Myles Kennedy is about to kick off the next leg of his solo tour and took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with us.
Myles Kennedy is arguably one of the hardest working men in rock. In between touring and recording with Alter Bridge and Slash, he is going back on the road to tour his much anticipated first solo album, Year of the Tiger, which was released earlier this year. It’s a wonder how he fits it all in. Myles talked to us about what to expect on the upcoming tour, what’s happening in the Alter Bridge world right now and working with Slash and the Conspirators.
LH: Hi Myles. So how you doing?
Myles: I’m good, thanks.
LH: Thanks for taking the time to talk.
Myles: Oh my pleasure.
LH: So I did speak to you before you went out on the road with the Year of the Tiger tour, and we saw you subsequently at West Dundee, Illinois at Rochaus and I just wanted to say it was a really great show. I really enjoyed it.
Myles: Oh, thank you. Thank you. I had a lot of fun at that show. That’s a cool venue, too. I enjoyed that place.
LH: It was the first time I’d ever been there actually. And it was a great venue. We live in downtown Chicago so it’s just a bit of a trek, but I really liked the venue.
Myles: Well, thank you for coming.
LH: No, no problem at all. I was going to start off with a random question because I know Tim Tournier was up there playing guitar with you. He’s your manager, right?
Myles: Correct. He’s a renaissance man.
LH: I was gonna say, was it a conscious decision by you to appoint a manager who was also a great guitarist? Did it just happen to be a happy coincidence?
Myles: Well it’s not my prerequisite for management. Can you play guitar…? No he’s just one of those guys who can kinda do everything. It’s crazy. He actually was at my house a few months ago when we were getting ready for the tour and he actually understood heating systems and was like offering to help me with work on my heating system. I mean it’s crazy. It’s insane.
LH: One of those guys.
Myles: Yeah, exactly.
LH: Last time I spoke to you, what I like about interviewing people is a lot of people talk about the music they like. When I was preparing to interview you last time I was reading interviews with you and I ended up going back and listening to Montrose who I’d never really paid much attention to and then this time when we saw you out and Rochaus, you had Thomas Wynn sypporting you and you totally turned me onto those guys. We went to see them when they played Chicago – Thomas Wynn and the Believers. They were fantastic.
Myles: They’re awesome. So good. Their vocals are amazing.
LH: Yeah. Really, really good. But anyway, I digress. So just to kick off, I think you’ve spoken about before the Year of the Tiger and I know when we spoke you mentioned it was something very different for you. Certainly very personal and you know, a different kind of vibe than what you’d probably been known for before that. I think, in my mind, when you write something like that, that is so personal, I imagine there are different hurdles to get over. One would be, you know, having the courage to just write that down in the first place, then going in and recording it. And then I guess, that last step would be performing it to an audience. How did you find that, doing it on your own up there? There’s nowhere to hide really.
Myles: Yeah, it was interesting. There were different stages of it. I think that when I first embarked on the writing process, I mean I just kinda put my head down and just got to work and tried not to overthink it. And then went in to make the record and that ended up being a great experience. I think where it got interesting for me, was as the record was about to be released, not even so much the tour, but it was when it was kind of on the eve of the release that it started to dawn on me saying, man, you really kind of put it all out there on this record and this is very personal, you sure you knew what you’re doing. So that was what was really interesting and that’s when the kind of the, this, not stress, but I guess a certain amount of questioning started to come into play. So it was fascinating in that sense, but everything worked out for the best.
LH: Oh, absolutely. And I guess at that point as well, the stress is there, but once it’s recorded and the release date’s coming up, there’s not really much you can do. If you decided you had made a mistake at that point, there’s nothing what you can do about it, right?
Myles: No! Exactly. Exactly.
LH: I think I’ve read in a couple of interviews you mentioned how you quite enjoyed doing the meet and greet just because it was a chance to, you know, meet the audience and feel like you were kind of getting in it together with them before you even stepped on the stage. And I felt when we saw you you had a really easy way of interacting with the audience. I was wondering if that was a conscious thing or are you just enjoying having the chance to do that in that kind of setting?
