Singer/songwriter Stephen Kellogg made a name for himself over the last decade through relentless touring with his band The Sixers, making it to a total of a thousand shows played. Last year, the Sixers called for an amicable hiatus. Kellogg will release his first solo record, Blunderstone Rookery, on June 18th, with many of the Sixers making appearances.
I caught up with Kellogg as he prepared for his upcoming acoustic tour, which features a stop at the Red Cat in Birmingham on Wednesday, June 5th.
Chris K. Davidson for You Hear This?: For those of us who have not read David Copperfield, what is the story behind the name Blunderstone Rookery?
Stephen Kellogg: I love David Copperfield. It’s just a book that’s meant a lot to me when I’m having trouble in my own life and it’s given me a lot of answers. Blunderstone Rookery was his boyhood home and was a happy place for him when he was a kid and then became an unhappy place, but he made peace with it when he was a man. It was a good metaphor for what the music on the new album was about. It’s about going through some hard stuff and making your peace with it.
YHT: In the record you have some biting satire (“The Brain Is A Beautiful Thing”), pensive musings (“Men and Women”), desperate cries (“I Don’t Want to Die on the Road”) and expansive narratives (“Thanksgiving”). How do you reconcile that array of emotions into a cohesive album?
SK: I feel like my favorite records have a focus and a theme, but there’s also some level of variety. I still love making a record as opposed to just songs, so when I was looking at it, I wanted to have enough levity on the record so it’s not just all this big, heavy bummer. Even Peter Gabriel’s So has “Big Time” and “Sledgehammer” on it; it just makes “In Your Eyes” and “Don’t Give Up” impact more. With that kind of idea in mind, I just didn’t want to put all of the heavy stuff on the record. I think nobody is one emotion all of the time. You have these various sides and you try to present them and offer a little variety while hoping it’s still coming from the same human being.
YHT: What was the inspiration behind such a lengthy and involved track as “Thanksgiving”? From what I can tell in the press materials, you had a pretty dramatic year.
SK: I feel like when I was going into the record and knowing that it was a solo record, I felt it would be a good opportunity to have a song that was unusually long. I was working on this other thing called “The House I Grew Up In” and I was determined that that was going to be the long one, but it just wasn’t coming together and the music didn’t feel right. I grabbed onto this one line that ended up in “Thanksgiving” that said: “Those years we spent talking, learning to agree. The truth is I’m thankful you tolerated me.” That line felt like the doorway into that song (“Thanksgiving”) and I just walked into it and started exploring why that line was affecting me whenever I would sing it or see it. Then, I started digging through a bunch of other songs that I had written and started pulling things out of all those songs. I don’t know exactly what the inspiration was, but I just followed the beginning and ran with it. I co-wrote the song with Kit Karlson, who I produced the album with Chip Johnson, and I have worked with those guys for years. I felt comfortable diving into that song with those guys and we dove into it. When it was finally done, we agreed that that was what it was supposed to sound, but I don’t any of us knew what it would sound like until we got there.
YHT: Another song I want to talk about is “I Don’t Want to Die on the Road” because it name drops a lot of classic singer/songwriters (Jackson Browne, Jim Croce, Levon Helm).
SK: I have four daughters and I came to this moment last year where some of the people I had been playing music with for almost a decade were feeling like they needed to mix up what they had been doing. All that stuff scares me too. Am I going to be in my sixties riding in a van smoking Cloves and all that stuff? I’m afraid of all that stuff like everybody. It’s just what I do. I look at my heroes. I don’t want to die out here, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take every day because it’s what I do. That song came out of response to a few of my close friends’ decisions to not be on the road, but I’m going to continue this. Those fears continue to come up. I just read this great Jim Croce biography (I Got A Name), but that poor guy had a gold record and two songs in the Top Ten and he was making 200 hundred dollars a week. There have been some sad stories along the way. You give up a lot to share your music. If it’s what you do, it’s what you do.
Stephen Kellogg will be at the Red Cat in Birmingham on Wednesday, June 5th with tickets available at the door for $18. Milow will open at 8 p.m.