The Zen of Being
By: Abbe Davis
Dec. 18, 2019
There isn’t much I can ask him, that hasn't already been asked. Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, Myles Kennedy has been around for over ten years now and, besides his own solo projects, Alter Bridge, working with Slash, GNR, and Mark Tremonti, I’m sure he’s been asked everything. In this case, I decide to just stick to Myles' unique experiences in life.
One of the unique experiences of Myles Kennedy’s life includes having grown up with Christian Science around him. When Myles was just four years old, his father refused medical treatment due to dogma, and Myles lost his dad. Years later Myles’ mom went on to marry a Methodist minister, and the family took the surname of Kennedy.
Myles’ background can be summed up as such: Born in Boston, MA, raised in Idaho and then in Spokane, WA, where he went to college there and studied Music. In 1990 Myles was in a jazz ensemble called Cosmic Dust. His next band was Citizen Swing, which disbanded by 1996. Through Citizen Swing, he and Craig Johnson formed a groove band called The Mayfield Four. Yet, after two albums, they disbanded due to a hearing disorder Myles developed by 2002. Myles went on hiatus to deal with depression.
By 2003 Velvet Revolver asked Myles to join their band, yet he declined. In 2004 he joined Alter Bridge to work with Mark Tremonti. They have had six successful albums since that time. While Alter Bridge was on tour in 2008, Kennedy and some members of the legendary, Led Zeppelin, improvised in an informal jam session, and yes, that is about it.
He then started working with Slash, was featured on two tracks of the 2010 Eponymous Solo Album, and became Slash’s vocalist on tour. With Slash, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators have recorded three studio albums.
Kennedy's debut solo album, Year of the Tiger, was released in March 2018, and was cathartic for him to work through the loss of his father at a young age, and to also pay tribute to his mom.
This past December of 2019, Altar Bridge released their latest album, Walk the Sky, featuring the hit single, “Wouldn’t You Rather.” As always, another album of force, intention, rock energy, fluctuating patterns, captivating in passion and grit.
Myles Kennedy is a compelling front man who can fluctuate from an intimate rendition of Buckley’s “ Hallelujah” on Buckley’s axe, to a rocking Altar Bridge tune, like Metalingus, where he belts it out and allows the spirit of music to come through him, channeling it well.
Many artists don’t stop to wonder how good they truly are, because they are being who they are, and living it. Most of them are so much a part of the action of it, that they don’t bother to overthink why the audience is drawn to them. Those kinds of artists, are there to be in it, give, and enjoy the experience of it. Like a river, they work at it and see where it goes.
That is the Zen of Myles Kennedy. His vocals soar, and then fall to a whisper, dynamics, emotion, real. His guitar playing has a separate voice; a dialogue and companion to his strong vocal. It blends, it is truth, it is Myles. Speaking to him was enjoyable because of his intent. Inform, be real, no magic here, yet grateful, warm, funny and true. He is a workhorse, yet when you speak to him, he is all there in the moment. That is a gift or a practice. Maybe that is the key in this business and art form. Be ready so that you can also enjoy and seize the moments. They are fleeting, they fly by, and they can be magical and centering. We begin:
TRR: Hi Myles, how are you doing? Where are you?
MK: Good Abbe, how are you doing?
TRR: Great! Where are you?
MK: I am in....Where are we? (laughing) In Amsterdam.
TRR: (laughing) If you have to ask, must be a pretty good schedule, eh?
MK: Exactly. Everyday I don't know where I am.
TRR: (laughing) That's great, congratulations on Year of the Tiger and Walk the Sky. All excellent.
MK: Thank you very much.
TRR: I wanna also ask you, Paris at the Olympia, tell me about how you got to do "Hallelujah" on Jeff Buckley's guitar?
MK: About a year ago I met some guys who run a cool guitar store in Paris, and they happened to have THE guitar, the '83 Telecaster. I visited their store and they have some cool instruments in there, ones that iconic players have used, so it's heaven on earth, and I gravitated to that one, played by Jeff Buckley, because of his influence on me. So they mentioned to me how, next time I'm in Paris, would I be interested in playing it?
