Taking Big Risks On ‘The Year Of The Tiger’ Has Freed Myles Kennedy To Truly Express Himself

He tours with Slash and is the frontman of Alter Bridge, making him one of rock’s most famous singer songwriters but, as he exclusively tells RISING, it’s only with Myles Kennedy’s new solo project that he’s been able to tackle the thing that has overshadowed his life: the death of his Father when he was four years old…

RISING The Year Of The Tiger tells the story of your Father’s death when you were aged four – you’ve had a successful songwriting career already, so why has it taken you so long to address that story? MYLES KENNEDY, SINGER SONGWRITER ‘Getting to that place as a human being and feeling like I was ready to work through that, it took a long time. Any time I would try to tackle this issue to a deeper degree in my career I always ran into a brick wall. I just wasn’t ready, I hadn’t evolved enough as a person, as a writer for whatever reason.’

RISING You’d actually already finished a solo album but you put that aside to make this one. So, what changed for you? MK ‘The real catalyst for the whole thing was when I stumbled onto the lyric and the melody for the title track of The Year Of The Tiger, and I had that sitting around for years but I didn’t know what it meant – I didn’t take the time to look up what the year of the tiger was in regards to the Chinese zodiac. I just knew that it was a melody that stuck in my head.’

‘So when I started to put together ideas for this record musically, and I hadn’t gone down the lyrical avenue yet, I thought that the idea I’d had years ago would really suit this record, but I didn’t know what the Year Of The Tiger was so I went and looked it up. When I discovered that it was the year that my Father passed away when I was a child, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.’

‘I thought: “Wow I guess this is the Universe telling me it’s time.” It gave me the key and I was able to unlock the door, and finally tackle this.’

RISING You said that the title track is a ‘battle cry of resolution’ to persevere. How important is that concept in your everyday life? MK ‘It’s everything. Not every day is easy, everyone has their struggles and for me with that song, it’s from my Mother's’ perceptive and is kind of a preface to the whole story. It really highlights how steadfast she was in making sure we pulled through all of that. The fact that she wasn’t going to just give up – she had my brother and I to take care of. I felt like if she was able to survive the way she did, pretty much anything life throws my way at this point I take inspiration from that.’

‘It’s really understanding who you are as a person. Often when I am writing I am so immersed in just trying to tell the truth and tap into some emotion that really resonates with me so that when I am performing a song I’m feeling something. You’re really on a quest for truth at the end of the day.’

This is your story, not everybody is going to be on board but you have to stay true to who you are

RISING You’re already an established artist with a hard rock style but your solo album is more acoustic and blues, you sing in a lower register and the songs are intensely personal – sounds like a risk? MK ‘Subject matter like this is so personal and I don’t think I realised until it was all said and done that you are really exposing yourself. And if I had let that come into play into my consciousness that might have slowed things down a bit. Fortunately, for the sake of the record, I was so focussed on that quest for truth that I kind of forgot about that.’

‘But then I remember listening back to some of the songs and going like: “Boy, we are really letting the World in here, are you prepared for this?” So that was an interesting epiphany but I am glad I did it because the cathartic element has been very helpful for me as a person.’

‘I took a lower register approach vocally. I felt like if I tried to sing as high as I normally do with high gain guitars it would be a little abrasive. There was no challenge really, it felt very comfortable and it got me thinking: “Oh I want to do this more in the future, even in the hard rock aspect.” I felt very comfortable in that register.’

RISING Did you have to channel some personal courage into this project? MK ‘I remember one day in particular where the word ‘unapologetic’ came to mind. I had to tell myself: “Look, this is your story, this is who you are. Not everybody is going to be on board for this, and that’s fine. This is you expressing yourself and that’s all you can do, and you just have to stay true to who you are.”

‘I think that that was a real important moment for me. Hopefully people will hear this record who have experienced their own tragedies and will find solace or inspiration, or it will help them get out of bed one day when they feel that they can’t do that. That’s something I try to do as a songwriter, especially as the years go on and I understand how lucky I am to be able to express myself and be able to hopefully provide a little bit of light – or whatever you want to call it – into the world that will hopefully help somebody else out. I try to look at it in altruistic terms and put a lot of weight on that and not speak with empty words, to be as honest and as real as I can.’

