"I think of myself like Seabiscuit, an underdog." So begins the bio of songwriter Stephen Kellogg who will be releasing his fifth and sixth records on Valentine's Day (well, actually midnight on Valentine's Day or February 15th if you want to be exact). Kellogg and his band will be making a stop at the Saint in Asbury Park on February 16th along with two other great artists - Virginia Coalition and Matt Wertz.
For several years now, Stephen Kellogg was a hard-working independent artist logging over 150 shows a year but this release will change all that. His upcoming CD, simply called "Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers", will be released by Universal Records giving the band greater exposure than ever before. He might still be an underdog, but, as with Seabiscuit, the odds are getting better.
The band's music is like classic rock with a touch of country mixed in, but Kellogg tries to avoid mentioning that as much as possible. "I don't talk about country because for whatever reason in certain parts of the country it can be like a four letter word to people," said Kellogg. "They'll be like, 'I like everything but opera and country' or something like that. So, I don't ever really define us as having a country flavor, but I think ultimately that it's rock and roll with a little bit of country flavor - at least at times."
Kellogg and his band are from Massachusetts and having been touring steadily for the past few years. On his first tour he performed solo, but the experience wasn't as rewarding as he hoped it would be. The band he has now, The Sixers, are comprised of two guys who are mainstays in the band now. Together they have helped Kellogg's music evolve into a true band effort. This latest record and tour mark the culmination in an effort to really make the music more from a band than before.
"The truth is that when I was a kid I really wanted to be Bon Jovi. I mean, I still do. I loved the camaraderie. I saved this newspaper article that I read about Bon Jovi talking about him and his buddies and their leather jackets. That, to me, is what playing music has always been about. I'm not a very angsty guy; I like traveling with the guys.
"I don't know that we're the finest collection of musicians ever, but we certainly have a good time together," said Kellogg. "Especially once I realized that fame and fortune might not be mine as twenty-five came and went. So I thought if you're not having a good time what's the point? I think when you're a kid the idea of being famous has some lure. But as I was out there playing and stuff, I think over the last few years I really redefined what it was that was important to me. I realized that what's important to me is having a good time and hearing songs like "Take It Easy" by The Eagles. That's one of those songs that when I hear it I think, 'this is a great song.' It feels legendary to me and it sets up the goal for me to make something that is as good as that song. Let's make stuff that feels like that."
In addition to their first release on Universal Records, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers will also be releasing a limited-release record called "One Night In Brooklyn". This CD is being released to independent record stores and packaged with the main record for as long as supplies last. The record was recorded as old-school as you can get. The band basically rehearsed some tracks then headed into a studio to record them live. They even recorded it analog! This was a completely different approach from the way they normally had made records in the past.
"I've always had a hankering to go and do something old school - just play with the tapes rolling and approach a record that way," explained Kellogg. "I'm a big fan of The Band and I loved the way they used to make records. But I never really wanted to necessarily put everything on the line like that and put out something that raw as the record - especially if you're only getting to put out one record per year. And it just hasn't been right or we haven't been in the right situation until now. When I was recording this record I met Mike Daly who was one of the guitarists from Whiskeytown (the band Ryan Adams came from). While we were making the new record he was doing some songwriting in a studio just down the hall from where we were. I was telling him about having some of the songs that I felt were some of our strongest material that weren't right for the situation we were in. One night he says, 'why don't we just go in and do it old school and then there won't be this pressure to make a single. We can just make some music."
So, the band decided to go for it and added Daly and some friends of his to join the cast for the record. Kellogg said he loved the experience but admitted that going analog might have been a bit much because his ears are so used to things recorded digitally that it was a little awkward. Still, the experience worked so well that he can foresee them doing it again someday.
"I could definitely see us doing a record like that again because there's something nice about not being able to polish the door knob too much. In some ways, I think it preserves the energy a little bit."
If you've never heard the band's music before, the show at the Saint on February 16th is a good place to start. The band's new record (the main one) is also a great place to turn because in addition to containing 7 new songs, the record also contains 4 newly recorded versions of some of the most popular songs in the band's catalog. And you can listen to tracks from their previous records online at the band's website: http://www.stephenkellogg.com
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.