Thursday, September 9, 2010

Q&A with Stephen Kellogg

Here are more excerpts from my interview:

You have an open taping policy for your headline shows. Do you think that fosters a closer sense of community with the fans?
I hope so. I was a bit of a Deadhead growing up and I always liked that. There was never any question that we were going to do that. Now it’s easy to get music around. Rather than fight what is, I like the idea of just saying, 'we’re going to occasionally release official live stuff, by all means, tape it, spread it around.' If there are people that can be touched by the music, I want to make sure they hear it.

I recently caught Dave Matthews Band live and they have a similar attitude about taping shows.
I don’t know them personally, but they seem super cool. They [appear] to be really dialed into that in such a great way. Being able to reach out to a wider audience, but staying connected to your core fans - that’s what I think every band aspires to.

Last year, your band started a live tradition around Halloween in New York state where you played Tom Petty’s ‘Full Moon Fever’ in its entirety and plan to do so again next month. Whose idea was that?
[turns to band mates for answer] Nobody’s claiming it, so I will. The funny thing about that is we put it on sale started promoting it before we learned a single note on the album. When we sat down to [prepare], we were like, ‘Whoa. This is a lot of work.’ But it was super-rewarding and fulfilling work. Before we announced the [upcoming] Pearl Jam ‘Ten’ show, we decided to take a swing through the record to see if we were going to be able to figure it out. I’m excited about it. It’s sort of a labor of love.

‘The Bear’ came out about a year ago. Were you totally satisfied with how it turned out and was received?
Yes, I’m happy with how it turned out and was received. I always try to put the music out and not worry too much about how it was received. Once you’ve done what you’ve done, you have to accept what people want to say about it – good or bad.

I wish more people had heard the record and it had found a larger audience. I can’t imagine not feeling that way about a record...if I have any regrets, it’s that I wish more people had gotten deeper into the record...I see the statistics that a lot of singles sell. That doesn’t necessarily mean people are hearing all the record. There’s all these songs that might not jump off the page at you, that I think people would enjoy.

What is the story behind the brief phone conversation snippet at the conclusion of the song “Do” on the album?
My wife happened to call while we were tracking it. None of these songs were done in proper studios. In one case it was an apartment and in another, a big farmhouse. My wife called and my favorite line in “Do” is the part where he doesn’t call the girl back for 11 months. Then he’s wondering why the hell the thing didn’t work out. The whole idea of a phone call amused me. When we got this call right at the end of the take we ended up using, I thought it was serendipitous if we left it in there.

How did singers like Josh Ritter and Serena Ryder end up guesting on 'The Bear'?
Josh checked in with me to see how the recording was going. We’ve been friends for quite a few years. I am one his biggest fans. I just think the world of him. He said, ‘let me know if there’s anything you want me to do.’ I said, ‘How about coming over right now while we’re working on this song?’ So he came and sang on "All Part of the Show." We had some fun with that.

We [previously] toured together with Serena. That was a little more of a recruit job. I really wanted a female...She came in and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up when she was singing. She’s a close personal friend as well. That’s how they wound up there.

My friend Ari Hest is on there too. One day I was walking around the studio and said for “Adeline,” I need a voice that’s as high as a girl’s but I don’t want to bring a female onto this track because I felt it would change the meaning of it. I thought what guy do I know that can sing like that? Of course, Ari Hest. He came in and was a great sport about it.

One of your collective musical influences as a group is The Band - as in Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and company. What quality about their music initially drew you in?
The authenticity. Even when they’re doing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and they’re inhabiting characters, I believe every single word of what they’re playing. It comes through their music and lyrics. There’s a rawness.

It’s very much our goal and dream to capture that – American rock ‘n’ roll music that just feels super real. That’s how we see ourselves; that’s what we’re going for. Once upon a time that was rampant. When The Band played music, there was a lot more than there seems to be created right now. Our goal is to do that in a way that’s relevant to 2010. We fell in love with what they were doing. Certainly with our next record, we’re taking another swing at doing that in a way that’s super relevant to the times we have right now.

Early on, you were influenced by ‘70s singer/songwriters. Did you have that AM pop radio style back then in mind when making “Do” and “Dying Wish”?
Yeah, it’s taken me years to get over the fact of when I was born. ‘The Bear’ helped me get over it. That was a record where we did that and I was so proud to have that out on vinyl and I get to listen to it [that way]. I needed to see that whole thing through.

Got any more recording plans in the near future?
We did the pre-production this summer. The songs are basically written and we’re going to start recording in November. We’ll do a little holiday tour and the record will come out next year.

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