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The Bacon Brothers on Willie Nelson, Getting Creative in the Studio, and Unapologetically Wearing Sunglasses

'Sometimes, not always, songs can have a cinematic sort of vibe, and sometimes it's fun to play around with that,' Kevin Bacon says.

Source: Jacob Blinkenstaff

Kevin and Michael Bacon have released their 12th studio album as the Bacon Brothers.

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More than just a celebrity side project, the Bacon Brothers are a genuine musical force. Led by the ever-charismatic Kevin Bacon and his musically gifted brother Michael, the band has been crafting a distinctive blend of folk, rock, soul and country for 30 years. Nicknamed "forosoco," their sound is a testament to artistic exploration, drawing on their Philadelphia upbringing and offering a rich tapestry of catchy tunes and heartfelt storytelling.

The duo's twelfth studio album, The Ballad of the Brothers was released today, April 19th. And while there's tons to dig into via a double Zoom call, you're more than likely to just kick back in a comfortable chair (like Michael) or sofa (like Kevin) and listen to some alt-rock, ethereal gospel and Americana folk that highlights the distinct songwriting approaches of Kevin and Michael while still celebrating their shared musical roots.

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One thing that jumped out to me about this album is that it felt like a journey.

Kevin: I wish it was that thought out, you know. I've been thinking about albums as a whole and there are a lot that have one idea or a point of view. I was listening to Rumors by Fleetwood Mac. It holds together because they're all playing together. But it's really varied, because you have three writers in the band. There's only one song that everybody wrote together. I think that's what happens with us. There’s maybe one song on the record that we actually wrote together. The rest of it we collaborate on, and we bring different musical points of view and musical sensibilities. We’re always interested in the input of the players that end up playing, and the handful of producers that are also on the record. But we don't kind of go for one cohesive sound or idea. It's cool that you think of it as a point A to point B. But it certainly wasn't. Not by design.

Michael: Well, I'll add one thing to that, that when you finish all the songs, and it's a long process, as you know, and you get them mixed. And then the management calls up, saying ‘Well, we're doing the album cover. What's the sequence?’ So you take each one of the songs and you put them on a little piece of paper. and I spend the next month rearranging them in every possible way and then take a picture of it. Send it to Kevin. He'll weigh in on it.

qbaconbrotherslive leslieberg
Source: Leslie Berg

Michael and Kevin Bacon take their show on the road.

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On your first song, Kevin, "Take Off This Tattoo," you added little synth bits and a little alt-y edge. Do you work at different arrangements before you commit?

Kevin: 'Tattoo' was produced by my son. From a production standpoint, it can go a million different ways. We decided take it out of specifically being a country song and my son has a real sensibility. He really works great with sent stuff and can build great drum tracks and atmospheric stuff. So we said, ‘See if you can do something with this.’ So that is the way that one worked. And then you go all the way on the other side of the spectrum to something like... Michael, what's that instrumental called?

Michael: "Freestanding."

Kevin: That’s just completely from his brain. Just notated.

qbacon brothersloverocksnyc
Source: ZUMAPRESS.com / MEGA

The Brothers onstage in 2018.

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‘Ballad of the Brothers (The Willie Door)’ was somewhat autobiographical, correct?

Michael: I'm an old folkie and talking blues, Woody Guthrie... that's where I live. And I love the Charlie Daniels story. The Faust story of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." It's been told a million times in different ways. So, we play this place in Texas called Gruene Hall, and it is about the most different place that we could end up in, as two guys that grew up on the mean streets of Philadelphia. It's a whole culture that exists so independently of what we were brought up with. So, I tried to figure out, "How can I connect these avatars of Kevin and I?" Because we're not actually those two brothers.

And funny story: I must have written this song a couple of years ago, maybe even more, and we decided to launch it at Gruene Hall. And nobody knew it. I mean, we practiced it a couple of times, and I didn't have the lyrics yet, so I carefully wrote them out. Brought them over to the club, and when we were going on I realized I'd forgotten them! What I should have done was say, ‘No, let's take that song out of the set.' The guys were playing great. And I was just mumbling and somehow people actually thought it was funny. So we'll try to rescue our failures in a couple of weeks at Gruene Hall and see if we can get through it without screwing up.

Source: ℗ © Michael Bacon/The Bacon Brothers/2024 FOROSCO Music under exclusive license to Forty Below Records/YouTube

The Bacon Brothers ~ Ballad Of The Brothers (The Willie Door)

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It was quite nice because it presents itself like we're almost into "Alice's Restaurant."

Michael: It is. The story song is actually the hardest kind. Most songs are written about a static timeframe: I love you, you don't love me. To write a song that goes from one period to another is really challenging. I love doing that.

