Alone in a secluded section of a St. Louis County park, Brandon McCadney is keeping the beat.
Playing his keyboard in freezing temperatures, the artist known as Mad Keys pays little mind to the snow and ice surrounding him. As the beat continues for several minutes, McCadney puts his signature synthesizer pulse onto the instrumental he's playing. The camera pans out, and McCadney continues.
It's a scene from St. Louis filmmaker Jon Alexander's "Nature of Sound," a short documentary showcasing musicians from the local scene in serene settings. McCadney is featured first in the film, performing live music in the middle of nature and bringing a balance between the park's natural beauty and that of his keys.
Creating balance is a struggle. And McCadney acknowledges that struggle, most notably with his newly released LP, aptly titled Balance. As he explains it, what was the most exciting time of his life has also brought on new responsibilities. In 2018, McCadney married his love, Chelsea, and has since discovered the importance of maintaining a healthy balance of family and music aspirations. A prolific musician, violinist and producer, McCadney says it's been a welcome adjustment.
"Balance is essentially something I've been more so struggling with since I got married," he says. "But balancing my life from being married to working on music, and working toward these different goals, is something Chelsea and I have been talking about."
And that's what the project is really about: maintenance. McCadney says he's learned that regardless of his own ambitious goals for his music, the life he plans to create with his wife is what's most important. He says that her support is what's allowed him to push ahead with his creative ventures.
"The way that I'm finding balance is keeping first things first," McCadney says. "That's your health, your spirituality and those around you."
McCadney is revered in St. Louis for his innovative musical pieces, and Balance is nothing if not innovative. The eleven-track offering ticks several boxes in terms of genre signifiers, including jazz, gospel, hip-hop, soul and electronic. Like most artists, McCadney's music is undoubtedly a reflection of his life. It's intimate, and taps into the heart and spirit of a man who loves several things: his wife, his family and his music, in that order. While the album is completely instrumental, each track has a title that reflects the emotions the musician was feeling during its composition.
"'Rejoice' is about being able to celebrate where you are in life," he says as an example. "It's important to be able to celebrate everything we're doing at this moment, no matter if we're in a season where our heads are down."
Much of what Balance is about echoes the many reminders from social media and wellness experts about the importance of self-care. It's not just lighting candles and drinking wine; it's checking in with oneself and evaluating what's most important. McCadney illustrates this. Throughout the LP, soulful storytelling is at play, even without lyrics. It's a reminder to be kind to ourselves, to keep the faith, remain ambitious and persevere.
"Those are the themes that really inspired me," he says. "Being able to have balance in all these different moving parts in your life, with family and your creative endeavors, and your friends — it's all very important. The more intentional you get about how you spend your time, the more intentional you'll get about how you move."
All told, Balance is a collection of tracks suitable for the commute or some Saturday morning house cleaning, as well as playing softly before bed with a lavender-scented diffuser enticing you to sleep. In short, it's a beautiful body of work in which to get lost and found.
McCadney says his evolution as an artist is something that he's proud of. Although musically gifted since childhood, he has only been producing for a few years. His first release, LoveWaves, was named one of RFT's best albums of 2017 (and, notably, features his wife, Chelsea, at the forefront of the cover art). And he's only grown from there.
Since creating his latest album, McCadney says the biggest lesson is that he knows he can never be perfect. It will always be a challenge to make every part of his life fit together, but he's got some exciting musical opportunities ahead of him, and chooses to focus on how his decisions will affect the people he loves most.
"There are those times where it feels like I'm working aimlessly," he says. "But the beauty of it is that it's not true. You have to find purpose in all that you do."