Since 2010, Myles Kennedy has been pulling a non-stop double-duty workload as a singer for guitar player Slash’s solo band and Alter Bridge, the band he joined in 2004. Not many vocalists can pull something like that off but Kennedy has – recording and touring with both bands, alternating as one entity took a break and the other revved back up. But the time has finally come for Kennedy to be just himself. Having worked on a solo album for several years, he was overcome by the need to follow another lyrical path causing album number one to fall to the wayside while album number two took over.
“I realized it was time to jump head-first into something I’ve been putting off for my whole life as a writer,” Kennedy revealed when his debut solo LP Year Of The Tiger was announced it’s due date of March 9th. Knowing it was time to express his feelings about his father’s death when Kennedy was a young child, the lyrics came upon him in different forms – at times taking on his mother’s emotions on “Turning Stones” and staring death in the face on “The Great Beyond.” It was heartbreaking, it was honest, it was emotional and it was freeing. “This record is my attempt to convey things that I’ve needed to express for a long time,” continued Kennedy. “What I found hiding in the deep, dark corners of my psyche was difficult to face, but in the end, what came out of the creative process was very cathartic.”
Raised in the Pacific Northwest following his father’s passing, Kennedy enjoyed life on a farm, riding horses and cleaning stalls to get his first guitar after hearing Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” on Van Halen’s eponymous 1978 debut album. From there, he was on his path. He started writing music while in one of his earliest teenage bands, Rapscallion, which only lasted about six months. “Then I just jumped from band to band, was in two bands at the same time, then a couple years later I was playing in cover bands and basically working six nights a week, four hours a night, then waking up and going to school the next day,” Kennedy told me during a 2011 Glide interview. “Once I got into it, I just loved it and I was really serious and passionate about it. I just played as much as I could. That was really the best education I could have gotten as a musician.”
Citizen Swing and The Mayfield Four kept him propelling forward until he settled down into Alter Bridge, a band born from the disintegration of Creed, firing off their first album, One Day Remains, not long after and sealing their fate with the follow-up, Blackbird, featuring the hit single, “Rise Today,” and fan favorite, “Watch Over You.”
With a solo tour planned for the late spring, Kennedy plans to bring a songwriter’s feeling to the shows, just a man and his guitars, his emotions bare on his arms, his voice allowing the soul of the song to spirit around a room and, hopefully, envelope each person. Not being the first time Kennedy has sat down in front of an audience virtually bare bones, it can still be a chilling moment for him. For those hoping Kennedy will let loose, that is planned on a different leg of the tour this summer, when Kennedy has a band together to help him resonate on a little bit louder level.
Having seen Kennedy perform many times, it’s a fact he knows how to connect with a crowd. He is constantly smiling, reaching out over the rail to touch hands, pointing at individuals and leaning against his bandmates as he hits high notes. Also having interviewed him on numerous occasions, even standing backstage and chatting about nothing in particular, Kennedy doesn’t change. He is friendly, polite, smiling. It’s what fans hope for in their musical heroes.
With the release of Year Of The Tiger only a few weeks away, with the title track video an exciting precursor to what the album sounds and feels like [wait till you hear “Love Can Only Heal”], I spoke with Kennedy about the album and the emotions behind it as he was “enjoying home life. The sun is out and I’m not complaining. It’s wonderful.”
Year Of The Tiger is such a personal and emotional album for you. When you started writing these songs, did you find that they weren’t as deep inside of you as you had thought, maybe we’re closer to the surface than you realized?
Absolutely, yeah. That was one of the most interesting things about tackling the subject matter, was I thought I was going to be peeling away a lot of layers to get to the source and it was really just beneath the surface. I discovered a lot about how the human mind works, which is that you put things on a shelf and you think it’s just going to be covered in cobwebs and there is no way you are going to be able to get to the source of the whatever it is you’re trying to find. So during the lyric process, taking things off the shelf and kind of blowing the dust off, made me realize that these were very, very, very real emotions that were still alive. So dealing with them was important and cathartic.
Did you shed a lot of tears writing these lyrics?
I’ll be perfectly honest, yes. A song like the “The Great Beyond,” which is basically about the night Dad passed away, that was pretty challenging in that respect. So yeah, there were some moments.
Do you remember the first line or lyric that came out of you?
Yes, I do. In fact, it was one of only two ideas that existed prior to December of 2016 when I started writing this. I was mowing my lawn like seven years ago and I remember this melody popping into my head and this lyric, “In the year of the tiger, I won’t weep and moan, got no time for cooling heels, I’ve got to roam.” And that just kind of happened. So I stopped the lawnmower, pulled my phone out, recorded it into my phone and kind of forgot about it. I didn’t know what that meant but it kept popping into my head every few years and I thought, I have no idea what the year of the tiger is. When I was trying to put the lyrics together for this record, I liked that idea and thought maybe we should bring that into the context of these songs and I discovered the year of the tiger was the year my father passed away. It was kind of like the universe was saying, you’re going to write this record.
