With New CD & Tour, The Kennedys Are ’Closer Than You Know’
After eleven previous albums discovering the musical paths of folk and pop philosophies, Pete and Maura Kennedy of the band, The Kennedys decided to stir up the recipe of creativity with their latest CD titled "Closer Than You Know."
With a career in music spanning twenty years, this new "inspiration in individuality" has brought forth a different collaborative perspective to the songwriting process. There is also a strong canvas of "hope" weaved throughout the songs. This musical mindset is of a helpful nature with eyes wide open to the promise of better days but never blindly exuberant in feeling.
Pete Kennedy spoke with EDGE about discovering this creative outlet in the songwriting process for the new album, his partnership in music and marriage with singer and lyricist Maura Kennedy, his thoughts on the generalized stigma associated with the label of "folk" music, and why creative freedom matters.
A hopeful feel
EDGE: There is a new song on the CD called "Happy Again." The words chosen to title your new work "Closer Than You Know" are a part of the lyrics from "Happy Again." Why did you decide on the words ’closer than you know’ as the CD’s title?
Pete Kennedy: There is a lyrical theme to the album. I think it’s an attempt to help people get past rough spots in life. One of the problems with rough spots in life is that it’s hard to foresee a time when you’re not going to be in a rough spot. There is this running theme about supporting somebody who is unhappy right now. Trying to encourage them by telling them, "I know things are bad at the moment but they are going to get better. You just have to believe that."
So, I think the line "it’s closer than you know" sort of sums up the lyrical theme of the album. It’s a little bit of a trick, although we didn’t think of it as a trick. At first, when you look at the album cover, you would think that we’re referring to "ourselves" because we’re a couple. We’ve been married for a number of years. It could apply to that but it actually applies to trying to bolster someone’s confidence that things are going to get better.
EDGE: There is definitely a presence of "hopefulness" sprinkled throughout the music.
Pete Kennedy: Yeah, it’s not about gleefulness. We’ve all heard songs that are blandly happy. It’s hopefulness coming out of a lack of hope. And hopefully, it’s an album that will be helpful to people who are either in rough straits right now or who remember being in rough straits in the past. It’s not really a naïve "happy-go-lucky" album... it’s a hopeful album.
EDGE: "Closer Than You Know" has several layers to it, if you listen and think about the lyrics.
Pete Kennedy: Hopefully, there is a lyrical depth to all the songs.
EDGE: You mentioned your relationship in regards to the cover. Initially, just seeing the cover for the first time, I thought it was somewhat gothic, surreal and somewhat ghostly. In the photo, there is a transparency where you can see through you both.
Pete Kennedy: Yeah, yeah. (laughter) I think that’s interesting. In the photographic process, it was actually done by Maura’s sister [Suzy Allman] who is a master photographer in New York. It’s not Photoshop... that’s the thing. What she does is take an analog photo. Then, without advancing the film, she takes another photo of something completely different. She does a whole series of those. When she develops them, she finds out what she got. It looks like something that might have been done later on in Photoshop but it’s actually this artistic concept that she had.
It does make us transparent because you can see some kind of background through us so I think that’s interesting. Being a little bit surreal is OK. I think because it triggers people’s imagination.
Combining music & marriage
EDGE: Definitely. Now, after twenty years together in both music and marriage, how would you describe your collaboration? No marriage is easy all the time.
Pete Kennedy: Well... that’s an interesting question relating to this album really. We did try a different method with this album. This is our twelfth album and we’ve consciously tried not to repeat ourselves musically. So, we thought trying a different writing format would be an interesting thing to do.
Maura suggested that I compose a lot of music that would be kind of soundtrack-type beds that didn’t have melodies. I wrote about thirty pieces and gave them to her. She listened to them for about a year and these songs came out of that. She came up with melodies and lyrics that fit them.
We haven’t always done that. There are albums where we sat down like Lennon/McCartney in the early days and banged out songs together. Maura was thinking that I would probably come up with some chords and stuff as I listen to some offbeat classical music and stuff that is different than singer/songwriter music. She thought I would come up with chords that would challenge her melodically. So, I think that’s cool. It wasn’t like sitting down with our two guitars and writing songs as we have done in the past.
