Kendell Marvel is a singer-songwriter who has written songs with or for some of the most popular artists in Nashville including Lee Ann Womack, George Strait, and Chris Stapleton. By phone he discussed his new album produced by Dan Auerbach, the craft of songwriting, and what it meant when a song he co-wrote (“Either Way” – performed by Chris Stapleton) won a Grammy.
Americana Highways: The new album was recorded in a matter of days. What made this album come together so quickly?
Kendell Marvel: Dan had a pretty clear vision and we had a pile of songs – I think 16 songs. We recorded all of them and did it in a matter of three days. He loves everything about it. I was kind of antsy. I was like “I really like that song. How does that work for you?” The cream rose to the top basically.
AH: How do you think the new album compares to previous albums?
KM: It’s completely different. It still has the grit that I think my fan base wants, but it’s a whole different sound. It’s a whole different set of musicians. It’s a whole different beast. It’s more Charlie Rich country than Waylon Jennings.
AH: What did Dan Auerbach bring to the album that it wouldn’t have had otherwise?
KM: That whole sound, that 70s vibe. It’s kind of like a good craft brewery. The stouts, the IPAs all have a common thread running through them. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. That’s the way Dan’s records are. All the albums on Easy Eye are completely different, but there’s something unique in every one of them, some little thing. That’s what he brings to the table.
AH: When did you realize that songwriting is your job?
KM: I wrote my first hit the first day that I moved to Nashville. I started getting hits pretty quick. I had an agent pretty quick when I moved here. I wanted to be an artist when I moved here. The songwriting thing took off when I found out you could make some really good money writing songs. I’m a dad. I wanted to stay home and watch my kids grow up. It was perfect timing for me for something good to go on as a songwriter. It’s harder to be an artist.
AH: What did it mean to you when “Either Way” won a Grammy?
KM: It was everything. That’s one of my favorite songs. It was justification for something I thought was great. It had been cut before. Dan Auerbach recorded it. It’s one of the best recordings I’ve ever had. It was a shame that more people didn’t know about it.
AH: What’s the best thing about working with Chris Stapleton?
KM: He’s a blast to be around. A good dude. A lot of fun. He’s just so quick when he writes songs. If we don’t have something going in 30 minutes, we move on to something else. He’s smart enough to know that something’s cool, but it’s going nowhere. So then you switch gears and do something different. He’ll play his guitar and take it in a completely different direction.
AH: Do you find that approach impacts your sound?
KM: Yeah. If it’s not moving along, let’s not waste our whole day. We’ll come back to it some other time. Let’s move on and try something else. You don’t overthink things either. A lot of times, you find a really simple line, and that’s the best. That happens a lot.
AH: That captures the immediacy of the song.
KM: It happens organically. It’s more of an organic feel than something forced. Anything that’s forced is not good in my opinion.
AH: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
KM: That’s all I’ve ever done my whole life. I don’t really know what I’d do. If I could choose, I’d probably be a fisherman somewhere. That’s what I like to think I’d be doing.