Jun 10, 2021
By Caleb Campbell
Ryan McKinley, guitarist and vocalist for Canadian punk band Pkew Pkew Pkew, is back with a new solo EP, releasing under the moniker Moral Pleasures. In the midst of 2020, McKinley found himself locked down in Alberta with his girlfriend and their cat, breaking from his band’s grueling weeks on the road. With the extra time and space, McKinley built a home studio and took to writing, debuting with a four-song EP, Persepolis at the end of last year. Now McKinley is back with his follow-up, Sleepy Songs for Dying Loves, premiering early with Under the Radar.
Unsurprisingly, Moral Pleasures sounds quite different from Pkew Pkew Pkew’s boozy punk anthems. Sleepy Songs for Dying Loves feels like a quarantine record in the truest sense: welcoming, intimate, thoughtful, and ethereal. Hints of Kate Bush-esque art pop shine on the opener, “Find The Moon In Tokyo,” with its moon-lit melodies and spiraling synth chords, while “Prospero” shares DNA with heart-on-the-sleeve indie songwriters like The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg. Meanwhile, “Goth” crosses genre boundaries with hazy dream pop melodies that melt into a folk-tinged harmonica solo. Finally, the closing tracks turn towards folk and chamber pop, with string-backed piano balladry, and an idyllic finger-picked closer.
If Moral Pleasures shares one thing with Pkew Pkew Pkew though, it’s simplicity. McKinley doesn’t overcomplicate matters, penning welcoming pop songs that nonetheless show his literate songwriting talents and unexpected versatility. Moral Pleasures feels like the kind of project McKinley could take in any direction, finding rewarding new pop gems whatever road he traverses.
Check out the EP below and read McKinley’s track-by-track guide through the record. Sleepy Songs for Dying Loves is out tomorrow, June 11th.
Find The Moon In Tokyo:
A lot of my lyrics are inspired, at least in-part, by whatever I’m reading at the time. Last year, I was in the studio with my other band and our producer, Jon, started talking about Murakami, who I’d heard of but never read before. When I got home, I breezed through my girlfriend’s copy of Kafka On The Shore, which sent me on a Murakami bender. I think I’ve read 8 or 9 of his books in the last few months. This song came after I read 1Q84, which is about these 2 long-lost loves trying to navigate parallel Tokyo worlds to be together. I love the image of looking at the moon to find a lost connection, but also to orientate oneself in a confusing world. This is a really simple pop song, but I think it hints at a lot of the concepts I’m interested in exploring with Moral Pleasures.
The original title for the EP was “Simple Songs For Dying Loves” because I’m a novice home producer and I need to keep everything pretty straightforward while I figure out how to make things sound okay (and hopefully one day, good). This song really embodied that philosophy. It was the first one written and dictated how the rest of the writing would go – quickly and without overthinking anything. It started with the jangly chorus guitar part and the rest came within 10-15 minutes. It’s mainly about the thought that even the happiest relationships end in pain because we’re fragile things. I wasn’t thinking about the pandemic, but it must’ve worked its way into my subconscious. It’s also about control and realizing we don’t have much control over how most things shake out in life. Prospero was always pulling strings behind the scenes to suit his needs, but that’s not an option in life.
I’m always reading this book of Irish folk and fairy tales that WB Yeats collected. I really like the stories about fairies and how they’re basically just out to have a good time, but then there’s the supernatural, dark side to them. I was thinking about that when I wrote this song but through the lens of someone looking back on the mischief of their younger years. Being in the twilight of youth myself, it can be traumatic to reminisce and realize how dumb it was to act the way I did at 20 or even 25, drinking and smoking myself silly, not giving much of a shit about my future self. I shudder to think of how un-self aware I was at that age compared to now. But at the same time, you really cherish those memories of debauchery with your closest friends. Even when I’ve spoken to older people about their younger years, the wild ones are often the memories that come through. So I guess the spirit of the song is just to enjoy your youth while you’ve got it because you’ll need those touchstone memories when you get older and more morbid thoughts start to creep in.
Knight Of Nights:
Usually, I have some idea of what I’m going to write about before I start, but that didn’t happen here. I got all the music written and recorded first, then sat down and started humming along and typing out lyrics. When I wrote a few lines, I started to get an image in my head of this character roaming around the dream world waiting for people to fall asleep so he/she could show them around (now I’m picturing the Nightman from Always Sunny, but there’s no relation). It kind of became a song about the meaning behind dreams and truth-seeking, but I was also thinking about religion, nature, the collective consciousness, etc.
The last song is a little ode to nature. Swans feature pretty heavily in Celtic mythology as symbols of love and art. In the first section of the song, I’m using them to take me back to an idyllic time when my descendants lived harmoniously within nature, if such a time ever really existed. The second section is more about a slow realization of how much damage we’ve inflicted on the planet. The past few years, I’ve spent more time immersed in nature and trying to read as much as I can about plants and wildlife. The more I learn, the more I feel a deep connection with the planet, but also more filled with anger, anxiety, and sorrow for the stuff that won’t grow back. I’m super late to the party, but I’m trying to make up for my own ignorance.