Below, McAnally discusses Songland.
What was the most surprising part of being a part of Songland for you?
I think the most surprising part of last season was how well they were able to tell the complete stories of where these songs started and where they ended up within an hour. When we did the show, we would spend so much time with these songwriters and working on these songs and the stories that happened there on set, every episode felt like a movie.
I'm blown away by how you can just take a tidbit of one section of being in the studio and it really cut to the heart of what went on. I think because of that, [this season] feels a lot more settled. Ryan and Ester and I know the way it would unfold and so we were able to be more concise in what we were doing.
Is there anything you took away from Songland that you’ve brought into your own writing sessions?
When it comes to the songwriters that come on the show, it gives me this incredible chance to live vicariously through the way it was for me early on in my career, when I had nothing to lose and I didn't have the resume or reputation to try to live up to. There is a generational change. The way songwriters write now is different than it was when I came up. There's more a train of thought freestyle feeling about it where everything doesn't need to feel so linear, so wrapped up. I love taking that into the writing rooms with me and being able to say, “How would somebody who hasn't already done this 10,000 times do it?” To me, that's the only way to keep it new, because it does start to become a bit of muscle memory.
Is there one moment or song that has stuck with you from the first season?
A song that I always go back to is “Pill for This” by Sam DeRosa, which was in our pilot episode, which was Charlie Puth. First of all, the song was incredible. I still think it's possibly the best song we've ever had on the show, but it wasn't the song that was chosen. The reason why was because although it was an incredible song and everyone did agree one of the best songs of the entire show, it wasn't what Charlie was looking for in that moment and he didn't feel like he could do the song justice by putting it on a project where it didn't fit. What that did was remind me what we're doing on the show is not so much looking for or trying to make the “best song,” we're trying to make the best song for that artist for where they are in their career.
A lot of times the songs are already in a state where that wouldn't work, that it would take such an overhaul. The reason I mentioned “Pill for This” is because I still think that song is such a smash and Sam DeRosa is having success as an artist with that song, but I have to remember how amazing that entire episode and story was and it didn't really matter whose song was chosen. It was more about the process and the journey.
The show helped you get a OneRepublic cut and is opening the doors for you to write in other genres too.
That's right. I got a song recorded by Macklemore. Ultimately we work on all the songs, all of us do, all of the artists that we've seen. I got a song recorded by John Legend and got to go in the studio and work on it with him. These are like the wildest, wildest dreams coming true for me. Then you add the element of a songwriter coming on the show who’s at a different place in their career and it's emotional. It really makes me emotional.
Those opportunities are huge for me and for Ryan and Ester. Then you add the element of these songwriters who haven't yet done a lot of the things I've gotten to do. I am obsessed with watching someone's dreams come true. I feel like it is the best way for me to remember the way mine have, and when IRO from the Macklemore episode got to play in front of 60,000 people with Macklemore, I watched that clip and just cried my eyes out. Six months before the show, he was busking in a subway in New York and he had been doing that for 10 years. So that's why I want to do something like this, is to watch those things happen and I'm still working with IRO. In fact, I talked to him this morning.
What are your hopes for season 2?
For one, I want people to watch it with their family. I love when I hear from people that it's something they can watch with their whole family. That really matters to me right now. There's not a lot of things that we can all sit down as a family and watch … you're seeing this transformation of what's possible.
I want people to see it for that and to just see, again, dreams coming true for people and that honestly, anything is possible. That sounds so cliché, but that really happens every week. For songwriters that have been doing this for years, to think that they're gonna walk out and play a song in front of Lady Antebellum tonight, Boyz II Men. That just seems like such an impossible goal. You couldn't dream that up. I just hope people can see that in it and recognize what it means to everyone, us included.