BluesWax Sittin’ In With
The Bacon Brothers
By Charley Burch
Long before Kevin Bacon launched his prolific stage and screen career, and before Michael Bacon became known as a go-to composer for film and television, they were just two brothers, born nine years apart, coming of age in Center City, Philadelphia. By the late 1960s, Michael, already a professional musician, would gig with his band at the city’s famed Electric Factory with a young Kevin tagging along when he could. It’s a time preserved in the cover art for The Bacon Brothers‘ latest [along with their 2012 Best of release], New Year’s Day, with a preteen Kevin singing alongside a mandolin-strumming Michael. The record, laden with the brothers’ trademark gritty rock and a touch of Philly soul, hearkens back to those roots in the City of Brotherly Love, when life was less complicated and music filled the air. The brothers were kind enough to be interviewed by me via their publicist Betsie Brown of Blind Raccoon.
Charley Burch for BluesWax: Who are musical influences in your immediate family? Any future Bacon family talents developing?
Michael Bacon: The music that our parents had playing in our house as children is a source that I use every day. Having three older bobby socks sisters really brought me the rock ‘n’ roll.
Kevin Bacon: Without a doubt my bro was my biggest musical influence. The music that he was writing, making, and playing around the house showed me the power of music. My sister Hilda was a Joni-style folkie and was also influential. The tradition of families playing music has continued in my family. My son plays, my daughter plays and sings. It’s not too often that they’re willing to join me, but when they do, it’s sweet.
BW: Please review the past 15 years of the Bacon Brothers Band as brothers and as musicians and what it means to y’all the most.
MB: The band clearly means a lot to both of us as it’s kept going for 17 years now. Kevin and I both accept challenges and as long as we keep getting better as musicians/performers I’m confident we’ll keep going.
KB: Wow! Fifteen years, hard to believe. We started small. Small venues. Small band. Just enough songs for a one-hour set. But as soon as we started playing out, we started to write more and the writing kept us going.
BW: Where do your crew and band members live and how did y’all organize originally? Do you see this band as a crew in the future?
MB: I’ve known most of these guys for 20+ years and it’s an embarrassment of riches – they’re great musicians. That goes for our crew as well.
BW: Tell us about your “Go My Way” fan submission video experience and do you plan to release more videos in this manner in the near future?
MB: We did a video for the tenth anniversary version of “Unhappy Birthday.” I’m hoping Kevin will come up with a video for our new song “493 Miles.”
BW: Does the music bug crawl around in your head while your [Kevin] acting career is on and what films do/did you have any musical involvement or contributions?
KB: We tried for a while to stick songs into movies I was in but not with much success. However, a bunch of the tunes in our catalog were written on movie sets. I think that’s because acting forces you to be emotionally in touch. When you are acting there is no room for being numb. And songs, for me, are expressions of those feelings.
MB: We have a song in the films Telling Lies in America and Red Betsy.
BW: Producing and combining genres like folk, country, soul, and rock, have you ever recorded or performed in southern states, such as Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, or Mississippi, and do you plan to do so in the future?
MB: I lived in Nashville for seven years. We’ve played there several times as well as the rest of the South. I learned an enormous amount about songwriting from my years in Nashville.
BW: With 78 titles listed as a composer on IMDB and other capacities as music director or supervisor in film and television, how much of a crossover do you [Michael] sense from your work with your younger brother and that of your day-to-day commercial compositions and arrangements?
MB: I guess it all adds up to music, but I find my work as a film/TV composer to be completely different from my work with the band. Composing is a solitary process that gets enmeshed in a production team of editors, directors, sound effects, etc. You sink or swim on your ability to enhance a creative product [film or TV show] that is not your own. I think my brother would agree that this applies in his film career. In the band we are the owners of the product and we don’t have to answer to anybody (except our wives). That’s a pretty refreshing place for us to be.
BW: As writers and performers, do y’all find that you typically present songs “to” or “for” your audiences?
MB: I’m not sure I get the difference, but a song is good only if it communicates something to the listener. In order to do that one has to be able to sing and play effectively.
BW: Do you [Kevin] find your popularity as a stage and film actor as an obstacle or distraction with your music audiences?
KB: When we first started playing out, it was terrifying for me. To stand in front of an audience and say, “Okay, this is a song about my dog that died” was so hard. Microphones, amps, sound checks… I was a complete neophyte. Then I started to feel a little more confident about the live show and all of a sudden we were in the studio! I was totally lost and had to look to Mike and the rest of the more experienced studio cats to learn what recording were all about. And truth is, it’s still elusive to me.
BW: Did you [Michael] mentor and guide your younger brother into being a musician or did he naturally develop his interest and talents on his own?
MB: I did a lot of guiding early on, but his ability to write great songs is a natural talent that you can’t teach.
BW: What are the goals and objectives of your most recent release and are you going to tour more extensively to obtain them?
MB: My goal has never changed since I was 12 years old – an enormous, worldwide hit record. A lot of people consider that eye-rolling unrealistic, but being in the hunt for that goal continues to bring me enormous returns whether we ever get there or not.
BW: As an accomplished string player [Michael], there are minimal amount of pronounced cello and violin presences on this latest release. Why was that decision made?
MB: Writing for an orchestra and then hearing it played by world-class musicians is a thrill. We decided to add the strings to “She is the Heart” because the complexity and beauty of the song called for it. I also love playing the cello. It’s the ultimate vocal machine.
Unhappy Birthday 911 tribute
BW: Tell us about the development and accomplishments of this wonderful opening track.
MB: Since I didn’t write this I can crow and say it’s the best 911 song I ever heard. Updating the lyric and directing the video was incredibly satisfying. Kevin waited a year to write this and another nine years for the update.
BW: As a band, how do y’all see yourselves growing and evolving over the next few years?
MB: More of the same. We need to finish up a new record, keep working on our skills, and play every gig we can.
BW: Do y’all prefer analog, digital, or syncing of both when recording? Do you prefer “open hall” or “multi-track” recording? What equipment do you prefer working with?
MB: In my 40-plus years in the music business I find people always longing for the most recently obsolete technology. To me none of that makes any difference in the record. I guess I’d like to go back to “open hall” (that’s a great term) as our last CD was all overdubbing except for background vocals, but that’s expensive and inconvenient. I use Digital Performer, Kevin uses Logic, and our band mates are all Pro Tools.
BW: Any collaborations on the horizon regarding artists that you have already or currently desire to work with? What music projects are in the works today as a band or as individuals?
MB: We’re open to anything. I’m always busy with my scoring work.
BW: What is the key message that you would like to communicate to The Bacon Brothers Band’s audience and who do you perceive that your target audience is?
KB: For me it has always been about the songs, not the sound. We first became a band because we had recorded a bunch of songs, not because we had formed a band. The dream would be that one of the songs makes it into the popular culture. One-hit wonder? Great! Recorded by another artist? Great! Selling mattresses? Great! Just to feel that either one of us had written something that will stand the test of time would be amazing.
MB: I’m starting to see a lot more guys in the audience, which is encouraging. We have a small core group of fans, many which have become fans. I’d love to increase that number because they are a big part of our band.
Charley Burch is a writer and producer in Memphis, Tennessee.
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