The Voice's Terry McDermott on Major-Label Past, Journey Covers and Paul McCartney's Approval

terry mcdermott blake shelton the voiceGlint in their eyes notwithstanding, Terry McDermott says he and his mentor Blake Shelton never had a “devious master plan” for choosing songs to cover during his tenure on NBC’s The Voice.

“We tried not to overthink it,” says the man who would eventually become the Season 3 runner-up. “We just tried to be faithful to my artistry and to the people who were supporting me through the show. I didn’t want to have them all excited about classic rock of the ’70s and ’80s, and then suddenly change it up so much that I disappointed them.”

TVLine caught up with McDermott to talk about his ups and downs in the music business, his approach to a number of song arrangements during the season, and a special honor he got from no less a legend than Paul McCartney.

TVLINE | The show touched just a bit on how your former band Driveblind was signed to a major label back in 2006. How hard is it to get so close to mainstream success and then just fall short?
Coming from Scotland, the fact that we actually got signed to an American major was nothing short of a miracle, we thought. Then, Yahoo had us in the “Top 10 records that you hadn’t heard in 2006,” which was kind of a backhanded compliment, but that was predominantly because the record company wouldn’t really step up their support. We had a lot of critical acclaim, but in the end, it was actually us that asked to get off the label because we felt that we were producing great music and, frankly, they weren’t keeping up their end of the deal. Although it was not the best ending, we did have a great run. We did a lot of coast-to-coast touring in the U.S., which for us was a life-changing experience. But we were pretty burned out. We toured hard, our relationship with the record company had soured, the guys were getting a bit itchy about going back home. I was married and had a child on the way, who was born while I was on tour. The reality was to call a halt to things. I think we all look back on that with frustration.

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TVLINE | Did you have doubts at that point about continuing to try to make a living through music?
I found myself in New Orleans and was very much contemplating giving up music altogether. I was just paying the bills by playing Bourbon Street, singing covers in the clubs. But again, the irony was not lost on me that if it hadn’t been for that experience in New Orleans, I don’t think I would have been remotely prepared for The Voice. It was there that I really tackled performing other people’s music and learning that kind of art form.

TVLINE | That’s interesting.
My roots were very much in the British groups — The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Queen — and I hadn’t sung a wide variety of American classic rock. In New Orleans, I got experience doing that, and I also ended up singing blues, which was new for me. I was still questioning whether I should give up music when an old tour manager got in touch and actually had me very, very nearly singing for The Yardbids. But the timing was wrong. I didn’t have my Green Card, so I couldn’t leave the country. Again, that was frustrating, but it was also a nice reminder that opportunities were there. That refocused me. Then I formed Lotus Crush with two guys from Candlebox who I knew from touring. I was doing that record last year in places like South By Southwest, and I would have been doing it again this year had the tour not fallen through. The same week that fell through, a producer called me and asked if I’d be interested in being on The Voice. I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I took the opportunity.

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TVLINE | Did you have any hesitation about going the reality singing competition route?
I know from experience how hard you have to work to reach people — even when you’re on a big record label. It’s not a pot of gold. It’s really just an invitation for hard work. So when The Voice came along, yes, I did have reservations and a lot of preconceptions about going on a television show. But I’m pleased to say they were blown out of the water very rapidly.

TVLINE | How did you settle on “Baba O’Reilly” for your Blind Audition? And did you go into that performance with an idea of which coach’s team you wanted to join?
I hadn’t watched much of the show previously. In fact, I’d probably watched less of the show than any [contestant this season]. My wife’s a big country music fanatic, though, and what I had seen when she’d watched was that Blake was a very likeable guy, very genuine and bighearted — and he was no stranger to success. So I went in with the intention that if more than one chair turned, and if Blake was one of them, then I’d choose Blake. The choice of The Who song, that was no question for me at all. The Who is a band that heavily influenced Driveblind and certainly heavily influenced my music career. I thought it was the perfect foot to put forward.

