Northeast Underground

Stephen Kellogg interview part two

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers (credit: Megan Baker)

Now for the second and final part of my interview with former Northampton, Mass. native and musician Stephen Kellogg (see picture, middle):

Underground: What are some bands and artists you are into right now?

Kellogg: Well, here’s the deal. This is going to be as unpopular an answer as when I usually tell people who my influences are and I have to cite some of the ‘80s metal hair bands, who definitely did have an impact on who I became as an artist and who I am becoming. I took the redeye back last night, and I got so stopped in my tracks by two super-different albums. One, I was listening to the new Taylor Swift album and I was loving it. There, I’ve said it. That was awesome. And then also on the total flipside of things, I’m in a real Everly Brothers phase, so I’m loving that too.

I like songs that go for your heart, you know, and that make you feel things. I guess that’s what everybody likes, but the stuff that really blows me away is pretty sentimental and really straight forward. The Everly Brothers and Taylor Swift both did that to me in their own way. I don’t get too worried about the production because there I’ve heard so many bands that seem to be ‘cool’ or whatever, but I just don’t know what the hell they’re saying or singing about. It just doesn’t move me that stuff. It’s really easy if you’re not a mainstreamer type person to write off someone like Taylor Swift and say, ‘That’s mass-manufactured crap or something,’ but when I hear her sing it goes right to the core of what I remember about growing up and I see what my young daughters are facing in their futures. I feel like I learn from it, and the same thing when I hear ‘Bye, Bye Love,’ ‘Hello Loneliness,’ all these things the Everly Brothers just said so plainly. I get excited by that stuff. I’m like, ‘They’re trying to communicate with me. They want me to understand what they’re singing about.’ That moves me. I feel that’s the artist sort of reaching out to the listener. So it’s a strange answer, but that’s what I got for you.

Speaking about artists who reach out to their listeners, you have a big BBQ coming up where you are connecting with your fans by having your brand of field days. Can you maybe explain more what that event is about?

Yeah, that I’m so excited about. I’m not the greatest marketing guy, so I haven’t quite figured out how to get the message of just how fun this is going to be out, but we figured since basically I’m doing this solo tour and we’re doing very sporadic, intermittent dates where we are going over to Europe to do some shows for the troops in June or maybe doing a one-off in Virginia Beach, but basically the band won’t until the new record comes out, which is going to be in September, won’t have played together in like 10 months or something. So, we wanted to do something over the summer for the core people who are going to be like, ‘C’mon guys, you’re going to make us wait 10 months to see you.’ We thought well le’s do multiple shows, so if people want to travel they can but instead of just doing multiple shows let’s do this family vibe, where we’re going to have this field day with all these events – the three-legged race, a water balloon toss, the egg on the spoon and all that stuff. We have a park in Conn. and we’re going to do an acoustic show the first night and an electric show the second night. During the day we’re going to get the grills going and have a field day. I mean, man, if Ryan Adams ever had a field day I would buy a ticket in an instant. Although, maybe because it’s Ryan Adams I wouldn’t want to do that (laughs), maybe I would just go to the concerts.

Find out more about the first-ever SK6ERS' Field Days by watching this video here:

Is anyone in the band really competitive or enough so that you envision fights breaking out during the three-legged race?

Actually, Boots our drummer is really competitive but we’ll have to give him a stern talking to so he’ll let people win.

Nice. Going into more band business, I understand you just got the results back about another type of competition Reverb’s 100th Green Tour contest. Are you disappointed at all that you guys didn’t win?

Of course, it’s always nice to win anytime that you’re doing something. But whoever’s tour gets green is a good thing. We knew that going in. There’s no loser in that world, and Carbon Leaf (winners of the contest) happen to be a band we’re actually very good friends with. It’s good for them. We still do what we can on that front anyway. We’ve been trying to reduce some of the wastefulness, but the other thing is that honestly at our level tours aren’t quite as detrimental to the environment as the bigger tours that Reverb works on. When they work on a Jack Johnson tour, there’s pretty massive waste and cutting back on that can make a huge impact. So this was a neat opportunity, and we were glad to be in the running and be nominated. We’re super-appreciative of everybody that went out and voted, but we’re also just happy that somebody is going to get a chance to do it and that Reverb is setting up those sorts of initiatives.

