Singer Myles Kennedy on Alter Bridge, Slash and Led Zeppelin
Myles Kennedy is a stellar vocalist with one of the most unique voices in rock today. Born Myles Richard Bass, he is the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for Alter Bridge. While on hiatus with Alter Bridge, hesang for one of the greatest guitarists in rock today — Slash, as part of his backing band Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, and to top it off, he has even jammed with members of one of rock’s most hallowed bands — Led Zeppelin. Seoul Journal talked with Myles Kennedy about his early introduction to music, bands that he has worked with and the rock music industry as a whole.
SJ : Can you tell us briefly how you got started in music?
KENNEDY: I think it was music in general. My mom nudged me to take up an instrument when I was young. I was 10 years old and she said, "I would really love for you to have the opportunity that I didn't have growing up playing an instrument. What would you like to play?" So I picked up the trumpet. I started in the school band and we got on the rental program — renting the trumpet every week. That was a good thing, because a few years later when I wanted to play the guitar, playing the trumpet helped to establish a musical foundation that made it so the guitar wasn't as difficult or as challenging as a lot of the fundamentals were already there for me. So, it helped me advance a little quicker in that respect.
SJ : How did Alter Bridge start?
KENNEDY: Alter Bridge started after Creed had been around for a few years and recorded three records. Mark, Scott and I wanted to go a different direction. They gave me a call — I think Thanksgiving, in the year 2003. Abouta month later I was in Orlando and I was working on my first record. Fifteen years later, here we are.
SJ: Do you think the relationship between the members of the band changes at all when you're in the studio or when you're on tour?
KENNEDY: Not really. I think there's a certain level of trust and understanding as far as what everybody brings to the table. It's really made it so that we're creative. We have a good understanding of each person and it helps build the filter process of how songs come to be. I think that's been the best thing.
How was working with Slash different than working with Alter Bridge?
KENNEDY: Well, it's a different process. With Slash, most of the time, he has an actual clear vision of what the music is going to sound like, so he'll send me the rough ideas.I would come up with a melody and lyric for it and then send it back; if he was cool, he would start to work with Brent and Todd and put the arrangements together. So it's very different. It's like there's a musical canvas that I paint over with the melodies and lyrics. Whereas with Alter Bridge, we build that canvas together.
SJ: I see. What were your thoughts on Slash reuniting with Guns & Roses?
KENNEDY: I thought it was great. I saw the first show in Vegas and it was really great to see those guys play those songs together again. It definitely brought me back to a lot of great memories.
SJ: I understand that you composed new music and rehearsed with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham?
KENNEDY: Well, there were two songs that they had — not even songs. They were basically riffs and ideas that when we were jamming together, I basically scatted over the top of.That was a very special moment. They weren't officially recorded. Therewasn’t news that a record was coming out. Basically, there were rehearsals and those songs werejammed. They were really cool, great riffs and what you'd expect from Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. Jason put some really cool drum parts where the foundation went. As a Led Zeppelin fan, it was a very fun thing to be a part of.
SJ: Was it difficult separating yourself from being a musician and having a fanboy moment?
KENNEDY: It was nearly impossible [laughs]. I was definitely fanboying out — geeking out, so to speak!
SJ: Who are your favorite bands at the moment?
KENNEDY:I love Gojira, I think they're very important to the evolution of where things are going with hard rock and metal. I’m a big Mastodon fan — really excited they have a new record. There's a band called Highly Suspect, which I really dig. I dig the vocals and I think John is a really great singer. They're a New York band. Those are just a few
SJ: Who are your favorite vocalists?
KENNEDY: I love Jeff Buckley. He was a really big inspiration to me. When Stevie Wonder was on Sesame Street —that was my first musical memory of seeing somebody perform, and that had a pretty profound effect on me. There are just so many that came along that have inspired me over the years. Ella Fitzgerald was a really big one for me. I really love the quality of her voice — how she would take a standard and make it her own.
SJ: I understand you started out more in the jazz field. Do you have any plans to pursue that direction again in your musical career?
KENNEDY: Maybe someday. I definitely have an appreciation for it and love it. It's a great American art form, but for how proficient I was at it, I don't know. It would be something that I would want to study more and become better at before actually recording and doing that for any sort of extended period of time as far as touring and what not goes.
SJ: Is there any artist that you would really want to work with that you haven't already worked with?
KENNEDY: Stevie Wonder. That would be pretty awesome. That would be on par with the Zeppelin experience because Stevie is the very first musical memory that I have. He's a genius
SJ: I understand that before Alter Bridge, you felt disillusioned with the music business, is that correct?
KENNEDY: Yeah, I recorded two records for a major label in the late 90s. It was about five years of slugging it out in that respect. I just needed some downtime after that. I learned a lot about how the industry works and it's not always that easy. So, I'm extremely lucky to be a guy who has gotten a second chance with how my career has turned out, because a lot of the time you just get that one chance and that's it. I'm really grateful for that.
SJ: Have you ever been hit by that feeling of disillusionment again? Do you have advice for aspiring musicians?
KENNEDY: Oh sure. Life's not always easy. Being a musician has its ups and downs, but you just have to remember that at the end of the day, if you love it enough and you hopefully made people happy, you just get back on the horse and keep riding. I just try to be more resilient than I was early on. I realized how good I have it, how lucky I am to be able to make music and I don't want to be tarnished because of a bad attitude. I definitely am trying to keep everything in perspective.