Friday, May 13, 2011

Stephen Kellogg Interview

Photo by Laura Means
In celebration of Mousertime turning one, I had a chance to speak with Stephen Kellogg again while on a month long solo-tour. We had a chance to speak about the last Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers release “the Bear,” their anticipated upcoming release and the most influential concerts he has attended.
Link to first interview:

How did the idea for this solo tour come from? Is it just a solo tour, or are you working on a solo project?
Kellogg: Oh no, it's just a tour. I've played solo before, but I have never gone out before and had my "own night." I have done opening sets and stuff like that. The artistic thing was that I thought that it would be fun, and different. Also, I thought that it would be challenging in a different way. Even when I go out to play a couple of solo shows, I always come back with some new ideas and a little bit better as a band guy. We haven't put out a studio record in almost two years, and we have done a few tours of the whole country. The one thing that I have gotten into more and more is not "over-touring," so that I'm more balanced. So it's a real celebration every night when you're playing a show, and you're not like a hamster on a wheel. That has made the shows more refreshed, and more inspired. I didn't want to go out and just do another tour, just because it's like "well. We need to do another tour because we need money, we haven't toured in a while." It was more like what can we do that would be interesting to fans and artistically stimulating, that will still make it exciting when the new record comes out in September. I thought this was a great idea and it's just a month. When Tift (Merritt) signed on (for the tour), I was psyched about that. I just thought this seemed perfect, and was happy that it came together.
You briefly mentioned that challenges of doing a solo-tour, are you referring to the musical portion of the show?
Kellogg: Yeah, for me there are other challenges that aren't musical too. Like you just don't have as many people to feed off of energy wise, you are loading in and out and you are driving yourself more. Most of the challenges that count are the musical ones. I don't know why people come out to the shows, but I never think that it is to hear me play the guitar and sing. I think it must be in the writing and the presentation, which are the areas that I feel most comfortable. As a guitarist and a lot of the times as a singer, I don't feel that comfortable and you really feel that when there's not an electric guitar or a nice beat to back it up. But, I enjoy challenges as a rule. I have always felt that what doesn't kill you, will make you stronger. I have learned to love with the rawness a little bit more and I know what I need to work on a little bit more as the tour goes on.
You have a new album coming out in September?
Kellogg: Yeah, its slated for September and I think its going to happen. The record isn't totally done, but we are about to start to mix it. From what I have heard, it seems like we will make the release date.
If you don't mind, I would love to hear about the new record. What were some of the main differences in comparison to your previous full-length "The Bear?"
Kellogg: This album is pretty different. Thematically it kind of extends out where "The Bear' was, there is still a lot about family. That seems to be the thing that I am writing about right now. One of the big differences is that we did a lot of searching to find out where to make this record, and who to make it with. I sent letters out to a lot of producers that I love, all of my heroes. A few of them got back to me and were really nice but for the most part we didn't have any bites on that. I mean I shot really high. One of my letters was to Jon Bon Jovi, so I shot way up there. I figured why not? I didn't feel particularly inspired to make the record with anybody other than somebody that I adored. Then I met the guy that we ended up making the record with, and a lot of what he said was "I love this poetry, but if we put a back beat here just think about how many people would have access to it!" I totally get that. It was a point that resonated and makes total sense, but lyrics have always moved me the most. So a "groove(back-beat)" would be a weak spot for me, so bringing in a producer that had suggestions like that was great. Its got all of the exciting elements to me, like when you could tap your foot to it and maybe you don't realize what you are listening to on the first listen, but later you realize it's a cool song. To me "Jack and Dianne" and "Free Falling" are songs like that to me. So in that sense, the new record is more fun as a first listen in comparison to "The Bear." That was the goal of this record, to put a groove in it and make it happen that way. Also, when I wrote "The Bear" I was sort of in a a dark introspective period. There are a couple of happy songs on there, but a lot of that stuff was painful in a way. This record feels like really hopeful, and grateful. I have always been an optimistic person, but
something with the age and feeling a little disillusioned. Finding out that your life doesn't go exactly as you planned it would go, and you're not sure what is going to happen so "The Bear" was about getting through some of that. "Born In The Spring” and all those songs were really cathartic. I think that this record feels a lot happier to me, in a lot of ways.
You said that you wrote “The Bear” during a specific period of your life, are you normally a period writer? Or do you write continuously?
