There's been a whole lot of farewell tours that I've been in attendance for, but oddly enough never a "hiatus" tour. It's my personal opinion that Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers are one of best live acts currently touring, and are extremely underrated. So with that in mind, I had mixed emotions when I heard the band was going on one last tour, at least for a good long while.
I talked with Stephen Kellogg inside Mississippi Studios in Portland, OR, a few hours before the band hit the stage and gave one of the most memorable performances I have witnessed all year.
First off, how are you? How was last night in Seattle?
Last night was great, we sort of worked out a few kinks here and there, but it was great. The funny thing is that you play these songs a million time, but you still screw them up.
Whatís the reason for the hiatus tour, for those who donít know?
Well, some of the guys in the band made a valid point this spring when we were talking, saying weíve been doing tour after tour, record after record the past 10 years. It was nothing personal, but there was some other stuff they wanted to do, and so much of what our band is about is the brotherhood of it all. So you wouldnít want to put that in jeopardy, but it didnít feel like ďletís break the band upĒ, you know? Because I donít know, maybe a year from now feelings may be different or maybe not - it was like ďhow do we navigate this?Ē. So the solution we came up with is if we went on hiatus, we could go on a national tour and we could have a good time, and give ourselves a little bit of time for the next time.
Have you filmed anything leading up to this or last night? Will you do it later this tour?
Film we havenít done. We looked into it because I thought ďgee, thatíd be a lot of funĒ. For a lot of reasons it hasnít fallen into place, but we just havenít found a film company or scene that really fits our budget. But weíre picking up a board in Denver, and weíre recording the last 20 shows.
Will a live album be a possibility?
I think so. I think with the way music has been changing with the way itís consumed, Iíve been a little put off by the expectation that music should now be free and that records should be tools. Because the way I see it, it still costs 10ís of thousands of dollars to make. But I think the goal is to give people awesome music, and then to say ďhey, this costs as much as an expensive latte and you get to keep it foreverĒ. So Iím hoping to put together quite a bit of what weíve done, as well as these live shows. And depending on what our contract says, Iíd like to maybe put up a ďSixers LiveĒ site where a lot of good material from the past can be thrown up, and people can pay for it for a really reasonable price and it can just be out there.
Well, you could even do it through Bandcamp, with the ďpay what you wantĒ option.
Yeah, and Iíve noticed a lot of people have been doing that. I think itís really great when youíre a 16 year old kid on YouTube and youíre trying to make fans, sure give your music away, absolutely. But if youíre Radiohead, youíve kind of have millions in the band. So if we want to protect the ďmiddle class of musicĒ, which is everybody from us up to bands much larger than us like The Swell Season or something like that, I think itís really important...I mean, Ēpay what you wantĒ? Well, how about just pay the 7 bucks that the bandís asking for a digital copy, or you can pay a little bit extra for a physical copy if youíre into it. But I think itís so cheap to buy a digital album these days, I donít want to de-value the commodity, you know? I want people to hear it, and we have great fans that have supported us endlessly. And I dunno, I just started feeling this way, maybe because I just read that article about Grizzly Bear and how theyíre selling out Radio City but they donít have health insurance Ė itís like, if music moves you, then be willing to pay a few bucks for it, you know? I just think itís the right thing to do, and Iíve gotten out of that, I burn CDís all the time. Iím not on a soapbox, Iím just realizing that itís really important.
So if you like a band, then just get up and go support it.
Yeah, go out and buy the record. If someoneís got some ridiculous thing where theyíre trying to sell their record for exorbitant prices, and youíre like ďthis is a lotĒ, then yeah. But most bands I know are selling their albums on Amazon for $7.99 Ė people will throw that money away on a sandwich or a beer, but an album you can listen to for the rest of your life. That might be an unpopular point of view with youthful folks, but itís something that I feel strongly about.
Yeah, I think sometimes people need to tour and be out there for themselves to really understand how it works. Sometimes a band might not be able to eat for a night, or canít afford gas to get to the next show, etc.
Yeah, this isnít a complaint, but since you mention it, thereís one album in our catalogue after we buy off the album, pay off our management, and pay the venue, weíre making 80 cents every time we sell one. So we have to sell 5 records to get a gallon of gas, and people can have those forever. Iím not complaining, I love my job, but I am looking at this and going ďno, records shouldnít be toolsĒ.
Merch rates are a huge detriment to live shows right now. Being hit for close to 25% of what you sell in a night, most fans wonít know about stuff like that.
Yeah, and thatís where ticket fees come in too. I feel terrible about it too. If we have a show where a ticket is $20, often times thereís an extra $10 in fees, so our fans are paying $30 for a ticket, and weíre only getting around $10 of that $30, and thatís if youíre lucky. You can do this for awhile, but at some point if we want the things that arenít the million sellers and arenít just beginners music and we want all the cool shit that exists in the middle then I think we be willing to support it.