RISING You took the ‘old school’ approach in the album and recorded directly to tape – was that an attempt to capture authenticity? MK ‘As I was writing the record I remember thinking that these are the kind of songs that shouldn’t be too doctored. With the advent of Pro Tools, a lot of times you get into the studio and you line everything up perfectly to a grid and it’s just a different approach to making records. And I felt very passionate about the idea that this should be more of an approach that was pre-Pro Tools, where you had to rely on your ear and you had to keep the human element in it.’

‘I think there is a real beauty in that. A lot of my favourite records from the past, when you put the headphones on you can hear little things that make it true, or add a certain charm or character to the record, so that was important. We wanted it to have those hallmarks. We were looking for authenticity and ultimately a certain vibe.’

RISING You have had struggles in the past – has there been a foundation in your life that’s been valuable in navigating those? MK ‘‘My wife is such a massive foundation for me. It was a game changer for me, having her come into my life. She is my saving grace in a lot of ways. It would be hard to fathom how different my life would be without having met her.’

Music has such a profound power – it’s one of the most powerful forces in the Universe

RISING As a performer, you must be aware of the ability of music to move people – how important is that? MK ‘I am biased but I feel like music has such a profound power. It’s one of the most powerful forces in the Universe, but a lot of times you can’t articulate in words what it is doing to you.’

‘I saw Jeff Buckley play in 1995 in a little venue in Seattle and I will never forget that experience because he had such an ability to channel things – such intense emotion. We have all experienced tears or goose bumps where music can trigger some primal reaction, but that night it was beyond that. I’ve never experienced a state of ‘nirvana’ but that was the closest I have got to that, because he took us all on this journey that was so intense and otherworldly. At that moment I realised how powerful music could be and what a force of nature it was.’

‘It’s a cool thing to stand on a stage in front of a group of people and try to connect – as human beings it is one of the most important things that we can do with each other. I don’t take that lightly and I still try to evolve and work on it.’

RISING When it comes to creative songwriting, where does the inspiration come from for you? MK ‘There are so many ways that you get there. I think that especially as the years go on and I am discovering the art of mindfulness, and really trying to stay present and that’s very helpful in songwriting terms. What I find is that whether you are writing or performing, if you start to get bogged down with what’s coming up next, what might happen two seconds ahead of you or what happened two seconds behind you then you’re not staying present.’

‘When you stay present and you really channel something that way, then you can become the conduit. I have had experiences as a songwriter where I am just letting it happen and it’s almost like I’m just a conduit, and it’s a really cool feeling.’

Meditating, slowing everything down and observing, not trying to change thoughts, is so helpful

RISING So, how have you strived in everyday life to live more in the moment and smooth the way for your creative process? MK ‘I try to meditate every day now. It’s really helpful for me, especially for someone who has been plagued by anxiety for my whole life. I found that is such a useful tool but the beauty of trying to integrate it into your life is you can do it at any moment. If I’m sitting on a plane and my mind starts racing, and start getting lost in that trap and spiralling out of control then it’s very simple; it’s just a matter of focussing on my breathing, bringing it all back to that. Slowing everything down and just observing rather than trying to change my thoughts. It’s so helpful for me – it really has breathed new life into me as a human being.’

RISING Have you ever had a moment of completely unconscious inspiration? MK ‘There have also been moments when I have literally dreamed song ideas. For example there was a song that Slash and I worked on together on the Apocalyptic Love album called Standing In The Sun. I remember we were on tour with Ozzy and I was sleeping in the hotel, 5am I had this dream and it was the music and the chorus for what would become Standing In The Sun. Sometimes things like that happen and you don’t understand where it comes from. To me the mystery of that is very intriguing and it makes it very special – it baffles my mind how many different ways you can write a song, both through your consciousness and your unconscious.’

WHAT NEXT? Check out the official video for Myles Kennedy’s [The Year Of The Tiger] (http://radi.al/YearOfTheTiger).

Follow the writer @mattfitnessray