It’s funny how the subconscious can come out and poke at you
Exactly, it’s fascinating
But now, by telling me that story, you are making yourself seem like a normal person with you out cutting grass. All the fans are going to be so excited to know you cut grass.
(laughs) I’ve had to stop doing that actually. What I discovered was that I am very allergic to grass. I couldn’t figure out why every time I cut grass I started to get these sinus infections! So I no longer have grass duty (laughs).
You’ve said you had a whole other album ready to go. In fact, when we talked in 2016, you were telling us about this new solo record you had. But you discarded the one you were planning to do in favor of doing this one. What was so wrong on that other record?
You know, I think that part of why that record didn’t happen, even though it’s recorded, it’s been documented, is I felt a certain disconnect from it; too much time had passed and I was just in a different place mentally. And sonically, it was a little more of a rock record than I originally set out to make and that was something that was very important to me, is I didn’t want, because I’ve been so lucky to have been involved with these other projects that are more rock-based, hard rock-based, to put out another record that would be yet another Myles record with heavier guitar. I just felt like that was the wrong thing to do. So I had to be honest with myself and it was a bitter pill to take because it was a lot of work and a lot of time went into that first record. But I was just, you know what, I owe it to myself and I owe it to the fans to redo this and start over again.
Any chance any of those songs might come back to life?
Yeah, there is a handful of tracks that I do like from those sessions that might see the light of day. There is one track that made it to this record, the only other idea that was older, and that’s “Love Can Only Heal,” which was a favorite song of mine from that last record and I knew that the lyrics would definitely work in the context of Year Of The Tiger. But what I wanted to do was take the demo that I had for that, and I really liked the vocal, as did Elvis [Baskette], my producer on this record, so I took the vocal that I recorded in my basement and then rebuilt everything around it. That was the only other song that was a carryover from that first record.
It has that great lap steel at the end that just cries
The solo at the end, yeah, I really enjoyed that. It’s funny, that instrument is all over this record and I’d never played it before. I’d never really sat down and messed with one. Elvis bought one cause he thought it would be cool to put one on this record so I put it on my lap and started messing around and it felt like I had been playing it forever. It felt very natural and it was just a very haunting and expressive instrument. I really, really enjoyed utilizing that on this record and hopefully I’ll be able to grow and learn how to play it more in the future and it’ll become kind of part of my sound going forth. I just fell in love with it.
What song changed the most from it’s original conception to it’s final recorded version?
Oh boy, good question. Well, unless I’m mistaken, most all the songs didn’t really change much at all from when I demoed these on just acoustic guitar or whatever. The arrangements really didn’t change a lot. I will say that there were some parts Elvis had some really great ideas, like on “Song Bird,” this little kind of refrain at the end, which I thought really bookended the song nicely. But as far as like the sonics of things, what probably changed the most, once all the other instruments were added to it, maybe “Devil On The Wall,” because “Devil On The Wall” was more of a fingerstyle approach when I first wrote that song. But by the end, once we got it in the studio, it turned into and had almost this rockabilly feel, which was a lot of fun. I’d never tried anything like that in the past so that was real liberating.
The tour starts in May, so what are the shows going to be like?
For this first run, it’s just going to be some acoustic guitars and me (laughs); to keep it really stripped down and it’s going to be more of a retrospective, really. I’m going to play songs that I’ve been a part of over the last two decades – Mayfield Four, Alter Bridge and so forth – with a good dose of Year Of The Tiger material. Then what I plan on doing in the summer is actually building a band and going out and playing tracks exclusively from Year Of The Tiger, or pretty much exclusively, with a cover or two thrown in. So there is going to be two stages of touring this year.
Is it going to be hard to sing some of these songs in front of people?
Yeah, it’s going to be very difficult. Fortunately, I know with Alter Bridge there is a certain amount of profound material, be it “Blackbird” or “Watch Over You,” and I know I can go there when I need to. But because this is so direct and correlates from losing my father, it will be interesting how that plays out night after night.
I want to ask you about a couple songs on the record but I want to go back to “Love Can Only Heal.”
Yeah, that was one that I wrote quite a few years ago, actually, and I always felt like there was something special there and something very melancholy in a beautiful way. So what happened was, I recorded it for the last record and the recording turned out fine. But there was just something not quite up to par for me as far as what I was bringing to the party. Taking the original vocal and rebuilding everything around it was fun but a massive challenge at the same time. I think the thing that changed it and separated it more than anything from the original recording was once the mandolin part came. The mandolin part was really the part that, suddenly, it was the bridge that made that song fit this record, sonically. It was the part needed to suddenly make it all make sense.
