Q&A: Stephen Kellogg Breaks Down the Sixers' Americana Sound, Play Revolution Tonight
Boston-bred Stephen Kellogg
& the Sixers attract affection and attention via the Everyman
ambitions of Springsteen, Mellencamp, and Petty. Chock-full of populist
appeal, the quartet melds affirmative anthems with the travails of
awkward boy/girl encounters and adolescent uncertainty. Passionate
delivery, a playful attitude, and a battery of propulsive melodies all
have earned Kellogg and his band kudos.
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
For starters, please give us an idea of your earliest influences and
those that still rub off on you now.
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.
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
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?
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.
give us any insight into your writing technique? What inspires you?
Are the songs as autobiographical as they seem?
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
What can you
tell us about your next album?
America... Really! Coming out this year!
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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