Myles Kennedy takes time out to discuss his upcoming solo album and tour.
Myles Kennedy, the singer for Alter Bridge and Slash and the Conspirators, is stepping out on his own and is set to release his much anticipated solo album, Year of the Tiger on March 9 on Napalm Records. Tickets have recently gone on sale for the scheduled tour.
NRR: Congratulations on the new record. I’ve been listening to it and I really enjoyed it.
Myles: Thank you.
NRR: I recently heard you mention in an interview how much you loved Montrose, and I’d never listened to them before, so I went back and listened to their first album and what a fantastic record that is.
Myles: It’s a great record, it’s a really good record. Glad you’re digging it.
NRR: I have to agree with you on the best song – “Space Station Number Five” – that’s a great song.
Myles: It’s a really great song, love it!
NRR: So listening to your new record, your influences really come out on this one. It’s a very singer-songwriter approach, it reminds me a lot of Nashville songwriters. What were your main influences for this? I know you’ve mentioned Paul Simon, were there any others?
Myles: Yeah, definitely Chris Whitley, Mississippi John Hurts, those are a few who come to mind. I think that a lot of the acoustic side of Led Zeppelin, as far as the altered tunings and what not, that’s definitely obvious on this record. Nick Drake’s another one. So definitely a different approach from what I’m known for with Alter Bridge or with Slash and the Conspirators.
NRR: Yes, the acoustic Led Zeppelin, definitely. Another one I thought was Chris Cornell did an album called Higher Truth and I thought there was a bit of a sound of that album to yours as well. In particular, he did that song “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart,” and maybe it’s just the sonics of it but that reminded me of the title track – “Year of the Tiger.”
Myles: I’m assuming there’s a mandolin part on that, that’s probably a big part of that. I think a lot of us grew up listening to those Led Zeppelin records. I think the mandolin is a very suitable fit for when a lot of us rock guys tend to strip things down. It’s just in our musical DNA.
NRR: I liked the solo you play on “Haunted By Design” – that really has a Nashville guitarist sound to it.
Myles: Thank you very much!
NRR: You’ve spoken about this being a concept album. There’s a story arc throughout the record. Is this the first time you’ve ever written that way, with a story in mind?
Myles: It’s not the first time that there’s been a theme that’s run throughout. With the last Alter Bridge record there was definitely a theme running through that record. But as far as a record that’s front to back pretty much one unified concept, I think this is probably the first one. I guess once I started writing and I realized I had so much inspiration with this particular subject, it just made sense. I couldn’t really shut off the faucet so I kept going with it.
NRR: For your writing process, I guess you don’t have much of a choice other than to write when you are on the road since you seem to always be on the road.
Myles: Right, right. For me, a fair amount was written at home. I did have a window last year. Anytime, basically I wasn’t on the road I would be writing at home, so that actually worked out well. But I was also writing on the road, specifically, writing lyrics is something I tend to do a lot more on the road than at home. Home is where I come up with a lot of music.
NRR: Is it a case of locking yourself away somewhere quiet to get that done?
Myles: Yeah, for me it’s really about just trying to be isolated. I’m not real good at writing with people around. A lot of songwriters will probably tell you the same thing. We like to make our mistakes in the dark where people can’t hear them.
NRR: The ones where no one ever has to know about them, right?
Myles: Right, right.
NRR: I guess it must be a big change in respect of most of what you’ve been doing for your career – writing this and it just being you? All the direction is just you, you can take it wherever you want it to go.
Myles: Yeah, in that respect it’s liberating but the hard part is that you don’t have the normal editing process which is your songwriting partners and so often at times you find yourself pushing down a path that turns out not to be productive. You find out that the idea you were developing really sucks! So you just wasted a bunch of time so that’s the only problem with doing it all by yourself. But at the same time, you get to do what you want to do which is cool.
NRR: Did you use anyone in that role? Was there anyone you bounced ideas off throughout the process?
Myles: No, I pretty much just made the record I wanted to make and sent the demos out to people. And then, you know, I wrote over 20 songs for this record so there were certain songs that didn’t make the cut and once it gets to that point I would play it for people who I trust, and be like do you like this song or don’t you? If I got the thumbs up it made the record, if not I just didn’t put it on the record.
NRR: That must be tough. The editing process of getting down to 12 songs or whatever it may be, from however many you’ve got must be tough anyway, but I guess given the content of this and what you were writing about, it must have been pretty tough to leave some of the tracks off.
