Mike McCready and Visual Artist Kate Neckel Introduce Infinite Sound & Color

Jake Uitti

Infinite Sound & Color is the new artistic, collaborative project from Pearl Jam guitarist, Mike McCready, and bi-coastal visual artist, Kate Neckel. Their work features unbridled enthusiasm and a sense of organic freedom that comes from like-minded creativity and vulnerability. The duo, who began working together about four months ago, will showcase their work during two nights on March 22nd and 23rd at Seattle’s Winston Wächter Fine Art Gallery. (Both performances are sold out, but the work will be on display through May 18, 2019.) To preview the event, we caught up with both McCready and Neckel to ask them how they met and began working together as well as to get a sense of their creative relationship and what they hope to discover through their work together. 

KEXP: How did you two meet?

Mike: My wife Ashley and I were at the Seattle Art Fair and we’d heard of Kate through some mutual friends. We saw her work there at the Art Fair and it was amazing. So, through some mutual friends, we were going to see her art show happening later on that year but we missed it because we were out of town. We went back to the gallery after Ashley had hired Kate to do some art for our house. So, we first met her then. But we went back to her gallery later and that’s when I really met Kate. I was talking about in passing like, “I’d love to do something like the Andy Warhol Factory some day. I’ve always wanted to do something like this for 25 years.” 

Kate: And I said, “I’ve always wanted to do that!” I’ve always wanted to, you know, paint on people while they’re playing music. I’d done something like that in Brooklyn years ago but I’d always had this similar idea to mix art with painting and photography and film and music but nobody ever go it. But Mike and I, it’s like we have the same mind and vision, and it clicked. 

Mike: Yeah, it happened naturally. In passing. I was like, “Really? Okay!” I was surprised because she’s an accomplished artist and that’s a whole new world for me and it was scary in a way for me to be a part of that, but also exciting. 

Kate: It was the same for me. I’d always wanted to play around with music and I was, like, a repressed singer and I could feel where Mike was coming from and I was like, “Holy cow, this guy wants to navigate this world of collaboration with me.” And I saw some stuff when I’d gone over to the house to do the commission for them. I saw some work Mike had done. A sculpture outside that I thought was beautiful and spoke to me. I knew right away Mike was an artist and we needed to do this. 

I’ve seen some pictures of mannequins and these big colorful canvases. What do you two have planned for the two March shows at Winston Wächter?

Mike: We can’t talk about the mannequins! 

Kate: They never say anything back, they’re very private.

Mike: They don’t talk a lot, they’re very distant! The plans, though, I feel like it’s going to be a mixture of the works of art we’ve created together, which are painting and photography, there’s music and a few songs and there will be an element of performance within all that. That’s something we’re working out right now. And we don’t want to give too much away because we want it to be a surprise.

Kate: The performance element will be in the front of the gallery and the paintings, collages, photography, sculpture will be in the back of the gallery. It’s a mixed media adventure. 

Mike: Mixed media is a great term for it. 

Kate: We’re making music, film and we’ve been documenting our whole process.

Mike: It’s kind of about pushing each other to do something we’re not comfortable with. Because I’m not comfortable with painting, that’s a difficult thing for me to do, or drawing or any of that. But in this process, Kate is allowing me to do that. It’s been very nonjudgmental and very opening. I feel like it’s the same way for Kate in doing music and playing guitar. It’s been reciprocal in those terms. 

Mike, what does working with a visual artist do for your music?

Mike: It makes it 100-times more interesting. For me, as Kate is painting, if I’m creating music I’m trying to feel where she’s going, in the lines of her paint and how that’s inspiring me. I’m trying to make a soundtrack out of it. Maybe she’s doing the same thing, I don’t know. But it’s a reciprocated type of trust that’s most important. 

Kate, what does working with a musician do for your artwork?

Kate: When we do these pieces where I’m painting and he’s playing guitar or when I’m playing guitar and he’s painting, we try to feel each other. I’ll respond to what he’s playing with the marks that I’m making. We just follow each other’s hands. It’s like we’re both open to feeling what each other’s doing and each other’s leads. It’s like the same hand, like we’re playing with the same sets of hands.

Mike: It’s intuitive. 

It’s almost like you’re in a band together. 

Mike: A combination of those things, though: a band, an art thing. I don’t know what it is yet; it’s hard to put a name to it, which is great. 

Kate: And I know how to read him. I wasn’t expecting this because I had never made music before, but when we’re playing music together, I can read him and feel these changes and what to do and it’s very exciting. 

Mike: She has a natural tendency to know where to go in a song, which is not easy to do. Seeing visual cues of my head moving, or, like, “This is where the chorus is,” which is what I’m saying, but non-verbally. She knows where to go, which is really cool to see. It was in there all the time. 

How has your creative relationship evolved since first working together? 

Kate: I think that we’ve continued to take - initially, it’s funny, when you look back at some of our first videos when we were first meeting up and making our first pieces of work. I think that we’ve gotten even bolder about taking action. There’s always a combination of tension, desire and fear, all these things that are mixed in and we’re not afraid. We take action. We don’t judge it. I think we’ve become even more comfortable with each other and pushing our limits. Nothing’s really off limits. 

