Pyrrhic Whim is Me

by James Duval

Writing about a new band can be tough, especially a band that has yet to release any music. You don’t know what they’ll sound like, they don’t have a narrative to follow, so everything you can say about them is left to conjecture. However, Pyrrhic Whim is not necessarily a “new” band, rather it is the latest project by Kelsie McNair, a Norfolk-based singer/songwriter. McNair has been a part of the local music and arts scene for years. She’s been the sole owner of With Lavendar and Lace, a vintage boutique shop located in Ghent since 2011. She’s recorded solo music and performed live at various venues, either as a solo act or a supporting player. Most recently, she shared the stage with DJP and MrT as a part of the Virginia Stage Company’s “Moon Take Thy Flight” and released a single with a new side project, Lux Nova, featuring Joe Hamm and Nate Fender of Chasing Arrows and Lizzy Paluszek of The Janks. But Pyrrhic Whim will be a different beast altogether, featuring McNair’s songs backed up by a string quartet of players from the Virginia Symphony. I talked to her about her decision to start a new band, where she finds her inspirations for each of her projects and, as she describes them, her local “cheerleading squad”.


How long have you been playing and/or writing music? 

I've been writing since I was in high school but spent most of my musical career since then playing supporting roles on friend's projects. I've been writing pretty seriously the past three years for myself [having been] inspired by friends and musicians I looked up to who (thankfully) helped me see that what I was making was important not just for me but maybe for others as well. 


Will the Pyrrhic Whim material be all new or have you rearranged some of your older material for this project?

Pyrrhic Whim is me. It's my music (Kelsie Mcnair) past, present & future. It simply has taken the place of my name to create it's own space in the world as music separated from any idea or brand I may have created for myself over the years. 


Did you write the arrangements for Pyrrhic Whim?

I did not! That wonderful feat was/is the magnificent work of Jake Hull. We've been music buddies for a few years now and last year I asked him to come onto this project with me helping me create sound bodies from the songs I'd written. Jake has been producing the album with me for the past handful of months and it's been amazing collaborating and seeing him take the music to the places I know it deserves to go without me ever understanding or knowing how to get it there. I like to imagine that I give the bones and soul (the song) to Jake and he creates bodies for them to live in. Jake composes every note that the other musicians play, bringing the songs into a new life but still allowing them to exist as the thing they were made to be, just better in every way.


What was the impetus for forming this "band", as it were? Will the line-up remain constant or do you think you'd bring in new members or replace existing members if they're needed?

The band was/is formed around whatever the songs need. They are the center stage of this project. Jake composes parts for all sorts of instruments, so it has a lot to do with what we can find at the moment and who is willing to share the song stories with us. Right now we have an awesome cello player John Marsh, a talented keyboardist (and violinist) Casey Copeland, local singer/songwriter Ian Thornton will be joining us too [playing] percussion while Jake multitasks on guitar and midi. I think that the line-up will constantly change. I love the idea of Pyrrhic Whim being a living breathing body with members that come in for a time to add what they can.


‪What local and/or national artists have influenced your music and making the move from a solo artist to Pyrrhic Whim? And, more importantly, why?

‪Jake Hull, Skye Zentz and Logan Vath have really been my cheerleading squad the past few years. It's difficult to pursue music for so many reasons but each of them has helped me to clarify my vision. They all come from different music realms and have different goals and watching them grow as musicians has helped me understand my own direction. I am inspired by a number of… female or female-fronted projects right now including but not limited to Angel Olsen, Emilie Nicholas, Farao, Empress Of, Highasakite, Bjork & Haim... and a little Taylor Swift here and there. I’m also really into a handful of art-rock-ish projects that have been inspiring me to no end, especially Adult Jazz and Landlady.. but also Zula & Here We Go Magic. By listening to more unique styles of songwriting and composition, I feel that it pushes me to try new things when I am working on new music. [It inspires me] because the things that go into my ears keep me thinking and analyzing. It also helps listening to a wide variety of stuff to help clear my sound pallet and re-understand that music can be anything I want it to be.


Are there any local musicians/artists you've yet to collaborate with that you'd like to?

‪Since Esbern Snare came out a bit ago, I've been feeling really drawn to the sound and dense emotionality of the music. Whenever I go to a show of theirs, I feel the music deep in my chest and it feels amazing. I'd love to reach out to Luke [Jones, Esbern Snare’s vocalist/pianist] at some point to see if some small collaboration could be made. I also love Ian Thornton's songs so much I hope I can be apart of one some day. Also, not that I even need to announce this but anything that Jake Hull makes during the duration of his life is a project I want to be involved in. He is amazing in too many ways and his music speaks to me and even for me sometimes.


If a pyrrhic victory is one that feels closer to defeat due to the overall loss, what is a Pyrrhic Whim and how does it relate to your music?

I think that any decision we make, any dream we chase or love we fall into has the potential of being just a pyrrhic whim. The idea that we take chances every day with our hearts and our minds and our futures knowing we risk it all to get what we want or what we think we want when we know the risks can be great and even devastating. I think the choice to follow that whim is incredibly sacred and important to who we are as humans and how we let love and aspirations effect us.

I write about a lot of heartache. In a way, the project will habitually explore the end bits of an ever-healing heart. The songs of Pyrrhic Whim are written in such a headspace and heart place that whether it be broken or unrequited love, misunderstood interactions and intentions, separation and independence or just general disconnect between people, the words and stories of Pyrrhic Whim songs will always explore the internal struggle of a woman who chooses to say yes to experience.


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