TVLINE | My favorite performance of yours this season came in the Knockout Rounds, with “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Tell me about picking that song and why that one had a particular magic about it.
Driveblind was on tour with Candlebox, and their singer Kevin Martin came into the dressing room one day and said, “I really think you guys could do a great version of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed.’” It was very, very shortly after that Candlebox performed it, and I’d get up on stage and sing it with him. We had such fun watching them perform it, and me participating in performing it, that we put it in our own set. It took off from there. So I became very well-versed in the song and when the opportunity arose to play it on the show, I was all about it because I had my heart and soul in that song, and it was a link to the past with Driveblind.

TVLINE | In the live rounds of Season 3, with the exception of your performance of Blake Shelton’s “Over,” you covered only songs from the mid-’80s or earlier. Was that strategic, or did it happen by accident?
Yeah, there was a strategy to it. Blake had some choices that were more rooted in the ’80s, and my love of classic rock is probably more rooted in the ’70s. But I knew from my experience in New Orleans just how popular this music was with people, how much it resonated with them, and how much I resonated with it. That element of rock and roll, it’s missing right now, and I liked the idea of tapping into music that influenced me. Blake felt the same way. There was some discussion later on about maybe switching it up and doing something new, but I didn’t think that was right. My own musical taste is very much in contemporary British rock-and-roll bands and American indie bands, but I didn’t think that performing Kings of Leon or something like that would do me any favors or was any more true to me than performing something that influenced me like The Who or The Beatles. I was very happy to stay on that road. And what I didn’t want to do was a bad impersonation of a band that’s already out there.

TVLINE | For the Live Playoffs, you tackled Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.'” Steve Perry’s vocal on the original is so iconic that I wonder if you had any reservations about attempting it.
I was acutely aware, again from singing on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, that that song does two things: One, it grabs people’s attention the moment the first two bars are played. The second thing it does is it has everyone anticipating the big notes. So it’s a gamble, but if you can pull it off, it really knocks people dead.

TVLINE | You chose “I Want to Know What Love Is” as your defining moment in the competition, and repeated it in the finale. What was it about that song that made you decide to strip it down and give it an intimate arrangement?
There was an element of good fortune about that track. I have to be honest, Blake was pushing for me to do Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration.” I wasn’t quite as comfortable with that idea. And at the last minute, I was sitting with Melanie Martinez and her dad, we had our laptops on YouTube, and he happened to bring up Foreigner. The minute I heard the melody, it resonated. It was gut feeling after that. Straight away, I got in touch with Blake and said “I think this is the one.” His reaction was instant. He said, “I want that track. Yes, that’s the one to do.” We felt like we’d done the whole the hammer-blow rock and roll, and it was time to take a softer approach. It turned out to be the right choice.

TVLINE | Your Foreigner cover came during Top 6 week, and it really seemed like such a tight race at that point. Were you thinking to yourself that maybe you had a chance to win the whole thing? Would you have been content if you’d finished sixth?
Because of my time in Driveblind, I definitely know the school of hard knocks in music. At that point in the season, I had a few things left in the locker that I could use, but I knew the competition was tough. I was saying to myself, “I don’t know if America is really going to embrace a foreigner and take him to heart. I don’t know if they really want to hear more of what I’m doing.” Genuinely, I didn’t think at that point that I would be going on to the Finals. But I was going to keep swinging and singing until people asked me to stop. When we moved to the next round, Top 4, that’s when I started to think, “Maybe I’ve got a chance here.”

