As Myles Kennedy’s solo ca­reer fi­nally takes flight, we meet him on the road to find out how the Al­ter Bridge main­man’s child­hood tragedy in­flu­enced the tri­umph of his new acous­tic chap­ter

Total Guitar - - CONTENTS -

It’s hard not to believe in the idea of fate when Myles Kennedy ex­plains to us how his new al­bum was named. In a rare break from the stage and stu­dio that oc­cu­pies so much of his time with Al­ter Bridge and his band with Slash, he was mow­ing the lawn when the seed of a song came from nowhere…

“The melody came into my head for Year Of­thetiger,” re­calls Myles, “and I re­mem­bered I recorded it onto my phone and then I put it away for a while. But it kept pop­ping back in my head, and I didn’t even know what Yearof­thetiger meant then – I had no idea. So I looked up and dis­cov­ered, low and be­hold, it was the year my fa­ther passed away. And it al­most felt like it was the uni­verse in­struct­ing me that now was the time to write this record.”

That year was 1974 and Myles was just four when his fa­ther Richard died af­ter re­fus­ing med­i­cal treat­ment because of his Chris­tian Science be­liefs. His loss and the after­math for Myles, his mother and brother are tack­led head on with the song Yearof­thetiger and the al­bum of the same name.

“I tried to touch on this be­fore but for a number of rea­sons, I could never go there,” ad­mits Myles. “It’s a painful sub­ject but the idea of loss and death is a theme that runs through many of the lyrics I’ve been in­volved writ­ing. It hap­pened at such a young age it set the stage for the well I would con­tin­u­ously draw from. But as far as de­vot­ing an en­tire record to this spe­cific event, I just could­n­ever pull it off be­fore. It felt like it was the right time, and here we are.”

But while there is un­der­stand­able per­sonal dark­ness in the songs on Yearof­thetiger, there’s also plenty of hope too. And as a player and song­writer Myles Kennedy is show­ing new lay­ers that may sur­prise any­one who knows him from his other bands with folk, Delta blues and even rock­a­billy join­ing the mix with acous­tic gui­tar joined by man­dolin, banjo and even lap steel. There’s plenty to talk about…

The songs on the al­bum are al­most like vivid chap­ters to your fam­ily’s story. Did you take time to vi­su­alise those scenes when you were com­ing up with lyrics?

“Yes, and that was prob­a­bly the most chal­leng­ing thing. I don’t think I un­der­stood

just what an ef­fect that would have on my head. For ex­am­ple, The­great Be­yond, when I started pen­ning the lyrics for that I re­ally wanted to de­tail what it must have been like that night but also tell the story. Paint­ing kind of sur­real im­agery… it’s pretty vivid. I wanted it to be vivid so the lis­tener could see what was hap­pen­ing. And as I started to do that it was in­ter­est­ing how much that kind of hurt, for lack of a bet­ter word. I didn’t un­der­stand what I was step­ping into.

“I think I learned a lot about the hu­man brain. Once I was im­mersed in writ­ing the lyrics for the record, even my wife started to no­tice what was hap­pen­ing to me. She’s a men­tal health ther­a­pist and she filled me in on the de­tails of how the hu­man brain works. If you choose to jump down that hole and con­tinue to try and vi­su­alise things and go back in time and put your­self there again, there’s a cer­tain gravity to do­ing it that you have to be pre­pared for. And I don’t know if I was ini­tially. I don’t think I re­ally un­der­stood what I was jump­ing into.”

This is the most acous­tic al­bum you’ve done to date. What kind of new chal­lenges did that throw up as a player and how you con­sid­ered lay­er­ing and ar­rang­ing parts?

“One of the things that was im­por­tant to me was that the acous­tic gui­tar and vo­cal were es­sen­tially at the fore­front so when the time came to ar­range, to keep it there one of the things we did was to be very care­ful what you wrapped around it. So the idea of plug­ging in my PRSS and go­ing into a high-gain amp was def­i­nitely not an op­tion, as you know, once you do that it will to­tally mask the sound of the acous­tic in­stru­ments. So when it came to what the tex­tures were go­ing to be and what was go­ing to ac­com­pany the acous­tic gui­tar, it was im­por­tant to keep those pretty or­ganic as well. So man­dolin or banjo, and what re­ally be­came the star of the show in a lot of ways was the lap steel. And that was Elvis’s [Bas­kette, pro­ducer] idea, I’d never played lap steel be­fore, and he thought of it when we were talk­ing about what in­stru­ments to use on the record. He’d just or­dered this Dil­lion lap steel to the stu­dio and I’d never tried to play one so I won­dered if it meant we’d have to hire some­one to play the lap steel parts. Because it’s not the eas­i­est in­stru­ment, it’s not as hard as the pedal steel but it’s a dif­fer­ent thing for a guy who plays gui­tar. That was strange for me, once I put it on my lap and started ex­per­i­ment­ing it felt very nat­u­ral. I think we both liked it and I was some­body who didn’t have a great un­der­stand­ing of the in­stru­ment so there’s a cer­tain in­no­cence in that sense. A lot of times if you put an in­stru­ment in some­one’s hands who hasn’t learned the nor­mal way of play­ing it you come up with some unique ap­proaches. We were happy with how that played out.”

