Myles Kennedy : “I always look at records as a way to express things and work-through things and that is what this record really is. It is a reflection of someone working through all this uncertainty of this era and covid-19 crisis.”
Myles Kennedy vergaarde wereldwijde roem als frontman van Alter Bridge en in de band van Slash. Bovendien startte hij ook nog eens een solocarrière in 2018 met een introverte verzameling songs op ‘Year Of The Tiger’. Het tweede solo-uitstapje ‘The Ides Of March’ is nu uitgekomen en toont de hardere zijde van de zanger/gitarist en componist. Daarover hadden we een fijn gesprek met de sympathieke en bezielde man.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 10 juni 2021
The first thing that struck me is that ‘The Ides Of March’ turned out to be much ore electrified and guitar oriented than its predecessor…
It is interesting how this thing turned out, because once I decided to start writing songs and decided that I would sing, that became what I was known for, but I really missed playing guitar, in particularly lead; because I spent so much time on that craft when I was younger. So I wanted to revisit that on this record and explore those realms. The acoustic thing that started three years ago with ‘Year Of The Tiger’ can still be heard in it, but the electric part dominates the overall vibe of the songs.
Can you tell some good stories about the making process of ‘The Ides Of March’?
Yes, it was a challenge. It was easy writing, because I was not touring. I was at home, so I could be in my studio all the time, working on the demos and the songs. That was a luxury to be able to maintain focused. The trick was getting to the actual recording studio with the band and with my producer Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette. We opted not to fly, but I am on the opposite side of the country, so it is like a three day trip by car from Spokane to Orlando. We decided to rent a kind of SUV car, put all the gear in the back of it and we drove all the way across the country. 14 hours a day driving, sleep a little bit and keep driving… but it ended up being fun, a very memorable part of making the record, because we were all in these unique circumstances. Like ending up at a hotel in the middle of nowhere after a long drive and they sold our room. We did not know where we were going to sleep. Things like that. These are good stories after all is said and done, although that part was not necessary enjoyable as it was happening. But now looking back at it, we have something like: ‘we survived!’ It is just part of the folklore.
Many people should pay a lot for such an adventure, straight through the US. You did this adventure with bassist Tim Tournier and drummer Zia Uddin, same people as on your former solo album…
Correct. We put the team back together and we all work well together, in conjunction with our producer Elvis. My mom used to say: if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Once I have found an equation that works out, I don’t switch it up too much. I have always thought: if you find the right personalities, you stick with them.
Another thing that leaps to the eye is the title ‘The Ides Of March’ which is rather heavy and dark again. It is like a fatal day, a day when something bad happens…
‘Beware the Ides of March’. To me that is a very prophetic phrase of impending doom and hardship. So I think it felt appropriate, because initially when all these songs were written, there was a lot of uncertainty. Not everybody was on the same page. Some people weren’t taking it as serious as others. The idea was: be careful, because we don’t know how all this is going to end. It is a bit dark indeed, but with that said, by the end of the song, it certainly gets more optimistic. We try to evolve towards a positive note.
Not acoustic this time, but blues influences are prominent, even soaring guitar leads like Pink Floyd or Dire Straits…
I really appreciate that. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits are definitely influences on me. It is cool that you can pick that out, because I love that stuff and I grew up on it.
Tell me a bit more about the use of mandolin, slide guitar and that country vibe sometimes…
I started that on ‘The Year Of The Tiger’, the previous solo record, mandolin and lap steel, more of those American roots music influences, and I wanted to continue that with this next record. I feel like it will always be there to some degree on these solo records, because that is part of my brand I guess. It is a matter of bouncing those instruments with more of the electric aggressive side of the instrumentation. That was a challenge to make it all work together. It was a decent plan.
If looking back at the result of ‘The Ides Of March’, is there a concept; a kind of red thread running throughout the songs?
This record, just like the former one, does have a common theme that runs throughout it. The first record was inspired by a situation that had happened in my own life, in my family’s life. When I was growing up, I lost my father. This one was influenced by circumstances that were happening to all of us. It is more a reflection of the current state of affairs and just from an emotional standpoint, how it affected so many people around the world. That was one of the reasons why I opted to release this record now, not when the world was fully re-opened, because I knew these songs would be relevant. I wanted people to relate to the themes. I think with a record like this, when it is inspired by circumstances such as this, which will eventually calm down, you want to make sure that the songs are heard as it is still happening, so that people can find comfort in it. That is really important to me. The highest compliment that you can give me or tell me as a songwriter is how a song has helped them. So let us hope that these tracks will help the listener somehow.
You are in time. The pandemic is still going on. How is the general mood in the US, for instance in Spokane where you live?
The general mood is more optimistic I think. The vaccinations are running smooth. I think we just crossed the 200 million dose mark a few days ago. So people are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we still have a long way to go. The thing is that not everybody agrees on it. It has become a very polarizing subject, which is interesting. That is my biggest concern. It is not the virus itself, I just hope that people can find a sort of compromise and get along.
It is frankly illustrated in the first song: ‘Get Along’. Put straight and simple, but essential…
It is funny. When I wrote that song, it was almost too simple, but then I thought: that’s maybe just what it takes… express the essence with those two words. There might be people who look at it and find it silly, but for me, I chose to run with it. It was just appropriate to express that right now.
