INTERVIEW: Myles Kennedy (May 2021)

Best known as the frontman of Alter Bridge and for Slash and the Conspirators, Myles Kennedy began an intriguing—and equally compelling—solo career with 2018’s “Year of the Tiger.” That acoustic-based album, dealing in depth with the death of his father when Myles was a child, showcased Kennedy’s singer-songwriter side and his versatility as a musician. For solo record number two, “The Ides of March” (May 14, 2021, Napalm Records; read Live Metal’s review), Myles has plugged in for a largely blues-based collection of songs highlighting his guitar heroics, without leaving behind the varied sounds of the first album. The day before the record’s release, Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with Myles to get all the details.

LIVE METAL: As albums go, this one seems to have come together fairly quickly once everything shut down last year. Can you take me through the timeline of Alter Bridge being forced off the road and then writing and recording the album?

MYLES KENNEDY: Yeah, it was definitely a unique situation. As we were pulled off the road, I knew I had a record to write, because I was supposed to go in the studio in the third quarter of 2020 for solo record number two. But I had no idea just how much time I was gonna have to put it together. So it was one of those situations where not only did the lockdown essentially create a lane for me to write, but it also informed the record, I think, speaking from a lyrical perspective. It was something that once I started down that road, I immersed myself in it, and when it was all said and done, I had a record with a pretty congruent theme overall, which was a reflection of everything that was happening.

And then you got in a car and drove from Washington (state) to Florida for the recording.

Yes, we rented a vehicle, threw all the gear in the back and then drove just under three days, and we were sleeping very little. We were on a mad dash to get to the studio, and it was fun. I had Zia Uddin, my drummer—we’ve played together off and on since we were kids back in the ’80s. We were playing bars together by the time we were in high school. So it was great to reconnect and reminisce, and that was fun. And then we connected with Tim (Tournier), our bass player. I think we met him about halfway through, somewhere in Tennessee. Then the hijinks continued. You put the three of us together, and it’s basically a comedy free-for-all. So yeah, it was fun.

This album has a much more electric, plugged-in sound than your first solo album, and it’s also very blues based. What made you want to go in that direction with it?

I think I rekindled my love for playing electric guitar and, in particular, lead guitar, which is where I started before I was a singer. I became interested in that again about five years ago. Some of it was I started collecting more vintage instruments, and I was collecting instruments that would inspire me and that would inform me. I wasn’t just getting things because it was cool to have. It was like I picked this up and it’s got a song in it, and it’s making me want to play. So that was really the genesis of it. And also, I’d already done the acoustic approach on the first solo record. But I wanted to still balance it. I still wanted to have elements from that—those arrangement concepts where you have acoustic, you have mandolin, you have lap steel—but I wanted to introduce more of straight-up electric and with a few more solos, as well.

Do you have a favorite lead or solo that you played on this album?

Yeah, “The Ides of March.” Both the solos, the first and second solos, those were actually put on at the last minute when I was demoing. I considered just sending the demos to the band and being like, “Well, this is the arrangement. Here’s what I’m thinking,” and I was gonna leave the solo sections open. Then at the last minute, I was like I’m gonna finish this demo, put the solos on here. And I ended up really getting a bad case of demo-itis. I got so attached to those solos that I was then basically in a situation when I was making a record and I had to relearn the solos that I did on the demos. I did that with most of the songs on the album. I just got so attached to the solo demos that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say. So I relearned them.

When you were doing those demos, did you plan the solos out in advance, or did you improvise?

Yeah, I’m an improviser. I came up the ranks, for a while there, playing a fair amount of jazz and fusion, and so much of that was about improvisation. With improvising, when you’re in the studio, I usually do like three passes, and then I will step back and listen, and like, “I like this section. I’m gonna put this here.” So you kind of do a comp—same thing a lot of people do when they’re cutting vocals, where you do a few passes and like, “Well, I like this phrase here, and I like this phrase here,” and then you put it together.

For Alter Bridge, I’ve heard both you and Mark talk about how you will write parts and then put the parts together to make the songs. Do you use that approach for your solo material, or do you sit down and write a whole song from start to finish?

In the solo realm, I tend to do the start-to-finish approach. Some of the songs are written very quickly. There’s a song called “Moonshot” where that was written in about two hours just in one sitting. “The Ides of March” is more akin to the Alter Bridge approach. The verses—(sings) “Well just beyond the blue horizon”—that section came to me as I was waking up. I was coming out of a dream state one morning, and I liked it and I recorded it real quick. And then it was a matter of revisiting and trying to build until I had a song. So a few months later, I came up with the intro. The hard part was the coda, that outro. Trying to punctuate that song, that was what took months really. I think I could have probably finished the song in a pretty short period of time relative to what it ended up being, and the chase on that was an arduous process.

For that song in particular, did you plan ahead of time to write this—the word “epic” gets overused—but this longer, seven-minute-plus song, or did it just happen naturally?

It happened naturally. Initially when I came up with that verse, I was kind of thinking of it like a deep cut, and it would be something that would be like four minutes, and I thought it would be fun to solo over those changes. But as it started to play out, as it started to get put together, and especially once the lyric started to evolve—I was on a walk one day with my wife and “The Ides of March” came to mind. That phrase in and of itself is such a prophetic element, and there was just so much uncertainty in that period of time. I thought this could actually be kind of a foundation of the record in a lot of ways, and once I gave myself permission, I thought, “This is going to be a journey. Let’s do this.” So that kind of evolved slowly to becoming the seven-minute-plus epic that it is.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Sifting Through the Fire,” and it has a sound we haven’t really heard from you. It has kind of a Southern rock feel to it. What inspired that song?