MK: I was very flattered that they offered this to me, but it was obviously something that I had to think about. It's pretty sacred ground. That was the genesis of it. They asked me about three months ago.
TRR: Wow. Is it nerve-wracking? How did it it feel when you agreed to do it, in the moment?
MK: Hm, well, I think there were so many different variables that evening. One of them was how it was at the Olympia, which is where he recorded his live record in the 90's for two nights there- a record I used to listen to constantly. So to be standing on that stage, with his guitar, it was really heavy. Initially, I'm funny that way. The artists I have incredible respect for, like Jeff, I try to be aware of what the appropriate or inappropriate thing to do or not do. I got to a point where maybe I was overthinking it.
MK: Then I said to myself, "Let's just have this be a tribute to Jeff and to Leonard Cohen, it's music, stop overanalyzing it." So I think once that switch was pressed, it felt right. It ended up being a wonderful thing. It was an honor.
TRR: I'm sure. Sounds amazing. It is gorgeous. I want to speak to what you just said. When you're working at a fast pace, on so many projects, do you think there is that tendency to overthink, since you are juggling so much? You're so good at doing a lot, but people do overthink. Is that one of the vagaries of the process of taking on a lot?
MK: Yah, I think some of us (laughing) tend to overthink, I'm guilty of that. I feel that sometimes people over analyze every little detail,from songwriting to how to present it on stage, or on social media. It gets to the point where you just need to stop over analyzing the thing, and just trust your gut. Go with the flow.
TRR: Does songwriting come to you fast? Is crafting from then on easier when it does go on that way? That flow, opening up the channels?
MK: Yah, it's funny but, ask most songwriters and they'll tell you, how, a lot of songs, the most favored or popular songs happened quickly. It wasn't something where you had to chase it down forever. Unfortunately, that's a pretty rare thing for me. I wish it happened more frequently, but when itedoes, when that lightning strikes, you just do your best to channel it, document it, and hopefully something good will come of it.
TRR: Obviously, it has. You’ve done so many great things, musically. I’m wondering, along with songwriting, to tap into it, your vocal is amazing. So, when you work on music, what challenges you more, guitar playing, or singing? On tour, what do you have to care for the most?
MK: Oh, definitely my voice, I have to be very aware of sleeping, what I’m eating, talking. That’s a big one. I try to be pretty quiet on the road. I love to talk, as you can guess right now. As you can see here.
TRR: Listen, that’s easier for me, rather than you not talking.
MK: Right, giving you two word answers, (laughing) Actually, I have a friend who is a singer, he said,
“It’s a lonely life as a singer on the road,” cause a lot of times you just sit quietly in your dressing room, and your hotel room, and you don’t use your voice a lot. You tend to just keep quiet, to just save it for the show. Especially when you do it a lot on tour.
TRR: What about goals for guitar? Obviously you're songwriting, yet to you, for you, anything?
MK: Guitar playing is my first love. I love it. After I get off of this call, I’ll sit in my room and work on learning leads, and on my improving, It’s therapeutic and meditative. Yet, if I have something challenging, I have to warm up and make sure my digits feel limber. A lot of us guitarists, you’d be amazed at how many, are wood-shedding, getting ready for the show.
TRR: Yah, Mark told us he does that a lot before a show.
MK: Oh Yah, he does.
TRR: Makes sense. Let’s go back to “Hallelujah.” Why do you think that particular song, I mean, it never gets old, how does it feel for you to sing it? Why do you think we all love to sing it, etc?
MK: It’s interesting, that’s what I find compelling about that song. I’ve never extracted a direct meaning about it. It’s this ambiguous emotion. You take that beautiful melody, a simple chord progression, and the poetry of Leonard Cohen, and it has that magic. Its almost like looking at a Pollock painting, where it’s so abstract, and you’re like, what is this?
TRR: Whoever is listening to it, can experience whatever.
MK: Exactly, that’s the genius of it. It’s not a direct boy- meets- girl, boy- loses- girl. It’s like, insert your own meaning into it. It is so powerful anytime I have the opportunity to sing it. You immerse yourself in it and it takes you somewhere else. It’s just one of the greatest songs ever written.
