She stepped on stage with her guitar and looked out at the crowd of students in the Ground Zero Performance Cafe. McCall Kimball, a freshman majoring in popular music, smiled at the crowd and introduced herself under her stage name, McCall. The bright lights were aimed at her feet and the faces were hidden behind shadows. She saw glimpses of eyes staring at her. She strapped the guitar over her shoulder and stepped closer to the microphone. This wasn’t her first performance in front of curious eyes.
McCall performed her first original song, “Missin’ You Blues,” in fourth grade. She memorized three guitar chords and wrote the blues song for her music class. Although it wasn’t her best song, it was the song that sparked the beginning of her music career.
McCall released her first EP, Can’t Keep Waiting, at 15. More recently, she released a single, “I Thought I Warned You,” from her upcoming EP. Her new EP Everything Means Nothing was released Wednesday on iTunes.
McCall’s music transformed into a new sound after her first EP. In the years between the two EPs, she saw herself becoming an EDM artist, which contrasted with her original blues-oriented sound. EDM was something new that she wanted to venture into, but McCall couldn’t see herself letting go of the blues. The sound of a bluesy electric guitar accompanied with a raw vocal performance resonated with her more than EDM. She couldn’t let go of what initially attracted her to music. Instead, she integrated her new interests into her upcoming album.
“This is a very produced EP, and it’s kind of a snippet of everything I like,” McCall said. “There’s very heavy pop influences, blues influences and a very strong EDM presence. It’s kind of like an umbrella of everything I like. The exciting part about it is that no track sounds the same.”
Although her sound is constantly changing and growing, McCall’s songwriting methods remain the same. She began writing her music through poems and melodies. When she learned how to play guitar, her songwriting gained momentum. McCall got comfortable with songwriting and developed her own habits of writing. She wrote her songs by beginning with a chord progression, singing over them to develop the lyrics, then letting the words naturally flow out of her. As a songwriter, she felt that setting time aside for writing helped songwriters define their craft.
“I definitely do set myself a 9 to 5 when it comes to songwriting,” McCall said. “But those songs are never really that good. They’re just practice for when the emotion does come and we can write that song — a good song that does mean something to you. Then it’s so much better than it would’ve been.”
She realized she could have a career as a singer-songwriter in eighth grade when she performed one of her original songs at a chorus concert. She stood on the stage at the concert and sang her song, “Sticks and Stones.” Her anti-bullying anthem hummed to the audience, much like all performances that followed.
The subject matter of McCall’s music soon shifted to relationships and the people around her as she got older. She adapted the situations from actual experiences as well as fabricated ones. She occasionally exaggerated relationships to achieve the sound and story of her music as well. Beyond the love songs, McCall wrote about anything that influenced her, including people she found online.
“I wrote ‘Cigarettes and Polaroids’ because I followed this girl on Instagram, and I thought she was so cool,” McCall said. “So I wrote a song about what I thought her life was probably like. In every picture on Instagram she’s smoking a cigarette or it looks like a polaroid.”
Similarly, McCall’s upcoming EP includes music that ranges from a variety of styles and stories. Her first song on the EP, “Crystal,” is a traditional blues storytelling song. She loved the idea of writing something dark and tragic, so she explored the genre and wrote “Crystal.” “I Thought I Warned Ya,” the single to her EP, is a song with pop and EDM influences about a cheating boyfriend. “Waysexydown,” her third song, is about getting together with someone. The final song on the album is an acoustic of Crystal. The EP titled Everything Means Nothing documents McCall’s transition in her music.
“I’m trying to figure out who I am as an artist and what my real sound is,” she said. “It’s a stressful time, and I’m trying to not take everything so seriously and take it as a journey.”
Her artistic influences that have helped her develop her voice include both blues and rock artists. McCall looks up to a lot of female blues artists with strong belting abilities such as Big Momma Thornton and Janis Joplin.
More recently, ZZ Ward has been a large influence on her music and vocal style. McCall was amazed by Ward’s live performances and found her relatable personality admirable. Her love for music was fostered by these discoveries. Furthermore, she looks forward to cultivating her passion for performing.
“I came to USC because there aren’t that many contemporary music programs in the country,” McCall said. “USC is, out of the very few that there are, very performance-based. It outweighs every other program with its emphasis on performance. If we come here, we become performing artists.”
McCall sees her career leading to even more stages and larger audiences. She hopes to tour one day and connect with her fans through her music. In the audience, she imagines her fans fostering a cultural community at her concerts. To McCall, music is more than just a noun. It is a powerful common ground. Everyone in the audience enjoys music because they are able to relate to it. Music cultivates and invokes the wide range of emotions people have. It is McCall’s goal to fulfill music’s purpose and power with her songs.
“Having the opportunity to create that kind of experience with somebody is so magical and powerful to me,” McCall said. “They’ll be able to feel through my words and see parts of their life in my songs.”