Myles: You know it really wasn’t that bad because what I find is generally the songs that I have any reservations about, it will usually be mimicked by other listeners. So it’s kind of like well I had a feeling this wasn’t going to work so in some ways I find relief in that. It makes me feel like… it helps me trust my judgment. Obviously, there’s a lot of work that goes into those songs, that’s unfortunate that they don’t get used. I’d rather have it not get used than put it on a record and have people not like the songs.
NRR: Were there any that were really close to the cut that you think might see the light of day again?
Myles: You know, there’s a possibility that there are a few B sides that could be used for something one day, we’ll see.
NRR: Writing like this is, like you said, different to how you would write for Alter Bridge or the Conspirators, or for typical rock music. This is bearing your soul, these songs. Listening to this album the first time, what stood out to me was that it’s a deeply personal album. Was that in your mind while you were writing it because I always think that must put something extra on releasing it and thinking about standing on a stage in front of people effectively singing lyrics that you might normally be writing in your diary.
Myles: Yeah, right, right. As it was all going down I remember having to ask myself if this was too personal to put out into the universe. But as a songwriter, I’ve always been a firm believer in being honest and if you’re being honest about an emotion that you’ve experienced that that’s kind of what you were put on this planet to do as a creative person is to express yourself, you know. That’s part of what you sign up for as a writer, so I had to put any kind of reservations aside and go with it.
NRR: In my mind, that would be one of the things that would be terrifying when it’s something so deeply personal but at the same time, I do find music like that, when you can tell someone is honestly putting across how they’re feeling it really adds an extra depth to the music. I do think that comes across on your album, I think the honesty shines through.
NRR: There seems to be a lot of people in recent years preferring to record to tape or record live in a room to tape. Paul Gilbert said that Mr Big did that on their last album, as well as Davy Knowles, he’s gone back to that method of recording as well. Was that a big thing for you on this? Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to do it that way?
Myles: Yeah, I think because of the kind of record that I want it to be, I think in the back of my mind I hoped that would be a route that Elvis, my producer, would want to take. I’ve done plenty, I mean, the first ever record I recorded way, way back in the day was to tape, so I’m kind of used to that world and I’m comfortable with it. It definitely, number 1, does something to the psychology of the artist because you know everything can’t be fixed and you have a limited amount of tracks to work with. And number 2, the most important thing to me is what it does sonically. There’s definitely a natural tape compression that occurs. From a frequency standpoint, there’s a certain shift, in a good way. And I think for a record like this, that was the way to capture it.
NRR: I agree, there’s something that adds to the music when things can’t be fixed and they just stay there. So when you go back, for example, to all that Led Zeppelin stuff there are little scratches and that makes their music sound like you are listening to it live, which I prefer. There’s been a move over the last few years to having everything perfect – because you can do that if you are recording digitally.
Myles: Right, it’s true.
NRR: You’ve worked extensively with Elvis. He did the last Conspirators album as well.
Myles: I’ve been working with Elvis off and on now for seventeen years. He was an engineer on the second Mayfield Four record and he was an extremely talented young engineer back then and to see him blossom into this world-class producer has been great. There’s a certain comfort level that I just totally trust his instincts and he’s one of the best rock producers in the world, so I’ll use him as much as I can.
NRR: Having that level of comfort, especially when you are recording to tape, when that red light comes on and you think “this is it,” it’s got to be right.
NRR: It looks like you’ve got a reasonably extensive tour lined up, starting out in South Africa March 6, and then around Europe and the US. It looks like you’re in small-medium sized venues which will really suit the record and you’ll be up close and personal with the fans. Is that what you were going for?
Myles: Yeah, that’s exactly what I envisioned for years, was being able to… you know, the original idea to do something like this for me was right after I did the Blackbird record with Alter Bridge. So I wanted to make a record so I could go out and it would be very stripped down and just… because I used to play so much acoustically early on in my career, where I’d just go to a coffee shop and play. And no, this isn’t that, this is the next step up and there’s a certain comfort level, for lack of a better word, and hopefully the rooms will be, from a sonics standpoint, will lend themselves to this kind of approach.
NRR: I think that. And I think that listening to music in that kind of environment, especially for a record like this, that’s quite a personal one, it should help that come across when you’re right there, up close.
Are you touring it with Zia and Tim as a band or are you doing any shows just yourself?
