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“It’s a little bit of Armageddon and a little bit of cynicism and sarcasm,” said singer-songwriter Christian McNeill with a hearty chuckle when discussing the title of his new album, Everything’s Up For Grabs. “It’s the idea that all of this around us could just disappear at any time. Take a look around and tell me if I’m wrong.”
Even when talking about the underlying pessimism behind his debut album’s title, McNeill, who is known for performing with his band, Sea Monsters, is undoubtedly positive and charismatic. Although he now resides on Martha’s Vineyard, McNeill’s Northern Irish roots are apparent in his noticeably-thick accent as he contemplates the possible lighter connotations of the title.
“Of course, of course. It certainly includes other elements as well,” said McNeill. “It deals with catharsis and personal renewal and all those other human emotions and experiences. There is a lot of positive energy behind this record.”
All of the positive energy, McNeill explains, came from his experiences writing and singing about what he refers to as “nice sentiments” during a time in which he experienced the greatest amount of humility he’s ever felt “in his life.” This appreciation for humility and human emotion was evident in McNeill’s music when he stopped by the WERS studio.
McNeill began his set with “You Know I Believe in You,” the main ballad off of Everything’s Up For Grabs. McNeill, alone in the studio with his acoustic guitar, crooned the soft yet powerful tune about having unwavering belief in another despite the odds. Between the haunting rhythm of the guitar and McNeill’s strong and earnest vocals, the song was evocative of some of the more intimate songs by The Who. This vintage rock mentality should be expected in McNeill’s music, who admits to being influenced by artists like Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and Van Morrison.
Upon observation that his music also sounds similar to the early work of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, McNeill brightened up with an exciting anecdote.
“It’s interesting when people tell me that I sound like the E Street Band, because the guitarist of the E Street Band, Steven van Zandt, heard the lead single from my album, really liked it, and put it into heavy rotation on his satellite radio show, Underground Garage,” said McNeill. “So it’s really fascinating to me when people identify a similarity between my music and the E Street Band’s because there’s apparently something there.”
It is a fascinating connection indeed considering that McNeill, a Northern Ireland native, is perceived to be capturing the sound of a band that has traditionally been described as quintessentially American. Starting out as a musician, McNeill never intended to emulate what he described as the “American” sound, however, after moving to Massachusetts and joining the Boston music scene, he became, in his words, “a sponge,” absorbing the different styles and sounds of other Boston-area musicians whom he grew to befriend.
Dedication to friends is another one of the sentiments that McNeill explores on Everything’s Up For Grabs, as seen in the second song of his On the Verge session, “I Will Always Be Your Friend.” Like his previous song, “I Will Always Be Your Friend” showcased McNeill’s ability to effectively blend country-tinged guitar hooks with brawny vocals. As the title suggests, the song contains a pleasant, positive message, and McNeill complimented this by channeling all of the positive energy he could into his performance, visibly grooving and rocking along with the remarkably up-tempo song.
On Everything’s Up For Grabs, Christian McNeill is a master of uniting opposites, joining cynicism with sincerity, vintage with new, and Irish and American. Perhaps though, the greatest distinction between two opposites that he makes is between what is “up for grabs” and what truly isn’t. Although the title implies that everything is, one listen to McNeill’s music suggests that he is not willing to compromise when it comes to his music or his values. You might be able to take away his physical possessions, but you cannot touch his loyalty to his friends or his adherence to embracing positivity.
Out of all descriptions of the album, perhaps there are none better than the one McNeill offers himself.
“It’s a very honest record that I’m very proud of,” said McNeill with a smile.