On February 22nd, I had the amazing opportunity to have a phone interview with Myles Kennedy regarding his upcoming and first solo album, Year of the Tiger. Kennedy is known as the frontman of Alter Bridge and Slash & the Conspirators, but has decided to take a break from the hard rock scene and delve into his personal life on a softer album. After an in-depth discussion filled with some laughs and some serious moments, we covered topics from the story behind the new album to his communication with Slash to his work for elephants. Read the full interview below:
Hi Myles, how are you?
I’m great, how are you doing?
I’m good, I’m very excited to be talking with you. I have to tell you, I have seen you perform many times between Slash and Alter Bridge at shows and festivals so I’m excited to finally get to chat with you!
Awesome, well I’m excited to talk to you so thanks for your time.
Of course, thank you too! So let’s just dive right in. Your first solo album, Year of the Tiger, is coming out in a few weeks. What has been different about this process for you as opposed to putting out albums with a band?
Aw man, it’s a very different process in the sense that you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of. You’re definitely left to your own vices, which can be very liberating in a certain sense. But you also come to realize that as you’re filtering through your ideas, a lot of times you lose perspective. You get too close, so one of the nice things about having somebody to help you edit through things is it ultimately saves time. Though I really enjoyed writing on my own and exploring things that I normally wouldn’t approach in the realm of Alter Bridge or Slash and the Conspirators, it was certainly a massive challenge and I felt like it really helped me evolve as a songwriter. So in that sense, I was very pleased with the process. Any time I get to evolve, I’m excited.
Did you always know you wanted to do a solo record at some point?
Yeah I did, it was something I’ve wanted to do for probably 15 years. In the back of my mind I knew that that was something that would be helpful for me in a number of ways. I think the idea of stripping things down and painting over a different kind of canvas as a singer was something that intrigued me. Though a lot of the time with, say, Alter Bridge, we try to incorporate a certain amount of dynamic, like peaks and valleys, in the arrangement. There’s such a vast amount of distorted, very loud guitars and a kind of wall of sound that changes the way I sing. I tend to sing higher to cut through everything, it’s a different approach. I remember realizing at one point that if I could take time and write an entire record that was gonna force me to sing in a different way and challenge me as a singer and a writer, I thought that would be a really fun process.
Yeah, definitely. I mean between putting out albums with Slash and Alter Bridge in such a short period of time, you’ve been touring a tremendous amount over the past few years and now you’re going to be heading back out on the road in support of this one. How does it feel to have so much going on musically in your career in such a short span of time?
It actually feels really good. I think that for as many years as I’ve been doing this, I’ve always been kind of looking over my shoulder waiting for, (laughs) or should I say waiting for the phone to stop ringing, because everybody tends to have a finite window in this business. So I never take it for granted that I’ve been afforded the luxury for whatever reason of getting to make as much music and getting to travel and getting to tour and express myself. I don’t take that for granted at all. I guess to answer your question, I’m just very grateful more than anything that I’m afforded this luxury as many years as I am into the game. I think if you would’ve asked me 20 years ago at this point, I would have been pleasantly surprised to know I’d still be making music and still be having the luxury of telling my story.
Well we’re grateful to be able to get all this music from you. I actually listened to Year of the Tiger, I started a review on it already because I am completely intrigued by it. It kind of reminds me, in a way, not content but I guess sound, like Chris Cornell’s Higher Truth and Robert Plant’s Carry Fire because it has that more acoustic style.
So from what I understand, Year of the Tiger is like a concept album regarding the story of your father’s passing, and the title actually ties in with that. Can you tell us a little bit about how the idea for this album came about?
