"As a songwriter you have to be fearless and unapologetic"
Not everyday you have the chance to talk with someone you consider among the best of his time. This was the case for me speaking with Myles Kennedy, one of the top vocalists/musicians in the recent history of rock music. As he’s releasing his first solo work, “Year Of The Tiger”, we talked about the music of the album, his many styles, darkness and light through lyrics, his camaraderie with Mark Tremonti and the next big plans of Alter Bridge in a really special interview for me.
Hello Myles. To say I’m happy that I have the chance to talk with you would be an understatement. It’s actually a privilege. How are you?
(laughs) That’s really sweet… I’m great, thank you…
Speaking today is a nice coincidence, as only a couple of hours earlier it was announced that Mark will play here for the first time, so let’s just wish this is a door opening for you and Alter Bridge to come in Greece soon…
That would be great. I’d love that. I always wanted to play there…
Well, congrats for the new album. It’s the least I can say. Or maybe I should say “thank you”, cause in truth it’s one of these albums that is not just art; it’s something beyond that…
Oh, well… thank you so much… it means a lot…
"As a person who creates and tries to leave behind a certain legacy, you have to be fearless and unapologetic by what you do"
I’ll sum it up like that. Albums like “Year Of Tiger” are allies to the unseen battles we give to our everyday lives. And it’s because it’s so authentic and coming from a real place. Isn’t it?
Yeah, I think that this was certainly a very honest record, to the point that at times I was wondering if I am exposing too much of my world and of what’s in my heart. But, as a songwriter, as a person who creates, who tries to leave behind a certain legacy, I guess you have to be fearless and unapologetic by what you do. If it comes from an honest place, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Musically, this album showcases a different side of you. Did you worry that some of your fans might not dig its acoustic direction or it was a no brainer for you?
Well, I think I was very aware that it wasn’t gonna be for everybody, because I’m known for being involved in more riff-based, loud guitars and hard rock approach. I just had to ask myself from an artist’s standpoint “What would be something that would get me really off? What would be something that would make me excited?”.
And I think the idea of making an acoustic record has always been there. It’s always been something I’ve been intrigued with and thought would be a lot of fun. But, anytime you do something different, you have to be prepared that not everybody is gonna jump on board. But, I will say I’m pleasantly surprised with the fact that enough people have supported it so far. I’m very-very grateful and hopefully people will enjoy the entire record when they get it...
I think it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Anyone following you should see that this side is part of yours in the music you write all these years…
Yeah! You know, I think you’re right! I think it’s there throughout all of my career, but I’m just taking it to kind of the next level in that respect.
"I love so many kinds of music and I’ve always tried to digest as much as I could"
From the Cosmic Fusion Dust Band to Citizen Swing and of course from Alter Bridge to Slash you’ve proven to be versatile and deliver great performances in quite a few different styles. Where would you say you stand closer to as a musician?
Boy, that’s a great question... I think what probably comes the easiest to me and the most natural, might be this approach, more of the acoustic based. It’s been so much time I’m a musician in this arena, but it’s hard to say, cause I love so many kinds of music and I’ve always tried to digest as much as I could and be as well rounded as I could. And not to mention that I’m kind of schizophonic, in the sense that my attention span is kind of sort and so I’ll spend a certain amount of time immersed in one style. And then I’ll be "ok I had enough of that. I need to do something different now". That’s something I’ve always done to keep things interesting.
In this album there’s pedal steel, slide guitar, mandolin, banjo… Was there an instrument or something about the orchestration that maybe challenged you in a way?
I think the thing that initially challenged me the most was probably the lap steel, because I’ve never played it before. But, once I spent a little bit time with it, it felt pretty easy. And I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve spent so much time developing my slide guitar approach, that it was really just a matter of laying it down… (laughs). It’s like looking at a guitar on your lap and just playing it that way. I experimented a lot with the alter tunings, but at the same time I tried to retain a certain amount of innocence and naivety towards the instrument, which would help kind of give it a unique sound.
"I feel fortunate to have made a record that hopefully will be a shining light in a dark world"
Now, the added value of this album comes with the story and the lyrics. How hard was the decision to share such a significant part of your life with everyone out there? Memories, thoughts, feelings…it’s not easy to open up like that…
Yeah! Once I decided to go down that road, I mean it was certainly tough… I think I discovered later on in the process that it was gonna be a pretty deep experience, with a lot of soul searching and a certain amount of pain. I mean, you’re gonna kill on the way scabs and wounds that have been there for years and re-examine things. That certainly was challenging at times…
But, one of the things that I’ve found already with the handful of people that have heard the record is that it’s made them feel better about certain situations. They’re writing that it’s provided certain solace or that it’s been a cathartic album, listening to these songs, which it has provided for me as well. And that makes it all worthwhile. Any artist would tell you that the part of creating something that makes another human being feel better, that’s a really-really powerful thing. I really feel fortunate to have made a record that hopefully will be kind of a shining light in a dark world for anybody who struggles with something among these lines.
In my opinion the album has two climax moments. One comes early as “The Great Beyond” addresses all the darkness and one comes just before the end as “Love Can Only Heal” shows the way to the light. Would you agree that these are two really special songs on the album?
Yeah, those are definitely two of my favorite moments on the record. And I like how you highlighted it. The one is very dark and one is light and they kind of book in the record. I never thought about that before, but I think it’s a really great insight on your part. Those songs definitely have a certain impact and they’re very special to me in that terms.
"Sometimes a song will dictate where it needs to go"
Also, they are the only ones with a bit different and more layered orchestration. Was it something you intended to do?
