King Cardinal frontman Brennan Mackey sang the lyrics to the band’s newest single, “Long Goodbye,” to co-vocalist Texanna Dennie, and her reaction was disconcerting.
“She was like, ‘What? You’re not leaving, are you?,” Mackey recalls. “When people hear this song, I have to be like, ‘Don’t worry. I’m not moving out of Denver.' It’s happened a few times. It definitely sounds like a song of complaint, which it’s really not.”
The song, which drops today, January 27, along with a lyric video made by Brandon Hoogenboom, includes a line in the chorus that goes: “Get me out of this town. I’m breaking. I’m breaking. Get me out of this town. I’m something worth saving.”
It’s easy to see how people might get the wrong idea about Mackey’s future in the Mile High City.
Mackey, originally from Rochester, spent time in Chicago at a finance job he wasn’t exactly happy with before heading to Denver and starting a solo music project that eventually became Americana band King Cardinal. The group currently has five members — Mackey, Dennie, Ben Waligoske, Scott Roush and Andrew Porter — and "Long Goodbye" includes a handful of guest musicians.
The lyrics of “Long Goodbye,” he says, concern being in a rut, going to the same bar every weekend and telling the same stories to the same crowd. It’s a grim fate that Mackey says he narrowly escaped.
“We all know people who never left their own home town,” he says. “That was almost me after college. I went back and started working. And you can kind of see where it’s going.”
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The song marks a stylistic departure from the country-tinged sound King Cardinal is known for. In “Long Goodbye,” with an organ riff anchoring the song and a saxophone melody added, the country influence is all but gone.
“It sounds more like blue-eyed soul stuff from the ’70s than the Americana stuff we normally put out,” Mackey says.
“Long Goodbye” is the first of six singles the band plans to drop this year, roughly one every two months. The songs, if put on an album, might come off as disjointed. Because each number stands alone, however, listeners can expect a wide range of stylistic choices. The next single, Mackey says, has more of an indie-rock vibe to it. Songs in the series also include an acoustic track and one that sounds like a Steely Dan number.
“It’s been cool to open up and put out something with a little more R&B feeling,” he says. “We’ve got one that’s a little more our usual sound: Americana tinged with bluegrass. Every song, we’ve been trying to work with different mixing engineers and musicians.”
Mackey, who is the primary songwriter in the group, says that although “Long Goodbye” has moved into a different genre, it wasn’t exactly deliberate.
“It’s usually whatever song I write that I think sounds good, we will go in that direction,” he says. “The other guys in the band all play in various other genres, so it’s not that tough for us to spread out like that.”
The band started working on the songs last May, and they now exist in various stages of completion.
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“It’s been almost a year of going back and plugging away at it,” Mackey says. “That’s why they are going to come out different. It’s been such a long span of time from when we started to when the songs are being released.”
He says that the band has also begun working on a full-length record, with a whole new batch of songs.
“It’s nice, because we're going to be working on what will be the next record,” Mackey says. “We can have both things going on at the same time. Who knows when that will all be done? We'll have a head start, which will be nice. I’ve got a good chunk of material for that record, probably about six songs.”
Listen to King Cardinal and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.