I started writing music for this record in late 2016, so I started stockpiling a lot of ideas musically and melodically. But I didn’t know what the theme was going to be. The one idea that I had sitting around for years, was just a melodic hook – I didn’t even have music for it. “In the year of the tiger, I won’t weep and moan. Got no time for cooling heels, I’ve got to roam.” I remember I stumbled onto that one day and really liked it, set it aside, but didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know what the year of the tiger was. And so when it came time to start assembling all of the ideas early last year, and I decided to bring that into the fold, I was like well if I’m going to write a song called “Year of the Tiger,” I have to understand what that’s about. So, it turns out that the year of the tiger was 1974 which is the year my biological father passed away. And it was like oh man, that’s the universe telling me it’s time to go down that road and explore that. Because that’s something as a writer, I’ve always thought would be compelling, to dive into that, though it was very challenging, I think that I took that as the universe telling me it was time. I had so much content and so many things I wanted to get off my chest pertaining to that point in my family’s life, that there was no shortage of ideas lyrically. So it’s basically a concept record that tells the story from the night the dad passes away to the journey after, when my mother took my little brother and I and we started over. It was a very cathartic process to say the least.
Isn’t it crazy how the universe, like you said, can throw signs at you like that? It’s crazy.
Yeah, it’s wild right.
(Laughs) So the video for the title track has several different visual elements. Is the little boy in the field supposed to represent you during that time?
Correct. That’s me, and obviously fast forwards to me later when we’re both carrying the guitar.
Very creative. I really liked that. So stylistically speaking about the album, you went from pounding hard rock with your previous acts to this more bluesy, southern vibe. You actually play several instruments beside the guitar, including the banjo, the lap steel, the mandolin, bass. Were you aiming for a different sound or did it just kind of happen that way naturally while you were writing it?
I definitely was aiming for a different sound, and this is a sound that I always wanted to explore. But I wasn’t sure once the arrangement started coming together, how it was going to work. So one thing I knew for sure during the songwriting process was that I wanted to have the songs stand on their own with just a voice and an acoustic guitar. I got into the studio with Elvis, my producer, with a rhythm section which was Zia, who was actually my drummer back in the Mayfield Four days, and then Tim, who played bass, who’s fantastic. A super well-rounded musician. Then it really started to take shape as far as what the style was going to be and incorporating those elements of very American music with the lap steel and the banjo and the mandolin. It was an approach that I never really explored before to this degree, but I really enjoyed it. I hope that in the future, there will be more of this in the solo world. I’d like to keep this sound together, unless (laughs) I take a real right turn at some point and decide to make a record inspired by Kraftwerk or something. I think I’m gonna try and keep this vibe going, I really feel like it fit.
Yeah, that’s like Kurt Cobain said back in the 90’s that he hoped that someday he’d be able to be like Johnny Cash on stage alone with an acoustic guitar. It’s more intimate when you’re able to just have that setting.
Going deeper into the songwriting process, a lot of the songs are pretty dark and emotional lyrically, but have a more upbeat sort of tempo. Did you notice this contrast and do it intentionally or, again, did they just evolve that way as you were writing them?
Some of it was that, since I tend to write the music beforehand and then put the lyrics after the fact, that’s a lot of the reason why that can happen. I try to keep it as congruent as possible. But sometimes I find it interesting, for example take a song like “Devil on the Wall.” If you look at the lyrics, it’s pretty dark and deals with anxiety and a pretty dark subject matter. But it’s basically put to a rockabilly musical vibe. I thought that was interesting. I felt like that was a unique way to approach that. With that said, there’s still plenty of melancholy moments musically. I feel like as a writer, that’s one of the things I enjoy – not necessarily that I enjoy – but it’s just something in wheelhouse. I like dark, melancholy music. So I try to balance it and make it so it wasn’t just a record of straight musical downers in that sense, because there are peaks and valleys.
I think it creates a really cool symbolic juxtaposition in a way. Being able to balance the upbeat with the sadness.
Yeah, I totally agree.
The song, “The Great Beyond,” seems to have the most grandiose sound of all the other songs. Is there a significance behind that?
Absolutely. In fact that song was real challenging, because to me that’s the song musically that definitely stands out the most because it’s so different. So it’s challenging because part of the reason that it’s so epic and so emotional and powerful is because it tells the story of the night that my father died. So I knew that had to be a real high point. Not high point as far as joy (laughs), but as far as a real peak, something that was a very important moment for me, to tell that story with music that would really have a certain amount of intensity and a certain amount of passion. So that was a real challenge as far as sequencing the record. I wanted the record to essentially tell the story, in almost a chronological order as opposed to jumping around too much and confusing the listener. Having that song be the second song on the record was a little controversial in my mind because I didn’t want to send the wrong message to the listener the first time they listened to the record from start to finish, as far as what kind of record it was. But when I think about it, almost as if you’re watching a movie, then it made perfect sense to me. So I’m actually pretty content with how it ended up. But yeah, it’s definitely is very epic, which is very different from the rest of the record.
