HomeCommunity NewsDavid Laurell: The Architect Behind ‘The Circle Of Wonders’

David Laurell: The Architect Behind ‘The Circle Of Wonders’

If you have a child who attended Art Experiences, the summer day camp program offered by the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department that provides art, dance, music, and theater workshops, you probably know Cody McKenna.

If you have attended the Starlight Bowl for a show in the Summer Concert Series, you have probably seen McKenna running around handling one of the many duties city employees who operate the venue have to execute.

And, if you have ever participated in an art class or taken in an exhibition at the Betsy Lueke Creative Arts Center, McKenna has most likely greeted you, answered a question, or helped you in some way.

A 2010 graduate of John Burroughs High School who has worked as a senior recreation leader with the city of Burbank for the past seven years, McKenna is not easy to miss or forget. With a beard reaching ZZ Top length and a mane which rivals that of Robert Plant, McKenna looks more like he should be churning out rock ’n’ roll on the Starlight Bowl’s stage rather than assisting concertgoers with directions to their seats or restrooms. And no one should be surprised, if in the future, that role reversal isn’t just what may happen. 

Born and raised in Burbank, McKenna is a self-taught guitarist who has recently released his third album. He was musically influenced at an early age by his father, Kevin McKenna, who had been the lead singer of a 1990s band, Dr. Poet and The Hobos, a group that, with grittier edginess, mingled the balladeering sound of Box Car Willie with the storytelling lyrics of Woody and Arlo Guthrie.

“Because my dad was in a band, there were always guitars around the house,” McKenna recalled. “I grew up listening to my dad playing, and he introduced me to bands like The Beatles and Counting Crows when I was very young. I liked those bands, but by the time I was 13, I was into heavy metal and a band called System of a Down. From there I evolved into listening to progressive rock like Coheed & Cambria, Van Halen, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, Genesis, and Dream Theater. It was bands like that which influenced my playing and writing style.”

Along with progressive music, McKenna also found himself drawn to concept albums and rock operas, a collection of music and songs that use a narrative or characters as a storytelling device.

While “S.F. Sorrow,” which was released in 1968 by The Pretty Things is widely acknowledged as being the first rock opera, the late 1960s and early 1970s saw the genre gain mainstream popularity with albums such as The Who’s “Tommy,” Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.”

Those albums were followed with numerous concept offerings such as Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror Show” which presented a campy homage to classic science fiction and horror movies; “The Wall,” by Pink Floyd which chronicled the story of Pink who lives within an emotional wall to protect himself against insanity and the traumas of life; and My Chemical Romance’s “The Black Parade” which tells the tale of a patient diagnosed with cancer.

“I love music that is complicated and thematic,” said McKenna. “I have been doing a series of concept albums that have an overarching narrative that connects each one of them. To me, music is an art form that can go far beyond a song or an instrumental piece of music. Trying to make music more artistic than just writing or composing a song is really what inspires and motivates me.”

In 2017, McKenna released his debut album “I: Welcome To The Circle” which was a prelude to what will ultimately be an anthology of albums released as “The Circle Of Wonders” series.

His 2019 sophomore offering, “II: Tribes & Oddities,” is the story of Alana Hale, a young girl who can see the future, which takes listeners to a traveling circus where strange things happen, while his third and latest album, “III: The Sparrow & The Architect,” is the story of a man known as “The Sparrow.”

“He is investigating a serial killer who murdered a friend of his, the man who gave him that name because he would always see him feeding sparrows in the park,” McKenna explained. “The killer has never been apprehended, but now, after a five-year hiatus, he has returned to once again terrorize the town,” he added.

“I love creating characters and telling their stories through music,” said McKenna. “The storyline of this album and this series isn’t a straight line. There are unexpected twists of tragedy, mystery, and societal commentary — how the mainstream media is always striving to sensationalize a story for ratings and profit rather than to dive into the subtleties of an individual’s backstory.”

Along with writing, performing and producing his albums, McKenna also mixes them in his home studio that was completed during the pandemic. He also creates the artwork for the album’s covers.

“III: The Sparrow & The Architect,” is the third album in McKenna’s “The Circle Of Wonders” series.

“In ‘The Sparrow & The Architect,’ the serial killer has been dubbed ‘The Architect’ by the media because he always leaves a drawing of a device used in the murder on blueprint paper at the scene,” McKenna explained.

“In creating the cover, I used the symbol of a compass — the type used to draw circles — that is inside a circle [to make] it look like it’s the capital letter ‘A’ surrounded by a circle, which is universally recognized as the symbol of anarchism,” said McKenna. “There is also a sparrow which represents the protagonist, while the compass represents an ‘A’ for ‘The Architect’ and his chaos of anarchy. The background is blueprint paper and, because there is a part of the overarching storying that also has to do with a traveling circus, the compass in the circle also looks like a Ferris wheel.”

McKenna reveled that he is hoping his next album in the series will be released sometime in the late spring.

“I have about 50 percent of the fourth album completed, but I have been busy as of late,” said McKenna. “Our department handles the Mayor’s Tree Lighting ceremony for the city, so I was very busy at work during December. Plus, my wife Briana and I became parents for the first time and our son, Kevin Edward McKenna, who is now 12 weeks old, really keeps me busy.”

All of Cody McKenna’s albums are available through Star Command Records. They can be downloaded on all major streaming platforms including Spotify, iTunes, and Apple Music. For more information, visit thecircleofwonders.bandcamp.com.

McKenna is currently working on his fourth album in what will ultimately be a multi-album anthology.
While McKenna plays an instrumental role at the Starlight Bowl, he hopes to someday do that literally on the bowl’s stage.
McKenna at the Starlight Bowl with co-workers Erin Barrows, Jocelyn Navarro, and Bryce Burton. – Photo courtesy Susy Shearer

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

First published in the January 13 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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