TVLINE | In the Semifinals, when you covered The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” was there a struggle to  balance putting your own twist on it without doing so much to a classic melody that you muddied it up?
That was a no-brainer that song. We actually had Broken Wings in place for the Semifinals, and at the last minute the show threw a Hail Mary; they said [“Let It Be”] will never get cleared, it never has been cleared, but we’ll put it out there. Then I got the call the next day saying, “Everybody’s buzzing because it took personal clearance from the artist. And he cleared it.” And when Paul McCartney personally clears you to sing “Let It Be,” you don’t say “No, thank you.” That brought with it an entirely different set of pressures, not because the vocal stretches you or because it’s an exceptionally difficult song, but it’s all about giving it heart and soul, and it’s also so beloved, that you don’t really want to take that song apart. I mean who would have the arrogance to say they could improve on The Beatles? I was just trying to be very careful and very true to it, trying just to resonate with the message of the song and be very honest about it.

TVLINE | Did you ever push to do one of your own original tracks on the show?
It did cross my mind, and there were a lot of people that got in touch saying they’d love to hear a Driveblind track or a Lotus Crush track. But I felt like you have to live in the real world. I’d been doing songs like “Let It Be” and “Don’t Stop Believin,” songs that people are very affectionate toward. And ultimately, Cassadee was doing so tremendously well on iTunes; you have to live in that same realm or pay the price. So, it was never really an option. If iTunes wasn’t king in this situation, then maybe I could’ve done an original.

TVLINE | Speaking of iTunes, you cracked the Top 10 a number of times in the last month or so. How do you take that momentum with you into 2013? What’s your plan?
I think that’s the 64 million dollar question. I feel like I’ve got one advantage, which is my background has very much been as a musician making music. It’s kicked me out there in the world. I’ve been through the experience of a record deal and I’ve seen the ups and downs. I’m no stranger to toiling if necessary and getting out there and working hard. I feel like with a good team around me, I can try to bridge that gap and get to as many people as I possibly can. How exactly we’re going to do that, I’m excited to see. I don’t have the answer yet because there’s quite a few things being discussed. Contemporary rock in some shape or form has to be where I live. At the same time, I do want to lean on my roots, which are bands that I listened to growing up, a lot of classic-rock bands. That doesn’t mean I want to be retro or be a tribute act in any way. I’d like to be progressive — but it certainly has to lean on my music roots.

Were you a fan of Terry during his Voice run? Are you eager to hear his post-Voice output? Sound off in the comments! And for all my reality TV recaps, news and interviews — including Q&As with Nicholas David and Trevin Hunte — follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. tamara says:

    Even from reading this interview, Terry seems like such a nice guy.
    He was my favorite. I don’t know why Slezak and Doolittle weren’t fans but they were Nicholas’ fans. I don’t get it.
    But hey, I loved that he finished 2nd. Cassadee and Terry were the best. (Plus Amanda, of course, but she suffered Adam’s poor coaching comments. I mean, even when he was commenting on his team’s performances, he sounded negative).

    Anyway, I can’t wait for Terry’s music.

    • Helen says:

      He was and is the best/.

    • carol day says:

      I still find myself singing those songs and remembering the show.Terry will be a huge success.Its just a matter of time.Its too bad that Paul wouldn’t sing with Terry.That would be awesome.Maybe he will tour near wmspt,Pa some day.

  2. Hmr says:

    Best of luck to Terry! I will definitely buy his music. He seems like a very nice guy. Hope to hear new music from him soon.

  3. Ana Carolina says:

    Doesn’t matter the position, Terry was the best on season 3 in my opinion. I’m so glad that Terry made the audition for The Voice, I could never find Driveblind and Lotus Crush by myself, such great bands. Keep truly to your music and you’ll be fine Terry, you are a talent on millions as a singer and as songwriter.

  4. Alita Bowder says:

    Nice interview. Would have loved for him to perform an original, but I can see his take on it. I admit I would have also loved to hear him sing “You’re the Inspiration.” Terry was my fav on the show. I am just thankful that he made it to the end so I had more of his songs to download.

  5. karlamclaren says:

    I really dislike the way that the iTunes addition has turned the show into a karaoke festival where the most known songs, sung in the way the original was sung, has come to rule everything. I really would have liked to hear Terry — the real Terry, his current voice and his own songs.

