Interview and Photos by: Robert Cavuoto
Feature Image Credit: Reg Richardson
Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge and Slash & the Conspirators fame will be releasing his long-awaited solo CD, Year of the Tiger, on March 9th via Napalm Records.
After seven years of hard work on this solo endeavor, he decided to scrap it and start all over! From the ashes of that body of work came a stronger and more focused CD. He spent from December 2016 to July 2017 creating songs with an acoustic flair and concept that touched upon the loss of his father when he was four years old. An emotional story that required a musical approach different from the hard rock that has defined his arena-filling career. Year of the Tiger delivers 12 songs that are rich in tonal texture designed to keep the listener hanging on by a thread.
I had the opportunity to speak with Myles about Year of the Tiger and what it meant to him to share this very personal and emotional story with the world.
Robert Cavuoto: The CD doesn’t sound like Alter Bridge or Slash & the Conspirators, it’s truly has a unique folk vibe with rock undertones; was that by design?
Myles Kennedy: I think to some degree. There is a lot of music I’ve listened to through my evolution as a musician but haven’t had the opportunity to explore. I really wanted to make a solo record that wasn’t an Alter Bridge-esque record or a Slash and the Conspirators sounding record. That was important to me. If I was going to do this, I really had to establish a sound that was unique to this situation. I felt like it was the perfect opportunity as I really love acoustic-based music. I enjoy singing in that context as well.
Robert Cavuoto: Is it challenging to find your own style and voice having past influences with Alter Bridge and Slash?
Myles Kennedy: Fortunately I knew what I wanted to do. For quite some time I wanted to make this kind of record. As for the planning of what this was going to be, it actually came very naturally. In fact, I would almost venture to say, to some degree musically, it might have been the easiest record to write based on the sheer amount of ideas that I was coming up with. Perhaps that style is most in my wheelhouse. It felt very natural and not forced.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m intrigued by the story that you completed a CD which took you seven years and then scrapped it to work on this CD. Was anything salvageable from it and who produced it?
Myles Kennedy: I produced it with a friend of mine, who had mixed a fair amount of Alter Bridge records. What I think happened was you never want a shelf life that expired. After I had enough time away from that record, it didn’t resonate with me. Also, it wasn’t as focused as Year of the Tiger. There were acoustic elements, but there were times that it shifted into the hard rock side of things. I knew it was a bad move as it was confusing and diluted things. I’m lucky to be in two wonderful bands that already have that covered. There is no need for a third version of that. One idea did get salvaged, and that was “Love Can Only Heal.” What I did was to take the demo of it with the original demo vocal and rebuilt it around those vocal.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you think that the unreleased CD will ever see the light of day, maybe as a bonus CD?
Myles Kennedy: It’s a real possibility. There are a few songs on that record that I really love, and I hope they see the light of day.
Robert Cavuoto: “Blind Faith” was one of my favorite tracks on the CD as it has some terrific slide work. Can you tell me about your technique of playing slide and what you used?
Myles Kennedy: Thank you, that song was played on a resonator; it was heavily inspired sonically by Chris Whitley who I’m a massive fan of. A lot of the slide parts that you hear in the background are on a lap steel. I had never played a lap steel before. Elvis had it in the studio, and it wasn’t really expensive. What’s funny is when he brought up about putting a lap steel on the record; I thought we were going to have to hire someone to play it [laughing]. It’s not the easiest instrument in the world to play. I picked it up, and it felt like I had played it forever, it was quite bizarre. We just went with it and pressed record. I think it ended up being the star of the record as it gives the most flavor throughout the record and makes it cohesive.
Robert Cavuoto: There are a lot of jangly guitar parts on the CD; that is not an easy technique to master. Does that style of playing come easily to you?
Myles Kennedy: Yes, it has always been a foundation of mine and a big part of my approach with the droning and strumming. I think it’s a big part of this record. I think I get a lot of that from Jimmy Page and what he did on their records. I really enjoyed doing that with the record.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you do that with Alter Bridge?