Your lap-steel solo in Love Canon­ly­heal is a real stand­out mo­ment, what was your approach on it?

“I had no idea on that one. Hear­ing David Lind­ley, who was Jack­son Browne’s lap-steel player with his phras­ing and the way he ap­proached things had a cer­tain ef­fect on how I chose to play the parts. I felt it needed to be haunt­ing but when I sat down I had no idea what I was go­ing to do. I felt it and stayed in the mo­ment. It was Elvis and I, plus Jef [Mol] our en­gi­neer and we cap­tured a mo­ment.”

It’s bold to pick up a new in­stru­ment in the stu­dio. Had you even played man­dolin and banjo be­fore too?

“No I never had. It was all pretty new for me. I guess what I’ve learned is, because I ex­per­i­ment so much with al­tered tun­ings, it kind of helps you. I guess that part of my brain was tapped in with the banjo and the man­dolin. The banjo was ac­tu­ally not quite as hard as I thought it was go­ing to be to play and I ac­tu­ally en­joyed it. That’s an in­stru­ment I would love to spend more time with in the fu­ture. As far as the man­dolin goes, I’m no Chris Thile, who is prob­a­bly one of my favourite mu­si­cians in the world right now, he’s a ge­nius. I tried to con­vey what­ever I was hear­ing in my head and make sure it was cap­tured for the song.”

The fre­quen­cies of those in­stru­ments must be good for lay­er­ing in a mix too…

“Yes, I think that that’s the beauty of the man­dolin in par­tic­u­lar. When you tuck that in it re­ally brings out a nice tex­ture, and the banjo as well. The par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing thing about the banjo is how much it pokes out. No matter how low you put it in the mix it’s go­ing to poke through. That in­stru­ment def­i­nitely cuts, there’s no doubt about it!”

There seems to be a few Zep­pelin nods on the al­bum, es­pe­cially to The Bat­tle­ofever­more in Love­canonly Heal’s man­dolin…

“Def­i­nitely and the Led Zep­pelin III and IV records were such a big part of my lis­ten­ing in my for­ma­tive years. So the minute I picked up a man­dolin it was al­most in­evitable there was go­ing to be a tip of the hat because it’s in my mu­si­cal Rolodex at this point.”

Is there also an English folk influence for you be­yond Zep­pelin, some­one like Nick Drake?

“Ab­so­lutely. Pinkmoon is one of my favourite tracks ever. I believe the tun­ing on Song­bird [CGCFCE] is a Nick Drake tun­ing. Even try­ing to track down an older J-45, if I’m not mis­taken I think he used one at a cer­tain point. There’s such a beau­ti­ful melan­choly to what Nick Drake did as an artist and I felt that try­ing to tap into some of that would be nec­es­sary on this record.”

And a J-45 played an im­por­tant role in this al­bum, is that right?

“Very im­por­tant. In a lot of ways I would al­most say if it wasn’t for find­ing this spe­cific gui­tar, I don’t know if this record would have been writ­ten at least as quickly as it was. What hap­pened is I have a friend who’s on the board with my wife and I on our Fu­ture Song Foun­da­tion here in Spokane [help­ing young mu­si­cians] and he also hap­pened to work at this pawn shop. So they get these great gui­tars that would come through. This gui­tar had one owner, they’d had it since the 40s and it just came through from Mon­tana. It’s a 1944 Gib­son J-45, and it’s got the ban­ner logo on the head­stock, which means it was made dur­ing the war. It was made by women because the men were all off fight­ing.

“So I went down to the pawn shop and I re­mem­ber play­ing just a hand­ful of chords and it was prob­a­bly the loud­est acous­tic gui­tar I’ve ever heard, but very well bal­anced in a unique way. I took it home and I re­mem­ber tex­ting my friend say­ing it’s the strangest thing, it’s like I can’t stop writ­ing songs with this gui­tar. That was re­ally the gui­tar that was a cat­a­lyst for the al­bum mu­si­cally.”