    What is the problem with contestants singing originals? Is there a clearance issue? I mean, why groom original singers like Nicholas, Melanie, and Terry into upscale karaoke bots when they’re going to have to create original music in their real careers? After a certain number of weeks, I really think the artists should be asked to sing originals or something quite different from upscale karaoke. It could be a theme week.

    I also wonder what this new form of reality show does to a non-winning person’s career in the long run — I mean, yes, Jennifer Hudson and a few other non-winners are out there doing well (hello Melinda Doolittle), but I do wonder if the manipulated and hyperemotional overexposure coupled with being made to sing karaoke might give the audience a sense that they “know” the singer and don’t need to hear more, when actually, they don’t know the singer very well at all.

    • tnsmoke says:

      I used to work with Cheap Trick and a lot of country artists and I asked them all this question. As a fan I alway LOVED hearing NEW songs in concert but the artists told me that most fans who come to live shows want to hear the hits, the songs they know. New songs don’t go over that great for some dumb reason. So, even tho the artists would love to and sometimes do test out new songs, they can’t do too many when they’re expected to sing the hits.

    • Mark says:

      I think it’s fine and all, but the finale should be a two week break where the finalists have to write and perform an original tune.

  6. I love Terry and that was (another) great interview. He is really frank and personable. I think some critics never understood what Terry and Blake did–people love those songs and they don’t want them messed with. Terry did a great job of covering greats and still sounding like himself but not screwing up the song. I personally think he would have sold better on iTunes doing a contemporary song for the finale and it would have silenced limited critics who thought he could only do classic rock rather than it was a strategy–like his iPod didn’t have anything on it made after 1985 or he didn’t rock all the modern songs he sang in group numbers. I think they could have looked up everyone’s pre-Voice music and been slightly better informed. People think Blake is dumb and only gets country music. Those people have underestimated his direction and coaching. Don’t confuse your fan base (Amanda). Driveblind and Lotus Crush have some really good songs and it is a pleasure listening to Terry sing just about anything. So I wish him the best. I hope he makes it.

  7. i loved terry from the blinds all the way to the finals, was a dedcated fan, voting each week. I love now driveblnd and lotus crush, which i wouldnt have known about, ide buy his n ew album for sure when it comes out, he seems genune hard working and dedcated in all areas of his life, so he wll be successful, for sure, and already is.

  8. MaryW says:

    Terry was my favorite from the blind auditions on through the finale. His pitch and tone are amazing, and honestly, I loved that he never tried to over sing songs the way other contestants did. I understand that some people saw this approach as a sign that he wasn’t as talented, but when every reality singing contestant does crazy runs on every song, it gets old. Terry’s voice and style of singing was really refreshing. The cute accent didn’t hurt either.

    • Yo' says:

      Yes, he dang “clean,” no frou-frou, great fun to hear after some embellishment singers, especially the overwrought ones. When you got it, you got it. He needs a band, hope he gets one. Very nice interview.

      • Didi says:

        I agree, his straight forward style is refreshing. He respects the melodies and does the songs justice, which is not common practice on these shows.
        Holleration doesn’t improve an already great melody.

      • Didi says:

        Thanks to this interview I bought the albums of Terry’s old bands, and they are great.
        Let’s hope he gets a good record deal and can release more good music.
        I’ll surely buy his next album,

  9. I voted for Terry every week and truly feel he deserved to win. I know, however, with the natural gift he has, he will stand the test of time. I look forward to all he will accomplish!

  10. Donna Warren says:

    I watched The Voice faithfully once Terry McDermott got my attention this season. I have listened to his music as well, with his past groups. I have been a devout Beatles and Paul McCartney fan for years, so it’s a stretch for me to say that he is actually on a level with Paul………however, I believe he is. I sincerely hope he will keep on rocking, and that he will really “make it” as an artist. I plan on buying his music, and look forward to hearing some originals. Hang in there, Terry.

