“I feel the Divine presence communicating to me through my songs.”
If there is one thing the world needs always, and especially now, it is any reminder that we are all human and that despite differences, there are things that bind us together. This is one of my fascinations with music; because though, yes, it’s enjoyable to go to a concert and bop around, and yes, it’s pleasant to have your favorite playlist serve as a soundtrack to your day, I think there is something more spiritual about the practice of making and listening to music. Whatever that human part of us is—the soul, perhaps—that craves connection and meaning, it wakes up to the sound of a song, and somehow we are less alone.
For songwriter John McKenna, this same energy draws him into meditative songwriting every day, searching for music to fill that space where inner worlds meet the outer ones. “I get up in the morning and pick up my guitar, strum chords and start singing, and then write down what I say,” he said. “It’s very spiritual, automatic writing. I don’t ever try to write a song. But I have written nearly every day of my life for the last 40 years. It’s pure joy.”
McKenna, who was an Evergreen local the moment his van broke down at the I-70 exit, can’t deny the inexplicable forces that have always been at work in his life. “I was on my way to California to be a rock star,” he laughed, “but the Universe knew that was not the right thing for me.” His van blew up outside of Evergreen, revealing a new path to take. “A local man, who is now a dear friend, picked me up and brought me into Evergreen. He introduced me around. By the time I bought another car, I loved Evergreen and the people, so I stayed.”
Though his imagined future was changed, McKenna couldn’t deny his musical past. “When I was a little kid, I started singing everywhere. People probably didn’t like it, but I did.” Sure, it’s a tongue-in-cheek way of suggesting the music lived inside of him. Piano lessons fanned the flame a bit, but what really got McKenna excited was the day he met a rock guitarist. All that “screaming guitar stuff,” he said, was the outlet his soul needed to get the music out.
There was another moment of testing fate in Manhattan when McKenna hit the pavement, cold-calling on record labels. McKenna recalled, “I was waiting in the lobby of Arista records trying to convince the bouncer to let me give my tape to someone. This young lady comes in. She’d just signed at Arista—she’s telling me all about it. She was waiting for People magazine to come and take a photo of her.” McKenna didn’t get in for an appointment that day at Arista, but he did recognize the woman on the back page of People magazine a month later. A year after that she was on the cover—a gorgeous, smiling Whitney Houston.
Okay, so the big record deal was a dream for someone else, McKenna came to understand. “My soul probably wanted me to have a more spiritual, philosophical life.” And it turns out, his new home nestled in the mountains was the perfect place to do that. “I built a recording studio in my home,” said McKenna. “I made nine albums for me, and a few for other people too.” His recording studio, Purple Music, proved to be a business and a vehicle for his personal art; and it was in this environment that McKenna found his power and passion: songwriting.
“I won an award for a Billboard songwriter contest: the best song award,” he said. “I saw a depressed teenager walking down the street and I got this whole story about what this kid was going through. I wrote a song called ‘The Unchosen,’ a real classic rock song. And it happened to be right before Columbine.” The award was not the big break McKenna had anticipated, but it did open up the possibilities of songwriting as a sort of calling. He played that song all over Colorado as people mourned the atrocity of the Columbine school shooting.
And as McKenna kept the daily practice of writing, he found that the music moved him as much as anybody. “A lot of the messages I get are for me rather than from me,” he said. “I feel the Divine presence communicating to me through my songs.” Songwriting is a long immersive process, and McKenna plays every role—writes every note and word, plays every instrument on each track. “When I’m making an album, it takes hundreds of hours of work. But when I’m done being the producer and the critic, I get chills going back to listen to it. I can tell the messages are for me.”
Like many others, McKenna found his life uprooted during quarantine. Covid left him stranded in Florida for an extended period of time, but he also found that he could make music anywhere. “The Universe was telling me: stop looking for the outside world to discover you. Discover yourself,” he said.
But he also knows that Evergreen is his true home, and the place where music—and life!—makes sense. “People have a higher vibration, and their consciousness is higher in the High Country. There is beauty everywhere you look.”
To learn more and to download McKenna’s music, visit purplemusic.com.