An Interview With Myles Kennedy: “A lot of the time dreams are the most important element of writing”

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Myles Kennedy 2021 Promo Photo - Chuck Brueckmann

As frontman of both arena-rock heavyweights Alter Bridge and the rather lengthily-named Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators, it should come as no surprise to anybody by now that Myles Kennedy more than knows his way around penning a hugely memorable chorus or two. What came perhaps as more of a surprise was when the man best known for the likes of Metalingus and World On Fire released a deeply-personal mostly-acoustic solo album, Year of the Tiger, to wide acclaim in 2018. Now, some three years on, he’s set to try and repeat that with his imminent sophomore effort, The Ides Of March, which we were lucky enough to speak to him about.

At the time of speaking, we’re about two weeks from The Ides Of March coming out – as an artist, what’s it like when you’re this close to a release, particularly given the last year or so?

Myles Kennedy: It’s exciting, you know? I guess, not that I’d know, but I would assume it’s what you’d feel like if you were expecting a child and the child is about to be brought into the world, but I’m sure it’s not nearly as cool as that – I’m sure any parent would say that’s way better. *laughs* But yeah, it’s like you’re releasing your own little sonic baby, so it’s very exciting.

Obviously, the general public have had three singles so far; the title track, plus In Stride and Get Along – have you been keeping track of the fan reaction to any of it at all, or are you just kinda letting it happen?

MK: Yeah, I let it happen. Look, I learned a long time ago when it comes to two things; comments and any sort of reviews from press of records, I do not go into that world because all it takes is that one thing that can be a total downer. So I’m just like you know what, people are gonna have their opinions, let ‘em and they’re gonna do their thing – I’m just gonna move on.

Probably one of the most immediately obvious facets of this record to me is how much more ‘plugged-in’ a lot of it sounds compared to Year of the Tiger – you’ve still got the bluesiness from that record, but it’s way more amped up in places here. Was that a deliberate choice in a sense from the very start or just something that happened naturally during the songwriting process?

MK: Yeah, I think I knew after doing Year of the Tiger, it established that kind of acoustic element and then when I toured it with the guys and we changed the arrangements a little bit so it rocked a little harder, I thought well let’s make a record more akin to that. I just needed to do it as a guitar player as well, I wanted to play more solos, and so yeah it just happened kinda naturally. I tried not to force it, and it was just like I’m gonna write these songs on electric guitars versus acoustic guitars and just plug in and rock out for a little bit.

So, going into this with that different tonal approach in mind, how did you find the writing process for this record versus last time? I seem to recall you went through lots of batches of scrapped material on the way to getting Year of the Tiger together – was it easier this time for The Ides Of March?

MK: It’s a lot easier. You know, that legend of the scrapped record, it’s funny to me how that’s become such a thing. But ultimately, just because the shelf-life kinda expired with some of those songs, y’know? I recorded some of those songs so long ago, and then when it came time that I had to work out when to release them I was kinda like “Well, I’m not feeling this right now”. And so the beauty of doing it the way I just did it, which is “okay you’ve got from March until July or August to write a record, stay focused, that’s all there is”, it’s still fresh and still relevant in your own life. So, that’s really it; I’ve learned as a writer not to let too much time pass, because there is something to be said about shelf-life for a song.

One thing I actually wanted to quiz you about on tangent of shelf-life specifically is the song Love Rain Down – I remember hearing you talk about a track by that name what must’ve been a decade ago now in an interview somewhere. Is the song we hear on The Ides Of March ostensibly that same one that’s been kicking around all this time?

MK: The same song, yeah. That’s one of two songs, that one and another called Wanderlust Begins, which were written back in 2009. And I always felt like those songs were good songs, and I had friends and family members who’d heard those and were like “when are you gonna record those songs?”, so I thought those songs would fit really well into the context of this record, so we made it happen.

Yeah, I just remember reading you talk about I think Big Bill Broonzy or someone of that ilk and remembered the title – that must’ve been back around the AB III cycle or something like that…

MK: Yeah, it was just right before…I think it would’ve been written just before AB III or as I was writing ideas for that record. But yeah, the genesis of that song and the guitar part, you bring up Big Bill Broonzy – I was trying to learn that style from; I’d heard Eric Clapton, he had an acoustic record and it had this song called Hey Hey, which I was like “I wonder who wrote that song?”, and I discovered it was Big Bill Broonzy. So that’s when I tried getting that fingerstyle under control, and then wanted to write a song using it, and that was what Love Rain Down was.

Did you find yourself exploring a lot of different techniques like that with your guitar playing and such then? Obviously Year of the Tiger had lots of resonator guitar and that sort of thing, so did you find yourself looking to expand further again?

