“Hi, Olivia and Shayne, this is Mike McCready.” “Hi! It’s Kate.” Like an airplane hitting turbulence, it felt like the room had dipped beneath me; this phone call was really happening. Mike McCready, the rock & roll hall-of-famer whose divinely intricate guitar work in Pearl Jam changes what it means to be alive, and Kate Neckel, the abstract painter whose distinctive talents coaxed him into trying completely new mediums. Who could resist rushing to express some admiration? They instantly topped my compliments, though. “We love you, right now. Thank you very much,” McCready replied warmly. Somehow, we recovered from how cool that moment was and dove into a deep talk with the duo about their interactive art and music project, Infinite Color & Sound – a one-of-a-kind experience concocted with paint, guitar, canvas, keys, brushes, Polaroids, mannequins, crayons, a purple wig, and sometimes Joseph Arthur (who ended up being their special guest in NYC).

“So Mike’s wife, Ashley, is the one who initially saw my work,” recalled Neckel. “And Mike wasn’t with her at the time, and she was telling him, ‘You’ve got to check out her show.’ Mike ended up coming over to the Winston Wächter Gallery in Seattle, where I had an exhibition up. And Mike and I started chatting about how he had always wanted to combine…well, I’ll let you tell it from here, Mike.” “Yeah, I was checking out her exhibit, because my wife had said it was so great, and I had missed it by a day. So we went and saw the ending of Kate’s work hanging up at the Winston Wächter Gallery, and I just kept asking her questions about every one of her paintings, and I don’t generally do that,” explained McCready. “I just generally like to look at art, and not know the story behind it, and get my own feeling about it – but for some reason, I wanted to ask her all of these questions. And she was very forthcoming and gave me more of an insight into what she was feeling when she painted those works – and they were really very cool. Really great art. And I had said, in passing, ‘I’d love to do something like a Warhol Factory thing with mixed media,’ and Kate was the first person out of twenty-five years of me thinking about that and saying it that responded to it in a way that was…” “I said, ‘I know what to do with that!’” Neckel chimed in happily. “I’m with you. I had always wanted to do that too. And I had. I had always tried, and I had collaborated with some musicians or whatever, but no one had ever really understood my vision.” “And she, being from New York and having a great experience here; being here for seventeen years and working for Cole Haan and the Ace Hotel – you’ve done a lot of really amazing stuff, in addition to your own artwork, just to put that out there –” McCready noted, addressing Neckel directly. “It made me go, ‘Okay, she’s legit already!’ I know that, so it was kind of like, ‘Are you sure that you want to do that with me?’” McCready said with a laugh. Neckel replied, “And I said, ‘Oh, Mike McCready? Uh – yeah!’

Kate Neckel


McCready elaborated on how the work of Andy Warhol had originally inspired the project. “My mom was an art teacher and I was around a lot of art, growing up. I’ve always loved Warhol’s stuff. I love the pop culture of the sixties, and all of the different phases that he went through. And I love his Polaroid thing, and of course, I can relate to him because of that, but this has turned into something different. I didn’t want to be completely derivative of it. Initially, I felt like I did want to be derivative of it, in terms of how he did his Exploding Plastic Inevitable parties that the Velvet Underground would play, with the big Mylar balloons and all that stuff, and I thought, ‘That’d be rad!’ Then all of a sudden it was like, ‘No, he’s already done that,’ and it’s morphed into this other thing. And it’s cool, because it has morphed into something different.” Knowing his Polaroid tradition and his nostalgic 2017 book, Of Potato Heads and Polaroids, we asked how that format had flowed into this project too. “I’ve done it a lot and it’s a safety net, in a way. But it’s also a very immediate thing; I can take a picture of Kate, while she’s painting, and then I can put that picture on the painting, and as the picture develops, I feel like that’s part of the art too – the live aspect of the art. So you have these pictures that are developing as she’s painting or I’m painting, and then the art is changing live, while it’s happening.” “And then you interact with the audience, take Polaroids in the audience,” added Neckel. “Yeah! I’ll take pictures of them, and I’ll walk out,” said McCready. “It’s an easy medium for me, but also exciting, and now it’s taking a different turn.”

Mike McCready


McCready and Neckel then shed light on how much of the show is improvised, versus how much of the show is planned in advance. “I think we always have an idea, since each performance is very specific to the venue, and we kind of come up with a template for what we want to do,” commented Neckel. “But then, the show always shifts, and it always evolves based upon the energy of the environment, and the people, and what Mike might do on the guitar, or what we might do if we break a mannequin in half. It just changes based upon what we’re feeling.” McCready agreed, explaining, “There are set ideas of how we start the show – and we were working on that yesterday – and then, points throughout the show that we hit. But then, it all dissipates and it turns into this one thing and I forget about what we’re doing and then…” “Get into a trance,” suggested Neckel. “Yeah!” said McCready. “Those are anchors, Olivia, that are there. But sometimes, they don’t recognize the anchors as we’re doing the show. We want to kind of plan it out a little bit, but then it turns into something different – like life, you know?”