Myles: Yeah, I think that that’s something I really.. the philosophy I’m really trying to adopt as an artist it’s just, you know, have fun, don’t stress. And so doing the meet and great in the afternoon, you get to meet a certain amount of people and it does, it kind of removes that barrier. You feel like you kind of, you just feel more comfortable, then you get up on stage and, and it just, you let it, you just let it happen. It’s not something I go into and think about, you know, it’s not like I, I certainly don’t have a master plan or sitting backstage going, okay, I’m going to act this way. You just feel comfortable and you stay in the moment and kind of what happens happens. And I really enjoy that.
LH: It was a great show because it came over very natural. It was a nice feeling to be in the audience, I would say as well.
Myles: Oh, that’s great to hear. That really is great to hear, that’s wonderful.
LH: During the show you drew from Year of the Tiger and it was also bit of a retrospective of everything that you’ve done, but I thought it hung together really well, all of the material that you chose. But I wanted to ask whether you have to get into a certain space to perform some of those songs? I ask this a lot when I interview people because it always surprises me how easily (or how easy it sometimes looks) to switch between, you know, just nicely conversing with the audience or whatever and then going to sing a song like a lot of the material from Year of the Tiger which is is extremely deep and personal to you. Do you have to get yourself into a particular head space to do that?
Myles: You learn how to compartmentalize. I think that’s the main thing after years of doing this. If I sing a song like “The Great Beyond,” one of the heaviest subject matters there could be, and I have to prepare for that and then there’s the post song kind of mental aspect and that is, you know, that would really weigh heavily I think on the overall vibe of the show. And it’s something I learned really playing with Alter Bridge because a lot of those songs, a song like “Blackbird,” it’s the same sort of thing. So you learn, I’ve learned to compartmentalize over the years that, for that four minutes, I need to go there with the song and go there and then I shut it off and move onto the next thing and I think it’s just the appropriate way to do it.
LH: It must be, I guess it must be crucial and really with that kind of material.
Myles: Yeah, absolutely.
LH: And then I have to say, going to see you do that material, you know, as a one man show, the very last song that I would have expected to hear that night was “The Trooper” by Iron Maiden. What a choice for a cover! What made you think of that?
Myles: It’s weird. It was on the first round of tours in Europe and I was in my bunk in the bus and I remember thinking, you know, the set still needs something and I don’t know what it is. I remember just kind of going through it in my head, you know it’d be cool to kind of mash up styles and for some reason, I don’t even know why “The Trooper” came to mind. The whole thing just kind of popped into my head. I mean it wasn’t even like I was even experimenting with the guitar. I was just laying in a dark bunk and I started singing it and I started messing with the feel in my head, like that would work! And the next day I gave it a try.
LH: We go to so many gigs, and it’s rare that something genuinely surprises me. That one, when you started playing it, I was like wow, that’s left field!
Myles: It is very lucky because you know, it doesn’t even, in a lot of ways lyrically it’s not really congruent with the rest of the set, but I think that’s part of why it seems to work because it’s kind of a nice departure. It’s a nice little breather for the audience. It kind of lightens the mood and I will probably do it again on this next run because now I have the band as well and it’s just, you know, it’s really fun and enjoyable.
LH: It did it. It got everyone going. It got everyone singing along I remember. So as you took the new album out on the road, were there any songs that you know, maybe you didn’t think were going to go down as well as they did, that became favorites and grew into something else on the road or that you really enjoyed more than others to perform?
Myles: That’s a great question. I think “Turning stones,” I mean it’s not that it wasn’t a favorite, but I wasn’t sure how it’s going to go over live and especially now I have the band with me on this next run, you know, it would definitely…. it’s a pretty major shift from the way that I approached it on the record. You know, the record has more of a Paul Simon, mid-eighties jibe. And now it’s, I think so much…. because Zia is playing drums and if you put Zia and I together it’s going to have hallmarks of The Mayfield Four. That’s just, that’s just the way it is. And so it definitely sounds like it could have been a Mayfield Four song with the arrangement we’re doing now.
