In today’s music climate, having a voice that fits within multiple platforms is important. For singer Nellie McKay, versatility has come naturally.
McKay will return to the Valley to perform at the Chandler Center for the Arts on Saturday, February 8.
McKay is known for her vocal abilities, her whimsical and sarcastic lyrics and her blending of different musical styles.
Throughout her career, the singer-songwriter, author and actress has reached the top 10 numerous times on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums charts and collaborated twice with Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick.
Her music has appeared on “Mad Men,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Rumor Has It,” “Monster In Law,” Weeds” and “Boardwalk Empire.” As an actress, she appeared as Ciara in the film “P.S. I Love You” and Ramona in “Downtown Express.”
In October, McKay released her latest EP, “Bagatelles,” a companion to the full-length album “Sister Orchid.”
On the EP, she performs standards such as “How About You?” “Up a Lazy River,” “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” “Rockabye Your Baby” and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo Dah.”
“There are so many wonderful songs that have been written that you try to cover, that you want to live up to. It’s all there in the song. You just have to get out of the way,” McKay says.
McKay says the EP is different from its sister album because she used a ukulele, an instrument she says is good to play in bed. She was also going for a more serene sound.
“It was pretty light and breezy, music you could sing to yourself by the riverbank,” McKay says.
During many of her recent performances, McKay has been doing music from this album.
“It’s a solo album, so it’s easy to take on the road. My band eats too much when they are on the road. It is easier doing solo shows, in a way, but when they are around, it’s a party,” McKay jokes.
Along with her new music, she has also been performing songs from her other albums.
In Chandler, she hopes to create an intimate feeling, where the audience feels involved in the show.
“I welcome hecklers or people who want to dance or sing along. The more the merrier,” McKay says.
McKay encourages listeners to make requests during the show.
“The venue informs the show, and the people who come and what they want to hear inform the show,” McKay says. “When you go to a concert, a lot of times you want to hear that one song. As much as we can honor that, I like to.”
She hopes audiences will smile and laugh along with her during her performances.
“I try to just make people happy with the music. You try to be a song-and-dance man. We aim to entertain,” McKay says.
Born in London and raised in Harlem, McKay first played the piano and later started singing.
She released her debut double album, “Get Away from Me,” in 2004, the same year she toured with Barenaked Ladies and Alanis Morissette. She was a finalist for the Shortlist Music Prize.
McKay has been influenced by a range of styles and performers, including legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday. McKay has had a multifaceted career. Along with her solo music, she has performed in and written music for film, TV and theater.
She won a Theatre World Award for her portrayal of Polly Peachum in “The Threepenny Opera” and co-created and starred in the award-winning vaudeville-style show “Old Hats.”
Her third album, “Obligatory Villagers,” was the inspiration for a ballet by the Chase Brock Experience.
She also touted by critics for her music for and performance in Ethan Coen’s “A Play is a Poem.”
Along with her music, McKay is an advocate on social and political issues affecting people around the world. She received PETA’s Humanitarian Award for her work with animal rights causes.
She is also passionate about civil and women’s rights issues. McKay doesn’t bring politics into her music these days, but her songbook does contain politically themed songs such as “Ridiculous.”
She continues to be highly involved in politics, which has helped her to evolve as a person and singer/songwriter.
“It’s just wonderful all the people that you work with, and they change you. I’ve been to so many states, and when you canvas, you feel the Earth beneath your feet. You know this country so much better. I think that does more to inform your music than practicing,” McKay says.
Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Avenue, Chandler, 480.782.2680, chandlercenter.org, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 8, $36 to $42.