Courtesy of Dave Hoffenberg
THE BACON BROTHERS
The Bacon Brothers make their return to Vermont to bring their band to the Paramount Theatre this Wednesday, July 13. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Kevin and Michael Bacon, who talked about life in the band. I have never seen the band but told them that my mother is a fan, and Kevin said, “We need more people like her in the world.” Michael described the band and said, “I think the word for our band is ‘versatility.’ The four guys who back us up are virtuosos on their instruments. The electric guitar player also plays mandolin; the keyboardist plays the accordion and sax; and the bass player can play guitar, too. If we have a philosophy, it’s that the songs drive the arrangements instead of having a sound and fitting the songs in to match the sound. “
Kevin, as we all know, is an actor; and Michael is an accomplished composer for film and television, with numerous awards to his credit, including the Academy Award. Kevin’s brother Michael is the reason he got into music and is his biggest influence. Kevin said, “My brother is nine years older than me so he was playing music for a long time before I was. I grew up listening to him playing the cello and the oboe. He was in bands with my sister and there was a lot of music around the house. Eventually he went from more of a classically trained musician to a rock and roll singer-songwriter. I heard the songs being written in the house and if you have an older brother, you want to do what he’s doing. It was Michael and my sister Hilda who were the influences for me.” Kevin felt that really learning to master an instrument would be too hard so he went for acting instead, about which he said, “I could be a little lazier, which didn’t actually turn out to be the case. I always kept writing songs and kept being interested in music.”
Michael said his biggest musical influence is the band with the worst name in history, The Band. He said, “It’s just a bad name,” adding “I think in terms of what I like when I go hear a band is every possible music and texture that five or six people can do. I love the way The Band always went back and forth between acoustic instruments and really hard-driving rock sounds. They had a lot of harmony and a lot of interesting songs.” Michael’s second and third choices are Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, respectively, because of the concessional style of song writing that they both do. He noted, “I identify with that very strongly.”
Kevin and Michael put the band together in the 90s. Kevin explained. “It’s kind of a simple story. We were writing songs but with the idea that other people would cover them. We had done some demos to try and pitch songs to other artists. We grew up in Philadelphia and I had a friend named Harry who called me up one day and asked us to come down to Philly and he would promote a show and we could call it the Bacon Brothers. Michael and I thought, wow, the Bacon Brothers, that’s an interesting name. We hadn’t even thought of that name ourselves (laughing). I wasn’t up for it at first because I had never played music in front of people before but my brother was extremely confident in me. We took whatever songs we had lying around, some that we wrote for others, some for ourselves and a few easy covers. We got a bass player and a percussionist and went down and played one show. That’s basically how it started.”
Being that Kevin is an actor and a musician, I asked Kevin if one was easier or harder than the other. He said, “I don’t think [one is] easier or harder, necessarily. My feeling of doing anything creative is you gotta work at it. You have to put the time in to get better at whatever it is that you want to do. Every once in a while, you’ll have some song that will pop out that feels like ‘wow, that was easy’ but that doesn’t happen all that often. Every once in a while you do some scene in a film where you walk in, and take one is like a slam dunk and the director says ‘done.’ You say ‘that was easy,’ but it really doesn’t happen like that most times.”
Michael has never acted, never on a stage that is. “I can’t imagine what that is like,” he said. He acted twice and both times were in commercials for food. “Both were in relation to my last name—one by myself and one I did with my brother. That’s the only experiences I ever had.” Michael does, however, have quite the impressive list of songs he has composed for film and television. He said he has no desire to be an actor; he’ll leave that up to his brother.
The Bacon Brothers perform mostly original tunes, but have done some covers through the years. Kevin said, “It’s one of the challenges for the band. Most people assume it’s going to be a cover band or a dance band. It really isn’t. The entire backbone of the band is original music. That’s the reason we’ve made so many records. It’s because we keep writing the songs and then we want to record them.”
Michael and I discussed if you really need to put out an album anymore, seeing as how everything is downloads now. Michael said, “Maybe the music business is really more of the same than it is different. If you drop a single now like we did with ‘Driver’ [their latest single] and you put an album out, you’re really just pushing the single. If ‘Driver’ comes out and makes some noise in the music industry, that would sort of drive the formation of the CD and you kind of back it up. You lead with the single and try and get that going and come back behind it with a larger piece of work. I’m hoping that’s what is going to happen.”
Both Michael and Kevin do a lot of charity work and I applaud them both for their efforts. Kevin turned the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game, which connects him to other Hollywood actors, into a game-changing nonprofit aimed at using everyday activities to connect people and causes. It’s social networking for social good. I told him about the “Pie in the Face” benefit I do and he said, “Excellent, sounds good. I like the idea. It sounds like a cool idea.” I hope to add my event to his organization. Check it out at sixdegrees.org.
I asked them both what they like best about playing live. Michael said, “I think if you’re a song writer and musician, it’s part of your biology. You want to communicate with people. I think we’re just born to do that. It’s really exciting to write a new song, play it for the band, finalize it and then play it for an audience. You don’t know what it’s going to be like but it’s a really good feeling. You learn how to put it across and it’s a really rewarding human experience.”
Kevin said, “I agree with Michael. If you can share a song, it’s a really cool thing to have created something and see people tapping along to it, or laughing or enjoying it, or crying. Whatever it is, if you can reach people in that way, it’s such a blessing. I think also that there’s something about live theater and live music that are related. Even if you do the same set list, even if you’re a person that doesn’t take a lot of chances with your performances, you will never have the same show twice. There’s always going to be something in the theater that will change it and make it new and original. I think that’s what’s kind of exciting when you’re standing backstage and about to walk on and you think, ok, it’s just going to be us and this audience and these people that are going to share this experience tonight. It’s never going to be exactly the same.”