Kellogg: You know, I have always continuously written but I have always written a lot more than we release. The process at the beginning of every record has been “OK, what is the batch of songs and what are the rejects from the last record? Do they maybe fit better?” We would go through and pick which songs fit together, and as a result “The Bear” had a bunch of ”b-sides” because we recorded quite a few extra songs. We didn’t spend a ton of time on the sonics, that was more about setting up in the room and just playing. Trying to make the magic happen, and stuff like that. That became a period because we picked all of the songs that we thought would fit that format and we wrote them specifically to match the mood. All of these songs about desperation and disillusionment like “Born In The Spring,” “Mayday(b-side)” and “Mabeline.” All of those songs seemed to fit together and seem to then fit the aesthetic of the way that we were recording. We were a little bit searching and just had that exhausted feeling in your life where you are like “OK, I know that I have a lot to be thankful for, but I gotta get up today?” Pretty much when you feel like your aren’t living up to your potential. I feel like we gravitated towards those songs for “The Bear,” and we recorded those songs and did them tat way. And there were some bright moments, but I’m not going to pretend it’s darker than it was. That was kind of that record and I realized it mostly, when it was done. In this record we picked songs that we thought would fit what we are trying to do, which was songs that would be immediate and songs that you didn’t need a total road map. Like I really dig a song like “Lonely In Columbus” but you kind of have to commit to listening to it. It’s one of those songs that you throw on and people are talking over it in two seconds, but if you listen to it I think it can be a really rewarding song. I think with this record it’s like, without shaving off any of the depth or meaning, can we make a record that we can throw on and whether people are talking or not, it is going to sink in. But having done that, I am going to figure out what it is that I what to do on a record first and then write. Opposed to deciding later and then picking the songs that fit the mold, that I will really think about on the next record which I have never done but I am excited to do. I have kind just started thinking about that over the past week, like “boy that would be fun if we decide what we what a record to say and set out to do it.” I think that will be neat. I’m told that the Beatles used to do that from time to time, and they knew something about something(laughs).
The first time that I heard you guys was when you were the main support for Needtobreathe’s national tour, and your performance blew me away. Who would you say are some acts that you have looked up to in the past regarding live performance?
Kellogg: Well, my answers do occasionally air on the side of long-winded, but I do have a pretty precise answer. I have had a few concerts that were seminal concerts for me. The first was my very first concert, which was Whitesnake actually, and I was ten. The level of entertainment that came with the rock made me go “whoa, I want to do this for a living!” Walking into that arena and seeing David Coverdale spinning that mic stand was incredible. Then the next big concert that knocked me off of my feet was during my junior year of high school, when I went to see the Grateful Dead. I went to go see them because I thought that it was just going to be a big party, and it ended up being this incredible rock and roll show and they changed it. That had a huge influence on me, because for years I never wanted to repeat anything we did. I loved the way that the Dead did that, where every night you got a specific portrait for that night. I really dig the value of that, although in recent years I have found the value in fine tuning your show so that everone gets a great show all of the time. The real pitfall of that(putting on a unique show every night), is that you gets clunkers along the way because you had to take chances. The Dead took lots of them, and you would see a great one and then a bad one. I loved it, but I’m not sure that it is always right for songwriter type music. But it was hugely influential. Then I went to a Telluride Bluegrass Festival and I saw John Prine play. He broke a string on the first song in front of ten thousand people, and he didn't stop playing. He just smiled it away(laughs), and I just saw the power that a guy could have when he is emitting love. John Prine to me emitts love, when he is singing. The fourth show hat really blew me away was when I saw Ryan Adams on “the Demolition Tour,” and he was on that night. He is another one that can be on or off, but he was so on that night. He was so funny, so charming and yet so cool. In my mind he will always walk on water for putting on one of the best shows that I have ever seen. He was just up there making me laugh hard, and then making my eyes well up with tears. Very few performers can do that. He takes a lot of heat, because he seems to be on the nutty side. Those for shows are always touchstones for me. The only thing I would add is that Needtobreathe is one of the best live bands that I have ever seen, while touring with them. There wasn’t really one show, but just hanging around Bear a lot. They went through a period where they changed their sets and did whatever he wanted to do for years, because we are both similar band leaders. They had recently decided to dial it in and start playing the same sets and stuff. He was just saying what a difference it had made. He felt that a lot of their success that they had had came from, them deciding to work on creating a great show and bring it to each city, and not worry so much about growing. We talked a lot about it, and at the time I was still mixing it up every night and I think after that I decided that I was going to lock it down now, and do this. Needtobreathe was a big one, and another one is a songwriter that I’m friends with and look up to immensely named Josh Ritter. Those two are modern artists that I go see play, every time I get a chance to see them. I always get some great inspiration from seeing them.
Perfect day, what are you listening to?
Kellogg: You know, I had a perfect day yesterday so I am going to roll down that road. I have some kids, three daughters and they said hat they wanted a beach day. I am from the Northeast and it has been a long cold winter. It was cold and rainy day, but the sun came out right when my oldest daughter got off the bus from school. We put on our bathing suits, got a picnic table and I just cranked up Bob Marley really loud. We all went outside, we had a beach ball and I threw some Trader Joe’s coconut shrimp in the oven. My little daughter’s were eating shrimp, which was laughable. And although I don’t know that we have listened to Bob Marley before, they got it immediately. It is so universal, that music. You just don’t run into a lot of people that are like “uh, I just can’t stand Bob Marley.” I love music that almost everyone can agree on, and that was pretty great. So I would say that is music that never disappoints me.
Photo by Laura Means

1 comment:

  1. I, too, first saw Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers when they toured with Needtobreathe and have been a fan ever since. Loved the interview and excited to hear there is an upcoming cd in the fall. Yay!