Q&A: Stephen Kellogg Breaks Down the Sixers' Americana Sound, Play Revolution Tonight
Recent albums Glassjaw Boxer, Bulletproof Heart, The Bear, and the like all hint at the band's prolific prowess, but the web-only release documenting performance number 1,000, Live From the Heart, encapsulates the live experience. It's riveting, to say the least. Best to catch Kellogg & the Sixers up close in a club, because eventually arenas will follow.
New Times was only too anxious to chat with Mr. Kellogg, as he offered his insights into what makes the Sixers so special
New Times: For starters, please give us an idea of your earliest influences and those that still rub off on you now.
Stephen Kellogg: Well, I'm a sucker for harmonies and I think that may of had its inception in the fact that my dad would come home from work each day, fix himself a drink and put on Crobsy Stills and Nash's "Wasted on the Way" and "Southern Cross," and then he'd walk over to the record player and play them again... and so on... At night i would fall asleep to Cat Stevens' Tea for the Tillerman, and I think when you look at my lyrics, it's hard not to see that influence. Songs about being better, living better, being more of the person you aspire to be and less of the schmo you sometimes are... sad-ish songs, but almost always shot through with redemption.
So how would you describe your sound?
Roots rock with a hint of pop... Or Counting Crows meets John Mellencamp.
Did you come from a musical family? Were your parents supportive of your desire to become a musician?
No one played music formally -- and there are days where i wonder if anyone still does -- but music has been a major part of every family party and it's in the blood. If there is a guitar or a drum set around, you play it. Never mind that you don't know how, or what the right chords are... you just play. The Sixers' approach music that way, I approach music that way and that's why I say it's not very formal. In recent years I've attempted to "get under the hood" a little more and learn why things work or don't work. This has been a rewarding pursuit, but I must say there is still a lot of mystery in music to me. As for my parents, yes, they are very supportive. They're music fans...
When did you know you could abandon any notion of a day job and devote yourself to music full time, and maybe make some money from it?
That was a very organic sort of decision. Gigs were starting to pick up somewhat -- not money, but gigs that had some weight in good rooms, etc.-- and I got this steady offer that I could play four hours a night at a steakhouse when I didn't have national gigs elsewhere. They wanted mostly covers but I got in the habit of saying, "Here's an old Tom Petty b-side," and I'd play my own stuff. That kept the folks that were good enough to book me happy because they thought I was playing "hits" they didn't know, and it allowed me to see how my stuff stacked up. I'm very thankful for that gig.
How would you evaluate your career so far? Has your success surprised you at all? What have you learned along the way?
I'm happy for myself and the guys' modest achievements. We've made a living playing music for almost a decade and we've seen some pretty heady moments together. Having said that, I don't think that any of us feel we have done our best work yet, and that fuels me greatly. I think it's an important example to set for my children. I know what we've accomplished and what we haven't, and I'm determined to accomplish more, because that's what makes life fun. Have I made mistakes? Too many... and some, multiple times, but what the hell, I'm human, so I get back on the horse and hold on to the time honored cliche' that it's the journey that counts.
What's been the highlight of your career so far? For example, is there anyone that you've met that gave you that "oh wow" moment?
The highlight so far was actually more of a fan moment. On stage at the 930 Club in DC. One night, the crowd just wouldn't let us leave. It was up there that I felt the most appreciated I've ever felt.. and I know the band felt that way too. But we've met some cool people too, no doubt about it....
How did your current record deal with Vanguard Records come about?
I had a beer with Stephen Brower, our A&R guy, at South by Southwest a few years back. I told him I had some great records in me that I was going to get out or die trying, and Vanguard made us an offer the following week. We love them, and it really was that casual.
Are you ever surprised at the way your audiences react? What is the common bond you see from show to show in terms of audience reaction?
I'm occasionally surprised by the consistency of an audience reaction to a certain song; that's when you know you're doing something right. And it doesn't have to be a song -- maybe it's a little story -- but if you see people nodding their heads or laughing together, whether you're in Birmingham, Alabama or Calgary, Canada, you know you're doing something right in that moment. I'm so into spontaneity that I've had to learn how to note that when those moments come.
Can you give us any insight into your writing technique? What inspires you? Are the songs as autobiographical as they seem?
Sometimes it just flows out and there it is. I'm a lyric guy so I tend to just write a lot. It's mostly about me, but I also write about the people around me. Watch out if you get too close --you might end up in a song! I'm inspired by love, in all its forms. When there is love -- or absence of love -- the situations and characters become vivid, so I end up focusing on that. If it makes me cry or belly laugh or feel terrified, it's worth writing about.
As to how that happens, at this point there are all different ways it can go down, depending on what I'm doing. But it's still sort of lyrically oriented. Mark Weinberg, who is producing this new record, has been great about trying to smoke out some melodys that really match the lyrical content
What can you tell us about your next album?
Family, friends, America... Really! Coming out this year!
And what's next?
I'm doing a short solo tour this spring to try out songs and cleanse the pallet before me and the gang hit it again!
Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, with Jukebox the Ghost. 7 p.m. Friday,
February 11, at Revolution, 200 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
Tickets cost $15 to $17. Call 800-745-3000, or click here.
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