I think this way is great. Like you said, we’ve been married for twenty years... this gave each one of us certain independence in our own realm. I did the music which I really enjoy doing and Maura did the self-expressive lyrics.
EDGE: I’m glad I know that now. I wouldn’t have thought of that.
Pete Kennedy: It was a conscious decision. There have been a lot of songwriting duos, especially on Broadway like Rodgers and Hammerstein and also Bacharach and Hal David or Elton John and Bernie Taupin, where one person wrote music and the other one wrote lyrics. We thought, "Let’s try something a little bit akin to that this time."
A Grace Slick vibe
EDGE: That brings me to your song called "Home." The sounds in the arrangements have a cool effect and reminded me somewhat of Grace Slick’s song "White Rabbit." "Home" has a lopsided background to it and an electronic feeling.
Pete Kennedy: Yeah, "White Rabbit" is a really good comparison, actually. I wasn’t thinking of that song at the time. Grace Slick said in an interview that she had listened to the Gil Evans/Miles Davis album "Sketches of Spain" where they took some classical pieces and rearranged them with jazz harmonies. She said she listened to that over and over and digested it so much that "White Rabbit" came out as sort of an extension of that.
I think with this piece "Home," I’d been listening to and been stuck on this period of classical music from the early 1900s, which was a really progressive time. Instead of just playing chords, there are a lot of interweaving lines and so the electronic keyboards seemed good for that. It has a bit of a "sci-fi" theme too where you’d imagine someone in outer space or something. I didn’t want it to sound too organic in a way and create this almost spooky and robotic atmosphere.
EDGE: Not every person has the patience to listen or relate to this blend of folk rock. I took the time to listen and discover the intricacies in the music and lyrics. What are your thoughts on the certain stigma associated with this category of folk music?
Pete Kennedy: I think we’ve always tried not to get boxed into one category. When you have that as a goal, you are always going to be doing projects that are not going to be to the taste of some people. Just as we do acoustic stuff and we also do "pop" stuff. Sometimes, we have a classical influence or whatever... I don’t think we’ll ever do an album that just "everybody" likes. We’ve accepted that from the very beginning.
If you go back to our second album "Life is Large," that was very electric. It had bass and drums and lots of electric guitars. I remember one of our core fans saying, "Oh I remember that album. It made my ears hurt." I thought that was funny because our pop fans like that album better than the acoustic stuff.
One way to get ahead in the music business is to create a brand, a really identifiable sound and look. Then, just stick with that. But I think we’d be going crazy by now after twelve albums if we were under pressure to do that. The trade-off for us is that we feel that we have total creative freedom in exchange for not becoming really "super popular" with one kind of audience.
Having creative freedom
EDGE: It’s kind of a blessing in a sense because you get to do what you love and have the freedom as well.
Pete Kennedy: Yes. You realize that if you were to encounter people who have been famous for one thing, a lot of them feel they may have missed things in life because they couldn’t get away from the one thing that they were successful at early on. While it would be great to be widely recognized, the trade-off of having the creative freedom is really a good one. I’d much rather have the freedoms because we can do an album like this and go, "Yeah, it’s not going to sell ten billion copies."
There aren’t ten billion people who would be into this range of influences in music. But, the people who do become interested... they’ll be interesting people themselves. That’s the audience that we enjoy building.
Updating dates for The Kennedys’ tour dates are: THU OCT 18, BlackRock Center for Arts, Germantown, MD | FRI OCT 19, Cellar Stage, Baltimore, MD | MON OCT 29, The Half Moon, SW London, UK | FRI NOV 2, Avalon Theatre, Easton, MD | SAT NOV 3 Grand Opera House, Wilmington, DE | WED NOV 7, Jonathan’s, Ogunquit, ME | FRI NOV 9, Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield, ME | SUN NOV 11, The Flying Monkey Movie House, Plymouth, NH | SAT NOV 17, High Point Theatre, High Point, NC | FRI NOV 23, Bull Run, Shirley, MA | For further dates and more information about their latest CD, visit the Kennedys’ website.
Watch The Kennedys perform "Happy Again":