Myles: The first round of tours, so basically up through May, I’ll do just all by myself. For the most part, I believe that’s the plan. And then later on this year, I’d like to put a band together and actually tour this record in its entirety. What I’m going to do with these first tours is a retrospective. So I’m going to play songs from the various entities I’ve been a part of for the past couple decades, in conjunction with the Year of the Tiger tracks.
NRR: That must be pretty fun putting that together. Obviously, you’d have to make some adjustments doing it just you with a guitar.
Myles: Yeah, it’s going to be challenging but fun. So I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve been working hard, I’ll tell you that much, rehearsing for it so we’ll see how it all turns out.
NRR: In the past, you’ve talked about the guitar and when you were a kid, playing on pieces of wood, and then having more elaborate pieces of wood put together that looked like guitars. Guitarists often mention about literally being obsessed when they were kids, single-mindedly practicing for hours. Was it like that for you, once you got an actual guitar? Were you obsessed with the learning process?
Myles: Yeah, it was pretty immediate. Especially once I got the electric guitar that I’d saved up for. My grades dropped pretty much overnight because I stopped doing my studies. All I wanted to do was practice. In fact, I had some new carpet in my little bedroom and so those beginning formative years as a young guitar player, I was in there for two or three years, and when we moved, and I noticed that last day when we left that house, I looked at what was pretty much a new carpet and there was a butt print, a permanent butt print where I used to sit in front of my little boom box and practice all day long! I still wonder if that butt print is still there!
NRR: That could be sold to the Hard Rock Café! They could hang that piece of carpet.
Myles: I know, right!
NRR: “Myles Kennedy’s Butt Print”
NRR: Your first bands – Cosmic Dust and Citizen Swing – you were known for jazz playing. When you learned, where did that come from? A lot of your early interests were rock, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the like. Did you go down the jazz route just to learn? Did you have a teacher or were you self-taught and you just went down that route?
Myles: I did have a teacher. In fact, he’s still a friend of mine. His name’s Joe Brasch, he’s an amazing teacher. Yeah, I studied it. When I got into jazz fusion, and I’m kind of like that with anything. I go full bore. If I want to do something I tackle it head-on. So I spent quite a bit of time trying to develop my chops in those realms and I still absolutely love jazz. I listen to it all the time. And it’s a very complex, highly involved form of music so it’s something that helps keep me on my toes as a player.
NRR: I have friends who play guitar, as well as myself, and they have gone back and started learning jazz, even though they hadn’t started out playing it. They’d grown up playing rock music. Everyone I know who has gone back to learn jazz has said its expanded their vocabulary of all of their playing. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it says learning those jazz principles improves them as a player.
Myles: It definitely does. It’s really challenging, for sure.
NRR: So when you started on the guitar and you were obsessing over it, when did it come to light that you also had this voice with this amazing vocal range, that you could do that as well?
Myles: I think I always had an idea that I could sing, to a degree, but I never really wanted to do it. And what happened was that when I started writing songs in my early twenties and I couldn’t find a singer. I had to man up and learn to do it myself. And the hardest part for me was standing in the center stage being the front person because I always just wanted to be the guitar player and stand off to the side. And so that was the most difficult part of the process. I think some lead singers are just naturally hard-wired to want to be center of attention and that wasn’t really my thing, so to speak.
NRR: I heard Matt Bellamy from Muse felt the same. I think I read something that said, when Muse were starting out, he was naturally shy and only became the singer because they couldn’t find anyone else to join and do the job!
Myles: Right, right, that’s funny!
NRR: Back in the day, you were a teacher, as well, in your early days and then you went back to it after the Mayfield Four. Paul Gilbert teaches on Artist Works online and he said that he felt teaching had made him a better guitar player. Do you feel that doing that early on in your career, that it help you with your guitar playing as well?
Myles: Oh, absolutely. I started teaching very early on just to get some gas money as a teenager. I started teaching friends, and I started noticing back then what a difference it made. I guess you learn, in some cases, I was learning more than the students, you know, and I was getting paid for it, so it was a perfect combination.
NRR: Did you once say that someone came in and asked to be taught “Eruption”? That’s got to keep you on your toes if you have to go away and learn that.
Myles: Oh yeah, I had a young girl, I remember her well, her name’s Margy. She was about 14. She came in and said “I want to learn to play ‘Eruption’” and I was like oh no, thinking how am I going to do this? And we spent, I think, like eight weeks, every lesson for a half hour, she’d come in and I’d learned another part for her and she nailed it. She did a great job and it was certainly great for me as well, so that was fun.