LH: The two that I really enjoyed that I’d liked on the record, but I really enjoyed live, one was “Songbird” and the other was “Blind Faith,” which I did like on the record anyway, where you play with the slide and the Resonator. I really enjoyed that one. It came across really well.
Myles: Oh, cool. Thank you! Yeah, “Songbird” would probably be, that would be the other one that was the big surprise. I mean, you know, it’s interesting. When I wrote that song I felt… essentially it highlights how you go through different phases as a songwriter. The day I wrote it, I felt really good about it and like, oh, I’ve got something special here. And then during the recording process I kind of lost my… it lost its mojo for me for some reason, and it’s part of the reason it’s tucked towards the end of the record. I really wasn’t sure. But it’s interesting playing alive, it seems to…. new life has been breathed into the song and the audience seems to love it so that’s certainly changed my perspective.
LH: I thought it really grew wings that one. I really enjoyed it on the night. There was definitely a feel when you played that one, I thought, in the room.
Myles: Yeah, it felt good.
LH: Last time I talked to you about the record and that it was a different style for you. Did you listen to, or do you listen to, singer-songwriter type music because I was thinking that “Haunted By Design” that really has a country kind of Nashville-type feel to it. And I think the solo that you play on that, there’s a guy in Nashville called Guthrie Trapp, I don’t know if you’ve come across him. He’s a really great guitar player who we came across at the Key West Songwriters Festival, and he just blew me away playing all this Jeff Beck stuff. But you play a solo on there and it really sounds like his kind of playing. I was wondering if there are any artists that you listened to in that realm to get you in the space for writing the album?
Myles: Well yeah, I didn’t listen to that sort of thing for a long time, and I think it really started with Chris Whitley for me. I mean it’s interesting. People hear this record and I always been talking about my love of Chris Whitley’s music and there’s certain moments on this album, you know, “Blind Faith” would definitely be one of those tracks where you hear that and go, oh yeah, and even “Ghost of Shangri-La” that really reminds me of something off’ve the, from the production standpoint, off the first Chris Whitley record, Living with the Law. That would be one. Gosh, I mean I could just go on and on. I mean all the way up to contemporaries like Sturgill Simpson. I love a really great singer-songwriter. I think there’s just something about that I’ve always connected with.
LH: I think it’s a really great time for that kind of music at the minute, like Sturgill Simpson. One of my absolute favorites is Jason Isbell.
Myles: Oh, he’s amazing. Lyrically, good lord that guy can write!
LH: That’s music that you want to listen to the story as much as you want to listen to the music, right?
Myles: I agree. I totally agree!
LH: There’s another guy, I don’t know if you’ve come across him who’s worth and listen, called John Moreland out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you get the chance, he’s really worth a listen. He was actually supporting Jason Isbell on his last tour.
Myles: Cool, I will definitely check him out.
LH: Same kind of style and really, really beautiful music and. But yeah, again, I digress! Sorry.
Myles: No, no worries. I just learned of an artist I should check out so I’m excited!
LH: You seem to like giving yourself a challenge. So you went back and it was a retrospective. You re-tooled all of this music so you could play it as a solo show. Now I guess you’re going out on the road with Tim and Zia, so that’s a trio, but the record as recorded is quite heavily layered. So how are you approaching it this time? Because I guess it’s a case of it being a different beast again.
Myles: Yeah, it is. I think if I could sum it up in one word, it would be to turn it up. That’s two words, oh wait it’s more than that! It’s three! So when we were rehearsing for the second European run this summer, you know, it was definitely… it became obvious that I was going to have to change things because I’m not taking out a large band, so a lot of the parts that I tracked on the record, like my lap steel parts or banjo parts, I might not have the luxury of incorporating to the set. So you know, it’s essentially kind of taking the songs and turning them into more of a, I guess…. fitting them into more of a rock mold and without going over the top and going full on sonic assault. And it works, you know. I think that the Nice thing about guitar amplification and gain, in particular, it fills up a lot of the real estate, so that really kind of plugs the holes to a point. I mean there are certain parts that I still miss hearing a lap steel part here and there, but I think we make it work, and it’s just a power trio.