  11. onlyakb says:

    I was rooting for Cass all the way at the finale, but I always enjoyed Terry’s performances, hope to see more of him!!

  12. CC says:

    Terry is the one I voted for, I wanted him to win it all, because he was the best. I never did take to Casseedee, there was something about her I didn’t like.

  13. takethat says:

    I like Terry, always have — his self-effacing sense of humor is refreshing in a show where attitude between some of the contestants were a norm. However, here’s an unpopular opinion: I never thought his voice was good enough to carry him to the title. There were times when I even had to turn down the volume of my TV when he tried to reach the higher register in songs like “More Than a Feeling” and “Baba O’Riley” because his voice became painfully thin — all treble, no bass. I’m sorry, as much as I’m a fan of Terry the human being, I’m not crazy about Terry the singer. I wish him well in his career, though. Good guys like him are hard to find in this crazy industry.

  14. Chris says:

    I was a huge fan of Terry during the show. His voice, his and Blake’s song choices, and how he presented himself. Mostly his voice, though. This is the first show I have made it a point to watch as it aired since I was maybe ten years old and it was just to see Terry perform.

    I’ve since listened to Driveblind and Lotus Crush, loved his music there and bought the albums. In other words, I loved his covers, but his own music is great, too.

    I hope he releases more soon. I’ll buy it!

  15. Ashli Cooper says:

    I am a huge fan of Terry! I have listened to Driveblind and Lotus Crush ;they were amazing.Can’t wait to buy his album.

  16. Alma says:

    I agree that from the beginning Cassadde’s name was being “pimped” to help her gain popularity. I personally do not feel she showcased much of her voice in the beginning. This is very unfair to the rest of the singers when they were doing a much better job than her. I am glad I wasn’t the only one who caught that during the show. In reality when I first noticed this pimping my first thought was…” Is this show rigged”! How sad it is to me now…my favorites were many, Terry, Nicholas, Trevin and Amanda.- Good luck guys and gal.

  17. Marie Price says:

    First off I’d like to thank Michael Slezak for asking insightful questions in an interview that proved more in-depth than most. To answer the questions posed; “Were you a fan of Terry during his Voice run? Are you eager to hear his post-Voice output?” the answer is Yes and Yes. I thought Terry’s blind audition was very memorable and it wasn’t just his song choice I appreciated. There was a practiced ease and confidence that comes from doing something your passionate about until its second nature. After doing some research I discovered how long he’d been struggling to make a living as a musician. I don’t think most people realize that truly talented people are forced to give up all the time. Our society does not value artists or art and the practicalities of food and shelter make creativity a hobby for most. You have to respect anyone working doing what they love. So to answer the second question yes I am very eager to see his post-Voice output and would love to have his career take off. Selfishly for validation that it is possibly for someone with talent, intelligence, and determination to make it in the callously superficial U.S. market that churns out art for profit like cans of soup. Purchased more for the trendy label than taste… it’s greedily devoured before moving on to what’s new.

  18. joyce says:

    Terry is so refreshing to the current music community! To finally see an artist go to runner up on one of these type of shows that isn’t country or pop or R&B is awsome! And a classic rocker to boot is so amazing. Terry is dedicated to his art and has a passion about him that will drive him to fame. He seems like a very down to earth, genuine, and sincere man that loves his family and his music. He has a understanding of how the business works, and all the ups and downs that he will have to deal with to go to the top. I believe that he will do very well, and manage to stay humble and true to who he is no matter how famous he gets. God bless Terry, and I wish him only the best! Can’t wait to go buy his first CD! I love his accent, I just learned I am Scottish also! I knew there was some reason I always loved the Scottish!

  19. Debbie says:

    Love you Terry… good luck from here on out.

  20. Darla says:

    Terry has a lovely family, and he is very talented. Hope he goes far and realizes all his dreams.

  21. Abbey says:

    Absolutely cannot wait to hear new music from Terry!!!

