Honest Effort His Trademark : Pop music: Singer-songwriter Edwin McCain, who plays the Coach House tonight, reaches for lyrics that echo with a sound of sincerity.
Singer-songwriter Edwin McCain is a regular guy, an unassuming, boy-next-door type with an ingratiating personality and an inquisitive nature. He’s a typical friendly and enthusiastic 25-year-old from a nice home and a good family.
“I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, a small little Southern town,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It’s a cool place; it’s awesome. I was adopted by the two coolest parents anyone could ever wish for. I was very lucky. It was a pretty idyllic existence.”
McCain, who performs tonight at the Coach House, was into music from the time he was small, at first enamored of the Motown sound, then pop-funk heroes Earth, Wind & Fire, and later by local folk singer David Wilcox. He was 15 when he first picked up a guitar himself, leading his father to have a vision of the most horrible sort.
“He had this nightmare about me having long hair and traveling around the country in a van and playing music for a living,” recounted McCain. “He was all, like, ‘God, please promise me you’ll never do that,’ and I was, like, ‘No big deal, I’m never gonna do that.’ But here I am. Sorry.”
Where McCain is, is sitting in a position as an up-and-coming artist with a hit single climbing the charts in “Solitude,” from his debut album, “Honor Among Thieves,” on Atlantic Records.
The album showcases McCain’s knack for telling a story in an honest, questioning voice. His subject matter runs the gamut from love songs to family matters to race relations to isolation, but always his lyrics have a ring of sincerity.
“A song is like a little core, and the different ways to come at the song are like a sphere around it that you can come at from a million points,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding that interesting way of saying something that everybody can understand.
“Hopefully, what that does is say, ‘Take a step out of your own little microcosm and view it from another point,’ ” he said.
Suffice to say that McCain is more well-spoken in song than he sometimes is in conversation.
Musically, McCain is the sum of his influences. He writes his material on acoustic guitar but has a tight, funky backing band--saxophonist-keyboardist Craig Shields, drummer Todd “T.J.” Hall and bassist Scott Bannevich--that adds elements of soul, jazz and blues to his sound.
“Craig and Todd bring that to it,” McCain said. “They played jazz at a place called the Greenbriar, a resort where they had this pretty serious jazz scene going. I’m not [a trained musician] at all, I don’t even know what I’m doing. Sometimes, I have to ask the bass player what chord I’m playing.”
The sound of McCain and company isn’t too far removed from that of Hootie & the Blowfish. In fact, McCain is close friends with the band members, and they gave his career a boost by using him as an opener for their concerts and eventually helping him become a label mate on Atlantic Records. That’s Blowfish lead singer Darius Rocker doing a guest turn on “Solitude.”
While McCain counts his blessings and is thankful that his career seems to be taking off, he takes none of it very seriously. When push comes to shove, all he really needs is a guitar to be a happy camper.
“I don’t really care about what or who is popular,” he said. “I consider myself to be an acoustic songwriter. Acoustic songwriters are like cockroaches, man. We’re gonna be here when the world is done. During the next phase of whatever, we’ll hide underneath the refrigerator until it’s time to come out and have acoustic songs again.”
* Edwin McCain, Oven Bird and Deb Buyer perform tonight at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $15.50. (714) 496-8930.