Cool heads prevail in times of change
Remember who we are
Remember what we are
Remember what we’re meant to be
– Myles Kennedy, The Ides of March
Rock vocalist and guitarist Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge, Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators) released his sophomore solo album titled The Ides of March today (May 14, 2021), less than a year after his band Alter Bridge released Walk The Sky 2.0 in November 2020. It wasn’t long ago that we were all forced into quarantine and live music was shut down. Through a shadow of hope and perseverance, we have prevailed and the world is slowly getting back to a degree of normalcy. The promise of live music continues to loom, but the lights are slowly coming back up on Sunset Boulevard and venues are slowly starting to work on a plan to safely resume shows. For musicians, this has been an especially challenging struggle causing both financial hardship and the yearning to be back on stage playing music for the fans. Some people just let themselves fall into the media trap of frenzy and confusion and others took this time and made a positive impact in their lives. While many artists held off on the release of new music since they couldn’t tour to promote it, others continued to release new albums to give fans something to hold on to even if it meant they wouldn’t be able to take those new songs on tour right away. Musicians need music as much, if not more than we do and at the end of the day, rock n’ roll will save us all.
Kennedy begins the conversation describing how their Walk The Sky Tour with Alter Bridge ended so abruptly in 2020. “The interesting thing about putting out records is they kind of have a shelf life, unfortunately.” For the last Alter Bridge record, Kennedy feels they were short-changed having not had the chance to get out there and promote Walk The Sky. “We didn’t even get the chance to play many of the songs on the new album so that is when we came up with the idea of making a live album comprised of songs we did play and added a couple of originals. It acted like a band-aid in a sense and at least fans could listen to it and they could close their eyes and visualize what hearing those songs live would have been like. At this point both albums have expired shelf lives so we may play songs from the album like Wouldn’t You Rather or Walking on the Sky but by the time we do get back out there as a band we will probably already be working on new music and go out to promote those newer songs.”
With the Walk The Sky Tour having been cancelled, Kennedy decided to embrace the (originally temporary) situation and welcome the gift of time. Kennedy searched to find the good in all of this. He had been going non-stop between touring, writing and recording with Alter Bridge, Slash’s band and his own solo projects when the pandemic hit. The circumstances were daunting, but they came at a good time allowing Kennedy the chance to reset and refocus. “The last few years have been especially insane from a scheduling standpoint. I was away from home for over 300 days before the tour with Alter Bridge came to a grinding halt and shutdowns began. I feel like it was a time for me to step back and re-evaluate where I am in life and where I am as an artist. It has given me the chance to just work on myself and it’s been good. I think the whole experience has been incredibly healthy for me in that sense,” Kennedy confesses. “Would I like to be out touring? Sure. Would I like to be back to the way life was before all of this happened? Absolutely. But there was nothing I could do. Now that things are opening up again, I have a few touring dates scheduled and I am grateful I will be able to get back on the road and promote The Ides of March. So far I have dates set in June in Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois and Michigan. It’s been a blessings having all of this extra time, but it’s time to get back out there,” Kennedy says. “But, one thing I have really come to appreciate about humans is our ability to learn to adapt and so I have just taken it all in stride at this point.”
The inspiration and direction Kennedy was going to follow on The Ides of March came from the overwhelming feelings and circumstances that had everyone so concerned. As a lyricist, Kennedy says that anytime there is something that comes into the fold that he can draw inspiration from he runs with it. “Writing this album became almost cathartic in a way. I was trying to make sense of everything going on and I wanted it to be like a journal. Music gets everybody through things, you know, and so if anything, this will be something that people can hold on to for the strength that they can’t find. For people who are just looking for some sort of connection to somebody else, my goal was to write with the notion of being able to listen to this record 20 years from now and be able to understand what was going on.” A blues-based adventure in juxtaposition with country and rock n’ roll, The Ides of March displays a variety of genres to create a timeless sound. “A lot of styles that are pushed on this record are pretty much centered around the music that I listen to and what comes naturally to me, probably heavily weighted in blues riffs. I think a lot of that is reflected on this record. It started coming to fruition on Year of the Tiger. I am typically known as a hard rock type of guy, but I wanted to make a record that would be completely out of my realm. Oddly enough, this is the style I am most comfortable with,” Kennedy admits. “I really love this album and I loved having the opportunity to do this because this had been something that I’d wanted to do for a long time.” When everything slowed down, Kennedy says his long walks would cause him to reflect on what was going on with the pandemic and the phrase “Ides of March” struck him. He decided to write the song which would become the first single and album title. “It was interesting and heavy and would depict an interesting idea to build the record around. I started with the melody for the verses and the chord progression. It came to me in a dream, I would just wake up and record it. Then when I was trying to assemble the direction, I went back to that idea and put some other parts with it and built it in a way that would feel like an epic journey. It took maybe five months until it was complete. That is when I knew that it was going to be one of the cornerstones of the album so I wanted to get it right.”