NRR: On this album, a lot of it was acoustic. Was it a resonator? I know on “Blind Faith” with the slide guitar is that on a resonator?
Myles: Yeah, that’s on “Blind Faith.”
NRR: I really liked that song. I really liked the guitar part on that song.
Myles: Oh, thank you very much.
NRR: The album sounds very raw, you didn’t use many effects.
Myles: Right, right.
NRR: Obviously a lot is acoustic, or where it is electric it sounds like its straight in without much on it.
Myles: Yeah, we wanted it to be just very timeless and without a bunch of bells and whistles and ultimately about the songs and performances, so that was something that was really, really important to Elvis and I, putting this thing together, as far as capturing the vibe of the record. And we’re really happy with how it turned out.
NRR: Is that something, as a guitar player, that you prefer? Recently we spoke to John 5 about this, and if you ever look at his pedalboard on one of those rig run-downs, his pedalboard is ridiculous. It’s got like three pedals on it, that’s it. He pretty much just plays straight into an amplifier. Is that how you do it or are you a big proponent of effects?
Myles: Oh cool. You know, I have a few effects I use but I think that for me, trying to keep the chain as pure as possible without too many things in line that could go wrong and also might have an adverse effect on the sound. So there are a handful of go-to effects especially say with Alter Bridge, but I try to keep it as simple as possible because the less you have the less that can go wrong and therefore the less embarrassing moments on stage.
NRR: Thinking of you as a guitarist, if you wanted to get out there and play a bit of guitar, you picked an interesting couple of bands to join to show off any guitar skills with two pretty iconic guitarists on the scene today. But I guess, you must have taken a lot from those guys into your own playing.
Myles: Yeah, I guess that’s the beauty of playing accomplished musicians. There’s always something to learn. And I think for me as well, I just felt that both guys have such different distinct styles from what I do that I knew it would be a positive thing for me as a musician. So yeah, I’ve definitely had a great ride with the people that I’ve been fortunate enough to play with.
NRR: When you think back to the days of teaching in Spokane, if you could have realized back then the arc your career would take – playing with Guns N Roses at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, playing with Slash and the Conspirators, playing in Alter Bridge. You must just have to take a break and pinch yourself and think this is amazing.
Myles: I tell ya, it’s been an insanely good run and I’d never in a million years would have expected that my life would have turned out this way as a struggling guitar teacher in Spokane, Washington. There are days when I still find myself scratching my head and asking if this is some kind of weird alternate universe if any of this has even happened, is this some sort of strange virtual world because it’s very bizarre.
NRR: But I’m sure enjoyable at the same time?
Myles: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, I love it.
NRR: We got the chance to go see Guns N Roses when they got back together and that was really interesting to see those three core members all back together on the stage it was really a cool thing to see.
Myles: Yeah, definitely. It was great for me to see them as well, at that first show they did in Vegas. It was really good to see those guys sharing a stage again, it was awesome.
NRR: Outside of the solo stuff, Mark is doing some Tremonti stuff at the moment. Will you guys be in the writing process again for another Alter Bridge album soon?
Myles: Yeah, the plan is to reconvene next year and put out another record and start the whole cycle over again. So yeah, just continuing to push forward.
NRR: That one must have to be more of a collaborative effort, I guess? So do you both bring ideas to the table or does everyone bring stuff and then you bounce it off each other to see which ones get filtered through?
Myles: Basically with Alter Bridge, it’s an interesting process, because Mark and I bring in parts of songs so if Mark has a specific idea and I’ll be like “oh hey, I have an idea that might fit with that. Let’s try this together.” It’s kind of like building puzzles, funny sonic puzzles which is fun, it’s a different way of doing it and then with other people that I’ve collaborated with in the past, someone might bring in an entire piece of music and then I’ll put a melody and a lyric over the top of it. So it just really depends, but at the end of the day it helps keep me on my A game as a writer, I keep learning and evolving, and that’s what I want to do, is grow.
NRR: You must be one of the busiest musicians that I know of. You were on that cycle – if it wasn’t the Conspirators, it was Alter Bridge. At least now you’ve got this chance to take your solo stuff out. I hope it comes across in those rooms, I think it will, and I hope you get to enjoy it.
Myles: I’m really excited to finally have the opportunity to do this.