Interview: The Bacon Brothers on their New Album, Bernie Williams, and Growing Up Artistic

Interviews

When Americana Highways caught up with the Bacon Brothers by phone, Michael was in Pennsylvania, and Kevin was in Connecticut. I mentioned that I was in the Adirondacks, where it turns out that Michael has a place. We fell in to talking about their new album, The Way We Love, released on Friday July 17.

Americana Highways: The Way We Love is your new album just out. I have to say the song “British Invasion” is a stand-out great album opener. It has such great energy and a degree of nostalgia: “Good-bye to my blue suede rock ‘n roll.”

Michael: I’ll take the blame for starting the record with that song. I really did think let’s start the record with something fast and up-tempo, kind of hooky and light with a sweet story. This record overall, for the Bacon Brothers, is on the lighter side anyway. And “British Invasion” felt like a song that if people were buying our music for the first time, they’d listen and think: “That’s neat, I want to hear more.”

AH: And then, you have Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams playing on your instrumental “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” How did that come about, to have him playing guest guitar with you?

Michael: I teach at a college up in the Bronx, and it’s an inner-city college. One of my goals there is to bring inspirational performers and artists, dancers and singers, and business people in to the school to work with the students. I have this program called “Guitar Stars” (http://events.lehman.edu/Calendar/EventList.aspx?eventidn=8158&view=EventDetails&information_id=22858) where we either go into the recording studio with musicians, or we set up a combo with students and professors that play. And Bernie Williams, who is a legendary New York Yankees outfielder, is also a wonderful guitar player, and we had met him at a benefit show at the Beacon theatre in the upper west side in New York City. We identified with him because one of the things about music that Kevin and I are very well aware of is, once you do something as a career and become successful at it, it’s a little bit difficult for audiences to make the adjustment. It’s like “Bernie Williams is this great outfielder and you’re telling me he can play the guitar?” It’s a lot like people saying “Kevin you’re a great actor, are you telling me you can write songs?” So we could identify with him. And we got to be friends, and then I had him in to do some things at the college, and then we played with him as well.

He’s in a band, and he’s on the road, and he has his own music and is very good. If you haven’t checked his music out, you should.

AH: And that song was recorded live with him at SONY Hall in NYC?

MB: Yes

AH: If we ever get back to playing shows, would you play more shows with him?

MB: I hope so!

AH: You have core songs in the album that are about abiding family bonds and connections. The first one is the song “Corona Tune,” which Kevin wrote, and which you have released on video as well. There is a nostalgic aspect to this song, because your father passed away, and instead of singing about the things you’re sad that he missed, this song is also about something you’re glad he didn’t live to see. The line that stands out is: “I’ll take comfort he can’t see what’s going on.” When did that realization crystallize for you, that you are glad that a person who is passed away didn’t experience something that came afterward?

Kevin: I don’t know if there was one specific moment. This song came out of the pandemic so certainly there is something related to that in this song. But you often hear people say, when something is great, that: “I know mom, or dad, is looking down on me,” if they achieve something or win an award or something. People often say “I know they are here with me now.” But you never hear the flip side of it. When things are going badly, or you’re suffering or the world is suffering, or there’s injustice. You don’t often think to yourself “well, mom and dad are looking down now.” And what would their reaction be? That idea, though, was the genesis of this song.

AH: Were your parents musical?

Kevin: They weren’t musicians by any stretch of the imagination. Our mom played a little mandolin. As for our Dad, Michael and I like to say that when he sang us a lullaby we’d pretend to be asleep. (laughs) He was really tone deaf. But they really loved and appreciated music.

There was this weird generational thing in our family that I don’t really understand, because it wasn’t just our nuclear family, or the Bacons. It extends to our cousins and at least two other families. In the generation that we are in, all of a sudden there were multiple artists. Everybody was a musician, or a performer, or a director. There’s no real explanation. Our mother’s side of the family was in publishing and my father’s side were Quakers. But all of a sudden in one generation it flipped, and there is a very long list of people who are artists on all kinds of levels.

AH: How old were you when each of you started playing an instrument?

