Friday 16 January 2015

INTERVIEW - Liam Kenny

This is an interview I actually did with Liam Kenny (Bitch Prefect, Peak Twins, a veritable shit tonne of other things) in accordance with the release of his "solo" record, A Kenny For Your Thoughts. Seeing as I cannot get 'Avalanche' and 'I Am The Ocean' off the stereo at the moment - and seeing as this should have been posted in December - I would launch into it now.

SONIC MASALA: The album/project on paper sounds like an inebriated conversation that has somehow sprung into fruition. How did the idea come about? Was it something that once conceived came together pretty quickly, or was there a fully-formed idea from the onset?

LIAM KENNY: Yeah it started as a joke and many would say it remains a joke... Really we just thought it was an interesting and weird thing to do. For a relatively young person to do a kind of Bryan Ferry, Rod Stewart, middle age style covers record, we just thought that'd be funny. And then once you have an idea you don't hate you may as well do it. 

SM: Kate (Reid, of it Records) has said to me (and its official, seeing as she's put it in the newsletter) that she started the label for this express "joke". When did you realise 'you know what, this dumb idea isn't so dumb after all'? Plus I like the idea of Liam Kenny, the middle aged crooner. I'm also a massive fan of Roxy Music - make of that what you will. Was there a thought to go 'full sell-out' mode, wear white suits and hit the RSLs and jazz clubs around Melbourne, somehow transform into a lounge lizard? There are moments, such as Billy Idol's 'Eyes Without A Face', where that warped vision could very well have been a reality.

LK: Yeah I mean ultimately we don't just see it as a joke because it's a lot of effort to go to for a joke. Jack (Farley) and I are proud of the music and we obviously think it works on a 'serious' level... and that's probably why the idea of dressing me up in white suits and kind of creating a character or whatever never really occurred to us... I'm really not into that sort of thing... I'd rather the tongue be kinda always half in the cheek than be devolving into total shtick. And of course we love Roxy Music and Rod Stewart, who doesn't? Well, maybe some people don't. But yeah, the balance between laughter and tears is one that needs to be navigated in life at all times. When doing it in music it's gotta be subtle. Something like Johnny Telefone, that's one of my favourite artists in the country. You could argue that he's playing a character, but there's an honesty to it and a depth of emotion that goes beyond humour or seriousness and ends up being both and neither. It's elusive. That's where you wanna be.

SM: Were there songs then that you originally had in mind but then had to be discarded due to the shtick element? It can be a tightrope after all (which you thankfully command well - it's a great record, something I should have said from the outset ha). Why no Roxy/Rod specific music/language? It's funny you mention Johnny Telefone - because there are artists in Australia that do mine this territory quite well, even if for differing reasons. Donny Benet is another, although he might fall into the shtick category that you are artfully avoiding.

LK: I didn't have anyone in mind, just reacting to the imagined "Kenny For Your Thoughts lounge Variety Hour." Although now it's not sounding so bad........ I don't think there were any songs we decided not to do for that reason. We've still got a really long list actually, we'll probably do a second album. I reckon a good Roxy Music one to do would be 'If There Is Something' from the first album. That thing is an emotional rollercoaster.

SM: Oh man that would be killer. The highs and lows of Kenny and Farley... Speaking of which, as you are pushing AKFYT as a collab between the two of you, can you tell me more about the relationship in the making of the album? I notice that iT Records are still promoting this as AKFYT by Liam Kenny - is that merely a superficial misnomer, putting your name on the label to draw in sales? (I'm not trying to be facetious or anything here either - I am honestly interest in the connection and collaboration between you two, and indeed with iT Records).

LK: It's definitely a collaboration more than it is a solo record, (as) half the ideas are Jack's. But it probably gets referred to as a solo record because that's how it's presented - as a singer doing a covers record. The idea of two people doing a covers record doesn't really have a rich kind of aesthetic history or whatever, it's better for the show business / Las Vegas side of it for it to be billed as a solo record, if that makes sense. But to be honest we really didn't actually think about any of that, we just let Kate get on with it. As for our relationship making it, we made it over maybe two years. We'd work on it pretty rarely. We were living together at the time and Jack had a studio set up in the home. Occasionally we'd just do another one. Me and Jack are very good friends, I have a lot of respect for what he does, he's an exceptionally talented individual. It all happened very comfortably.

