Sharing ideas and changing hearts and minds, one vegan restaurant at a time

If you ever find yourself in a vegan restaurant and you see a young blond woman at a table that’s groaning from the weight of the food on it, don’t be alarmed—it might just be Nellie McKay writing songs. She describes her ideal creative space thus: “In a vegan restaurant, eating a dairy-free caesar salad, a milkshake that tastes like a Butterfinger bar, chickpea fries, fake hot dogs, mock fried chicken, mashed potatoes, malai kofta, samosas and beer. I prefer to do more eating than writing—it really does help.”

McKay’s experiences with meat-free menus have now produced the giddily diverse Home Sweet Mobile Home, her first new album of original material since 2007. Mobile is the operative word in the title—the singer, songwriter and pianist recorded in Los Angeles, New York, Jamaica and Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. “Moving around so much created a sense of chaos that I hope helped the music,” she says. McKay’s mother, Robin Pappas, served as her co-producer and picked the musicians who play on the record. “If it was left to me, it would be like the scene in [the 2007 comedy film] Walk Hard where Dewey Cox has a 50-piece orchestra, an Aboriginal choir, 24-hour sessions and a real goat, which actually sounds like heaven,” she quips. “Luckily, Robin found good people. It’s always a good idea to work with musicians who are better than the material, and that’s what we did.”

The New York City native has been broadening her horizons lately. Last year she released Normal As Blueberry Pie, an album of songs originally recorded by Doris Day. She says she drew from that experience “a renewed resolve to try my best to write standards, songs that can last for always.” McKay has also tried her hand at acting, taking her first starring role in the new independent film Downtown Express. “I love the movies, but I’m not sure I’m any good at it,” she admits. “I have trouble taking written lines seriously.”

She also remains a passionate advocate for animal rights—and is perfectly happy to use her musical stardom as a way to get the message out. “You try to make the world better through music,” she says. “You try to share ideas. You try to change hearts and minds. Most people don’t want to make animals suffer—but most people do, because they eat them. I would hope on some level music can open a door, even a little bit, that otherwise would have been closed.”

–Chris Neal

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