With the cover songs that are on this album, your rendition of "Dreams of the San Joaquin" was just heart-stopping.

Michael: Thank you. One of my oldest friends [Jack Routh] who I met in Nashville in the '70s, wrote that. He has a way like a lot of Nashville writers to keep it really simple. Let the song breathe through. I'm really proud of that cut and thank you for mentioning that.

I went back and listened to several versions, including Randy Sharp's. You seem to capture that version of the song so well, because I think that's what it deserves.

Michael: What's interesting about Randy, who co-wrote with my friend Jack, is when you first hear the song, it's about an area of the country with a Spanish name. You assume it's really more about the current crisis that we have in immigration and the fact that people come here. They can't bring their families, and they gotta do whatever they can to send money back, or they gotta get back.

The funny thing about Randy is he is an Okie and Jack is from Kansas. They saw it as a Spanish thing. And I looked at it as well it's more universal. Because the irony is the same thing that Randy and Jack's ancestors went through is exactly the same thing that the people from the south coming up are going through.

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Source: ℗ © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC/Randy Sharp/YouTube

Randy Sharp "Dreams Of The San Joaquin"

And then the other cover. I saw the title, and I was like "Is this 'We Belong?'" How did that come about?

Kevin: I guess it's probably 10 years or so ago. I had made a playlist of things that I thought might be fun to cover and then I demoed it. Kind of taking it out of that synth-y era that it was recorded in and just wanted to make it more like a rock song. Just more guitars. Analog instruments. Then, when we were trying to come up with stuff for a whole album, I sent it to Mike and said, "What do you think about this one?" And he said we definitely should cut that. We've never played that live. We sent it to the band and went into the studio, and they just killed it.

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A lot of artists are exploring ambient sound effects. You did a little bit of that in "Put Your Hand Up" with the school bell ringing.

Kevin: It was like the idea that I was speaking to a classroom: you have to raise your hand. And then... where else did we do it? Oh, I did it on "Old Bronco." I went into the garage and recorded my actual old Bronco trying to start up and then dying at the end of the song. If you listen carefully, you can hear it die. Kinda morbid. I mean, it's not dying. It's just stalling. Michael put the mouth engine sounds on it.

The other thing we did on "Airport Bar" was add Kyra [Ed. note: Kevin's wife]. The guy is trying to get in touch with this woman, and they've had a falling out. So I wrote this sort of little answer part and processed it so it sounds like you're listening to it through a telephone, but it's supposed to be an outgoing message that she leaves: I can't come to the phone. I may or may not be at home, may or may not be alone. Leave a message. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes songs to me can have a cinematic sort of vibe, and sometimes it's fun to play around with that.

Source: ℗ © Kevin Bacon/The Bacon Brothers/2024 FOROSCO Music under exclusive license to Forty Below Records/YouTube

The Bacon Brothers - Put Your Hand Up

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There was one song, "Let That Be Enough," that sounded like you were live in the studio. It sounded very rustic, and there was this sound of scraping something across a wooden floor.

Michael: Oh, I know what it was. There's a sound that if you hit the note in the piano and then you took a piece of metal and put it on the string... it was that sound. It does evoke something of being in a room. I never really thought about that way, but I think that's why I was drawn to that particular sound. I pretty much did everything myself. And then we added the other guys and Kevin on background vocals. And yeah... I don't know where that came from, but it's it's definitely kind of different. Which is what I like about it.

Have you found any differences in the sound that you're getting in the studio from your band than what happens when you go out on the road?

Kevin: So we were out a lot during the writers and actors strike. In the best of all possible situations, you would take a song out. You'd play it for three months on the road, and then you'd cut it. Because you can learn a lot by playing a song live. Things about groove and tempo and arrangements. But that's not always the case.

It's fun when we work on something in the studio, and then get a chance to go out and play it. The songs tend to find their way in and out of the set, based on how we all feel about playing them and the shape of the set and the way that people react to to the songs. For sure, if you throw a new player in there absolutely it's gonna be different. But when you bring in a new player, it's really exciting. We went out and played four or five shows that were local, and we brought keys back in. We hadn't played with keys for a long time. This guy was a new keyboard player. Fantastic keys and accordion. Also a great great singer. So we lay it out at with another vocal. Love doing that.

And what about you, Michael? What's interesting is that you talk about work-shopping songs, whatever they happen to be, and then you go in and record. Some people say that they can't do that. They have to have a song and then go out on the road. Do you find you're comfortable going either way?

