New decades breed new talent, some to the likes of Tom Petty And Bob Dylan. Like them, Myles Kennedy is now the one to carry the songwriting torch for this era of rock storytellers.
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Kennedy released his solo debut, a heavily acoustic album, Year of the Tiger in 2018, which once more leveraged his songwriting skills. For his forthcoming second album The Ides of March, he wanted to turn up the volume and explore the unique facet of music that really got him started as a kid and get back to playing lead guitar. But it wasn’t just about solos and shredding, but paying homage to the rock, blues, and jazz players he grew up listening to and learning from.
“This record is more of a plugged-in effort,” Kennedy tells American Songwriter. “I wanted to explore not just plugging in and turning up but also more improvisation. I started off as a lead guitar player in particular so I really wanted to kind of set up a sonic foundation that would allow me to do that again, to some degree, while still having the emphasis on the songs. I didn’t want it to be some noodle fest.”
Songs like the title track “The Ides of March” fully encompassed Kennedy’s effort for exploration and improvisation. The seven-minute track ventures into blues, rock, and Latin style guitar parts, aligned with superb lyricism. Like all great and timeless songs it showed foresight for what was to come in 2020, serving as a snapshot in time. But above all else Kennedy’s focus was on the arrangement and dynamics of the song.
“This is more about how you treat everything from the arrangement standpoint,” Kennedy said. ‘’’Where I am going to put the acoustic? where am I going to put the electric?’ and make sure that the parts all work together. It’s definitely like a certain interplay there that you have to be very cognizant of.”
The Ides of March was recorded safely with friends, drummer Zia Uddin and bassist/manager Tim Tournier—both who played with Kennedy on Year of the Tiger. Kennedy also wielded the familiar talents and friendship of longtime producer Elvis Baskette. Layering and seamlessly aligning different styles of music was a quality present on virtually every song from the 11-song track list. Songs like the blues-driven “In Stride,” detail the nervous and anxious state of society during the summer height of the pandemic while its counterpart, “Love Rain Down,” a lush, tension building song levels out the record with sultry heat.
“There’s a certain longing to it and I think that it really worked well in the context of this record,” Kennedy said about ‘Love Rain Down.’ “I felt like it was the perfect opportunity to dust the cobwebs off of it.”
Demoed in Kennedy’s basement in 2009, the latest version is not too far off form the original recording. Baskette and Kennedy identified the superb nuances that occurred from sheer organic opportunity and improvisation and left every small effect pedal sound or feedback tone in the song, building outward instead of replacing things.
“The initial demo just had a certain magic to it,” Kennedy recalled. “A lot of the guitar textures, the aerial stuff you hear in the distance; those are just things that happened because I was experimenting in my basement. I couldn’t even recreate that stuff. It was just one of those things where you turn the delay knob just right.
“What we did in the recording was add the acoustic guitar and all these litany of things— the meat and potatoes, guitar, and the slide stuff,” he adds. “Elvis was really helpful in that respect, but also thinks ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,’ which I really respected. Oftentimes producers want to put their sonic stamp on every single thing and totally wipe the slate clean and he’s not that guy. He knows what works.”
“Love Rain Down,” and bluesy, slide-guitar driven songs “Tell It Like It Is” and “In Stride” were the pillar songs that offered Kennedy the opportunity to get back to performing as a lead guitarist on the record. The role linked him back to his early days of growing up listening to Led Zeppelin and Willie Dixon.
“It was a blast, I missed it so much,” Kennedy said about playing lead guitar on the record. “It’s just something that I’m really comfortable with. When I think about my journey as a musician, I ask ‘where did this love for blues come from?’ And I think that it probably came from listening to Led Zeppelin, even though I wasn’t even aware. And some of those tracks are just straight up Willie Dixon tracks. They were really great at taking these standards and making them their own and introducing generations to the blues.”
Though the blues and rock are paramount to the essence of The Ides of March, listeners will equally find themselves immersed in a wealth of other styles as well. “What I wanted to do with this record was integrate that love and passion into other realms,” Kennedy said. “There are moments where you can hear country and Latin vibes, and it just kind of turns into a sonic stew.”
Concocting a record of influences was Kennedy’s saving grace during a pandemic marked by ridiculous and unprecedented societal behaviors like hoarding, further agitated by cabin fever, propelled by nationwide quarantines. Writing the record out of his Washington home for months with a spread of recently purchased Guitar Center gear allowed Kennedy time to make sense of the world as well as his music.
“I think making this record was really helpful for me, like so many records,” Kennedy said. “It’s really the equivalent of going to a therapist for me. Having the opportunity to go as deep as I did with these tracks without having any real distractions allowed me to really make sense of things and maintain a kind of level-headedness and optimism that I might not have had.
“There’s a line at the end of ‘Ides of March’— cool heads prevail in times of change—which has really been helpful for me. I think about it often as the key mantra to the record. I think the idea of keeping calm and maintaining has become paramount for me. I always look at songwriting as a means to not just hopefully help somebody else, but also myself in the process.”
Pre-order The Ides of March here ahead of its release on May 14 via Napalm Records.