Stevie Mackey is one of Los Angeles’ most well-respected vocal coaches so it’s no wonder his south L.A. house serves as a singer’s stage. Under the banner Taco Tuesdays, Mackey, who has worked on “The Voice,” hosts this exclusive, invite-only monthly gathering which boasts no list, no RSVP, no Hollywood bullshit. Taco Tuesday has become a safe haven for individuals to perform, eat and commune.
On one recent Tuesday, we saw Avery Wilson to our left as Shoshana Bean from “Wicked” belted and Mackey joined on the piano. It truly felt like a scene out of a movie. Variety spoke with Mackey about his vision.
You’re one of the top vocal coaches in the game and an in-demand MD who recently worked with Quincy Jones. How do you balance work and life?
It’s tough to balance. At the beginning of every year, I make a list of priorities for myself and the people I work with. I say, “I’d like to do this for my life first,” and then what else is important for the good of music? How can I help music sound better in the world? And help the artists that need it and are willing to put in the hard work. I have a good family base. I have good friends, good people around me. I love what I do. I like everyday to be a little different. I don’t like to be predictable. I get to do that by working on different TV shows like “The Voice,” being a singer myself, coaching, throwing parties, and being out there with artists. It’s a really cool cycle I get to live in.
Tell us about the concept of Taco Tuesdays and how it came about.
I didn’t like the concept of a recital the way people know them, with the stage, the audience, the separation, the formal environment. It’s frightening! Everyone’s quiet, sitting there in their pew or chair and judging. Ten years ago, when I moved into my house, I didn’t have appliances so we’d plug in a little skillet and make tacos. We’d invite students I was working with, some were established singers, and we sang background for and supported each other. The priority is the love of music. That’s what it’s for: to remind you why you fell in love with music. Younger artists move here and hear about it, maybe they’re scared but they want to perform. And more established artists will come and sing too. I was with Meghan Trainor [recently] and she said, “I gotta get to your taco night and sing. It’s a little scary but I gotta do it!”
Do you pick the songs?
We pick them together. I’ll write down a list of songs and run them by different artists. That takes a lot of time. Singing a song is five, ten minutes, but there’s so much thought that has to go into curating a moment. … Also audience involvement is key. That’s how it started and my favorite moments are when it’s call and response and having everyone sing.
Logistically, how does it work? Do you have a list or is it open mic format?
Initially, I just went through my text messages and whoever was at the top to the bottom, whoever texts me the most. [laughs] Now, it’s a combination of email lists, Instagram DMs, text messages — just a chemistry of the right balance of people. There will never be just one type of person here. And it’s not just singers, it takes listeners, partiers, scientists, chefs, business people. I like to see everyone’s input, a lot of different things make a good soup. It’s very important there’s always variety and diversity here.
You’ve said your home is too small, is it going to relocate?
We had a fun one at J. Lo’s house around Christmas time. I’ve done it at Selena Gomez’s house, but I like it at my house. I want people to feel like they’re entering my private home. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s good to have friends that want to come over, see where I live and see that music is my priority. … I preserve the authenticity by keeping it here in my home and keeping the focus off of celebrity, and more fun. It’s not a place to come and try to get somebody’s number or take a picture with them.
Your partner Kimono says you’re currently pitching a show?
As we take Taco Tuesday to the next level, a lot more people want to experience it so I’m trying to bring that experience to them in the most authentic, unique way. A digital platform would be cool, like a Facebook TV, a YouTube, or a Netflix where people can feel like they’re part of it too. We have a really cool production company coming in now, filming and catching the vibes. … Whether people are at work or in bed watching IG, I want them to be a part of this. Tune in and be able to say “I want to go back to that video. Did you see the moment when they sang this, or when the audience was singing?” Feel like they’re in on a new type of — not a traditional TV show. It’s a vibe that makes you feel something, it takes you somewhere.
Does the reality TV label scare you at all?
No. There’s stigmas that come with it, but it is what it is. I think of it more as MTV Unplugged.
What are your short-and long-term goals?
Short-term goal is to take one day a week and go to the beach or Disneyland. To get out of the house, take a drive and live. … Long-term, I see myself being a curator of a new form of teachable music curriculum. Our American pop and soul music is what the world’s singing right now. People come here from all over the world trying to learn it, and it’s tough. There are very few programs or none at all when it comes to pop music. Pop music is young and curriculums are generally old, there needs to be more help in that area.
What’s most important in the business today for singers?
For singers, it will always be to sing. I’m pushing real music to the front to make people hear it. It challenges them a little more. That’s what you do if you love something, you want it to be around. You want it to be paraded around the room. You want it to be considered. … Now, you have your own marketing tool. You have Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, all these things that let you put your voice out there. You can buy a little light from Amazon, shine it on your face, and record yourself telling the story you want to tell. There’s no excuse, it’s easier than ever. You don’t need record companies anymore, they need you. You’re not waiting on anyone else to find you, the world is waiting on you.