is different working in the studio and whatnot?
I mean, it’s almost 100 percent different. It’s 100 percent more nerve-racking. That’s for damn sure. Because it’s like oh this is me. This represents me. When I was in the boy band or on Glee it’s sort of playing a character where you would have all these other people. On Glee they’d make me rap or something, and I’d be like it’s fine if I’m a terrible rapper because it’s the character doing it. It works for the story. And we would get to do so many different sorts of genres that I wouldn’t normally get to do. That made me learn a lot about my voice and what I could and shouldn’t do.
That was a whole different beast where you have this big machine putting out the music. We had a really loyal built in audience who was eager to hear what we would do and push these characters to different places musically. Now that it’s sort of on me, these are my musical stories. I wrote them. It’s just sort of like “well, I will try not to take any of this personally.”
From your time with Glee what are the covers you did that resonated most with you looking back now?
Interesting. I’m proud of different ones for different reasons. “Dancing With Myself” was obviously the first one that I had. My first solo. But “Proud Mary.” The first season was kind of different where all of us could get into the studio and they didn’t necessarily have it all mapped out. We would sort of mess around. Adam Anders the producer would push us. That was sort of me, Amber [Riley] and Jenna [Ushkowitz] sort of going for it and trying different things. Towards the end there’s this guy Luke Edgemont who sang all the demos for the songs I did. Obviously he has the most incredible voice ever. He would do these insane runs, and out of anybody he made me learn more about my self and my voice because he would push me.
We had never met. And I’d be like “this guy is an asshole. I can’t do it.” Then I got his number, and I’d text him and be like “you’re so mean.” But I’d work on it and get there eventually. So randomly I have the songs that mean something to me like “Dancing With Myself” or “Safety Dance” are big moments for me. But also vocally that I really like are sort of random songs like “Applause” or the one hundredth episode version of “Loser Like Me” or “Footloose” because it was times where I was having a meltdown like I can’t do this vocally. But I’d end up getting through and loving it. It was all because Luke and Alex and Adam who were producing it got me to do these insane things I’d never done before.
They pushed you a bit out of your box.
Exactly. In addition to shooting a TV show we’re getting to do these musical things. It’s hard on your voice. You get in there and don’t have much time to record. And it was also this sense of security and family where it was like “I know you can do this. Stop freaking out.” We pushed each other. It was great.
Do you think those qualities you developed are things you brought through to working as a solo artist?
Oh yeah. One hundred, thousand percent. I felt myself going back to like “Oh I wish I had Luke here to tell me what to do.” It was sort of a safety net where I knew if they were there I could do it. But it was that sort of thing where I did it before on Glee, I can do it after Glee and just be confident. I knew that my voice had gotten better throughout Glee and trust that I would do the right thing and make the right choices. The whole thing was about following my gut, whereas with Glee you didn’t have time to. Everyone was telling you what to do. So this was about, no I built up an instinct over time and need to trust that.
Have you started thinking about what’s next after the EP drops? You have so much stuff right now, but have you started thinking about doing more music?
I think more music is just going to come. That’s just how it happens. I think the biggest positive about this EP is sort of having the system in place of how to release music to gauge people’s expectations so no this is something I’ll continue doing. It’s just a part of me. Acting’s a part of me. Music’s always been a part of me. It’s not like “oh I’m expecting this to be the most gigantic thing ever.” No. I’m putting it out there as a representation of where I’m at. And if people respond to it then I’ll continue to just do that.
You’re going to work toward that Ari release schedule.
Yeah. I mean, sure. I will try do that. I do think that the turn around in the future should be much quicker than now. I love the idea of you record a song, you do some sort of visual for it and put it out within the next month and keep it going. That’s the dream.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
Thank you so much. I appreciate you listening to it and taking the time to think about it.