SM: Jack has been getting a fair bit more work over the past two years too - did you find that his ideas grew or even diversified each time you came back to the project?

LK: I'm sure I might have noticed if I was looking but to be honest when I'm working with Jack I just expect everything to go perfectly. It's when something goes wrong that I begin to notice and then question him and probe him and make him feel bad about himself. That's the appropriate dynamic.

SM: You have to keep him on his toes! The "conceptual" status of AKFYT fits into the idea of conceptual art that Sol DeWitt upholds - "the idea becomes the machine that makes the art"... Is that how you feel about the eight songs that make up the album?

LK: I dunno man... I mean I don't know if it applies here really... I mean its just a collection of recordings and ideally they'd all work individually... We didn't reject anything because it didn't fit with the idea, if anything the idea expanded to accommodate the different recordings we were making. Frankly though I wouldn't be looking too much into this stuff, I can guarantee none of this ever occurred to us. I'm struggling to articulate any kind of thought process in what we did. We just recorded versions of songs we liked. I'm even uncomfortable with the notion that it has any artistic coherence or worth at all. It's basically just meant to be a party record.

SM: Haha. I didn't mean to make AKFYT out to be any more cerebral or "artful" than it is - maybe I'm over thinking things. I will say that these songs do work individually. I heard 'Avalanche' and thought "shit, why don't we have this kind of dirge-lite dance music in Australia more?" It's easily my favourite on the album. But outside more "lounge-friendly" fare that plays into the joke readily ('Sea Of Love', 'Eyes Without A Face'), then you have a somewhat faithful version on Neil Young's 'I'm The Ocean' (almost an obscure choice, with Pearl Jam as his backing band) and All Saints' 'Never Ever'. Both could stand as karaoke songs.

LK: I reckon there's heaps of stuff in Australia with a similar sound to 'Avalanche' nowadays. It was pretty inspired by groups like Repairs and Nun. It's pretty derivative, from my end anyway. The way I'm singing and playing on all of the songs is all trying to sound like different other things. That's part of the reason there's so many guest musicians too, it's just meant to be a massive pile of thievery and appropriation. I'm usually not trying to sound like other things currently happening when I record music, usually I'm trying to avoid it, but on this I just copied everyone a lot. I reckon it works for the idea of a covers record. If you're not gonna have original songs you may as well do them in an unoriginal way as well. But again I don't think me and Jack ever had this conversation, that was just how I looked at it myself. Jack would obviously argue that he is focused on breaking new ground at absolutely all times. If the album has any 'original' kind of achievements they're all Jack's. Apart from the title, that was all me.

SM: What drew certain guest musicians (Zond's Justin Fuller, Super Wild Horses' Amy Franz, Ela Stiles Twerps' Martin Frawley et al) into the fold then - how did you feel they fit into the AKFYT idea?

LK: We just got heaps of guests because recording with mates is an enjoyable thing to do and we knew it would improve the album and make it less boring. It works with the idea like I said because -  the whole record is about other peoples' work. May as well have more other people on it.

SM: If it's about other people's work - how did you choose the final eight tracks? What was it about these that appealed?

LK: Again there was no real thought process. We just kept doing them until we had a half hour of music. They're songs we like, that was the only criteria.

SM: Fair enough really! Is there much thought in the way of playing these songs live, or is going to remain a release-only endeavour?

LK: Nah no live shows, we were thinking about doing a one off show when the album came out but it didn't really end up happening. I get sick of everything having to be done live, there's always this pressure to play live all the time, especially in Melbourne. It's over the top. Why does there have to be a thousand shows every night? Sometimes a recording should just be a recording. There's enough fuckwits up on stages already.

SM: Haha, there is certainly a flood of music in Melbourne. Do you have a particular favourite from the album?

LK: Yeah I like the Bob Dylan one the most, it's the saddest one.

Grab A Kenny For Your Thoughts here.

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