That’s true. The contest seemed like one of those events where it was really all about the message and no one really loses because everyone is helping spread the word.

Exactly. What we ended up doing too was everybody who voted for us, their name goes on a mailing list like it or not they’re going to be getting these updates from a really great organization, and they can always unsubscribe and all the rest, but I imagine that’s part of the goal too. I think when all was said and done, that between the five bands there was something like 13,000 votes. So, that’s great. That’s totally cool.

Stephen Kellogg at Iron Horse (credit: Beau Bensch)

What might audiences expect from the opening show of your tour on April 20?

They should expect to be entertained and hopefully moved. I like to go for their heartstrings, or their heart and their gut you know? To me, if everybody leaves having had a laugh and at least one reflective moment then that is my goal as a songwriter, when I’m out there doing the stuff.

I have some little moments, some things I want to try out, that I have absolutely no idea if anyone has ever tried them before. So, who knows? But it’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be great. It’ll be fun. How could it not be? I feel like I’m going to have fun, so hopefully everybody else will too.

What might people not expect? What are some of those surprises you’ve been working on?

If I told you, then they wouldn’t be a surprise. But really, I’m just not sure how they would translate to print. Like, ‘Oh, I’m going to tell this joke.’ People are going to be like, ‘Great, let me buy a ticket to that.’ *Laughs*

What about some final words of wisdom? What would you like to say to anyone out there who is aspiring musician or perhaps an artist?

Oh man. I do love that question. There are a lot of things you always wish you had known at the beginning of your road that might’ve been helpful. I think it’s really important to find mentors, to go out and find people who do what you want to do and try to help those people along in any way that you can, and in doing so, learn. It’s easy when you’re starting out to feel really competitive and feel really self-centered, and that never totally goes away. But, I think a lot of times if someone e-mails me and asks how to get their thing going, one of the biggest things I tell them to do is go out and see other people and support other people.

For God sakes don’t judge everybody so harshly because what happens is you go out and you see everybody and judge them with your critic’s lens, and then you end up judging yourself in the same way. When things don’t go perfectly on stage, you end up feeling self-conscious about it. And, maybe it’s not this way for everybody, but probably one of the most destructive things for me was just getting involved in those conversations where, ‘You hear so-and-so got that tour?’ ‘Well, I heard that they got it this way, or he was singing really flat,’ and it’s just a destructive way to be because then when you sing flat all you’re thinking is that everybody in the room knows I’m singing flat right now. In my experience, that’s just not how most people are. Most people go out and they give you the benefit of the doubt. But as artists, I think you go out and you’re a little more critical of things and ultimately I think that doesn’t help. Trying to help other people climb up that ladder is a really helpful thing, and getting clear sights on what you want to do, and then just working your ass off. Those are the things that have done me right.

Kellogg (credit: Beau Bensch)

As a flipside to the question above, what are some words or warning? I think you might’ve covered some already.

Don’t be too judgmental because you wouldn’t want to be judged so harshly. And, this applies maybe to half of the artists out there, but I think you have to make sure you take care of the art. Don’t get so obsessed with your career, your ambition and everything that you stop taking care of the art. For a number of years, I would’ve said that I was a better businessman than I was a songwriter or something because I got a taste of it and I wanted to do this for a living, and I sometimes wish I’d spent a more hours working on songs, singing and playing guitar because you can lose sight of it.

Now on the flipside, you have artists who are just focused on the art and they never think about, it’s almost a four-letter word, to market it. Everybody knows some of those people in the town, who are just so talented. That talent can definitely find a way. If you’re a person like that, you need to have a manager, an agent, or somebody who can make sure your stuff is getting championed if you’re trying to. I’m speaking strictly about building a career in music here. If you’re just trying to make art for art’s sake, then God bless you and go ahead and do it. You just have to know. You don’t want to spend all your time on the Internet. Spend some time with your guitars, pianos, at shows. At such an age, where you can sit there obsessed over if anybody has responded to me tweets or Facebooks [sic] and all that crap. Still, no matter what happens with technology that will never be the way to be a great musician.

For more information on Stephen Kellogg or to see future tour dates please visit www.stephenkellogg.com.

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