MK: Yeah, I’m always trying to. For me it was more on the lead guitar – I felt like the rhythm guitar I kinda established where I am. But there were a few things you can hear in the lead where, and it was more technical really, little picking patterns that I worked on; you know, you’re bored in your hotel room on tour and you’re just like “well I’m gonna find some sort of technical thing to just sit here while I’m watching TV and play over and over and over”, just a new trick, you know? And I think it was like learning to do pentatonics like in fives, that became like a thing that harkened back to my days listening to Eric Johnson, because I was such an Eric Johnson fan, and I was just sorta like “oh that has that kind of sound to it that works in this context”. That was the main technique I think I brought to this record that I hadn’t really used much prior.

What was the actual recording process like on this record? Obviously, we’ve had the COVID-19 pandemic presumably affecting everything for over a year now, and I heard something about a “road trip” you’d had to take when I spoke to [Alter Bridge drummer] Flip at the end of last year…

MK: It was pretty crazy. You know, I almost pulled the plug because we didn’t know where things were going. In like late spring of last year there were so many cases, and I was like “Hmm, I don’t wanna risk anyone getting sick because of my record”, we were supposed to be making the record in August and I was like “maybe we should just not do this right now”. And then somebody brought it up and said “well what if you just drive?” I see the hesitation with flying, and I’m just like “well, okay”, and so we rented out an SUV, put all the gear in the back and drove three days to get to Orlando from Washington state where I live. So that was a fun journey.

And so that was obviously just you and your (Myles Kennedy) band guys?

MK: Yeah – it was Zia [Uddin], my drummer and good friend, and then Tim [Tournier, bass] who we met about halfway through the journey because he lives in Chicago, so he met us I think in Tennessee, but it was cool, it was a good time.

And then I don’t even have to look at anything to know by now you obviously went to hook up with Elvis Baskette to get it all done…

MK: Yep, yep – he’s THE guy. *laughs* 

How important was it for you to have all of those guys, both band and producer, involved for a second consecutive time?

MK: I’m an interesting one; some guys really like to mix it up, and I appreciate that, I think it bodes well for your songs. But I feel like, because it took so long for me to find people throughout my life; I guess once you’ve done this enough, you learn that when you find people that’re really good and that as human beings are really good people, I tend to want to maintain that. That’s not always easy to find, and that’s not to say that people I’ve been involved with in the past weren’t either of those, but there’s a chemistry thing where you know a certain group of people when you get them together it’s gonna work and it’ll be effective. So yeah, my motto is that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, y’know?

And I mean, one only need look at Alter Bridge’s stability for further evidence of that I guess.

MK: Yeah – we’re all real happy with each other, it’s like why mix it up?

Could you talk me through a little more of the studio process for the album? You know, you get your big road trip done and arrive to Elvis’ studio – what was the vibe like in there, given everything that’s gone on in the last year?

MK: It’s always…you put a bunch of guys in a situation where they can’t leave the house, and like there’s a certain level of sense of humour in this camp when you put all of us in a room together – it’s a lot of shenanigans, let’s put it that way. Because even though on this record there’s a lot of serious subject matter, if you knew what was going on behind the scenes while it was getting made, it was a laugh a minute. It’s just a good group of folks y’know? It really is, and the dynamic is really awesome. There was a lot of goofing off and having fun.

You mention sort-of dark subject matter there – obviously the last album was an incredibly personal thing from a lyrical perspective, whereas here you’re often speaking a lot more broadly and towards society and recent events, particularly on stuff like In Stride, which I guess is super relevant to current times…

MK: I mean, sure, it was definitely informed by the times we’re living in. But I’m always careful to make sure that it’ll translate after all that’s over. So you could look at In Stride as addressing, and I’ll speak for my own family, you know we were essentially preparing for the end of the world at the beginning of it all, not really knowing where it was going. But also, you could look at it after the fact as just how you approach anxiety in general. That line, Cool down baby/Ya know you’re gonna burn out in time, it’s the idea of like, look – if you’re gonna continue to be this tightly-wound anxious individual, you’re gonna burn out and you should really reconsider that and calm the fuck down! *laughs*

Definitely. And then, of course you’ve got songs like Get Along with the chorus line being “Why can’t we all just get along?”, which also obviously feels quite relevant to recent times

MK: Yeah, it’s kinda simple really, but that’s something I’m sure we’ll all need to be reminded of 300 years from now. Just humans, unfortunately it’s just part of how we’re hardwired, and we don’t always see things eye-to-eye, and that’s a real drag.

From a writer’s perspective, is it easier at all not having to be as directly introspective this time around and being able to talk in this broader sense?

