PINK FLOYD WEEK: Tom McKee (Brothers Past) Reflects on Pink Floyd

Tom McKee is the keyboard player in Brothers Past and submitted this post to LMB about how Pink Floyd informs his music career, both in BP as well as with his work at School of Rock. Read on for his thoughts about the band and their tunes…

Since Pink Floyd decided to re-issue their catalog this week, I’ve been thinking about ways the band has influenced me over the years. Music has always been a huge part of my DNA, and these days it keeps me busier then ever. I spend a good bit of my time as the music director and head keyboard teacher at School of Rock in Downingtown, PA. I’m also the keyboardist and songwriter for the band Brothers Past, which keeps a pretty active schedule even if we don’t tour quite as much as we did five years ago. Between the two gigs, I’m playing, teaching or talking about music constantly. And when I really think about it, there are few bands that have impacted my musical tastes the way Pink Floyd has.

I didn’t listen to much classic rock in my teenage years but I knew all about Pink Floyd and was aware of their place in rock history. That being said, I was into a lot of the grunge music that was happening in the early 90s and didn’t spend a whole lot of time listening to the band. I had listened to Dark Side of the Moon in high school but didn’t really delve into the rest of their catalog until I got to college. But once I did, it didn’t take long for me to become hooked. I found a lot to love about their music, especially the keyboard playing of Richard Wright, who I consider a big influence. I’ve always loved how he approached the instrument, merging natural sounds like the piano and organ with more synthetic sounds like the Moog and Arp synths. It’s an approach I’ve tried to adopt myself, when I’m writing and when I’m improvising. I’ve always thought it would be cool to hear Pink Floyd “jam.” Let me clarify that. I’m not saying Pink Floyd should have been a jamband. But I do think it would have been cool to sit in a room one day and hear them improvise. They were so incredibly good at creating mood with their music. I would have loved to hear them create new musical worlds on the fly. I think it would have sounded unique and distinct and tasteful and interesting — qualities that only the most special bands are capable of creating.

When I met Tom Hamilton in 1998, we started playing music together and Pink Floyd was a band that we both loved. Coincidentally, when I met Clay Parnell a few years later, we realized that our two favorite bands were Pink Floyd and Guns n Roses, and to paraphrase that guy in that movie, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Rick probably think Pink Floyd sucks, but only cause David Gilmour never used Super Locrian. Rick has always been a guy who appreciates the tritone. But basically, we’re all really big fans. When Tommy and I began playing with one another, we were both looking to do something a little different than the guitar-jam rock thing and I think Pink Floyd helped us start to steer our music into an area that was a bit darker and eventually more electronic. We began working on soundscaping and layering sounds instead of individual solos and really started to plant the seeds for what Brothers Past would evolve into. Tommy got really into effects and began to figure out how to make his guitar sound like it wasn’t a guitar. I was buying analog synths and experimenting with that kind of stuff. Eventually we just kind of figured out that when you play stuff that sounds like On the Run over a four on the floor beat it sounds pretty cool! We were listening to a lot of other stuff at the time too, but I think Pink Floyd’s influence is pretty apparent throughout the core of the band. I mean, we’ve got concept albums and the same instrumentation and the two songwriter thing and the merging analog with digital thing. Really just a hugely influential band for Brothers Past in its early years.

So like I said, I have a pretty cool day job that I work at School of Rock, where I’m basically teaching kids using rock music as a curriculum. Yeah, like Jack Black, except I get the parents permission before we all hop into a tourbus and travel up and down the East Coast. We teach all kinds of music at the school: punk, prog, glam, folk, funk, reggae. I’d keep going, but I think you get the point. The newbs play the Ramones while the vets tackle Zappa — I’m generalizing a bit, but you get the point. Pink Floyd is a band I always come back to because their music is a fantastic teaching tool. One thing I point out about Pink Floyd is how tasteful each member of the band is — how on their best songs, every note sounds like it NEEDS to be there. It doesn’t just “fit” well. It’s absolutely essential. I’m a big believer in simplicity when it comes to music. Don’t get me wrong. I can enjoy a virtuoso player, but I have always believed that less is more when it comes to music, and most of the time, Pink Floyd proves me right. The songs are also great teaching tools. The piano intro to Summer ’68 is fun to play! The synth solo in Run Like Hell is a great way to teach beginners about non-traditional sounds and the ways you can manipulate them. The majesty of a Hammond Organ through a Leslie Speaker has never sounded better then it does on Brain Damage/Eclipse. And let’s not forget about the minor-major seventh chord in Us and Them. NO ONE USES THAT CHORD!

Pink Floyd made great records, and there’s a lot you can learn about music when you dissect the songs on them.

  • West Leigh

    One thing I point out about Pink Floyd is how tasteful each member of the band is — how on their best songs, every note sounds like it NEEDS to be there. It doesn’t just “fit” well. It’s absolutely essential. 
    Nail on the head.

  • http://www.whitperson.com Marc Whitman

    nice write-up and love the School of Rock angle. thanks for contributing Tom!