Ah, I appreciate hearing that. That’s one of my favorites, I think just because it is out of the normal realm of musical influences that I draw from. It’s definitely got that Skynyrd/Allman Brothers vibe. That one evolved, interestingly enough, oftentimes I just get up and pick up one of my guitars and sit on the couch, and I just stumbled onto that intro section, and it came about pretty quickly. I thought, “I like this. This could be cool,” and I went in my studio and started working with it. I came up with the hook, the guitar, which is that harmonized lead part at the beginning, and then my wife, as I was working in the studio, she kept singing it. She’ll sometimes do this thing where she’ll make a kind of almost like a spoof on whatever I’m working on, just because if it’s really hooky to her, she’ll do that. That’s usually when I know it’s a decent idea—if she can remember it, and I’m hoping that someone who listens to the record will, as well. And then the lyric was informed essentially by just getting frustrated with not knowing, as far as there’s so much information out there, and what’s real information and, essentially, what’s misinformation. That was the sentiment expressed on that song, the idea of sifting through the fires. You’ve got all these hot topics and you’re trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not.

You were talking about how the lockdown and pandemic had informed the writing. How does writing about outside things like that compare to the first solo album, where it was very deeply personal subject matter? Is it easier or harder, or are they just different?

They’re different, and I told a friend this as I was completing the record, that it was every bit as hard to write this as “Year of the Tiger” was, because I was so immersed in what was going on at the time, and I’m reflecting what’s going on. And it’s heavy subject matter. So you have that, and then you also have subject matter that at the time I don’t think I realized where it was going, that suddenly became kind of polarizing. I was just reflecting what I thought everybody was feeling, because a lot of the songs were written in March and April 2020. And then things started to change. So then you have to figure out a way to reflect things without coming across like you have some sort of opinion or agenda. I always like to keep things more from an emotional standpoint—how it’s affecting my family and I—without trying to be preachy. A lot of times, if there is a line in a chorus, for example, “In Stride,”—”Cool down, baby, you know you’re gonna burn out in time”—well, that’s kind of addressed to me and how I deal with anxiety. That’s the delicate dance when you write songs that revolve around certain themes.

A few tour dates have been announced so far. What are these shows and touring for this album, in general, going to look like for you? On the first album, the part of the tour I saw, it was mostly just you playing acoustically, but this album definitely would lend itself to a full band.

Yeah, so the first four shows we’re doing at the end of June will be a full band, so that’s going to be fun. It’ll be interesting because we’re going to do it as a three-piece. In time, I might consider bringing in a fourth player, just because I have so many different guitar parts that I would like to have recreated live. But with that said, I also want to do some runs just as solo acoustic, because I have so much fun doing that. I feel like it’s a different experience for the people who come to the shows, too, because I’m always a little more relaxed, and it’s more about the banter between the audience and I. I, unfortunately, put the the audience through some of my really bad humor (laughs), and people have to do a lot of courtesy laughing. But that’s fun. I like doing that.

I find it interesting that as you’ve been playing acoustically, you’ve been covering some metal songs, like “The Trooper” and “Mob Rules.” How did you choose those songs, and was it fun and a challenge to break them down in that format?

First of all, they’re songs that I really love. I remember growing up hearing “Mob Rules” and just being blown away. So I thought given that I love those songs but I also love singer-songwriter-based arrangements of things, I thought it would be cool to mix the two. Because it’s kind of unexpected. I think if you do “Mob Rules” with the band and you rock it out, it’s like yeah, that’s OK, it’s cool. But if you do it where you totally change things and you experiment with it, it certainly makes it interesting for me. It’s a fun challenge, and I like that challenge.

Before “Year of the Tiger,” you had a whole other album completed, and it’s almost taken on this mythic quality at this point when people talk about it. Do you think that will ever see the light of day?

Maybe. It’s just such a different kind of record. I could see it coming out at some point. I’ve already stole two songs from that record, one of which is “Love Rain Down.” I did a version of that for that record. And then a song called “Love Can Only Heal.” So if “love” was in the title, I took it (laughs). And those were two of my favorite songs on that record. A lot of the other songs, the shelf life had expired for me. I just didn’t feel connected to them anymore, and I just wanted to release something that I really felt like if I was going to tour it, I could have that connection. Maybe at some point I’ll release it. That would be interesting.

As we said, a few tour dates are scheduled for this summer. Do you plan to try to tour as much as you can the rest of the year if conditions allow it?

I would love that. Nothing would make me happier (laughs).

Based on the schedule you’ve had in the past, would it be next year when you would get back together with Alter Bridge to work on a new album?

Yeah, that would be the ideal situation to try and get a record out some point third quarter/fourth quarter next year. But we have to get a record written, so lots of work to be done.

I know you have another interview, so I’ll let you go. Is there anything else you’d like to say right now?

No, that was great, that was fun. I appreciate it, Greg.

LINKS:
Buy “The Ides of March”
www.myleskennedy.com 
www.facebook.com/officialmyleskennedy 
www.instagram.com/officialmyleskennedy 
www.twitter.com/myleskennedy 
www.youtube.com/myleskennedyofficial 

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