MK: Interestingly enough, it was actually a really hard record to write because you’re dealing with subject matter that can be polarising, and I’m not into that. I’m not into that conflict, I don’t need it. I want songs that reflect a certain authentic emotion, right? So, like, if I’m feeling something it’s a challenge for me to be able to reflect it without pushing some sort of opinion or agenda – I’m not interested in that. There are guys who do that and do it well, it’s just not what I wanna do, so I wanna write songs where it’s like it’s a feeling, there’s something happening around me and it’s genuine and I’m expressing it. So that ends up being a real challenge when you live in the times that we live in, which are you say the wrong thing and suddenly people are pissed off, and I don’t want that. What I want is to write songs where people go “Yeah, I relate to that”, and “Yeah, I feel that emotion too, he’s not telling me how to feel, he’s just expressing how he feels”

I guess, would the closest you’ve come in the past to this speaking out about real issues thing be something like Show Me A Leader and other bits of The Last Hero with Alter Bridge?

MK: Yeah, and Show Me A Leader was a tricky one because that’s a collaborative effort, right? So that’s Mark [Tremonti, guitar] and I coming together, and that Show Me A Leader that… that was his phrase, that was something that he came up with. So as his collaborator, I’m not gonna say “well we can’t do that” because that’s how he felt, so then when I was writing the verses for that, it was like okay – I’m gonna do this in such a way where I try to express my…it’s like a filter thing, I’m looking at all these things happen and how is this gonna tie in with this chorus where I’m asking these questions? So yeah, I agree in the sense that that phrase could be looked at as very direct, but I do think it expresses sentiment that we’ve all felt throughout time, there are periods where you’re just like; and that could be at your job, it could be in politics, it could be your favourite sports team for that matter! *laughs* There’s always the need for that person at the front being effective.

But now of course, with something like The Ides Of March just being a Myles Kennedy record, you’ve obviously got complete control and you’re not having to work alongside anyone else’s words, for lack of better phrasing…

MK: You’re left to your own devices and you kinda do what you feel is appropriate. And in some ways that’s liberating, and other ways it’s a tremendous amount of work because you’ve just got yourself to rely on. But I feel like making these solo records has made me better when I step back into the other realms, I think it’s really been useful for me. 

I suppose it’s expanding what you do overall really.

MK: Exactly.

Are there any particular personal highlights across the album for you, be it from a writing or performance standpoint, even a technique like we spoke about earlier?

MK: I mean, I think most of the highlights for me are on the title track. I think besides the song itself which I’m proud of, there’s a line on there which has been helpful for me in my own life which is Cool heads prevail in times of change, you know, just the idea of turning down the burner when you start getting worked up at the world around youand remember to maintain your cool, and things are changing rapidly, and maintain that perspective. And hopefully that’ll help someone else as well. And that’s the funny thing as well – we were just talking about reflecting emotions, and there’s an example of me writing a line that is essentially a reminder for me in my own existence, and hopefully it’ll have some effect with somebody else.  As far as like a technique or a sound, I think overall, not really. I’m just proud to have another record under my belt – it’s always a relief that somehow you managed to get one more done! *laughs*

I’m glad that you bring up the title track, because that to me is such an expansive piece of work that it conjures up thoughts of the third and fourth Led Zeppelin albums just in terms of all those different sonic places it goes to. I don’t wanna call it your Stairway To Heaven or anything but you know what I’m getting at?

MK: I’ll take that *laughs* That’s fine with me. It’s funny, I just did an interview and we talked about the same thing, about that intro; it’s so funny because that’s the part where people go “it reminds me of this or that”, and it was such an afterthought for me. The main part of the song, the genesis of it was the verse, y’know it’s Well just beyond the blue horizon, that whole thing came kind-of in a dream. And when I was trying to assemble the rest of the parts, I remember I was getting ready to go for a walk with my wife, and while I was waiting for her to put on her walking shoes I just grabbed an acoustic guitar and played that Some say you never know/It’s easy come it’s easy go, that whole section, and didn’t really think anything of it, recorded it on my phone real quick and moved on. And then when I came back to revisit it, I was like “Oh that’s cool – I could maybe put that with that dream part”. Because that’s a lot of the time what you do, there’s sections. Didn’t really think a lot, it wasn’t something that was overly thought-out or anything. I certainly wasn’t thinking like “Oh I want something that’s going to be this epic journey and start this way like Led Zeppelin, it was just like an amalgamation of I guess everything I’d listened to. And obviously Led Zeppelin III and IV are probably two of my favourite Zep records, so it makes sense that some of that would seep out into these songs.

I’m sure I’ve seen you cover Zeppelin songs live at shows before…

MK: Oh absolutely – I’ve covered Zeppelin plenty over the years. The very first time I ever performed in front of a crowd with a guitar, I sang Rock and Roll. I was sixteen years old, and that was the first time I ever rocked-out in front of people.

Going back just a touch, you mentioned there about the whole “came to me in a dream” thing – how often do you find those sorts of things happening, where parts will just randomly come to you and you’ll find ways to piece them in like that?

