Interview: Inside the emotion of Kennedy’s debut solo record ‘Year of the Tiger’
In the year of the tiger, I won’t weep and moan. Got no time for cooling heels, I’ve got to roam…
…One find day, this too shall fade, you never know, never know, never know.
The quotes above — the opening line to Myles Kennedy’s debut solo record Year of the Tiger, and the final line of the record (and the very last thing you hear) as the storybook closes. By definition, both lyrics are solid bricks of optimism and encouragement, laid upon a foundation of inspiration. It’s a method Kennedy has been well-know for with his enthusiasm fronting, Alter Bridge and Slash and the Conspirators.
On Year of the Tiger, in between the aforementioned bookends also lies… “the sky rips open”, “like a whisper in the night, you slipped away”, “faith can be blind, but it cannot justify the tragedy of loves demise”, “I’m turning stones to leave the past behind”, “I’m my own worst enemy when I try to close my eyes”, the most thunderous “God Damn” you will ever hear, “Don’t be afraid to feel” and “Through our tragedies we find out who we are”… which in a way, is exactly what’s happening here. Sometimes you have to trudge through the tunnel to discover and fully appreciate the light at the end of it.
Let’s face it — what Kennedy is writing about on this incredibly moving, and somewhat conceptional record, is very heavy stuff. Having scrapped his initial solo effort, which was years in making, Kennedy ultimately decided to not only once-and-for-all confront this cloud that’s been hovering above, but he also cracks it open and courageously shares his immediate reaction with the world — pouring his heart and soul into every single word delivered.
It’s art. It’s raw emotion. It’s honesty. It’s pure passion. It’s personal. And it’s beautiful.
Like the relentless image in the official video, Kennedy keeps marching. Along the way, not only has he forged his own path, but he continues to be there for so many others with his musical generosity.
I recently had the chance to speak with Kennedy. Prepping at home in Spokane for the highly anticipated release, and on the heels of his solo tour announcement, Kennedy was as spirited as ever as we dug into the writing, feeling and cleansing result of Year of the Tiger.
“The promise still remains of what’s to come…”
So far, three songs have been introduced and you’re a few short weeks away from the official release of Year of the Tiger, and heading out on tour. What is the anticipation like, and how are you feeling?
I’m excited. I’m glad its done and that this is documented. There was a period there where my schedule was so busy that I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get to develop this side of my artistry — whoever I am as performer. It’s something I really needed to do for me. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised that people are giving it a chance. It means a lot to me. It’s very different. I think people are aware now that it isn’t a hard rock record. It’s more acoustic based and obviously the subject matter is very personal. So, I’m very appreciative at this moment.
When you decided to scrap the original solo record you had been working on and redirect to what became Year of the Tiger, is that when you began writing all the songs on the record or have some of them been with you for a while?
There were only two partial ideas that I had with me. The song “The Year of the Tiger” — the hook and the beginning lyrics were something I stumbled upon years ago. I think I was washing dishes or mowing the lawn, where a lot of times good ideas happen. I then recorded it into my phone and didn’t think much of it. It just kept coming back to me and reminding me it was there. Usually that’s a good sign. So, I decided to put a chord progression to it and build it. The song “Love Can Only Heal” was recorded in its entirety for the first record, but I wanted to get it closer to what the original demo was. I ended up pulling everything out of it and then rebuilt the entire vocal that I recorded in my basement. That’s the only completed song from the previous go-around.
When you make the conscious decision to create somewhat of a concept record, do you have to be in a certain environment to properly capture what you want to say? I’m curious as to where these songs were written?
I’m funny that way, I need everything to be in place. I need it to be quiet and to know that nobody is around. I’ve spoken to other songwriters who are the same way, you can get a little self-conscious when other people are in the room. You want to be able to experiment and make mistakes without other people discovering them. Most of this record was written while I was at home as far as the music and the melodies go. Lyrically, I can tackle on an airplane or in a hotel room. That’s a little different. Because of the gravity of these lyrics I needed to stay in a certain headspace. It was pretty heavy stuff, so for much of it, I wanted to stay secluded and do some soul-searching.
The tends to lead to the best art.
Yes, I agree.
When you are writing in a conceptional style where there is a story-line, does the songwriting mirror the sequence on the album?
