Spotlight on Nellie Mckay

Girl Uninterrupted

Who knew this teen songwriter's zany, brainy post-cabaret is just what we needed?

Nellie McKay is in a rush. ''I want success,'' says the 19-year-old singer-songwriter. ''I want it quick. I want it now.'' Precociousness comes naturally to McKay, who started college at 16 and had a record deal two years later. But despite her youth, don't expect ''TRL''-ready fluff. McKay's debut album, ''Get Away From Me,'' is full of subversive, eclectic piano pop that blends Randy Newman's sly song craft, Eminem's fleet-tongued wit, and Doris Day's cooing sweetness. The result is a stunning set studded with political rants, goofy non sequiturs, and even some semiconvincing rap.

Raised by her actress mother, McKay had a bohemian childhood. Born in London, she bounced between Harlem, Washington, and Pennsylvania in a VW van. But her artsy background didn't prepare her for college at the Manhattan School of Music, where she had trouble fitting in (class musings on UFOs didn't help). ''I got laughed at a lot for speaking up,'' she says. Now McKay is the one smiling. Soon after quitting school to hit the open-mic circuit, she was signed to Columbia. Amazingly, she persuaded them to release her album as a double-disc set -- almost unheard of for a new artist. And when money ran out, she sweet-talked her producer, famed Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, into finishing the CD gratis. Now she's ready for the world to hear her crazy concoction. ''It's about f -- -ing time, man,'' she says. ''I've wanted this my entire life.''

Originally posted Mar 12, 2004 Published in issue #755 Mar 12, 2004 Order article reprints
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