Michael: I started playing the cello when I was six. And I became an enormous Pete Seeger fan I started playing the banjo when I was eight or nine. And then with the banjo came the guitar and the mandolin and the dobro and ukulele. And our older sister Hilda and I were in a band in high school. As Kevin just described, we come from a family that on one side worked in a stuffy publishing company and on the other side were Quakers – the Quakers never even sang in their services. I think something kind of exploded in our household, and our parents wanted to fly in the face of that heritage. So if anyone wanted art lessons, acting lessons, music lessons – it was automatic. There wasn’t so much of a support for things like baseball and sports that might just have been a little more fun (laughs); they valued creativity above anything else. They instilled that in us, that desire to create something and put it out there in front of people.

Kevin: Some people believe that I still don’t play. (laughs). Michael got me my first guitar when I was around 11. I used it to play the melodies that were floating around in my head. And then when we put the band together I had to get better at playing.

AH: This reminds me of the song from the album “Picker” that Kevin wrote for Michael. It has some of those same images of growing up, and the cello.

Kevin: That one was a songwriting exercise, because that song was written from another person’s point of view. Generally our music is from our own point of view. But this song I wrote from my brother’s point of view. So it was a fun experiment. And “British Invasion” is similar, it’s based on a story of a time when I was too young to have actually experienced it.

AH: “The Way We Love,” written by Michael, is another one that is written to commend real family bonds and a satisfying love relationships and connections. I like the line that the couple’s love is “not two lonely strangers” love. It stands out, because there are so many relationships that really are probably just two lonely strangers.

Michael: Kevin and I were both huge Everly Brothers fans, and our sisters knew all the parts too, and they have a song “Like Strangers.” Our song, “The Way We Love” is kind of a strange song because it’s more about what we are not, and except we’re here and we’re together. Particularly in popular culture, in operas, and in movies there are these love affairs that are just something people die for, and the emotional level is so intense that it can’t actually exist for any length of time. I was thinking, I’ve been married 48 years now, and I wanted to say those intense affairs are great, but we’re here too and we’re doing well. We love each other and it’s hopefully a song, since it’s not a really passionate, exciting idea, that will resonate with some people. People tend to go for extraordinary stories like the song “The Long Black Veil,” where a woman has to watch her lover die because if she admits that he was with her, they’ll find out about the illicit affair. That’s what most songwriters are expressing. And when you listen to country music there are very very intense descriptions of relationships too. I would like this song to be a part of all that, but to add another view of a loving relationship to the canon.

AH: Before we sign off, I’d like to point out that none of us have ever experienced a pandemic before. As parting words, do you have any tips for how to manage while we are on lockdown?

Kevin: From my standpoint, we’ve been married 31 years. And in 31 years we’ve never spent this much time together. It’s a first. And what’s astounding to us is that we actually are really enjoying each other’s company now. But I will say that we feel really grateful because we do have enough space to go off and find moments by ourselves, and I know a lot of people locked in don’t have that. So I’m aware it’s a huge luxury that we don’t take for granted. We can slip away and have a moment.

Michael: I realized I have not been much of a cook. Until now I’ve basically been able to make Caesar salad and martinis. But I’m also now getting into cooking. And I also have not historically been much of a gardener. But I’ve been able to get into planting and weeding and all sorts of stuff that in my normal life I really wouldn’t have time to do. The difference between Kevin and Kyra, and Betsy and I, is that Betsy and I work together, so we’ve always spent most of our time together. So for us it really wasn’t that big of an adjustment.

Also, we decided more than a year ago that we had wanted to take a year off. So we sublet our New York apartment and came down to our house in Pennsylvania which is sort of out in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t do it for any reason other than just to try it, and I was commuting back and forth to New York for work three days a week. But then all of a sudden coronavirus hit and we’re living in this beautiful place. So for us, I would put us in the 99.9 percentile of folks whose lives were minimally affected by it.

Michael: Before we go, let me also recommend the song “Adirondack Blues” off our first album, for during your stay there!

Thank you so much to both Michael and Kevin for talking to us. The song and the new album are both wonderful. Please find their new album here: https://www.baconbros.com, or anywhere you usually buy your music.

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