Yeah, they are! For the most of the record I was trying to shy away from any sort of epic qualities or orchestrated qualities. The way those songs were written it was necessary to bring in a string section on “The Great Beyond” or have this epic build on “Love Can Only Heal”. What I’ve learnt is that a lot of times you can tell that you want to make a record where you limit yourself from an arrangement standpoint, but sometimes a song will dictate where it needs to go. And so one of my concerns was “will these songs fit to the record?”. That took a massage in the instrumentation and sequencing to make sure that it all makes sense in the story.
"I’m definitely a big fan of Paul Simon as a songwriter"
With "Turning Stones" - which is one of my favorite tunes on the album - I felt a connection with what Eddie Vedder did with the soundtrack for “Into The Wild”. Have you heard it? If yes, would you agree?
Ahh, I heard that a long time ago. I think I saw that movie a long time ago… I should go back and re-listen to it, but yeah it’s definitely one of my favorite tracks. I think what I was shooting at with this one was actually a tip of the hat to Paul Simon. I’m definitely a big fan of Paul Simon as a songwriter and I wanted to kind of imply that with that song.
Then, if some fans of yours like me, really dig this album and have little experience in this field of music, which artists or albums would you recommend to check out?
Oh man, that’s a really good question. I’m a really big Chris Whitley fan and my favorite record of Chris Whitley is this record called “Dirt Floor”. He put that album out in 1998 and it’s just him and a guitar. It’s a very special record. It was recorded in a day or two. Very stripped down, but just very beautiful and very haunting. His voice was amazing. He passed away about ten years ago. That would be my suggestion.
Also, while listening to “Nothing But A Name” I felt that this music could be part of a soundtrack to a TV series like “Sons of Anarchy”. I think there’s an overall movie feeling during the album, so, which TV series or movie’s atmosphere would match with its music?
A few people say that they can hear the music in the context of a movie or a TV series. You know what? It’s really hard… I don’t really watch a lot of TV (laughs)… nor do I watch a lot of movies anymore. But, maybe a song like “The Great Beyond”, something very epic… Someone actually said when he heard the “Great Beyond” that it sounded like it was it fit one of these epic movies… (laughs). That’s what I’ve heard people saying…
"It’s always been a matter of trying to balance it with a certain amount of optimism and not just writing a song or a record that’s completely dark"
Now, something that was kind of mentioned earlier as well. As is the case often with Alter Bridge your lyrics deal with darkness but leave a light on in the end. I think it’s getting more important as artists seem to have a hard time dealing with the darkness inside them, isn’t it?
Yeah… I mean that’s part of what drives a lot of us. Having that dark element and then working through with your songs. For me, it’s always been a matter of trying to balance it with a certain amount of optimism and not just writing a song or a record that’s completely dark. As someone who has the opportunity to write music and write lyrics I hope to strike a little bit of hope for the listener and for myself for that matter. Not just look at things dark. And just try to have an optimistic view at the end of the day.
"Mark and I have a very unique dynamic, opposed like a yin and yang"
Isn’t it interesting that when it comes to your solo albums you and Mark take so different approaches? Could the balance of these two approaches be a factor in the success of Alter Bridge?
Absolutely! I think that Mark and I have a very unique dynamic, opposed like a yin and yang. We’re very different songwriters and very different people, but we have a real good understanding. I think we kind of need each other to make Alter Bridge unique and be what it is. I think that’s a really beautiful thing at the end of the day. I love collaborating with him and hopefully he thinks the same way about me… (laughs). I think we bring out different sides to each other that make that entity what the fans like.
"Royal Albert Hall was my favorite experience as a performer, in my career"
I was at the Royal Albert Hall concerts, both nights. It was a… transcending experience wasn't it? What did it leave you with?
Oh man, that was probably one of the most memorable – if not the most memorable – experiences that as a performer I ever had. I think that when we all walked up on the stage those nights, felt that this was something we will remember forever. I think it was my favorite experience as a performer, in my career. It was amazing…
Any news regarding the DVD of the shows?
Not yet… We’re still trying to get all that stuff figured out. We don’t have a time frame and all that stuff, so we shall see how it plays out…
"Alter Bridge are open to anything. Other than some sort of fusion or jazz or polka stuff..."
Would you consider a concept album like “The Year Of the Tiger” with Alter Bridge or maybe do something completely outside the box in the next step of your career? Or you’d rather stay with the good and successful formula that you have?
Oh man, I guess wherever our heads are at that point. I think it’s too soon to tell, but there was a certain concept or maybe a theme that ran throughout a lot of the last record, through “The Last Hero”. Though it wasn’t a concept record from start to finish, there was definitely key songs that kind of told the story. We’ll see how that plays out. You never know - until you’re actually working on the record - where things are gonna go. But, we definitely are open to anything. Other than some sort of fusion or jazz or polka stuff…(laughs) I’m sure you won’t hear that stuff on an Alter Bridge record…
"Headlining Download one day with Alter Bridge. Maybe that’s a possibility..."
You have achieved some amazing things in your career like Wembley, 02, Royal Albert Hall or playing with Slash and stuff. Which one you would set as the next milestone of your career? Which would be your next dream to come true?
Boy, that’s another good question. I’m almost sure I don’t know what I’d like to do at this point, I feel all the boxes have been checked. People keep bringing up the idea of headlining Download one day with Alter Bridge. So, maybe that’s a possibility one day. We shall see...
Thank you very much for your time Myles. I wish you all the best.
Thank you, Chris. I really appreciate it.
Hope to see you soon in Greece...
That would be wonderful.