Nellie McKay is such a regular performer in Eugene it’s hard to keep track of her appearances. The New York singer-songwriter, known for everything from channeling Doris Day in her albums and performances to her outspoken support for animal rights, will return to The Shedd Institute at 7:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 16, for a solo performance with a program titled “Nellie McKay Explains the Meaning of Life.” It weaves together her original songs with classics from the American Songbook. Eugene Weekly caught her by phone last week for a quick chat.
You’re coming to Eugene this month for, like, your 72nd show. Or maybe I’m exaggerating a bit.
Last time you were here you played at the WOW Hall. How was that?
It was nice. It’s got history. A great old vibe. It’s lovely when you can feel the past in a place. It’s nice to have history. There’s a belief that objects can have some of what went on around them or the people who had them.
Are you on the road now?
I’m actually in Tennessee now, but I’m not touring.
I heard you might be traveling this tour with your dog.
Some of the time, yeah.
Will your dog be in Eugene?
I wish I could bring her. It’s so tight. I play Pittsburgh and then the next night in Eugene. That’s OK.
What are you doing in this incarnation of your show?
I forget what the final title is we decided. Do you know what it is?
Something about you explaining the entire meaning of life.
It will all become clear! Everything! Why we’re here, our special purpose.
Have you arrived at that wisdom through music?
Yes. Music is the portal.
You’re performing the old song “Lazybones” these days.
Oh, that’s right. That was on the last album.
What drew you to that song?
Is that Hoagy Carmichael?
Yes, it is. You know, everybody generally feels they must do more. Achievement is based on ambition.
That was a favorite song of my father’s.
He sang it around the house all the time.
Often in a mocking way, aimed at the kids.
Ah, ha. Ah, ha ha ha! That’s a great song. Your dad sounds like he was a great fellow. Did he sing it in a kind of positive way? Like he was glad you’re a lazybones?
He sang it with a twinkle in his eye. He also loved “Old Man River” from Showboat.
Wow. “Old Man River” is beautiful. It’s kind of the same as “Lazybones.” It’s just about, he don’t say nothing but must know something, he just keeps keep rolling along. It’s that go-with-the-flow, what’s-your-hurry-feeling.
Are you working on any big projects these days? Anything new?
I don’t think anything, um, I’m really at liberty to speak of. Talk is cheap. You know, I just can’t do cheap. But fingers crossed.
What’s your favorite song these days?
My favorite song? Ahh. Boy. Ah. Maybe “Jesus is On the Mainline, Tell Him What You Want.”
Does the current political nightmare shape your performance?
It’s not just current, it really is for all time. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And the history of the world is basically one of unmitigated cruelty, barely restrained from time to time.
Everything shapes a performance, from the piano to what happened during the day leading up to it. You know. I mean, I hope that if you can tend your own little patch of grass, that seems like a good place to start.
Will it be just you on stage here at The Shedd? You and a piano and a uke?
Me and a piano and a… yep, that’s about it. And some amplification.
Anything else you want to say?
Gee, no. Gee, is there anything? I guess… Just that, oh, I mean, I want to add that animal agriculture is a driving force in climate change. That it, it doesn’t just produce more greenhouse gas than all global transport combined, but it’s the main driver of deforestation and ocean dead zones. Since we’re eliminating the biomass that can absorb carbon.
If people want to check out a plant-based diet, probably the biggest thing you can do to fight climate change is on your plate.
Do you sing about climate change?
Ha ha. You know, I don’t have a song yet. But that’s a good idea, Bob.
You’ve got a few days to whip one up.
In the meantime, there’s always “Jesus…” ν