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Bacon Brothers - Interview

  by Lisa Torem

published: 29 / 6 / 2018

Bacon Brothers - Interview


On the eve of a North American tour Kevin Bacon and Michael Bacon of Americana act the Bacon Brothers talk to Lisa Torem about their new self-titled ten-track album.

Armed with an exceptional, eight-album arsenal (kicked off by 1997’s ‘Forosoco’ and veering towards 2014’s ‘36 Cents’) and all the while, maintaining a limitless, double-decade strong partnership, the Bacon Brothers Kevin Bacon and Michael Bacon), could easily justify a short staycation, but then again their ten-track eponymous new album and ambitious touring schedule thoroughly belie such a state of mind. ‘Tom Petty T-shirt’ is just one of the tracks that illustrates the duo’s sensitive/raucous writing and arranging acumen. And like the majority of their material, a strong message lies beneath the infectious beats and contemporary vibes. There is, of course, always the Yin and the Yang to consider in any act… What remains a constant is that the siblings began singing and playing together at an early age, even as they embarked on alternative career paths. Kevin is an award-winning stage, film and TV actor; Michael’s compositions have garnered Emmy Awards, and his most recent recently scored documentary debuted at Sundance. Whilst both musicians sing lead, harmonise and shred, Kevin’s been known to add his own percussive touch; Michael easily moves from acoustic guitar to cello; their longstanding bandmates: bassist Paul Guzzone, keyboard/accordionist Joe Mennonna, guitarist/mandolinist Ira Siegel and drummer Frank Vilardi passionately flesh out the rest. If their original ballads touch your emotions or rekindle the memory of a beloved classic, you’re in good company. The Bacon Brothers relish what came before them and their musical roots run extraordinarily deep. Besides their affection for the aforementioned Tom Petty, Americana, blues, folk, rock, classical and even “old-timey” tunes spike their collective interest. In the midst of a bustling North American tour, the Bacon Brothers put down bows and brushes to speak with Pennyblackmusic about their latest self-titled release and more. PB: The ten tracks on your new album defy categorization, yet they come off as being completely at ease with each other. How did you select these particular tunes for production? KB: It was kind of piece meal. We cut three a few months ago when we were just looking to do singles. Then G.E. Smith heard ‘I Feel You’ and asked if he could produce it. He ended up producing five for us. Then a couple more popped up and we did them in home studios. MB: They selected us. We had four songs, three with video, for about a year. Then Kevin went into a writing boom and, bam, we had a CD. PB: How much collaboration took place in terms of writing and arranging? KB: We don’t write together much. But we share ideas about arranging. We do our own demos to present a production concept. Sometimes the final is very close; sometimes not. MB: Nothing in the writing, but total collaboration in arranging. PB: “Doesn’t want to hear from family / sometimes it’s okay to run and hide.” Here are a few lines from ‘Tom Petty T-shirt’. The lyric here suggests a young woman struggling to cope, yet still seeking answers. Am I hot or cold? KB: You are very warm. Especially the struggling to cope part. And the simplest gestures can be the most helpful as in “take my Tom Petty T Shirt.” PB: ‘Shakin’ (SoCal Smooth)’ brings to mind shades of Tommy James and the Shondells’ ‘Mony Mony’ (1968) and the Ritchie Valen’s 1958 version of ‘La Bamba’ (and the Los Lobos version from 1987.) It’s got a gratifying beat and mood to match. How many takes did it take to get this party song just right? KB: We had been playing this one live. And we were going for that fun upbeat ‘La Bamba’/’Mony Mony’ feel for sure. But not a lot of takes. We were pretty much in the pocket before we pushed record. MB: I asked our guitarist, Ira, to play a ‘La Bamba’-like lick, then I wrote an eccentric guitar harmony, à la Allmans, and Joe added a Montuno. PB: There are a lot of place references on this self-titled release, from the San Andreas Fault and Mulholland Drive (‘Shakin’) to “the streets of Jackson” (‘I Feel You’) as well as the occasional prop to the ferocity of New York City. Does this imagery come from actual travel experiences, acute observations of human behaviour or something else? KB: Every place mentioned is a place we’ve lived or played. That’s one of the bonuses of being an actor or musician. See the world! And let those sites inspire the songs! PB: Michael, your ‘Two Rivers’ overflows with images: “golden taxis, silver blades” etc. What prompted the theme and did it first come to you, instrumentally or lyrically? MB: This was a year of looking back for me. ‘A Road We Know Too Well’ is similar to me. Lyrical scan, groove, melody, chords, all have to mesh simultaneously. PB: ‘Broken Glass’ is a touching ballad in which the pieces fit together seamlessly, much like an orchestral piece. The accompanying video is of a young girl. What’s the back story? KB: It’s a song about how rough your 20’s can be. People always think of the teens as the hard times. But the 20’s have lots of challenges as well. Especially for young women. PB: Unlike most bands that have been performing for several decades, you have retained the loyalty of your original line-up. What’s the secret behind sustaining good relations? KB: No secret. Just try to be professional and make music. MB: First, you have to create a comfortable work environment, then find a balance between a sense of democracy and free expression, with the fact that we are the bosses. PB: In your current North American tour which culminates in August, you hit major cities, but too towns that don’t always enjoy and access big name acts. MB: If one considers us a big name act, it’s a rare opportunity for two New Yorkers to really see the little towns that most people only see on a screen. As brief as our time is in all the places, there’s a lot to be learned. PB: Does touring in such a diverse set of places inform your overall writing and/or performance styles? KB: I don’t know if it actually influences style as much as it becomes good song writing fodder. Missing home, etc. MB: I’m a geek for roads, towns, breakfast joints, crappy bars. As far as the venues, we have to adjust from Victorian opera houses to Texas dance halls, and everything in between. PB: Michael, looking back at your career as a composer, what has been your most challenging or rewarding assignment? Is it difficult to switch gears when it comes to scoring as opposed to songwriting? MB: My main love is my cello concerto, a third challenge, which is very different from scoring and song writing. I’m working on blending my legit skills with the band, and strategising doing a Bacon Brothers’ show with full orchestra. PB: I believe that ‘Driver’ says a lot about the power and stamina of women. Was that intentional or incidental? KB: I think a “real man” is okay letting a woman take the wheel. PB: ‘Beneath Perfection’ offers an interesting perspective, “If I paint a perfect me, I face rejection.” That’s a very human statement. Does this philosophy extend beyond the song and into your personal life? KB: Yes. But I actually wrote that when I was just getting married and having kids. The idea is that she’s going to have to live with the whole package. And the whole package is less than perfect. PB: Depending on their own history, some people tend to stereotype sibling relations and assume that siblings bicker or favor their unique relationship over other relationships. Musically, they may group such an act with other acts that include or consist of siblings: The Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, the Kinks etc. and make sweeping comparisons. What’s the verdict? Is that annoying or laughable? KB: Well, “do you fight?” is the number one question we are asked so I guess it’s pretty common. MB: It is a question that we hear often. I’ve been married for 46 years. How Betsy and I did that, I don’t have an answer. It’s the same for the brother dynamic. PB: Kevin and Michael, what was the first song you heard that you could not get out of your head for days? KB: I’m not sure, but I’m sure it was one of Mike’s. MB: It’s an operetta duet, perhaps by Franz Lehar. It was part of my childhood. I’ve never been able to find it again. When I do hear it someday, I don’t know how I’ll react. PB: Thank you.

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Bacon Brothers - Interview

Bacon Brothers - Interview

Bacon Brothers - Interview

Bacon Brothers - Interview

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