Becky McKeehan, first and foremost, originally considered herself a writer of poetry – not a songwriter or musician, and certainly not an instrumentalist.
So it’s a good thing she decided to pick up a guitar one day – eventually focusing on bass guitar – or the Pine Belt music scene might be devoid of some pretty influential and well-known bands.
“I wound up mostly playing just the bass strings on that guitar,” McKeehan said. “I kind of just started singing along with it, and adapting and tweaking poems into lyrics. Then I got a bass, and started writing songs on bass, and just started going from there.”
It wasn’t too long after that when McKeehan found herself in a band called Gutshot. Although that group didn’t last too long, that afforded her the opportunity to write some more songs, and in the early 2000s she formed the band This Orange Four.
“My favorite all-time band is actually from here, and they’re called Seven Tongues Spoke, and maybe I was kind of thinking about them (when I came up with my band name),” McKeehan said. “But I liked the way it sounded, and after we had played for a couple of years, I thought about it, and I might have been leaning that way to kind of try to emulate Seven Tongues Spoke. But that’s fine with me, because in my opinion they’re the best band in the entire world.”
Today, This Orange Four consists of McKeehan on bass, Brad Newton on drums and Jason Perry on guitar, and all three members contribute to the songwriting process. The band plays regularly around Hattiesburg, including gigs at The Thirsty Hippo, Nick’s Ice House and Front Street Bar, and has graced the stage at Slowboat Brewing Company in Laurel.
“Those places are open to weird stuff, which I like to deal with – like I sing some songs with Slinkies as percussion,” McKeehan said. “Those kinds of places are more welcoming to things like that. I’m not saying that other places aren’t, but I can be goofy and weird there and have a good time, so I like playing there.”
At one point, This Orange Four took a hiatus, as the three band members found themselves busy with other endeavors. McKeehan took that time to work up some of her original material, which led to her founding a second band, Baby Jackalope, with Jenny Moore Miller and Hal Kolodney.
McKeehan joined another band, SugarMouth, after local artist and designer Abigail Lenz Allen asked her to play bass for the group. SugarMouth is now made up of McKeehan, Allen, Miller and Chrissy Eammons.
“(Abigail) wanted to start an all-girl band, and I kept telling her that I thought she would want somebody a lot more accomplished,” McKeehan said. “But she said she didn’t, so she formed SugarMouth.
“So we’ve played a couple of shows as SugarMouth, and that’s been a lot of fun. That was really my first time focusing on other peoples’ songs. I came up with maybe three of the bass lines, so the rest of it is mostly just things that we’ve come up with together, or Abby will have a song or Chrissy will have a song.”
Although McKeehan finds it hard to put her style of music into words, she’s been heavily influenced by several local artists, including Royal Horses, Lhay Browning Thriffiley, Emily Graham, Jimmy Young, Will Myrick, Lil Detroit, Cloud Wars, Mark Mann and Massive J and Battlecat. She’s also into Iron & Wine, PJ Harvey and Jose Gonzalez.
“I really don’t know how to describe (my music),” McKeehan said. “I would say it’s more guerilla-style songwriting – gorilla as in the critter, and then guerilla as in trench warfare – because I don’t know exactly what I’m doing.
“So I’ll just mess around and like something and sing over it, and come up with things. But I have a lot of things that I remember, or see and notice, and they make their way into things. And then I have a couple of songs that have been chewing on my brain for a couple years. Two of those, we’re going to start playing in Baby Jackalope. So I really don’t know, but I guess it’s kind of rock-ish, and some songs seem kind of punky.”
Although McKeehan isn’t originally from Hattiesburg, she claims the Hub City as her own, as she’s been here since 1995. After McKeehan was born on a naval base in California, her family moved up and down the East Coast with her dad’s stint in the U.S. Navy until moving to Meridian in 1990.
“I didn’t feel like I was from anywhere, really, other than the Atlantic Ocean,” McKeehan said. “When we moved to Meridian, I (didn’t like) Meridian – it wasn’t really where I wanted to be.
“But then I moved to Hattiesburg, and Hattiesburg is the only place I’ve felt at home, so I’ve adopted it.”
In addition to the music scene, McKeehan also has another endeavor: Little Star Stitchery, where she knits items like quilts and potholders with her 11-year-old daughter, Clara. The potholders – which are made of scraps of blue jeans and other clothes – have proven to be particularly popular, as McKeehan has already given away or sold many of them around town.
“We up-cycle stuff, and lately we’ve done baby blankets, aprons, different stuff like that,” McKeehan said. “But the potholder is a quick and easy thing to teach (Clara) how to sew, so we made a bunch of funky, weird potholders out of old clothes and things like that. We have a web page, but there’s really not much on there, because we’ll make something and then sell it or give it away before we put it on there. But in the next couple of months, Clara and I are really going to try to focus on making more things and get to some makers’ markets and things like that, so (we) can learn about that process too.”
For her day job, McKeehan works at the Institute for Disability Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she is on two grants, one of which serves early childhood inclusion and education across the state. As part of the other grant, McKeehan works with an inclusive, community-based council for youth and young adults with and without disabilities that performs outreach, community service, social activities and advocacy.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in childhood development at Southern Miss, and is currently in graduate school at the university working toward her master’s degree in public health.
“I really like community-based outreach, so I see myself in program development (in the future),” McKeehan said. “I would really love to work with communities to identify interests and needs, and work with them to develop some positive programs that would help whatever issues they identified.
“So ideally, I see myself doing that. I like working with people.”