Was it mostly vin­tage in­stru­ments on the record?

“For the most part. I used that gui­tar and then I bor­rowed a friend’s 1945 [Martin] 000-21, which is what you hear on Haunt­ed­by­de­sign and it might be on Devilon­the­wall as well. It had a great qual­ity for the fin­ger­pick­ing. And that was kept to a half step down stan­dard tun­ing. I used a 1930 Na­tional Tri­o­lian. So those were the vin­tage in­stru­ments but I used some newer things as well. On Blind­faith I used an NRP 14 Na­tional res­onator and all those twangy leads you hear were done with a newer Gretsch Duane Eddy. In fact, any elec­tric gui­tar you hear is a Gretsch.”

What is spe­cial about the res­onator sound for you?

“There’s just a cer­tain at­tack and ev­ery time I pick one up I find my­self play­ing a cer­tain way and it in­spires me in a dif­fer­ent way than an elec­tric gui­tar does, or even an acous­tic does. I dis­cov­ered the in­stru­ment through Chris Whit­ley, who many peo­ple know I’m a mas­sive fan of, I think the way he used that in­stru­ment was a very big inspiration to me. I lis­tened to Dirt­floor so much over the years that approach cer­tainly man­i­fested it­self on a hand­ful of tracks on this record. It’s got a dif­fer­ent tim­bre to just about any other in­stru­ment I can think of and to me it’s an ag­gres­sive-sound­ing in­stru­ment, which is what I re­ally like about it.”

Devilon­the­wall is quite an un­ex­pected turn for you, there’s a Stray Cats rock­a­billy influence in there – is that how you orig­i­nally heard the idea for the song?

“It did take off into a direc­tion I didn’t ex­pect. When I wrote it ini­tially I re­mem­ber when I was talk­ing to Zia [Ud­din, drum­mer and for­mer mem­ber of The May­field Four with Myles] about what I heard for the drum part with the snare in par­tic­u­lar. I do re­mem­ber kind of hear­ing that but I didn’t know how much that feel was go­ing to dic­tate, es­pe­cially once I started the Gretsch gui­tar over the top, that it would take it us into this rock­a­billy ter­ri­tory. It was some­thing I’d never re­ally tried be­fore as an artist and to be hon­est with you, I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t go­ing too far into left­field and keep­ing it con­gru­ent with the rest of the record. So that was kind of in­ter­est­ing. And the be­gin­ning of the song has a Span­ish feel, which is some­thing I used even back in the May­field Four days. If you lis­ten to the ti­tle track of Fall­out we re­leased 20 years ago, that’s a trick I’ve been us­ing for a long time. And believe it or not, I think I prob­a­bly got that approach from play­ing in the high-school march­ing band. We used to play these songs that would have that flavour to them, so I think that kind of made it into my mu­si­cal ar­se­nal in later years. But once that in­tro is es­tab­lished it kicks into that al­most Brian Set­zer-ish vibe. Es­pe­cially with the gui­tar solo. Def­i­nitely a tip of the hat there. In my opin­ion he’s one of the most un­der­rated gui­tar play­ers on the planet. I used to work in a mu­sic store and we would play the in­struc­tional video he did years ago all the time. We’d stand in front of the TV shak­ing our heads say­ing, ‘God that guy’s good!’”

This al­bum will sur­prise some fans, do you feel that you’re a player who’s con­stantly push­ing them­selves?

“When I was a kidi could sit in my room for eight hours a day and I had that lux­ury. That was won­der­ful but now time is much more fi­nite. But I try to keep my ears to the ground to find new things because I don’t want to be one of those play­ers where I just fall into my rou­tine and don’t evolve as the years go on. And I think the same thing could be said of Tre­monti as well. He’s the kind of player that doesn’t want to be stag­nant. I think those of us that con­tinue to be stu­dents and con­tinue to grow, that’s just a re­ally im­por­tant part of what we do. For me, the fear is that the well will run dry and I’ll run out of things to keep me in­ter­ested, so I’m still search­ing.”

Yearof­thetiger is out now on Na­palm Records. Myles Kennedy plays Steel­house Fes­ti­val in Wales with a full band on 28 July

Words Rob Laing / Pho­tog­ra­phy Olly Cur­tis

south­ern com­fort

Myles has be­come a fan of Gib­son’s ’59 reis­sue South­ern Jumbo

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