Friday, June 9, 2017
When someone discovers that a film star also plays music, it can instantly become little more than trivia. For longtime fans all over the world, though, the Bacon Brothers are a different story.
Actor Kevin Bacon, whose film and TV credits include "Footloose," "Apollo 13" and "The Following," and older brother Michael Bacon, who is an Emmy Award-winning composer, have co-fronted the band since 1995, with both serving as vocalists and primary songwriters.
Through two decades of touring and seven albums, the Bacon Brothers have also held a consistent lineup, featuring bassist Paul Guzzone, keyboardist Joe Mennonna, guitarist and mandolin-player Ira Siegel and drummer Frank Vilardi.
The musicians' latest tour brings them through Jackson for the first time on Monday, June 12. The Jackson Free Press recently gave the titular siblings a call to discuss their latest single, "Broken Glass," and what's next for the Bacon Brothers.
You've been playing together as the Bacon Brothers for more than 20 years now. How would you say your approach to music has changed?
Michael Bacon: I guess not much, really. I think it's more, to me, music is a lifelong pursuit, and I think what you do is, the longer you do it, the more you find out what you're really good at and sort of go after those things.
I don't really see it as we've really changed that much because we've been writing songs since we were kids together, and the songs that we're really driven towards in the band are really kind of songs we wrote about life experiences as opposed to sitting down in a room and trying to write a hit song, which we have done. But I think, in a lot of ways, the type of stuff and the way the band is now is what Kevin and I found out works for us best.
What would you say it is that you've decided, "OK, this is what we are, and this is what we do best"?
Kevin Bacon: Well, I think it's like Michael said—we're not the world's greatest players or the world's greatest singers, but we feel like the songs that we write are worth sharing. That's really what the band is about. It's really about sharing these songs, and the sharing of songs, you know, it can be a very vulnerable and personal thing to do because most of what we write is really based on personal experiences and in a lot of ways is, I would say, pretty revealing of who we are and how we feel about life and love, the world, and all that kind of stuff.
So if you write the songs and you're just singing them around your living room, at a certain point, you say, "You know, I want to play them for my friends, I want to play them for my family, and I want to play them for some people that I don't even know. I'm going to take that risk." And that's really what the band is.
Beyond sharing the music, what is the main priority for you when you step in front of an audience?
MB: I think that our main priority is putting on a really good show because we're entertainers. And people spend a lot of money to come see us for whatever reason, whether they're there just to come and check out a movie star, or they heard we can actually play.
To get there, I think that, first of all, it costs a lot of money. You can play with a fake Hammond B3 (organ), or you can play with a real B3. One is the size of a Volkswagen, and the other is the size of a desk, you know. When things come up where, "Can we make the show better?", that's always where we go. And you know, we really appreciate that people do want to come out and see us pretty much, so we feel like we have a job to do to give them a very worthwhile experience.
With a lot of bands that have sort of central figures, the other musicians may leave or be traded out. What is it about the guys in your band that has kept everyone together?
KB: You know, I guess they must like it, and we like them! They're ... incredible players, and the fact that they're not young cats means that they have this really, really strong kind of musical history between all of them, which is really helpful for our band, because our band really pops around from genre to genre. We play folky stuff, we play country stuff, we play rock stuff, soul stuff, funky stuff—you know what I mean? The fact that we're popping around all the time, it really helps to have players that have a really good knowledge of all that kind of music.
When you do jump around from genre to genre, is there ever a point where you say, "Well, this song isn't 'Bacon Brothers' to me," or where it feels like something wouldn't fit?
MB: I feel like we have a lot of diversity. If you put it the other way around, we're going from the audience, and sometimes we play in some very, very funky clubs, and sometimes we play at corporate parties. So we can adjust to just about anything, and I think we've been pretty successful at that. And that's kind of the thing: If someone gives you a job, it's your job to fit into what the job is, not for the job to fit into what you're doing.
Most recently, you've been focused on singles, like "Driver" in 2016, "Broken Glass" earlier this year and "Two Rivers," which you'll be releasing in the near future. Why did you decide to go that route as opposed to an EP or a full-length again?
KB: You know, it's a good question. I mean, I sort of feel like, "Why not do a bunch of singles and then turn them into an album?" These days, to me—and I think we kind of differ on this because Mike's a little more old school and likes the idea of having an album, being able to hold it in your hands and stuff. To me, I think having a song and a video, really, it just seems to be (right).
And the other thing is that we started playing "Two Rivers" and playing "Broken Glass" and "Driver," and we wanted to go in and record them. So then, we'd have to write six or seven more songs and try to kind of cram six or seven more songs in and schedule to try to make a record. It's like, "Why not just put them out there?" I mean, these days, you know what the music business is like. You're really just throwing sh*t against the wall and seeing what sticks, just again and again and again.
MB: The other problem is that people don't have (CD) drives in their computers anymore, which I find really bizarre. My new laptop doesn't have a drive on it, and I can't stand it, but there it is. If you have a CD out, but there's no place to play it, then you've just got to move on.
KB: They make good coasters.
Kevin, in the band's bio, you mentioned that, specifically with "Broken Glass," the song took a long time and didn't necessarily come together easily. How do you handle that as a songwriter?
KB: I think you kind of walk away, and you see if it pulls you back. If it doesn't pull you back, then I guess it was never meant to be. If it does pull you back, you keep chipping away at it. ... "Broken Glass" was unusual because, usually, I find that the music and the lyrics are sort of coming simultaneously, but in "Broken Glass," I really had the lyric for a long time, and I really liked the lyric. It felt like it was strong, and there was very little I had to do to change it.
But it was really a question of trying to figure out, you know, just musically where it was going to go. I played with all kinds of different things, all kinds of different tempos, styles, rhythms and changes. I just kept throwing them out and throwing them out. Then, that "Here it comes" thing, just kind of going back and forth between the major and the minor, just felt kind of unsettling to me in a way. I was like, "OK. It's kind of weird, but that's sort of what I'm going for."
"Two Rivers" isn't out yet, but a lot of fans know it from videos or from seeing you perform it live. What was it like to record that when some listeners have their ideas of what it should sound like?
MB: I think the longer you wait to record a song after playing it live, the better, because every time you sing it, you learn a little something about it. And I think the way the music business is, it's so crazy, and I think people don't see things sort of in a linear fashion. I think things jump all around. They'll have a version of this, and then six months later, there's something else, so I think that's all kind of good and kind of fun.
The Bacon Brothers perform at 7:30 p.m., Monday, June 12, at Duling Hall (622 Duling Ave.). Tickets are $45 in advance, $50 at the door, and $75 for VIP passes. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit ardenland.net.