Infinite Color And Sound


Like that comparison to life, listening to them break down the symbiotic nature of Infinite Color & Sound was fascinating. “I feel like long and slow notes equal wide, heavy brush strokes,” Neckel said thoughtfully, discussing how McCready’s music influences her art during the show. “And then when he goes crazy, ripping through a solo, I don’t even think about it. It just seems like the way he hits the strings and the way that my brush moves – it feels like they’re all connected. And sometimes, I end up losing the top of a paintbrush, because I’m whacking the canvas so hard.” “She’ll whack that canvas!” laughed McCready. “It’s like my paintbrush is plugged into the amp,” explained Neckel. “I think that’s the best metaphor.” Conversely, McCready reflected on how Neckel’s actions affect the notes that he’s choosing. “Completely. That was one of the earlier processes: I watched the tempo of how she’s painting. I watch the strokes and I go, ‘Okay, I can slow down here a little bit, because she’s doing that.’ Then I’ll speed up and not think about it, and then she’ll start doing it really fast, and then I’ll slow back down. It’s symbiotic and it’s different every time, but same. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

He went on to say proudly, “Now, we have songs that Kate wrote the music to, and the lyrics, which is a new thing for her. And the newest thing was doing some kind of spoken word. I play guitar, and she’s riffing off the top of her head, which is really, really, really impressive. Painting, for me, is still kind of daunting and scary, when I see the easel. We did a TV show today, and I looked at it and went, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what Kate is going to do.’ But it’s like ‘Oh no, I’m part of that too,’” McCready said, him and Neckel laughing. “So initially, I have to remind myself that I am okay to go up there and paint. And I never felt like I had the permission to do that before, over the years – whatever my inner monologue was about, telling me that I can’t do this art, or this art. So I think, in terms of vulnerability, I feel super vulnerable up there. But there’s also learning in that, and it’s super important, as a human being, to be that way. Because we’re not taught to be that way. I think I learned something from it that – I don’t even know what it is until later, you know? And I’m happy about it.”

Infinite Color And Sound


“So for me,” shared Neckel, “I’m writing songs now. I’m writing down words that are shaping songs that Mike then takes, and he’s like, ‘No, this is a song, and this is what we can do with it.’ And it’s been very freeing. It’s kind of like finding a whole new aisle in the art store. I just feel that one medium transcends into the other very naturally. I try to approach songwriting and playing guitar just like how I do with painting: it’s like, take your head off; don’t think about it; just feel your way through it. And Mike has been kind of like Yoda, in that way.” “There is no try; only do,” McCready joked. Neckel said with a contagious laugh, “‘I’m like, ‘Do I play in A minor?’ but he tells me nothing. People have asked me, ‘How is it, having Mike be your guitar teacher?’ and I’m like, ‘He actually doesn’t teach me, he just tells me, ‘Keep doing what you do.’” “Kate’s a really good guitar player, and she didn’t know it, and then in that not knowing, she’s created a new way of playing – which is always the coolest way to do music, I think. The experimentation,” McCready explained. “She’s got this new song and she’s doing some different stuff that’s up there in terms of songwriting, and she should be very proud. It’s really cool songwriting.” Addressing Neckel directly, he added, “You’ve allowed yourself to get better and better, but I don’t think you’re thinking about how good it is, because it is really good.” On the edge of a giggle, Neckel professed, “I don’t know what I’m doing, Mike!” McCready replied earnestly, “Keep not knowing what you’re doing, and I’ll keep doing the same.”


Neckel then surprised us when she revealed how long she’d been playing guitar. “Since Mike and I…I guess just under a year? When we initially started, I wasn’t playing that much.” “Yeah, you weren’t at all, I don’t think,” agreed McCready. “A little bit, when we would play guitar and paint. You weren’t writing songs then.” “It was after March that I wrote ‘X-Ray Man.’” “X-Ray Man!” McCready exclaimed simultaneously. “So, I’m a baby guitar player,” Neckel decided. “But more than that,” urged McCready, “so, it’s cool. It’s really cool to see it happen.” “Same for his painting, though,” Neckel said sincerely. McCready described how their creative synergy had surfaced early on. “I feel like, initially, it was super easy. She’d paint, and I’d play guitar. And then the non-easy part was me stopping playing guitar, picking up a brush, and going, ‘What do I do?’ and actually not knowing what to do. Being terrified of it and being judged, and all that. And she wasn’t judgmental and said, ‘Just paint.’ You know, it was like, ‘…okay.’ It’s still kind of scary, but it’s freeing.” “Yeah,” agreed Neckel, “He was like an art partner. We met, and it was like, ‘We could do this regularly.’ It was very easy.”

Infinite Color And Sound


Before we said goodbye to the talented pair, we wanted to know how the experience of Infinite Color & Sound might shape their future work – Neckel’s painting and art, or even McCready’s contributions to Pearl Jam. In his happy tone of voice, McCready answered, “I think – yeah – in terms of my psychology of doing art, it’s changed a lot of stuff about how I think about art with our band, and when it’s onstage, and what artwork would look like, if I had anything to do with it in our band. I now feel comfortable to submit something, whereas before, I wouldn’t have. Really, the influences on what it means to me to be an artist are changing daily. And that’s the exciting part about it. I don’t know exactly what they are right this minute, but they’re changing.” “Yeah, the same for me,” said Neckel. “It’s like a new freedom to express myself in many new mediums. It just feels very exciting – you know, I’m forty-three, and it’s like, it’s limitless. It’s given me a new confidence that I’m grateful for.”

Infinite Color And Sound


Article/Interview: Olivia Isenhart

Photos/Interview: Shayne Hanley





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