The first time Myles Kennedy performed in South Africa he wasn’t even scheduled too, he’d filled in on vocal duty at the last minute for an absent Sebastian Bach on the lauded Kings Of Chaos tour and, predictably, stole the whole show.
In March he returns on his own steam, with a first-time stripped down tour and a debut solo album he’s been chipping away at over a few years, but with good reason. “Year of the Tiger” is a record that chronicles Kennedy’s childhood with a heavy emphasis on the death of his father in 1974, the Chinese calendar’s year of the tiger.
Kennedy’s voice is cheerful and light as he greets me on the other end of the phone, enthusing about returning to a country that’s shown him nothing but love.
Tecla Ciolfi: We’re very excited to have you in South Africa again. Has the process of putting together this show been somewhat cathartic for you, when you started rehearsing and putting together the set list did it make you more overtly aware of everything you’ve achieved over the last 30 years?
Myles Kennedy: Yeah it’s pretty crazy actually, when I started trying to figure out which songs were going to make the cut, I felt very relived that I had plenty to draw from. I remember when I first started making records the hard part of touring was, if you only had one record under your belt, trying to keep the set interesting. So it’s kinda a treat for me now, this whole retrospective approach, and getting to draw from all these different experiences in my career, it makes me very aware of how lucky I’ve been.
TC: So what can fans expect from this intimate, stripped down show?
MK: As far as this set goes, I’ve done gigs before where I’ve played songs from different parts of my career but this is the first time that it’s an official tour. We’ve been trying to take this to a new level. I’ve been at home rehearsing and trying different songs out and a couple of different ways to approach the arrangements. Some songs I think should stay pretty close to how they were recorded but there are other tracks where I really want to experiment with a little bit and have some fun – that’s the great thing about being a one man show.
TC: When you look back at your body of work, what record or single maybe are you most proud of?
MK: ‘Blackbird’ is a song that I’m very proud of and I knew once we put that song together that we had something special. In a lot of ways it was a career-defining moment for Alter Bridge. But it depends upon which entity, back in The Mayfield Four days there was a song called ‘Summergirl’ which was a real defining moment for that band. And with the solo record now, just the fact that I recorded it and finally had the opportunity to do it – so I’d say kinda that whole record just because of what it is. [Laughs]
TC: I can imagine that performing with Alter Bridge at The Royal Albert Hall with the 52-piece orchestra must also have been quite a performance high point for you?
MK: That was probably the Venus for all four of us. When we got offstage after that first night we were all scratching our heads, asking ourselves if that had actually just happened. When the the idea was brought up months prior it sounded like a wonderful idea but the magnitude of it… A) the venue which carried a lot of gravity and B) the idea of playing with the orchestra and would our songs work in that context? We only rehearsed with the orchestra for two days prior and I think everyone including the orchestra was surprised that we were able to land on our feet. So yeah, it was an experience none of us will ever forget.
TC: So I’d love to chat a bit about your upcoming album “Year of the Tiger”, because you play in South Africa and then you go straight into your album tour in the UK if I remember correctly?
MK: Yeah you’re right, yes I do.
TC: I read an interview where you said the album’s got a very clear narrative thread and that you talk about your dad passing away and your family quite a bit on this record. Was it difficult to get candid or did that material flow quite freely?
MK: It flowed a lot quicker than I thought it would. The difficult part of the process was, because it revolved around losing dad, peeling back those scabs and stripping away years of feelings that were stashed away in a closet. It [the album] forced me to get in there and pull them out and reevaluate everything and I discovered there were a lot of things that were unresolved for me.
I don’t think I realised how difficult that was going to be. I thought, we’ll keep it congruent, we’ll keep it themed throughout, but midway through the process I realised it had somewhat of an adverse effect on my mental stability. But I’m glad that I did it because at the end of the day it was cathartic.
TC: How different is the process of writing and recording by yourself versus working with Alter Bridge or Slash?
MK: When you’re in a position to be collaborating with people, it’s great, but there’s also a certain amount of compromise. When you’re doing something on your own the compromise isn’t there so you can really express yourself how you want to. With that said, the problem is that you don’t have a filtration in place, so you can have an idea but you have no way of testing it to know if it’s any good, you just have to follow your own instincts.
When I was writing songs for “Year of the Tiger” I had no band that I was bouncing ideas off, it was just me in a room with my guitars. It’s an exercise in your own judgement but it was necessary because it is a solo record. If I’m going to say it’s a solo record then it should be M.K. 100%.
TC: It’s no secret that you have one of the greatest rock vocals of all time and a lot has been written about your octave rage and your voice over the years but I want to know, what’s the strangest way you’ve ever had anybody describe your voice?
MK: Hmmm [Pause]. The strangest way [Longer pause]. That’s a really good question. I know there are plenty of people out there who would describe it not in a positive light [Laughs] but that’s the great thing about anything in life really, if somebody likes something you’re sure to find someone who doesn’t like it. It took a long time to develop it but there’s a certain timbre that I’ve learned to tap into that’s almost a bit polarising and one thing I didn’t wanna do was have a voice that was very status quo or safe.
I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story but, I remember I was in Summer Camp when I was a kid and we were talking about Rush with my camp counselor. He wasn’t a fan and the reason he wasn’t was because of the vocals. But then I thought, there are so many people who are such massive fans of this band because of the vocals and the epiphany I got years later was, if you have something that some people love, or hate, [Chuckles] that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That’s part of what defines you. And that’s what I’ve tried to do with my voice, try to find ways to do things that were unique to the way nature made it.
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