The first time I met Myles Kennedy was when he was on tour with his band The Mayfield Four back in 1998. The band was touring in support of their Epic Records debut Fallout, and they were starting to get traction on their new single “Don’t Walk Away.” A radio hit for a rock band at this time was make or break, and these guys were one of the best live bands on the planet, the label just had to get people out to see them.
The band was in between tours and had a few days off in my hometown of St. Louis, and I was the only Sony Music rep in the city, so I got to spend a few days with these guys taking them around the town. I remember Myles being an introvert and a really nice guy. Get on the right topic with him, and he’s not only incredibly insightful, but he’s the anti-rock star.
The Fallout tour came and went and the Mayfield Four, although not having a breakout year, laid a solid foundation through relentless touring and radio support from the label. Things would go quiet for a bit while they prepped their sophomore release, the mystical powerhouse that would become Second Skin.
I remember being in New York City for our annual Sony meeting and one of the execs from Epic records came out to introduce the new Mayfield Four record. Almost instantly you could hear snickers and snarky comments from the ultra-hipsters from the college department who didn’t get it because this was a “commercial” rock band, but the ones who were in the room who got it, their ears perked up. The Epic exec introduced the record by saying it was, and I quote, “one of the most unique and incredible rock records they had heard in some time.” (The only other time I ever heard praise for a rock band like this internally was when Incubus delivered Morning View.)
Second Skin was one of the most incredible records I had ever heard in my entire life. From start to finish it was a masterpiece of modern rock. Huge guitars, crashing percussion, all laying the foundation for Myles Kennedy’s incredible vocals. Unfortunately, the record came and went as many records do on the major label assembly line, but this one would continue to amass fans and become legendary in its own right. According to Myles, this left him disillusioned with the music industry.
“I think as an artist, and I think as a human being, I don’t think I was ready for the success,” says Kennedy. “I think that I was a classic case of somebody who was probably more afraid of success than failure in some weird way because I knew that would raise the bar and level of expectation. I wanted to have the opportunity to continue to make music somehow, but strangely, I didn’t want it to be massive. You essentially became a moving target, because once you have a certain amount of success, people start to take aim. So, I always just wanted to kind of keep flying at a certain altitude. I think in the end it all worked out for the best.”
Twenty years later and both of the Mayfield Four’s records are more popular now than they were, even with support from a major record label and terrestrial radio. Myles Kennedy almost went away, but a voice this unique cannot not be heard, and the rock ‘n’ roll gods would pave the way for a rebirth and resurgence. First, it was Slash who called, and later on, Alter Bridge. Both of which would ultimately allow Myles to finally record a solo record—which he did, and later scrapped.
He would begin once more on a project based on the relationship with his late father who he lost at the age of 4. It would take the shape of 12 new songs pulled together in a collection called The Year of the Tiger, and it recently debuted at #12 on the UK charts ahead of a string of sold-out shows across Europe. Myles was oblivious to the chart debut of the record, “I didn’t even know that. [laughter] I live in such a bubble,” he says over the phone as I load up the questions for a conversation with the 46-year-old who’s out on the road by himself for the first time.
So what’s it like right now for Myles? “It’s really just me and my guitar against the world,” he says. “It’s very liberating and exciting and new for me. I’m having the time of my life, but at the same time, there are some nights where it goes better than others. There’s nothing to fall back on, and if you’re not firing on all cylinders…well, you’re standing in front of a room full of a thousand people and you’ve got to man up real quick. You feel like you’ve been pushed into the deep end and you got to learn to swim real quick.”
It’s certainly an interesting time to release a blues-based concept record which strikes a balance between dark and light, hope and despair, but is now a good time to try something new? With the breadth of Myles’ experience in the world of rock and roll over the past decade-plus, if he had to award a letter grade to the state of rock and roll in 2018, what would that grade be? “It varies so much around the world. I guess overall, from what I’ve seen on tour, I’d give it a B, I think,” he says. “I’m not going to give it a D or I can’t give it an A because it’s not as relevant is it was 30 years ago, but it’s still there.”
Part of the Year of the Tiger box set includes a special disk of demos that Myles recorded for the record, but are these the actual demos or polished up versions for the release? “Those are what I sent to Tim (Tournier, Myles’ manager) after I’d written a song. I needed a way to document them so I grabbed my laptop, plugged a little $100 microphone in the USB port, recorded them, and then shot it off to Tim to which he replied, ‘There really is something special about these demos, I think we should just release them.’” But there was no doctoring these up for release—the tracks were all done in about two days, providing a rare glimpse into the seeds of a brilliant record.
Signing a deal with Napalm Records is yet another intelligent risk for Myles. Napalm is home to W.A.S.P. and a slew of other metal bands. It’s a trend that saw Rival Sons sign to Earache Records a few years ago, which continues as the hardcore, independent metal labels work to expand their rosters. Myles is a fan of Rival Sons. “I’m probably Jay Buchanan’s biggest fan,” he says, “and Jay and I were talking about this. I think that they (Rival Sons) just released this officially—it sounds like they might be going to a national major label here—very soon or already have. So, I’m curious how that’s going to affect them. I’m hoping they are going to get behind them because I feel like that band needs to be heard. To me, it’s tragic that the entire universe does not know about Rival Sons. My fingers are crossed that it’s going to put them on the next level.”
Year of the Tiger is a deeply personal record for Myles which deals with the death of his father at a very young age. He often talks about how personal the release is and I had to ask if he has ever teared up during a performance while playing songs from the record. “Not yet,” says Myles. “It’s something that I’m kind of waiting for. The song that I am most concerned about in that respect is probably “The Great Beyond.” The middle section, as I was writing the lyrics for that song, that was probably the most difficult. It really kind of tapped into something on a very profound level for me. So, we’ll see. Ask me that question again after I’ve put that song on the set, and the answer might be yes.”
Having been in the game for more than two decades, I think it’s always fun to ask an artist where the most unusual place is that they’ve come across their music in any format. The answers are always entertaining and Kennedy is no exception.“ I was in the gym working out one day, and I heard “Don’t Walk Away,” which was really weird, because that is such an obscure track, and I’m like “Who’s programming this—who put this in there?” Especially at a gym, that’s the last song you want to hear when you’re trying to pump up at a gym. So, that was an odd one, but it was kind of fun, it put a smile on my face.”
Year of the Tiger is available on beautiful gold vinyl and marbled black and gold vinyl as part of the deluxe box set, but has Kennedy had time to give it a spin himself? “I have not,” he says. “In fact, I’m hoping to do that when I get home, because I don’t think my vinyl had shown up until I was already on the road.” I ask if he’s a fan of vinyl records and his response is enthusiastic. “Well, absolutely, I’m an absolute vinyl junkie at this point. I was kind of late to the party; I think I got into it about five years ago—I rediscovered it. I just was at Amoeba Music in LA a few weeks ago, and went on a wonderful shopping spree. My favourite record on vinyl is Aja by Steely Dan, so I bought my third copy. [laughter] So, I am sitting with three of them at home. I listen to that record, especially when I’m at home, probably five times a week. Generally, when I get to make breakfast, that’s what I put on, I have to hear that. I love the ritual of listening to vinyl.”
So will the Mayfield Four ever get back together? That’s the million dollar question, and I had to ask. “Well, I could tell you that half of Mayfield Four has already gotten back together, so Mayfield Two are rolling again. I don’t know, I guess time will tell. Between Alter Bridge and this project now, I’m staying busy. We’ll see what happens.