Michael: Well, the records I made in Nashville was, you book the session, the best players that are available that day, some of whom you might not even know. And you go in the studio, basically with a bunch of strangers. But they're big name players. And then when you go on the road. there's your band. I feel I'd rather have the live band and the studio band be the same thing. I sort of feel like a really loyal person. It would be unfair to our guys. The amount of time and investment they've done in the band over these 30 years to say, 'Oh, by the way we're going in the studio, and we're not gonna use you.'

Kevin: Makes me think, you know, when we recorded "Take Off This Tattoo": My son lives in LA. So of course he programmed it. We used an LA drummer that he knew. We brought some tracks from a fiddle player in from Philadelphia. So when you say, "Well, I want to start playing this live" and then you go back to the band and they're not on it at all, they're not cranky about it. They're like, "Okay, great. Let's learn how to play the song." And you know, they play the s--t out of it.

That's the thing about good musicians. I'm always struck with the ins and outs and the difficulties and the personalities and the egos and all that stuff. That stuff gets a lot of attention. But I think most good artists really like to make their art. Actors like to act, singers like to sing. Players like to play.

Michael: Good name for a song! [Laughs]

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Source: ℗ © The Bacon Brothers/YouTube

Perfect Pitch

During the strike, did you look at that time as a gift? It was a bit of a hiccup, but did you take advantage of it?

Kevin: In terms of schedule, there were no conflicts. Except for Covid. That was the only real conflict that we had. I can't say that I was happy that there was a strike so we could play. But on the other hand, it is great when, for whatever reason, I'm unable to do one thing that I do creatively, I have something else to do.

Coming out of the pandemic, I know that there's been a lot of talk about this live music resurgence. I think people want to go out and see shows and be together in crowds to see music. All you gotta do is look at the size of tours these days. It's completely unprecedented for some of the giant acts. And in our tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny little version of that, the shows we're doing went really well. We played a lot of shows in 2023 that had a lot of people in the seats. So that's good. That just feels good. Show up wherever you happen to be and there's people who came to hang out.

What are your favorite kind of venues? How tiny are you talking about?

Michael: For me, if I really want to put out the best, probably a 1,200 seat theatre. But at the same time, Gruene Hall is sold out. It's been sold out for a while. It's in the summer. It's about 80 degrees. Everybody's very happy. And if you can make that place rock, but also be able to play our more sensitive stuff. That's been something I'm seeing more and more. We play a club in Dewey Beach, Delaware, which is very similar to Gruene Hall. Just a wild pack, standing crowd, Jello shots everywhere. And the last time we played there I felt really quite satisfied that we were able to rock out and people had a good time. We also were able to put across some songs that are a little more small and focused.

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Source: ℗ © Live From Daryl's House/YouTube

Daryl Hall and The Bacon Brothers - It's All Over Now

Have you ever done stadium shows either as an opening act or headlining?

Kevin: We did. We opened for Daryl Hall and John Oates at Nassau Coliseum [in 1995]. What's funny about that is, when you start playing the show, you lose a little bit of a sense of how big the place is. Because in our own way, even though we're trying to put it out there in every way we can, what we're really hearing is in our ears. You really have to focus on just playing well. It's intimidating, certainly, to look at a big crowd of people.

One of the biggest shows we've ever done we did last year, which was in Minneapolis at the Minnesota State Fair. It was a free show and it turns out that this is a giant state fair. Like, five square miles, and gets millions and millions of people. I don't know... it was seven or eight thousand people. That was a lot for us to play and they were definitely there to hear us. So that was an exciting show. Also, when you were playing outside, it's a little different, because you actually can see everybody, which can be good and bad. But you have a real connection to the audience.

Especially if it's a sunny daytime show, you do wear sunglasses?

Kevin: If the sun is in my face, I will unapologetically wear sunglasses. I don't care if it looks like I've tried to look cool. I don't want macular degeneration!

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Source: BILL GREENBLATT/UPI/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Kevin, unapologetically wearing sunglasses in 2013.

Do you have a specific audience that you see over and over again? There's a joke: "I saw you 30 years ago, and now I'm bringing my teenage son to see you." Do you have those kind of stories?

Michael: I don't think it's the audience that has really changed that much. I think we've been doing this for so long that they pretty much know what to expect, and we have a small but mighty fan base that generally will come out, including our four sisters.

I made my first record in 1969. So I've really watched the music business unfold, going through all these things, but I always come back down to if you can get this song out in front of people, and it's the right song at the right time it will make its way through all the log jams that are put in front of touring bands. We always have to go back to, "What is it that we do really well? And how do we get really good at being that?" We'll see if we get some radio play on the "Brothers" song!


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