“There’s such a history there and it’s very natural on all fronts,” Kennedy says of working with bassist Tim Tournier and drummer Zia Uddin on The Ides of March. “We all flow well creatively with one another which is such an important part of the equation when you’re making a record. And especially for me, being that I was put in a position where I had time to do these demos, which were just stripped down guitar and vocal with this. I want to have just arranged everything. Did the demos, played everything other than programming the drums and then sent the demos to Tim and Zia. They did a great job of recreating that in the studio. I wasn’t put in a situation where I had to wonder if they’re going to be able to do it appropriately because I already did it. There was already enough history there and I knew they would kill it. Having Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette produce this record was better than I could have asked for. He’s such a great producer and there’s so much history with him as well making records together off and on for 20 years. I know I have never had any sort of reservations there. I know what I’m getting with these guys and I trust them so it’s very comfortable and I want to keep that team together.”
“Elvis” has not only produced both of Kennedy’s solo albums, but he produces records for Alter Bridge as well, including Walk The Sky, Walk The Sky 2.0 and The Last Hero. Kennedy describes the experience as organic, but there are subtle differences in working on Alter Bridge records and Kennedy’s solo albums. Kennedy goes on to describe the process as completely different. “When I am writing for Alter Bridge, it’s a little more massive and heavier on guitars, but we seemingly stick to an old school formula which works for both bands despite the difference in sound. The songs end up being beautiful and we can be throwing a thrashing guitar into the mix or taking it down to a minimal acoustic vibe. The process is the same and I think that shines through on the records.”
Our curiosity piqued when we asked Kennedy about the animated music videos he has been creating. Get Along and In Stride which are visually allowing us to see what we hear in conjunction with the songs. “I think the videos take the music to a new level. And it’s cool because my nephews love them and that is the first time they have ever said anything about my work. I felt very accomplished after that compliment. I think the narrative that [director Ollie Jones] integrates into the song and his interpretation of the song that you see in the videos are very compelling. Being able to see this point of view of the song is what I really love. I just love what [animators] Jake Lava, Ollie and Sam Clark did with it. It was one of those things where our manager Tim is always keeping his eye out for directors and artists he thinks will contribute to the vision of the songs. He hit it out of the park again on this.”
For the past few years, it feels like the gap between music genres is getting smaller. Artists like Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, and even Elton John are teaming up with the most unlikely partners to create new sounds and bring fans of all different musical backgrounds and tastes together. The incorporation of rock and metal with country and even rap is becoming more common and while most in the metal community can live without rap, it is artistically respected and unexpectedly welcome in some cases. At the end of the day, we are all music fans and music is a universal language. Kennedy attributes his early inspirations from the music of the late ’60s, early 70’s, British hard rock and blues to his aunt sending him a cassette when he was around the age of 14. “That is when I discovered my love for music and became aware of the relationship I could have with music and in writing my own songs. Writing the music and writing the lyrics are very similar on a personal level. I can tap into a different way of songwriting when I write with Alter Bridge and for my solo stuff. I think because I feel most comfortable when I am playing guitar and when I can incorporate a more bluesy sound, there is a stronger connection, and comes to me more fluidly,” Kennedy reveals.