It should be possible that bands can start to play live in the US. Is that true?
Yeah, there are some shows that are happening now, with social distancing in certain parts of the country. The entire country is not on the same page there, but when talking with agents and managers, they are quite optimistic about the Summer. They should be able to start to do a little bit and gradually open up. It is not like everybody will be welcomed at a 10,000 seat arena, but it will be social distancing and they will find a way to make it work hopefully.
Do you see making a record as a possibility to learn more about yourself?
Yes. I always look at records as a way to express things and work-through things and that is what this record really is. It is a reflection of someone working through all this uncertainty. I think that is palpable when you hear all these tracks now. I am in a little bit better space now, because I see the light at the end of the tunnel now, but in some of these songs – at least I can sense – this real uncertainty and kind of fear for the future. With that said, as I was writing them, it helped to express that and that has always been the thing. As human beings, anything that’s burdening you, it is always helpful to talk about it or write about it and so I feel very lucky to have that outlet as a songwriter.
And in your solo project you are the boss, you can always follow your instincts… Do you see this as a pro or a con?
For me it is a real pro, because I get to do things musically that I wouldn’t get to do in the other bands. Indeed, there is a bit more responsibility, because you are not in a group context where you have people who bounce ideas and say it isn’t any good. Sometimes as a songwriter you can spend a lot of time on developing an idea that will not make it to the record. If someone said it was no good, it would have saved a lot of time. But that is a great opportunity to strengthen your own filter system, to strengthen your own judgement when it comes to ideas and songs. It is a lot more work. I would say doing a solo record is WAY more work than when I am with Alter Bridge or with Slash, but it is a labour of love. It is something that I generally enjoy and cherish. Also with the different instruments and different blues and country elements, I love getting to do that. I feel super fortunate – and it was proved to me on ‘Year Of The Tiger’. When I brought that one out, I wasn’t sure if any rock fans would accept it. It is not for everybody without those heavy riffs, I totally get that, but most people embraced it and gave it a chance. So it facilitated things to continue be able to do this. That is really wonderful.
A sentence that haunted me was: ‘ever and ever we take everything for granted’. That was true…
That is in the song ‘Moonshot’. That was me remembering standing at my wardrobe case, getting ready and putting my clothes on to get on stage. We took that for granted. We were just going to do that indefinitely and then all of a sudden the world changed overnight. It is about the frustration of not been able to do that, but when it gets to the chorus it says: Moonshot, can’t wait to get back to start. It really reflects that spirit of optimism. Eventually we are going to get through this. Just be patient and at the end of the day we have learned not to take this for granted.
Can you tell something about the video clips you have made for new songs until now?
Sure. Because we are in the middle of a pandemic, it was hard to do something live a and get the whole band together, so we opted for realizing more of the animation. I think the directors were so talented that they were able to convey the vision that we were having for the songs in a very special way. We feel very fortunate. These guys were just amazing. It gave a whole new angle to some of the songs. It has been really fun to hear people’s take on, on the videos and how much they enjoyed them. After all making videos is a bit problematic, because it is hard to make a video that is compelling, it really is. We are just lucky that these animators had great visions.
Another song that means a lot to you, happens to be ‘In Stride’…
Yes, ‘In Stride’ was inspired by the beginning of the epidemic when everybody was stocking upon supplies and buying all this food and toilet paper and all that. It was almost preparing for the end of the world, without perspectives. These are serious times, we take it seriously, but trying to carry on and keep calm is better.
Is there hope that you can play gigs this year, or is it all promptly delayed unto 2022?
We are trying to stay optimistic. We are trying to do some things in the US. In a perfect world we would be coming over to Europe by the end of the year, but I don’t know if that is going to happen. So yeah, we’re definitely going to keep our fingers crossed for next year. I would be heartbroken if we cannot do it for this record in Europe, because I am really having major eagerness to tour there. Talking about things taking for granted: I was in Europe so often throughout the last two decades and now it is so long since I have been there. I miss it tremendously, so hopefully by the end of the year or early next year.
I think there are plans to make a new record with Slash?
Yes, lots of songs are written and we are all excited. Hopefully we get something out next year and hopefully we can tour after that. It is tricky with a band like that and also with Alter Bridge, because we play in these bigger venues. So we just want to make sure that we release the music when we can tour.
Will you continue the touring for ‘Walk The Sky’ with Alter Bridge or make a new record first?
I think that’s going to be hard. I think our plans are to make another record. Unfortunately the cycle has changed a bit, because we were right in the middle of a tour schedule when the pandemic hit. It is a funny thing with this business: records kind of have a shelf life when it comes to touring. When you put it out, you generally have 18 months to promote it. We will have surpassed that when the world gets back to normal, so we just have to accept that.
To occlude: what are your thoughts about the artwork?
We decided to go for just a photo on the front and it was actually taken here in the town where I live. It was kind of unique circumstances, because we shot one day and it was freezing cold while there was fog. We just wanted a photo that appealed to the album for whatever reason and we kept it simple. It is interesting with this project. We do everything very stripped down and we kind of keep it all in the house. Alter Bridge is a rather big production on several levels, so it is fun to strip it down for this project.