  22. Stephanie says:

    Yes I am a fan and Yes I would buy Terry’s music. He was my favorite and then Nicholas (who is also phenomenal). Cassadee is good, but I believe that Terry should have won. He is so truly talented. I believe that she won because she is more “Pop” so younger viewers/teens would vote for her. Here’s to Terry and hoping he takes it to the top. He has more fans out there then he realizes. I hope that Blake is able to help him. Also that he comes back on the Voice next season as a guest like the others (also loved Juliet Sims).

  23. Liz says:

    This morning my 3 year old granddaughter asked to listen to Terry (“Teh-wee”) again! Will need to buy his music or we may never be able to delete him from our dvr! (Don’t have an i-phone so could get downloads. Not crazy about that limited voting forum bty. ) I, my daughter, and my granddaughter were all Terry fans from the beginning on the Voice! We will continue to be in the future! Terry is great!

  24. I am a big Terry fan and was through the whole season. He was clearly a front runnier right along with Cassadee–great team, Shelton! And all the best to you Terry as you continue to build your career!

  25. Charlene says:

    I was a huge Terry fan. Voted for you every week and downloaded iTunes. I grew up with 80’s music in my ear, I love classic rock. I’m truly excited to see what you bring.
    I will buy your music!!

  26. Solenn says:

    i really love Terry. this comment may sound familiar but it’s really true for me – Terry made me realized why I love classic rock! Oh man, and when he sings, he puts his heart into it. it’s like a combination of rock and country and i love every minute and seconds of it. love you to death Terry!

  27. Terry rules. Can’t wait to catch a concert and buy his new
    CD! How long will we have to wait?

  28. Robert says:

    why did he leave?

  29. Linda Sue says:

    I, too thought Terry was the best. His voice has pitch like a lazer. You don’t hear that very often. I agree he needs a great bank behind him. Say his show in Houston at half time. He is the real deal. I look for updates on him all the time. He needs a hit song. Hope he has make enough connections out there to put one out couse he can puch it through and seal the deal.

  30. Karen says:

    For sure there are bigger opportunities outside of the Voice for Terry. Although the show has tremendously helped in promoting his music to more people. And the more people discover his artistry, even his song writing skills, the more he connects with them. Loved Terry from day one on the show, voted for him every single time. Needless to say, I’m definitely a fan for life!

  31. Kim Nelson says:

    Good Luck Terry! Loved your music! Will definately buy tunes.

  32. Laurel Dupont says:

    I have never been a fan of rock music until the second I heard Terry belt out Baba O’Reilly. This is music I grew up with but didn’t care for it back then. Terry’s performances changed all that. Anyone who could make me sit up and listen to rock music is by far the best talent on the show.

  33. char says:

    Love Terry!

  34. Hi, lot of great comments here! I agree about the hyped up atmosphere that even the Voice pandered to. It’s true people thought they “knew” Terry, what he was interested and capable of musically. Thankfully he’s gone back to who he was pre-Voice as an artist, I support him 100% in his song-writing/performing, he’s one of a kind. He did what it took to connect with as many people as he could without compromising his artistic sensibilities any more than necessary.
    Anyway, I wanted to tell everyone who might not of heard that he is working on releasing a NEW single “Pictures” onto Itunes!!! I’m so excited. he’s made a FREE PREViEW available on Soundcloud.. I can’t put up a link but I encourage you to go to Soundcloud.

  35. tvlover44 says:

    wow, terry was such a bright spot on season 3 of ‘the voice’, which i just caught up on through marathon viewing. and from the audition on, terry’s tone and range just really blew me away, every time. loved his personality, too, so thanks very much for this interview, slezak. and thanks to commenters, who directed me to terry’s former bands and music, which i absolutely love! i can’t wait to see what terry does next!

  36. anabio08 says:

    You all search his new single “Pictures” on itunes, it was #1 rock chart o/ The 2nd single, “In Your Eyes”, will be released 24th May ;)