Yeah it tells a story, so I think chronological order makes the most sense.
The song that comes after that is “Blind Faith,” which is one of my favorites actually, both instrumentally and lyrically. There seems to be a little bit of anger in some of the words?
Ha, yeah. That’s a fair assessment.
Did you seem to have any pent up resentment toward the situation?
Yeah, I think that I needed to work through some things. There are two songs on the record, one of which is that and the other which is called “Nothing but a Name,” and I was definitely concerned with how pointed and direct some of those lyrics were, but it was something that I needed to express and something that I needed to work through. In the end, those ended up being two of the most cathartic moments on the record for me. They’re very honest. I’m not hiding behind poetry, where people are gonna be questioning what I’m saying. It’s there, it’s very direct. So that was something as a writer I needed to do. I feel it helped me in the end and helped me work through some things.
I think that’s the best part about music. Artists are able to take tragic experiences and create art out of it. It’s a way someone can translate their pain and suffering into something that can be consoling for someone else in a similar position.
Right, that’s a good point. That’s such an important part of the creative process, that you work through your own things, and express yourself. And in the process, hopefully it will resonate with another individual and help them work through it the same way. That’s one of the beauties of art.
So on that note, what is your take on mental health awareness and some of the big losses we’ve had due to suicide within the past year? I saw that Alter Bridge dedicated “Blackbird” to Chris Cornell at Rock on the Range.
Boy, that’s a great question. Depression is a beast. I’ve danced with it plenty – all my life, and a lot of creative people do. Fortunately, I have an outlet to try and deal with it, with my music. But it’s actually very scary to see people who have dealt with it, or have attempted to deal with it, and in the end it ends up taking them down. I think that that’s something that, any person who has that dark side sees, and it might scare you. I think that it makes you realize that your internal demons – you have to deal with them. And you have to realize that it’s not something to take lightly. You need to address them, and get it taken care of however you see fit and in whatever means necessary because it’s a very massive issue. It can grow and ultimately hurt you and hurt people around you and leave a massive void. So don’t mess around with it, deal with it.
Yeah, luckily you were able to use this album as an outlet to deal with your demons.
Yeah, I mean I think that’s part of the reason I stay so busy and write as much as I do and work as much as I do because it keeps my head above water. I feel like it keeps me sane, it keeps me healthy. I honestly have no idea what I’d do without this outlet. It’s been kind of my saving grace at the end of the day.
Well on a lighter note, I have to ask you this as a huge fan of Slash with you and the Conspirators. I know that you’ve said recently there are no concrete plans about you guys working together again, but has he heard or given any feedback on any of your solo material?
Yeah, I think when the title track came out he reached out and was very complimentary and very supportive. That meant a lot to me, I thought it was really nice of him and I really appreciated it.
You guys had something really magical together, I remember me and my dad blasting World on Fire constantly when it came out.
(Laughs) Yeah that was a really fun record to make. We had a great time.
I loved “Beneath the Savage Sun,” are you still doing advocacy works for elephants?
Yeah, when I can. That’s something that both my wife and I are pretty passionate about. In fact, we’re heading down to South Africa to start this tour in about a week. So we’re hoping to have a rendezvous with a couple of elephants because they’re incredible and majestic, powerful creatures. So there’s always a place in our hearts for those animals for sure.
They’re definitely underappreciated.
Well, that wraps up with my questions for you but I wish you luck on the tour and I look forward to seeing one of them, I’m going to try to make the one at the Highline Ballroom in May.
Oh, awesome. Fantastic.
So thank you so much for your time.
Thank you, Lauryn.
Everybody go check out Year of the Tiger when it comes out on March 9th.
Awesome, thank you. I appreciate it, take care.