What about “Blind Faith”
That song was written on a resonator. I have this old 1930 National that is one of my favorite guitars and I remember one day I woke up, last spring, and I was kind of puttering around the house and I was like, man, I don’t really feel like writing today. But one thing I’ve learned as a songwriter is that you have, even when you don’t feel like it sometimes, you have to force yourself to do it, you have to treat it like a job, you know. So fortunately I did and I remember sitting down on my little bench there by my front door and that opening riff happened. I remember finishing the genesis of that song and thinking, well, thank goodness I didn’t play hooky today (laughs).
And “Haunted By Design”
That’s probably one of my favorites on the record. It’s certainly one of my favorites to play. It was basically built from two things: one is a Mississippi John Hurt fingerstyle approach that I learned years ago; and the other is, interestingly enough, coffee (laughs). I remember one morning I woke up and I drank way too much coffee so I had a lot of anxiety so I picked up the guitar and started playing that pattern. I remember my wife came in and she goes, “I really like whatever you’re doing.” And I’m like, “Well, thanks, I’m just trying to like calm down and this pattern just happened.” So you can thank Starbucks for that one (laughs).
Every now and then I hear shades of Simon & Garfunkel in these songs. Am I way off base on that?
No, no, you are totally on base. In fact, on “Turning Stones” you can totally hear Paul Simon’s influence, especially in some of the things he was doing in the mid-1980’s. There is a vocal part in there which is very Paul Simon. So yeah, you are dead on. I love Simon & Garfunkel.
Every time that I talk to Todd Kerns [bass player in Slash’s solo band], we marvel at your ability to write such incredible songs. So being that you’re actually a normal, happy guy, does it take a lot of effort to go real deep and find the sadness or the hurt for the more emotional songs?
Yeah, I’ll be straight up, I try to be a well-adjusted normal person. I strive for that. But like everybody has the things they deal with in their internal struggles, I think that music has always been my way of kind of working through a lot of that. And I think probably a lot of that comes from losing a parent at a young age. There is kind of a dark side that resides in me and I just try and deal with it in healthy ways. Being creative is probably the best way I can do that.
Will there be anything coming up with Slash and those guys?
I love those guys and I’m sure there will be something in the future. I think we all felt like it was such a healthy, great experience and hopefully there will be something down the road cause I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of those guys.
Now that you’ve got your taste of a solo record, will this be something that you think you’ll continue to do?
You know, two things: if I feel like there are ears out there who want to hear it, yes; but also if I feel like I still need to express myself that way. This is such a personal way of writing for me, and that’s kind of the million dollar question, is will I be able to go this deep on a continual basis. I don’t know.
What is going to be the next song to come out?
I think it might be “Devil On The Wall,” if I’m not mistaken. We’ll see (laughs) [it was officially released on Friday]
What was the first song you obsessed over as a kid?
I think the first song that really grabbed me was “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions.” That was my earliest memory of a song that really was like, what IS that? It was either that or “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, which I saw him on Sesame Street and I remember just being blown away.
What was the hardest song you tried to learn to play on guitar?
“Eruption” by Eddie Van Halen. I tried that when I was first learning to play guitar. I had only been playing a few months and I was determined to learn that song, which was kind of silly of me really, because that’s a very technically challenging piece of music (laughs). I remember sitting and wasting a whole summer trying to learn that song.
Did you ever get it?
I got parts of it. Frankly, I’ve only heard a handful of people actually play it correctly. Outside of Eddie, you know. Eddie’s got a special thing that only Eddie can do at the end of the day.
So you’re going to break it out on the tour, right?
(laughs) Yeah, on acoustic!
What was your first big I can’t believe I’m here moment?
I would probably say when record labels started courting the Mayfield Four in 1997. In our first trip, they flew us to New York and I remember being in the Sony building and that was probably one of the highlights for me of this journey. A kid from Spokane and you finally get your big shot and that was kind of like getting to go to the Super Bowl for me.
What do you think you learned the most from being in Citizen Swing?
You know, I was just learning how to become a songwriter and a singer and kind of a frontman. In retrospect, it was a lot of fun and I’m proud of certain moments that we had, but I wasn’t ready as a songwriter for a lot of that to be documented. When I listen to the very first Citizen Swing record, it’s almost like I hear somebody that is just trying to find himself as a creative entity. All I knew was that I didn’t want to sound like everybody. I was trying so hard to be different, because grunge was happening at that point, so I didn’t want to cop their trip and so what I did was I chose to go as extreme as I could by embracing this kind of R&B/funk element. It was a learning experience more than anything.
Have you ever been afraid for your life when Todd and Frankie [Sidoris, guitar player with Slash] were running around and swinging all that hair?
(laughs) Oh sure! I remember on one occasion, Frank swinging his head and I got a big chunk of hair that went right down my throat (laughs). He has a great-tasting conditioner (laughs).
And what fulfills you the most as a musician?
I think going in the studio and recording and hearing something that started off in your bedroom or hotel room and then it becomes a full-blown, realized, documented song. I think most songwriters will tell you the same thing, that that’s a very special feeling.
Live photos by Leslie Michele Derrough