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For McKillen, music is life

Kristen Durbin | Monday, February 8, 2010

From charity concerts to AcoustiCafe to this year’s B1 Block Party, senior Pat McKillen is a regular on the Notre Dame music scene. His constant presence on the performance circuit has earned him a sizable student fan base and performance opportunities outside the University.

McKillen got his musical start in eighth grade as the front man of a heavy metal cover band with friends. He was inspired, however, to take up the acoustic guitar by the Dave Matthews Band, and after a year of rigorous practice, McKillen had mastered playing guitar and singing at the same time.

He eventually abandoned metal and played with an acoustic band throughout high school. He had to adjust his musical approach, however, upon arriving at Notre Dame.

“Once I came here, it was different because I hadn’t had experience with playing solo or with songwriting,” McKillen said. “My early songs were pretty elementary, so I started writing more songs and put more thought behind the structure and the lyrics.”

During his freshman year, McKillen performed at house parties hosted by his sister, then a senior, and her friends. Over time, he learned to play a wider variety of songs, which enabled him to play at his first on-campus performance at the inaugural Aidan Project, a blanket-making drive, in 2006.

“I lived in Knott, which was where Aidan [Fitzgerald] lived, and they were sponsoring the event, so they asked me to play,” McKillen said. “We made a huge list of all the songs I was capable of playing and just went with it.”

McKillen said a member of the Student Union Board approached him at the performance about playing at AcoustiCafe, and he took advantage of the offer, which opened up performance opportunities all over campus.

“From then on out, I’ve just played everywhere,” McKillen said. “AcoustiCafe has been great because it’s a reason to keep writing and trying new things every week.”

McKillen later performed at the first Best of AcoustiCafe concert at the Clarke Memorial Fountain, also known as Stonehenge, in April of his freshman year. He became so involved in AcoustiCafe that he performed at every week of the event in one semester of his junior year.

In the spring of his junior year, he performed at local bars like CJ’s. He also played post-game shows after every 2009 home football game, providing him more local exposure.

McKillen has played numerous shows at Legends, including one last Thursday. He additionally opened for Eric Hutchinson and Matisyahu at this year’s B1 Block Party. He also performed at the Harmonia concert in Washington Hall last fall and at last week’s Hope for Haiti benefit concert.

All of these performance opportunities have led to the release of McKillen’s forthcoming album, and they have ultimately inspired him to pursue music as a career, despite the increasing difficulty of achieving success in the industry.

“Hopefully this album will be my resume for the future,” McKillen said. “It might be irrational, and there’s a lot of failure possible, but I’m just doing what I love and going for it musically.”
McKillen hopes to travel to famously musical cities like Nashville and Austin, and he is contemplating going abroad as well.

“Going to England or Ireland might be a cool avenue to take since I’m obviously not from there,” McKillen said. “I’ll just continue playing what I play and hopefully someone will hear me at the right time.”

In the meantime, McKillen continues to write original songs and arrange covers of popular songs for his performances. Most recently, he arranged a cover of Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK” the day before the Hope for Haiti concert.

Although he enjoys covering other artists’ music, especially his arrangement of MGMT’s “Kids” and The Fray’s “You Found Me,” McKillen’s favorite part of music and performing is songwriting.

“It’s a rush to play something you’ve written, and when other people hear it the rush is as much for them as it is for me,” McKillen said.

Although McKillen will leave Notre Dame with a finance degree, he hopes to continue his musical career after graduation.

“I want to do music because there’s nothing like playing your own songs in front of people,” McKillen said. “It’s when I feel most alive.”