TRR: That song can quiet a room and transport people in ways that they may not even understand.
MK: Very well said.
TRR: I wanna take you back. Growing up in Spokane, Washington, you were kind of, and correct me if I’m wrong, "hit over the head with Christian Science?" Did you feel that pressure growing up? How did you break through to do Rock music? I mean, being inspired by Rock musicians who were ripping their shirts off, hearing that music, did you feel guilty or…?
MK: (laughing) It’s interesting, with Christian Science, yah, I was brought into this world with a Christian Science family, and then, by the time I was 5 or 6 my mom had moved on from that. She still had some of that belief system, but I think she started to change her perspective a bit. She met my stepdad, he was and is a Methodist minister, so we took a 180, more laid back spiritual environment. With that said, when I started getting into Hard Rock and Metal, I think it was an interesting period for my parents to see, “What’s happening to our son and, “Should we be concerned about this?”
It was really great the way they handled it. I think they saw that I was finding my identity as a young person, and I think they were happy to see me happy. Finding my place, and that’s why I’m such an advocate to kids having that.
TRR: I know people don’t like to go overboard talking about their beliefs, and all of the divide out there, yet, when you’re writing, what do you feel it is all about, with your day in and day out? Agnostic, Atheist, to you, what is it all about? You do charity work and, well, what is it that resonates and works for you spiritually?
MK: To try and be decent, to do the right thing. I may not believe in a lot of things I was raised to believe in, yet that is not the software that works with my operating system. The truths I apply that resonate for me, are more Eastern in origin. Buddhism, and this and that is what works for me. I feel good, but I’m not going to sit there and tell anyone what to believe. My beliefs help me navigate through life. At the end of the day, I still don’t know it all. I am probably an Agnostic. I don’t claim there is or isn’t a God. I don’t know.
TRR: Sometimes there is strength in admitting that you don’t know. To be exploring and finding out is not a bad thing. With Year of the Tiger, losing your dad, have you resolved some things about the loss of him; having spilled it out into your solo album? What have your resolved about that?
MK: Yes I have. I feel like that album was the best therapy I could have embarked upon. It’s hard to sum it up. In writing the songs, there was some closure and I think, more than anything, that doing that record reminded and informed me about what an incredible woman my mother was. Spending enough time there made me aware of what she was going through, and how she took me and my little brother and moved ahead like a hero. Having lost the love of her life, she could have cracked, but she didn’t. She was steadfast and amazing. It made me appreciate my mother, and there were questions I worked through about my father, so I got things off of my chest. I feel better.
TRR: Is she alive, your mother?
TRR: Ok, so what does she say about all of this? I wanna say, it struck me, when you did your song about her, "Mother" I love how in the video, you get people clapping, like “ Now, come on, let’s hear it for my mom!”
MK: (laughing a lot) No…but next time I play that song, that’s what I’m going to be thinking about,”Clap for my mom!”
TRR: (Maybe people close to me are right, maybe I am a nut....nah....) Hey, that’s what I got out of it. "It's my mom!"
MK (still laughing) That’s funny. So, my mom, in the last couple of months, has been saying how she likes that record, and I think she even has said it’s her favorite one. That was a big sigh of relief. It meant a lot.
TRR: Wow. And she knew what it was about, right? (laughing)
TRR: Cause that would be weird if she didn’t. "No, it wasn’t about tigers 'n stuff, mom, no."
MK: No, exactly. Ha.
TRR: That’s so wonderful how you can share pouring your heart into it, and then being able to share it with her.
MK: Thank you.
TRR: Besides working with Slash, Mark Tremonti, the obvious greats, do you have some experiences where you look back on the past ten, fifteen years, what are some highlights?
MK: There are so many. You’re talking to one of the luckiest goof bags in the business. I’ve had a string of good luck, to say the least. With Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Jason Bonham, back in 2008; just being in the same rehearsal room with them for a little while was amazing, and something I’ll never forget. There have been things some people might not understand as being as profound, or as having an effect. Some performances, like on the solo run, with my friends, taking the chance, doing that. I’d known Zia (Uddon) since eighth grade, so …
TRR: Yah, cause you’re like 25 now, right?