LH: Well that’s great. I’m really looking forward to seeing it. You know, it amazes me sometimes, there are a lot of two-piece bands out there just now, and it’s amazing how much space people can fill with an electric guitar, if it’s done right. I think if it’s done badly, it doesn’t come across well, but when it’s done right it sounds great.
Myles: I agree.
LH: You recently just got off the road with Slash, right?
LH: I was listening to Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, and he interviewed Slash on there. He’d come to the Whisky A Go Go to see you guys play and I think probably the highest praise you could get for that show is that Marc Maron stayed until the end because he said he never stays to the end of a show, so he obviously liked it.
Myles: Oh that’s cool.
LH: The last time I spoke to you, we talked a little bit about when you write with Alter Bridge and how it was kind of like putting a puzzle together with you and Mark put in different pieces in, you know, and seeing what fit together. How does it work with Slash? How does the writing process work because especially even just timing wise, I mean he was out with Guns and you were out with Alter Bridge and doing the solo stuff. How do you get together to actually write?
Myles: Yeah. So yeah, it’s a different process now with the most recent record I did with Slash and the Conspirators, a lot of tha, I’d say 80% of the material had been started while we were on the World on Fire tour three years ago, so that definitely gave us an advantage. The other thing, the mode in which we or the way we approached this is different from Alter Bridge. It’s not the puzzle pieces approach. Slash will generally come up with a riff or chord progression, send it to me on, you know, like just a voice memo that I’ll put a melody lyric to, or a melody and shoot it back and see what he thinks. And sometimes he’ll have, like for example, the song that ended up becoming “Mind Your Manners,” he arranged that with the band and I heard the arrangement once it was done and then I just put the melody on top and layered it on top. So you know, it’s kinda like Slash builds the foundation and sets up the structure musically and then I come in and put up the wall boards and decorate the interior of the house.
LH: It really came out a great record. You can always be guaranteed on those albums you guys do that there’s going to be a great opener on it that makes you want to turn the stereo up full. And that one’s definitely got one on it.
Myles: Oh, cool. Thank you.
LH: So with Alter Bridge, I read an interview with Mark the other day where he said that you guys might try and get some time together in springtime to write. Is that what it looks like is going to happen in terms of Alter Bridge?
Myles: Yeah, we’ve already started exchanging ideas and Mark’s sent me a few things and I’m hard at work, in fact for the rest of the day I’ll be putting things together here to send back to him. And then in April we’ll get together as a band and get this record done.
LH: Excellent. The one thing that stands out to me with you is just how, how hard working you are. I mean, you’re constantly on the road. And one thing that came to mind is you must have to have some kind of routine to take care of the voice, right? Because certainly with Alter Bridge and Slash, that’s some heavy use it gets when you’re performing. Is it hard to keep you keep your voice in shape on the road when you’re out that much?
Myles: Well, you know, it’s fine if I don’t get sick, or if there are too many shows lined up. You know my rule now is really try not to do any more than two or three in a row. There was a time in my twenties when I could go out there and tour seven days a week but especially, you know, how demanding this set is with all the bands, using a lot of my upper register and all that. So yeah, I mean I think just doing it as long as I have and kind of learning how my voice, what not to do with my voice in a live context has helped make it so that I don’t have too much of a problem. I mean it might get tired here and there, but overall it seems like she’s holding up, knock on wood.
LH: I always think this time of year when it’s flu season, I can imagine like you turning up for a meet and greet in one of those biohazard suits just to make sure.
Myles: Oh I know, right! Exactly.
LH: I like talking about guitar as well. So last time we spoke we talked about you starting out on guitar and what it meant to you as a kid, you know, just obsessing over it and basically leaving an imprint in your bedroom carpet from where you’d sit playing.
Myles: Haha, right!