Kennedy is one of the most powerful and talented vocalists of our generation. Ranking up there with the likes of Freddie Mercury, Kennedy’s four-octave range supersedes most voices you hear today. From the first time he fronted Guns ‘N’ Roses during Axl Rose’s absence during the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction, to the inception of Alter Bridge and Slash’s band, Kennedy’s soulfully distinctive voice displays impressive technique, control and packs a punch of emotions through each note he delivers. You would assume that Kennedy studied voice from a young age, but he initially started his musical path as a guitar player and he never intended to be a singer. “I knew that I could kind of sing, but I didn’t take it seriously,” Kennedy admits. “I would hear people say I was a good singer and that made me want to keep doing it and get better at it. The life-changing moment was when I was in my 20’s and I started writing my own songs and I couldn’t find a singer so I thought well, maybe it’s time to consider doing this myself. It was a difficult decision to make because I was such a shy person and the idea of being center of the stage was completely out of my comfort zone, but I knew it was the only way.” Despite the fact that Kennedy didn’t originally break out as a solo artist, the vehicle that Alter Bridge and Slash’s band created gave him the confidence and the recognition to successfully reinvent himself with his ideas that were on a deeper more personal level. Kennedy didn’t start taking vocal lessons until he was touring and his relentless schedule became a struggle until he was introduced to vocal teacher, Ron Anderson. Described as the Jedi Master of vocal instructors, Kennedy says that taking lessons from Anderson was the best thing he ever could have done for his voice. By that stage of the game, Kennedy had to become conscientious of the amount of strain he was putting on his voice and how not using it correctly could damage his vocal cords in the long run.
The music industry is no stranger to losing iconic artists. Last year, Eddie Van Halen, arguably the most influential guitarist in generations, succumbed to cancer. Kennedy credits Van Halen for being his biggest influence when he wanted to start playing music. “As far as Eddie goes, I mean that’s been really heavy for a lot of us because he was the genesis and the initial spark for so many guys and girls from my generation and thereafter. There was just something he possessed. This quality, whatever it was and his approach to the guitar captivated so many people. When that person disappears and is no longer around to contribute, the gravity of it all becomes hard to wrap your head around and hard to articulate, but the beauty of it all is it makes you go back and listen to records I’ve forgotten about. The other day I was listening to something and I believe it was one of the covers they did and it dawned on me that was the very first guitar solo I ever tried to learn as a kid, just by ear. And then it brought back all these memories and just made me appreciate the days gone by. I think that so many of us just have such a debt to Eddie in a lot of ways. I question how many of us would even be doing what we’re doing if it wasn’t for Eddie. That’s really amazing if you break it down. He was a game changer and I don’t even know where music would be without him or his contributions.”
Kennedy’s solo album isn’t the only thing that has been occupying his time. He recently teamed up with sE Electronics to create the V7 MK, a dynamic vocal microphone. Kennedy describes it as the perfect combination of extended frequency response and external bleed rejection to help the singer hear every detail while keeping him from pushing too hard on stage.
Being able to have some downtime had its rewards too and Kennedy found interests in other things that didn’t necessarily involve music. “I realize how much I appreciate these interviews. Normally I am rushing around from the studio to the stage and now when these interviews get set up it is just nice to talk to people. These times help you realize so many things. Things like I am much better at watching TV than I thought I would be,” Kennedy jokes. “For the longest time, I was always so busy writing or touring and recording, and people would talk about TV shows or a mini series that would be on Netflix or Amazon and I couldn’t get involved in the conversation. I feel like I’m learning how to do that and it’s actually not so bad. There’s a lot of great content out there. One of the other things I’ve kind of picked up is photography. I mean, I’m certainly no Annie Liebovitz, but I started getting into it a little bit. I’ve been trying to have a better understanding of how to utilize and explore the different facets of this new creative expression. Especially with this pandemic going on, who knows? I may need to do my own shots until things get back to normal.” Hopefully, we will get to see some of Kennedy’s photography at some point. Considering that everything he touches turns to gold, we can all imagine this newfound hobby will be no different.
Be sure to check out @officialmyleskennedy on Instagram for limited edition albums with bonus songs, vinyl colors and exclusive merchandise. The Ides of March is available on iTunes, Spotify and all music streaming services as well as physical copies on May 14th. Order yours today.
Socially distanced tour dates listed below have been released and tickets are now on sale at www.myleskennedy.com.
6/23 – Kansas City, MO – Uptown Theater (Headline Show)
6/24 – Lincoln, Ne – Bourbon Theatre (Headline Show)
6/26 – Hoffman Estates, IL – Now Arena*
6/27 – Oshkosh, WI – Ford Festival Park*
*W/ Halestorm, Blackstone Cherry, Ayron Jones, From Ashes To New, Eva Under Fire
Photos by: Chuck Brueckmann