MK: (laughing) Oh, yah, exactly! We had a blast, there’s a lot of goofing off that goes on with us. Zia, he is the first guy that ever got me drunk. He was a total troublemaker, but we’d get these gigs, so it was so great to tour the world with them.
TRR: Do you believe in fate, you never auditioned for Velvet Revolver, tinnitus, being on hiatus, the opportunities, correct me in a second, I just wanna see if I’m right here.
MK: (laughing) OK.
TRR: What got you to work with Tremonti, or how did you get unstuck?
MK: Good question, there were a few things. When I walked away from recording and touring, I needed to collect my thoughts and figure out what I wanted to do. Iw as disillusioned, I didn’t know where to go. I felt like I wasn’t ready at that point so I respectfully declined. I stayed in my world. By the time Mark and the guys reached out, I had sorted it out in my head and was hungry to make music again. When I heard what they were doing, I felt like it could be something that would be a good fit, I felt like we had similar views musically- most paramount being, that melody is an important part of the equation. I felt like we had melody in conjunction with compelling riffs; the foundation of what Alter Bridge is about. It felt like the right move, to get my cleats back on and get back out on the field.
TRR: Interesting, what happened with the tinnitus. Has that been resolved? Where does it go? Where does tinnitus go? Do you hear a ringing while I’m talking?
MK: (laughing) It doesn’t stop. When I first discovered that I had it, it freaked me out when they told me what I had. Yet, through technology, inner ear monitors, those have been the game-changer, to where you can monitor yourself in a controlled environment, where you won’t do more damage to your ear. My thing was that, if I kept doing what I had been doing, I’d blow it out. However, once technology got so good, that was the game changer for me, and thank goodness for that.
TRR: It is cool. It’s a great tool. When I ask you this, it is because you’ve done so much, I’m trying to figure out what other direction you might want to take or not. Besides charity, the recording for Cancer Research, the prevention of child abuse, being on the board of the Mead Food Bank, Future Songs, (funding for kids to be able to have instruments in schools or access to instruments in poor areas), wildlife conservation, and “criticizing the ivory trade.”
MK: Ha, ha, cool.
TRR: By the way, I love elephants, so it is near and dear to my heart, too. Yet, where are you now with things, are you staying on track or what’s going on now?
MK: For me, Future Song has become the main thing for me and my wife. Raising money for kids who need instruments and private instruction. It goes back to how it’s important for a kid who has the talent to be able to nurture that talent. He or she needs to be able to learn how to play; to have the opportunity to do it if they don’t have the means to do it.
TRR: Tell me how it works, where do kids or people tap into it, on line or, how?
MK: It’s definitely in Spokane, WA. That was the goal. When I was in South Africa we also did something for the show we did there, too for that area. Also, in London. However, for the most part, we try to stay focused in the Spokane area, since there is such a need there.
TRR: It’s probably very rewarding, since that is also where you are from.
MK: Yah, that’s the reason because we felt that it was the right thing to do.
TRR: Do you see families that you grew up with, do people get involve who knew you?
MK: Yes! The CEO of the board is my guitar teacher, Joe Brash, and he is amazing. I grew up idolizing this man, so the fact that he’s been on the board since the beginning, and my wife’s on the board, and another friend, Doug Clarke’s on the board, and Bobby, too. It’s great. It’s definitely a tight group and when I’m on the road, they have the meeting, and then my wife briefs me. It’s a beautiful thing.
TRR: You’re starting Jan 31st on tour with Alter Bridge for the Walk the Sky tour, right? Anymore work with GNR?
MK: This year is just Alter Bridge. Those guys are sure touring, GNR.
TRR: We are so excited for you, and Mark. I love the songs on Walk the Sky, the solos, your voice, all of it, thanks so much for giving me your time today, it’s been a treat.
MK: A pleasure, Abbe. Thank you.
Abbe Davis is the co-founder of Tru Rock Revival Magazine. She is also the Singer/Songwriter of the Hard Rock band, Sordid Fable. She has written for various companies, performed alongside Buddy Guy, and her band has a new album out in 2020. Her goal is charity, the promotion of new original bands, and sharing Rock music.