Brian Mackey Shares His Vision for “America”

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If you’re going to make a video for a song called “America,” you should go right to the source. That’s the concept behind Brian Mackey’s newest music video. The footage stretches from Seattle to Seaside, New Jersey, with a few nice shots in Nashville to boot.

Over six days, Mackey and director Nick Cavalier captured the feeling of an awesome road trip with perhaps just a few potholes. Luckily, his blend of pop, country and folk music doesn’t get lost along the way. Most of the footage is filmed from the viewpoint of his trusty (if not rusty) 1997 Toyota.

“Certain things were planned, and certain things we got just by being in the right place at the right time, like the horses and the guy on the yellow motorcycle with the flags,” Mackey tells CMT Edge. “Part of the thrill was not knowing what we might find. We wanted it to have that ‘you’re-seeing-it-for-the-first-time-with-us’ look, and I hope that we accomplished that.”

The impassioned track can be heard on the New York songwriter’s first full-length album, Broken Heartstrings. Produced by Sam Ashworth, the set was recorded in Nashville and arrives on Nov. 10. Take a look at “America,” then read the CMT Edge Q&A below the video.

CMT Edge: What were you thinking about leading up to the writing of “America”?

Mackey: I was thinking whether or not my car that I had bought from a neighbor (for a couple of hundred bucks) was going to make it to a show I had in Kansas. While I’ve been on many road trips on the way to shows, this one with the uncertainty opened up a special appreciation for the ground I was rolling on. Each new gas station felt like a milestone.

I came across some kids pulling corn in a Radio Flyer wagon in Iowa, crossed rivers with bridges that looked like they were built with metal from factories that had been closed long ago. I had this rhythmic melody in my head like a train moving on. There was one time when hail was hitting my window, and it sort of provided a backbeat for me. It seemed like everything about that trip really wrote the song, and America sang in my ear.

In this video, the camera rarely stays in one place for too long, and I know the same can be said for a musician’s life. What is a typical day on the road for you?

Wow, isn’t that the truth? A typical day on the road would always consist of stopping some place cool to eat. You know that type of place — where only locals go. It’s always interesting to see what kind of hotel I get because I usually book it through some kind of online service that doesn’t let you know what it is until it’s booked, so that makes it somewhat interesting. I’m huge on getting to know the areas where I’m going to be spending time exploring and learning about the towns and places if I can. It’s always a good subject of conversation when I’m onstage.

Tell me a little about the acoustic arrangements in the song. Those parts stand out to me. Why was it important for you not to go full-power all the way through?

The acoustic arrangements, I felt, would be the most integral driving force of the song. When I originally wrote it, it was just an acoustic song, so I wanted to stay true to that feeling and try to capture that as best as I could. We used two guitars — a Martin and a Gibson. The banjo that came in later was not my idea at all but was a very welcomed surprise when Jeff King said, ‘I got an idea on this …’ and it really completed what we were looking for.

What goes through your mind when you watch the completed video now?

I’m like, “Hey, I remember that guy on the yellow motorcycle on Route 80 who didn’t know he was being filmed at first, but when he did realize it, he played to the camera.” Or going into Philadelphia in August when the AC stopped working in the car, and we were all getting a little pissed off. I could go on and on, but the thing that stands out most was how connected it made me feel to the road and to the summer-scorched cities and cornfields of America.

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