Perched on a stool, Jason McCue had only his guitar to keep him company on stage at the Museum of Pop Culture’s Sound Off! Semifinals last Friday night.
One of many bands performing at Mo Pop.
Despite being the only solo act of the evening, McCue captivated the crowd. He plucked out fast-paced folk tunes, stringing lyrics together in ways that elicited cheering and laughter from the audience.
McCue is a junior at Seattle University and is the current Promotions Director and Venue Manager for the student-run radio station KXSU.
He started writing music in high school in his hometown of Philadelphia. He was in a band with his friends then, but started working on solo projects once he got to Seattle University.
His music is inspired by artists like Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, Modest Mouse, Tom Waits “and the Beastie Boys, always the Beastie Boys,” McCue said.
Looking around the Sky Church at the Museum of Pop Culture or ‘MoPop”, you could see that people were listening intently to every word McCue sang.
“I like words a lot,” McCue said. “I think words are very cool. Just the way you can kind of shape them and manipulate them to say something different from what the words themselves are saying. I like stories a lot too. Lyric-stories are my favorite kind of song lyric because that’s what music can be sometimes is just another way to tell a story.”
MoPop’s Sound Off! competition is a Battle of the Bands-style competition for bands with members under 21 years of age. Sound Off! began in 2001 and has since helped bands like Naked Giants, The Lonely Forest, Schoolyard Heroes and others launch their careers in the music industry.
Last year’s Sound Off! runner-up, Paris Williams, who goes by the name Paris Alexa on stage, had a lot of fun watching McCue perform.
“Jason’s amazing,” Williams said. “He’s amazing lyrically and on the guitar—he looked like he was birthed from a guitar, and his concepts are so amazing. He can fit them in funny and ironic ways with these crazy melodies. I think he has so much star power and I love that he’s so humble.”
The judges were equally impressed by McCue, ranking him first place in the semifinal round, and guaranteeing him the opportunity to compete in the Sound Off! Finals.
The runner up, electronic group Fluencie, won the “Fan Favorite” award of the night.
Natalia Aristides, lead vocalist for Fluencie, was grateful for the opportunity to perform in the Sky Church.
“It was definitely the best venue we’ve played, the sound system, the venue was amazing,” she said.
Her father, Dino Aristides, said he was proud of what she had accomplished so far.
“It’s the first time I’ve watched her perform live and I’m amazed. I mean, I bought her a guitar when she was little and she started writing songs, but I didn’t know she could do this.”
Alternative boy band Mission 253 and indie-folk band Cult Brides also played in the semifinal round. Cult Brides drove all the way from Boise, Idaho to perform in Sound Off!.
“The performance went so well, I love playing music with my friends and that, bottom line, is the best,” said Ruby Somoza, lead vocalist for Cult Brides.
Each of the performers seemed to express a similar sense of gratitude for the community that Sound Off! has built around the competition.
Raja Drah, drummer for Mission 253, said that this was the most comfortable show he has ever played.
“I’m just glad that there’s no animosity,” Drah said. “Sound Off! is a place where it’s not a competition. They said at orientation, ‘It’s not a competition.’ Basically, you come here to display your passion and your talent for music.”
There are two more semifinal rounds on Feb. 17 and 24. The winners from each semifinal round, along with one “Wild Card” pick from the runner-up bands, will compete in the Sound Off! Finals on Saturday, March 11.
Jason McCue will play the same set on March 11.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said with a laugh.
He was excited to show his family back home videos and pictures of his performance, and was energized from all the people who had walked up to him after the show.
“I felt like a politician,” he said. “I was shaking everybody’s hand like ‘Oh well thank you very much, I’ll see you in 2018’.”
To listen to Jason McCue, check out his Bandcamp at jasonmccue1.bandcamp.com. To shake hands with Jason McCue, you can see him live on March 11, and purchase tickets at www.mopop.org/programs-plus-education/programs/sound-off/.
Haley may be reached at