KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD – “I’m A Fan Of Any Music That’s Played With A Passion”
August 16, 2017, a month ago
Is blues rock alive and well? If you were to take a peek at the Billboard charts, you may be alarmed. But if you hear Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s recently released album, Lay It On Down, you’ll realize that there are still artists keeping the style alive and vital. Shepherd’s eighth solo effort is similar stylistically to his previous releases, but that said, he attempted to broaden his horizons a bit, by working with some songwriters he had never worked with before (like Danny Myrick, Dylan Altman and Keith Stegall, in addition to his old pals Mark Selby and Tia Sillers), as well as a producer he had never previously worked with (Marshall Altman). Shepherd spoke with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato about the new disc, heavy metal, as well as the current state of blues.
BraveWords: Let’s discuss the new album, Lay It On Down.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: “I wrote that album over the course of about a year and a half/two years. Very gradually - not like consistently two years of writing, just in between tours. I’d be on the road and get a little break, go home and visit the family for a minute, and then set aside some time for writing. And for me, this record, my goal was to try and make the best album of my career - 25 years into my career. So whether or not we accomplished that, everybody will have their opinion about that. Some fans will prefer older albums. Whatever. But my thinking is that if you don’t set your goals high, how can you ever expect to achieve greatness? So I wanted to try and out-do myself. And in order to do that, I thought, ‘I’ve got to get outside of the comfort zone and push myself to do different things and challenge myself.’ So I wrote with a lot of different people that I had never written with before. And I worked with a new producer that I’d never worked with before. All things that kind of pushed me outside the comfort zone. And I think it challenged me to come up with some new and interesting stuff. And the end result I think is an album that is really a diverse collection of songs that takes you on a journey that they’re all related - it doesn’t sound like an odd combination of songs, but there’s a lot of different genres that we pulled from to create new sounds and take blues and rock ‘n’ roll into a few different directions. And the recording process was basically the old school way of making records - we put everybody in the room together and played together at the same time, and put it down to two-inch tape. We did have Protools running as well simultaneously, because there are some advantages to the modern technology. But everything goes to tape. We mix it and we master it to tape, and then eventually, we end up pressing vinyl as well from the tapes - which is the way it’s meant to be done. But the old fashioned way of making records, where people are playing together and interacting with one another as the human element comes into play.”
BraveWords: Favorite tracks?
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: “I like all of them, otherwise I wouldn’t have put them on there. Really, my favorite tracks depend on my mood of the day. Certain songs can speak to me more than others on any given day, but obviously, I like the title track. It’s got a very powerful message and it’s a very well-written song. And it’s a little different because the guitar solo on that song is acoustic, which I believe is a first for me on one of my records - to do an acoustic guitar solo rather than electric. I like ‘Diamonds & Gold,’ I think it’s young, hip, and fresh. My kids love it. All the young people that hear that song gravitate towards that one. ‘Nothing But the Night’ I think is really cool - it’s got a unique sound all into itself, as well.”
BraveWords: The site primarily focuses on hard rock and heavy metal. Who are some of your favorite heavy artists?
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: “I’m a fan of any music that’s played with passion and people playing it that believe in it. I mean, I grew up listening to everything. I remember when Metallica was a new band, you know what I’m saying? And I survived the whole hair metal phase, and into grunge. But I’m not on the cutting edge of who’s new in hard rock and heavy metal. I know the big bands, like Metallica, and Noah [Hunt] my singer, he listens to a lot of bands, like Opeth. I think it’s a little too ‘prog’ for me. But I like everything as long as there’s passion put into it. But I’m kind of a fan of really well-established heavy groups. The underground dudes probably wouldn’t think I’m so cool in that regard. One group that I liked that would be considered heavy - I don’t know if it would be considered metal and they’re not really relevant anymore because I don’t think they’re doing shows - was Rage Against The Machine. I liked the way that they took heavy rock riffs and then mixed that with a whole different vocal delivery, and created something that was unique sounding. And then there was Audioslave with Chris Cornell, and I thought that was an interesting band, as well.”
BraveWords: What are your thoughts on the state of blues music in 2017?
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: “I think blues music is on an upswing. It’s cyclical. This genre has been around for a hundred years, and if you just watch it, it’s happened three times in my lifetime. Usually, blues music has surges in popularity when people are tired of the disposable crap that’s being crammed down their throat, and when all the popular music starts to sound the same and they’re trying to look for something that has real substance to it, and some people inevitably start searching and find their way into way into blues music. I think that’s happening again, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
(Photo by: Kevin Nixon)
BraveWords: Touring plans?
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: “We’re on the road now. We kicked off the tour in Europe for three and a half weeks in July, came over here the day after the album dropped here in the States. Actually, before we went to Europe, we played a blues festival up in Windsor, and then we headed to Europe. So, we’re going to be on the road. We came from Europe and we hit the ground running over here. And this tour is going to take us through the end of next year. That’s just what we do - we put out a record and we hit the road for about a year and a half, and then put out another record, and do it all over again.”
(Top photo by: Kristin Forbes)