LH: Early on, it was jazz for you, right? Joe Brasch was your teacher and then your first band was a jazz instrumental band I think, right?
Myles: That was one of my first bands. I mean my very first bands were hard rock bands. Some of the first recordings I ever did were with this jazz band – well it wasn’t a jazz band, it was more of a fusion band – called Cosmic Dust. They were basically a bunch of my teachers at the Community College I went to, really great players. So that was definitely a big honor for me being a part of that, you know, I was 20 years old or something. I was a kid and it was really educational for me. It was kind of trial by fire. You know, playing with these heavy-hitters.
LH: Yeah you can’t hide in that style of music. Is it something you ever think you’ll ever go back to in terms of recording any of that kind of music again? I would guess you probably incorporate it into practice still. I think everyone I know who plays Jazz can’t help themselves, but play all the time.
Myles: It’s been awhile. I think that side of me has kind of taken a back seat. I would love to get back into it one day, whether it’s recorded or not, I don’t know, but more than anything just to have the option to improvise. Improvisation is something that I probably enjoy doing more than anything musically, other than songwriting. I like songwriting as well, but there’s just something about flying by the seat of your pants and that’s what I studied in school, was the art of the art of improv and jazz fusion, blues…Those are the some of the funnest ways, mediums to express yourself in that context.
LH: So when you were a kid, was there a light-up, was it being handed a guitar? Was there a particular light up moment in terms of, when you just heard something and that was it for you? When I interviewed Nita Strauss she mentioned The Crossroads movie with Steve Vai where he’s the devil’s guitarist. And then Steve Vai and Paul Gilbert have both mentioned Led Zeppelin. Was there one record that you put on and it was just like, wow, that’s it?
Myles: Yeah. For me it was hearing “Eruption.” I still remember the moment well. I was in my backyard playing something with my little brother, throwing a ball around or something, and “Eruption” came on my little boom box, by Eddie Van Halen, and I was just like, what is that?! It sounded like I was listening to something from Mars or something. I was just like, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was like, I want to do that!
LH: It was a total paradigm change when that guy arrived on the scene.
Myles: Total paradigm shift. Absolutely.
LH: When we saw you, one of the covers I really enjoyed that you did was “Traveling Riverside Blues,” the Robert Johnson track. How did the blues influence you when you were younger? I know you were heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin who were very blues-based, but did you go back further than that? I know you’ve said that you felt “Haunted By Design” had a real Mississippi John Hurt feel.
Myles: Yeah, big time. Yeah, with Zeppelin, I’m like a lot of kids who we got our blues education through Zeppelin. And so then I wanted to discover where’s that come from? And I had an aunt and uncle who gave me a cassette of the Greatest Hits of BB King, but then wanting to go back further. You remember there was like a real big thing that started happening in the early nineties. It was like this movement where I think it was when they decided to release all those Robert Johnson recordings.
LH: Yeah when they did the big album with all of his stuff on.
Myles: Yeah. And that was a big, you know, I think it was a gradual education. And I’m still trying to learn, you know, and I actually of late haven’t spent as much time as I would like to. That’s the foundation for what we do, you know, especially rock musicians, there’s just no question about it.
LH: Yeah, it’s amazing how far you can trace it back. Earlier this year, we drove down to Clarksdale, Mississippi stayed in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, in this really cool motel called the Shack Up Inn, which has these shacks you can rent. We went into Clarksdale and they’ve got like the Delta Blues Museum there and when you walk around a place like Clarksdale, it really is like living history. Walking around the museum, downtown Clarksdale, the great blues clubs – it’s just unbelievable and it’s really an eyeopener to see all that stuff.
Myles: Yeah, I’ve got to check that out.
LH: Yes, I’d strongly recommend it. It’s really good.
Myles: That’d be great.
LH: Thanks so much for taking the time and good luck on the next round of the tour.
Myles: Oh my pleasure. Always a pleasure talking to you.
Myles’ 21-date tour kicks off at Chicago’s Concord Music Hall on November 13 and wraps up in Seattle, WA on December 16.
Photo By: Kirstine Walton