MK: All the time. A lot of my favourite parts came from dreams – one of my favourite choruses from the catalogue between everything I’ve been a part of was a dream, the Standing In The Sun chorus that I did with Slash and The Conspirators. That was, we were on tour with Ozzy and I was in a hotel in Phoenix and the sun was coming in and I was just waking up, and I heard *hums chorus melody* and was just like “What is that? I like that.”, y’know? And I grabbed my guitar, grabbed my phone, recorded it, put it away and when Slash and I were putting ideas together he had this cool *hums guitar riff* and I was like “hey, I’ve got a thing that would work with that, let’s try this”. A lot of the time dreams are the most important element of writing.

I guess to speak a little more broadly now – how are things looking in terms of being able to promote this new record once it’s out? Obviously you’ve just been able to announce some socially-distanced US shows, and we were due to have you over here this June for Download Festival before that had to be cancelled presumably along with lots of other plans, so how do you approach these next steps now?

MK: It’s gonna be interesting. We’re gonna try these socially-distanced shows and keep our fingers crossed, and then hopefully I can get back across the pond to play some point either late this year or early next year. I mean, there’s so much uncertainty though, we just don’t know.

In terms of the previous album cycle, at least over here, we of course got a whole bunch of those nice intimate shows, so it’s great to hear that you’re still trying to keep that going…

MK: And I love getting to do that; to some degree I actually prefer that to doing the big rock show thing. I like that everybody-in-a-room, it’s like a party, and then I can goof around. Those shows became more known for my silly stage banter than the actual performing! *laughs* Because I would just open up and start talking with the audience – I like that, I liked having that opportunity.

And of course those goofing around parts can then lead to some hilarious and brilliant moments like when I saw you completely improvise a song about circle pits before covering The Trooper by Iron Maiden.

MK: *laughs* Yup, just seeing what happens.

I suppose that’s gotta be the best part of it?

MK: I love that. It’s just, it’s a moment in time, let’s see what happens. And we may fall flat on our faces or maybe it’ll be something that a few years later someone’ll bring up and be like “that was fun”, and so mission accomplished, y’know?

Well at least you seem to have vague plans in the can to continue that on now…

MK: Very vague, yeah.

And presumably this solo stuff’s now the main focus for quite a while now for yourself? Obviously I’ve heard first-hand all the Alter Bridge stuff recently, and presumably the Conspirators are still off for a while because of Guns N’ Roses?

MK: Yeah, everything is…I think we’re all in a holding pattern. You know? Obviously with Slash and The Conspirators and stuff, there’s a lot of songs in the can, it’s just a matter of how do we go out and tour? And with Alter Bridge it’s the same sort of thing because those are bigger entities and we’ve gotta play bigger venues, so.

Whereas with this solo music, you can rock up in much more intimate venues hopefully more easily sooner?

MK: Yeah.

I mean, I’m desperately holding out for normality because there’s so much from The Ides Of March that I want to hear live.

MK: Awesome. Well I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and hopefully we’ll get over there sooner than later. I miss it man, jeez.

I suppose it’s most of your life really, right?

MK: Yeah man, it’s all I’ve known for most of my life, so it’s been weird not doing it. It’s been a whole new existence, a paradigm shift.

Were you ever tempted throughout all of this to jump on the whole streaming gig thing as part of the album promotion?

MK: I did one around this time last year for a publication called American Songwriter and it was fun.

Oh yeah, I remember watching some of that…

MK: That was fun, I had a good time. It’s hard though because so much can go wrong. I just was reading an article about a really big Latin artist here in the States trying to do one a few days ago that I guess like A LOT of people tried to log in for it and it crashed. It was like a really big deal. So the technology to some degree makes it so it’s a little bit risky, and so that’s part of why I’ve been a little bit nervous at doing another one. I lucked out with that one and it seemed to work, but I’ve heard enough horror stories where, who knows?

There’s definitely a difference too, and I completely understand the “wait for proper shows” mentality in fairness 

MK: It’ll happen – I believe we’re on the last part of this and hopefully within eight months or so, fingers crossed.

Just to close things off – is there any message you’d like to give to the readers of Rock Sins who might be fans of you and all of your work?

MK: Yeah, well I think, hopefully as this record’s coming out, people will find something in it that moves them or helps them in their existence, and that’s with every record I’ve been a part of, that’s all I can hope for. And then, regarding the live realm, yeah let’s just stay optimistic that we’re all gonna be able to take part in the experience of live music again sooner than later. If we think positive, maybe it’ll come to fruition!

Myles Kennedy’s new album, The Ides Of March, is released this Friday (14th May 2021) on Napalm Records. Pre-order the album and various other assorted Myles Kennedy merch at the Napalm Records Euro shop.

Myles Kennedy - The Ides Of March Album Cover Artwork

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