By Alec Wooden
There are plenty of ways Stephen Kellogg, frontman of Americana rockers Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers, could have celebrated his band’s 1000th show. In the end, he chose to do it in a way that would be impossible for anyone to forget; by enshrining the performance in a life CD, Live From The Heart, recorded live from Irving Plaza in New York City. With the record in hand, Kellogg is able to reflect on all it took to hit 1000 shows — the idea of longevity, making the best of bad situations, and what he wishes he’d known starting out.
Let’s start with Live From the Heart. Bands will sometimes describe the feeling of listening to a live record in the mixing process as sort of an odd sensation, because they’ve often only listened to recordings of the studio versions of tunes but not actually themselves doing them songs in the moment. Did you get that sensation at all as you were listening through this record?
We learned a lot from listening to this record. It was mixed very, very fast so there wasn’t a ton of time to experience the sensation you describe, but I know what you mean. We’ve actually been recording most of our shows since this record.
What will this album always represent to you?
The first 1000 shows and the idea of longievity.
Is a lot of your image of this record encapsulated in the title?
I am a super “heart on sleeve” guy, so it’s representative on that level. But also, we’ve always put a higher value on authenticity over accuracy, for better or worse.
1000 shows in just over seven years as a band is a pretty good pace. How do you keep sane out on the road?
We have postcards on our rider that I write home to my girls and the company of the other SK6ERS is pretty fantastic.
What are some of the most-repeated habits guys have picked up along the way?
Too many to name. Being in a band is like a benign sort of gang. You have your own codes, understandings, inside jokes – it’s another kind of family and it’s a special thing to be a part of. Wherever my life takes me, this experience will always be a major part of it.
Not surprisingly, with 1000 of them under your belt, you’ve made much of your name off a well-refined live show. Has it ever been a challenge to channel that same energy and vibe into the studio? Did you feel like you did it on The Bear, and how so?
It’s always a challenge to get an album to feel like a giant PA and light show, but there are certain songs on The Bear that sound exactly the way we would live because they were actually recorded live (“Mabeline,” “See Yourself,” “May Day”). Having said that, I’m not sure that what makes for a good live show always makes for a good record. I’m excited about the new studio album we’ve started work on because it’s sonically different than anything we’ve ever done – and thematically it’s familiar but super inspired.
What’s something you know now that you wish you’d known starting out?
I wish I had known – really, really known – that if you take care of the art, the art will take care of you. Lots of young musicians are kind of hung up on “what people can do for them” and it’s really about what you can do for people. If you can move them artistically, doors open for you.
What’s something that inspires you, or has inspired you, that might surprise people?
One of my favorite things to do is to read biographies, history books and literature. I cry more than I think a man really should, I absolutely think America is the greatest country in the world, I’m a little OCD and not actually that laid back, [and] I often make my set lists with my shirt off. How’s that for a start?
Is there a particular song, or songs, that everything you hear it, you wish you had written it?
Definitely. “Like a Rolling Stone” (Bob Dylan), “Right Me Up” (State Radio), “In Your Eyes” (Peter Gabriel), “Omaha” (Counting Crows) … there are quite a few.
Looking ahead, what’s exciting about the music industry from where you are in it? What’s not?
It’s taken me personally a while to get over the fact that social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc., are actually kind of anti-social. But fighting the tide is no fun, nor remotely necessary, so recently we’ve been embracing it all more and trying to offer fans of the band more thing that we find interesting about other bands. You can really stay connected with you fans.
I’m sure you’ve been booked in some pretty odd, non-traditional, or just straight up hellish places. How have you, as the performer, made sure you’re making the most of every night – and what mentality do you need to keep doing that in the future?
There are many speed bumps along the way. The important thing to remember is that the word doesn’t owe us anything. It’s our job to make music that touches people’s hearts. We have a choice to do this job or try our hand at another job, and we choose this job, so when we encounter rough situations, move through them.
Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers play The Loft, September 27.