Myles Kennedy: There is a fair amount of that in Alter Bridge. Mark does it a lot as well, we just turn up the gain on the amp, which are truly loud amplifiers [laughing]. That jangle is a pretty big part of things; it adds a certain life to the song that only guitarists can do; you can’t do that with a piano.
Robert Cavuoto: The songs seem to be layered with a lot of guitars, was that the case and which song has the most layers?
Myles Kennedy: We tried to be careful not to overdue that. One of our mottos in the studio was “less is more.” We were careful that any guitar part put on the record was filling a space. We were very meticulously in how each puzzle piece fit together. As far as acoustic guitars go, we would track left and right side, and if I played electric guitar, it was Gretsch. That would be one track, and then put the lap steel on top of that. I would say there were four or five guitars and an occasional banjo or mandolin as well. You would be surprised how many tracks there on those songs. It would be a massive wall of guitars. This was a little stripped down. How we did was to trick your ear thinking there were more parts than actually there.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you improvise your solos in the studio or do you work them out in advance?
Myles Kennedy: I used to just improvise but that started to change on The Last Hero as I planned a fair amount of the solos. With this record, the only solo that was planned out was “Devil on the Wall.” I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do there. The solo on “Haunted by Design” was more or less improvised when I was demoing it last summer, so I basically played the same solo I did on the demo. The lap steel solo I played on “Love Can Only Heal” was totally improvised as I had no idea it was going to happen. I wasn’t even sure the solo would be played on the lap steel. It was interesting, to say the least. It worked out and turned out to be one of my favorite solos.
Robert Cavuoto: Being on the road as much as you are with two touring bands, when did you find the time to write and record this CD?
Myles Kennedy: I started writing in December of 2016 and finished in June or July of 2017. I found the time to write the lyrics while on the road. The music I wrote while I was home as there were a few open windows. It was nice to have the luxury of working in my own home environment.
Robert Cavuoto: You are going on a solo tour from March to May. Are you more at home on the road or at home?
Myles Kennedy: I love being home, but I get a little stir crazy after a while. I have been on the road for so many years it’s just a part of who I am. The traveling part is not as fun as it used to be, but the performing part is the reason I feel I’m on the planet; to hopefully make people happy! That gives me real sense of purpose. If I’m sitting home, it’s nice being home with my wife and dogs, but I feel I’m not contributing to humanity [laughing]. While I’m here, I have been given this gift, and I should be using it making people happy. It’s pretty interesting thing.
Robert Cavuoto: Year of the Tiger is about your fathers passing when you were a boy, did your Mom hear the CD and what did she think?
Myles Kennedy: It’s interesting, she has seen the video, but I’m still waiting for a physical copy of the CD. Believe it or not, I still don’t have my own copy [laughing]? I’m hopefully going to get it in the next few days and take over to listen to it with her. To be honest with you, I’m nervous because it’s so personal. I really tried to tell her story and our story. She knows about the CD and the concept behind it. Once she hears the songs, it should be interesting.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m sure she will love the CD. Have Slash and Mark heard the songs and what was their feedback?
Myles Kennedy: Mark has, actually when I got some of the mixes back on MP3, he sat with me while we were on tour last year. He was very supportive which really meant a lot to me. His favorite song was “Love Can Only Heal.” His only suggestion was to put it earlier in the record, but it already had been sequenced.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you see more solo CDs in your future or was this more of a one-off cathartic exercise?
Myles Kennedy: Initial I think it was just that, to get it out. As years have gone on, people who knew about this mystical solo record [laughing] wanted to hear it. In the process, it became a healthy experience for me. I hope people like and want to hear more. Then I’ll probably continue to do more. Heck, even if people don’t like it I will probably do more too [laughing]. It was something fun for me because I don’t get to make that type of music every day. It was so challenging and fun for me that I want to do it again.
Robert Cavuoto: Can you give us an update on Alter Bridge?
Myles Kennedy: We actually talked today about how we are going to work next year. The plan is to make a record in 2019 and start touring again. We will be back with record #6!
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