Mike: In terms of our relationship and creativity, it’s been four months. It hasn’t been a long time and it has exponentially evolved in terms of myself, personally, having more confidence, like, “Oh, I can add something to that really beautiful thing Kate just did over in the corner!” Or, I’ll ask her opinion about it and we’re honest with each other. I think we’ve just become better. That’s what I’m hoping. I feel like I’m a more well-rounded person and artist because of this process in terms of confidence and vulnerability.

You both have talked about your creative relationship opening yourselves up to vulnerability. Why is vulnerability important in your work?

Mike: Because of trust. Because it’s hard. You’re taught in society to not be vulnerable ever. But out of vulnerability, I think human beings can learn. There’s a learning process from being humble and vulnerable and going, “Okay, I’m ready to just jump into this but I don’t know what it’s going to do and I’m fucking scared of it.” But that’s okay. It’s okay to be scared of it. And, as Kate was saying earlier, taking action and getting through that and learning something from the vulnerability and humility. It’s important.

You’ve also mentioned that working together can make you feel like “kids” again. Do you have an example of that youthful, exuberant freedom? 

Kate: For me, what pops up is when we went over to the beach one day over in West Seattle and neither one of us talked about what we were going to do. He just picked me up and we drove over there and we knew we were collecting sticks. Then Mike came over and had a canvas he found in the back of his car and he painted on that. Just literally started creating sculptures - playing with what you have around. No rules, it’s just all about being free. And playing off each other, like kids would do. Okay, we found some sticks in the backyard and let’s play!

Mike: It just wasn’t planned out. In my mind, I thought Kate can obviously flourish on the beach with whatever elements were there, and what could that become? That’s the exciting part. There was another day when we went to this amphitheater she found over in Seward Park that I didn’t even know existed and I’ve been here my entire life. We went there and took the mannequins and took pictures of them, all this crazy stuff. And it was awesome. There was nobody there. It was just a very freeing thing, emotionally and creatively. 

Kate: And we’re both down for it. That’s what happens. We were working and it was a rainy day but then all of a sudden the sun came out for like 20 minutes. We were about to have a snack so we grabbed our salami, cheese, and crackers and threw them in the car and drove over there. 

Mike: We had our snack time! 

Kate: Arts and crafts, snacks and music. It’s very much like pre-school - it’s fun.

Mike: It is fun!

Mike, you’ve shown interest lately in starting projects. From this collaboration to your HockeyTalkter record label, your book of Polaroids and scoring movies. What do you like about beginning new things?

Mike: I think I just can’t ever slow down. Well, that’s not it. It’s exciting to do - I love my day job, I love my band, and that’s very creatively fulfilling. But I also have another side to me that goes, “Wow, I can learn something else.” I want to learn. That’s what it is. It’s like when I got to do something for the symphony and that was terrifying. But I got to do that and write a song for them. And so that kind of thing is really - things that I never thought I’d be able to do growing up, I’d like to try to do now. I feel like I’m confident in my vulnerability, as I was saying, but it’s important to keep expanding my artistic field because I bring that back to our band, too, and I bring it to life. I just want to keep learning. 

Kate, there’s so much movement and joy in your work. When you create, do you find yourself experiencing a series of emotions or embodying one large one, like joy?

Kate: I think it’s whatever’s happening at the moment. It’s cool that you see joy but I feel like I’ve always wanted to make art. And I’m so thankful. I’m 42, almost 43, and I get to do what I love. But usually, I try to hone in on the truth and the feeling of what is coming through me, or what I’m trying to express. So, it’s not like, “I’m going to make this joyful.” I just try to tell the truth and bring whatever I’m feeling - in this case, with Mike, if he’s playing guitar, just figure out what that looks like and make that come to life with shapes, lines, colors and whatever I have around me. 

Mike, Pearl Jam played two big shows this summer in Seattle. What did you learn about your overall creative relationship to the city after the Home Shows?

Mike: In terms of the home shows for myself, sociologically and morally and for many different reasons I felt we needed to do something, in terms of doing a show in Seattle. And Kelly, our manager, brought it up and we had a great team of people around us to help us realize the vision of how we create awareness. I mean, we all have awareness of homelessness in Seattle and it’s awful and I feel for the people that are out there in the terrible weather right now. But, creatively, that’s our art. We do music. But we luckily have a platform where we can use that and try to create awareness and money and civil action through our influence. We were very surprised when 140-150 different businesses donated their time and money into the project. Raising $11 million was totally crazy. We never thought that was going to happen. You know, I played my first show in 1979 at a birthday party when I was 10 years old and now we played these two giant shows at Safeco and so in terms of creatively, it’s mind-boggling that I got to be able to do that and that I’ve got to be able to have this kind of career. But the most important part of that is to be able to raise awareness and help and hopefully create some sort of solutions.

Sway, the premiere exhibition by collaborative group Infinite Color & Sound, opens Seattle’s Winston Wächter Fine Art Gallery. The Friday, March 22nd and Saturday, March 23rd performances are already sold out, but the work will be on display through May 18, 2019.