No. In fact, putting the tracklist together took a long time to figure out the pacing and chronological sequence. It is somewhat of a story that unfolds. If I had the foresight and gift to know where everything was going to fit along the way, that would be a great skill to have. I wrote 20 songs for the record and then picked the top 12. I had no idea what the order was going to be.
It’s really great how the record starts with “Year of the Tiger” because there is this footstep beat of a drum serving as a foundation in the song. It hits you right away with an underlined theme throughout the record of “keep marching.” The video contains that as well with visuals of walking down the road.
Keep on keeping on. It’s funny, I never thought about that. I like that. For sure there is a theme throughout the record to keep pressing on. The tempo of that certainly fits nicely.
It’s like the opening of a film or the climb of a roller-coaster ride, where you start with “Year of the Tiger” and explode right into “The Great Beyond”. It’s a very powerful segue to you opening up your story here.
That’s interesting to hear, I like that analogy. I was very concerned initially in terms of pacing the record and having “The Great Beyond” as the second track. It’s the most different of all the tracks stylistically. “Year of the Tiger” is the preface to the story and “The Great Beyond” starts the story. It is about the act of death so there had to be an epic-ness to it with a dark quality. Really the only place to put it was the first or second track on the record. So, the rollercoaster concept is a perfect analogy.
I found myself clinging to the line “Love alone keeps us alive” throughout the record. It was like this constant blowing wind because it’s such a powerful sentiment in the journey.
Absolutely. It was crucial. Totally agree on that.
Your lyrics are typically so inspiring. But what is remarkable here is that you are not afraid to address the hard times and acknowledge the obstacles that you overcame. You have go through those situations and face them in order to get to the “love alone keeps us alive” sometimes.
You want the pendulum to shift in the opposing direction. It’s a balance and it’s always important to have that.
The record closes with “One Fine Day” and you end on a note of …it’s all going to work out somehow, it has to.
That song is essentially about the time before my mom met my stepfather. During that time and everything she endured throughout that year or two after my dad passed away, I always figured that even though she had my brother and I, she had to have been lonely at times and missed my father a lot. The idea that there was someone out there, in this case my stepfather, who is really a wonderful man, was waiting across the country and she didn’t even know it. It ultimately helped bring our family back together. “One Fine Day” is eluding to that. It was just around the corner, it was a heartbeat away at any moment. This massive hole in her life was going to be filled by this love and this new chapter. I felt like that was the perfect note to end the record on.
When you think of the essence of a solo record, to me, those that are the most moving are the ones that are brutally honest and take you inside the emotions of the moment with that given artist. Although this was a cathartic process for you personally, you are also incredibly open.
My thinking here was, since I play in these bands that are more of a hard rock thing, I felt like if I made a record that was more of that, it would not be interesting. As a singer, this was an opportunity to try something different and express another side of my musical DNA. There’s a certain formula with the way we approach things with Alter Bridge, and I really wanted to step away from that. It’s great, and I love what we do, but didn’t want to have any big anthemic choruses. I love those, but I didn’t think it would fit this because it’s so stripped down and personal. It had to be a totally different psychology in many different ways. I would agree though, I like when artists step into a solo record and it’s either very different or very personal. There has to be something there that separates them from the previous entity. Chris Cornell’s Euphoria Morning is a great example of doing that.
If you were to think about everything you went through in writing these songs, I’m sure there were some tough moments where you needed to collect yourself, but with where you are now having completed the record and it’s about to unleashed to the world, what does it mean to you?
I find a certain amount of solace in it. As life goes on, you start to realize that time is very finite. I’m very glad that while I am on this planet that I had the opportunity to do this. This is such an important thing for me to work through and leave behind. There’s a certain amount of healing to it. Hopefully people will listen and find solace themselves, and cathartic elements the way I found in writing the record. That’s something that really means a lot to me, and I’m really grateful for.
Myles Kennedy’s Year of the Tiger is out everywhere on March 9th
For special pre-order info visit MylesKennedy.com
Catch Myles Kennedy on tour starting March 13th:
Jeff Gorra’s Myles Kennedy/Alter Bridge catalog:
The Inspiration of Alter Bridge in 10 Stunning Lyrics
5 Reasons Why This Photo Captures Everything: Kennedy, Ancienne Belgique
Myles Kennedy Future Song guest article
Simon Dobson: the process of adding an orchestra to a rock concert
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