How hard was it picking the setlist for this tour?
It took a little bit of thought, and Iím not totally there yet, Iím still tweaking it. Iím still trying to be brave and change some things. But we decided we donít want this to be a retrospective, because thatís not what itís about. We decided ďletís make this a setlist of what we want to play, where weíre atĒ, and in the days past we used to change the setlist all the time. And actually after that Needtobreathe tour (April/May 2010), I was so impressed with their show which never really changed, but their show was SO good that I thought If that show can be that good every night, and after conversations with Bear, we started to really hone in on our show and on our setlist. Now, we donít play the same songs every night, but we keep the same heart Ė we might sub out this ballad for that ballad, but we keep more anchors in there.
Are you taking requests from fans throughout this tour?
Well, we do two requests at our fan club meeting before the show (ďSixertownĒ), so we do that for the people that want to hear that random deep song, rather than learn every song weíve ever written. Certainly people will email me and tell me they love a certain song and I consider it, but right now Iím taking requests as long as theyíre on the radar of play. Thereís some stuff that folks want to hear thatís just not really in my heart right now, so weíre not really doing everything. Itís nothing personal, Iím still honored that people want to hear certain songs or whatever.
Whatís the one or two songs that you really look forward to playing every night?
I love playing Milwaukee, itís different every night and we expand on it. I love to play "My Favorite Place" off our last record, cause any of the songs that I really connect withÖ"4th of July" is a thrill to play, just the songs that feel like Iím singing to the people. But we also look to make a setlist full of songs that weíre looking forward to playing every night.
Can you tell me about the band thatís out with you right now, Miggs?
I donít know them too well, I met them last night and they sounded really good. The truth is, I just lost my mother in law, I had a baby, and I just went through a huge renovation on my house. Iíve had such a crazy summer, they sounded good to me, and our management suggested them, and I said ďOk, greatĒ. I look forward to getting to know them, and usually weíre super particular about our show, but we took a shot and theyíve all been great.
Gift Horse has been out for about a year, and it did pretty well commercially. It was on the front page of iTunes, etc.
It did alright, it had a really good first week, the biggest first week weíve ever had as a band. But when you make music, you always wish for more people to hear it.
When you look back on the record though, what about it would you say youíre most proud of?
We worked really hard on that record, we grew a lot, and we went way out of our comfort zone. We worked with a producer that at the end of the day, we learned a lot from him. Itís not an experience I would ever repeat, but I think we learned who we were through the process of making this record Ė it was like ďNice song Kellogg, letís write a real chorus and half as many lyrics, and how about you play nothing that you instinctually want to playĒ. At the end of it, we were really pleased because we made really tight good songs, and we had no regrets. And those songs because we worked so hard on them have been really fun to play live, I think itís the only record we have where we play every song off it live at some point.
Have you noticed a particular song from the record that seems to really unanimously connect with everyone?
"My Favorite Place" would be that song, it was the one that came out and we didnít realize that it was kind of the sleeper among all the other songs.
I think if most people look at your discography as a whole, theyíd look at the lyrical content and say it talks a lot about the celebrations and the trials of the middle class. Do you agree with that? If not, how would you describe the overall theme of the lyrics?
Totally. Thereís very little that I make up, not everything I write is autobiographical, but so much of it is me and the people around me. And I thinkÖI dunno, if my first record that came out years ago on Universal had been a big hit, I donít know if I wouldíve written all the things that Iím glad I wrote. When youíve felt the elations and disappointments of what it means to go through life without major bullets, just things that happen to everybody, you really start to appreciate the little victories and you start to understand that the sadness is a part of it, and so much of that is what our music became about because weíre such a middle class band. Itís just a weird thing, youíre a rock and roll singer and you dream of grand things, and your job is to be grand and connect with people on a nightly basis. But itís such a humbling career Ė 9 out of 10 clubs you walk in thereís usually some guy thatís hell bent on showing you that youíre not that important, you know? So you start to realize that everyoneís out there doing what theyíve got to do, and nobody is better or worse than anybody, and thatís fun to sing about because thereís a whole lot of people that understand what thatís all about.
Since the band is taking a hiatus, are you going to continue writing and touring as a solo act?
I am, we all have been touched by some really nice feedback from our fans; a lot of folks assume since I have the kids that it was my idea, and it really wasnít, and it wasnít an idea that I disagree with either. But Iím currently feeling like Iím in the zone and where I want to be Ė I started making a record, and Kit from the band is co-producing it with me, and all the guys are involved with the record in one way or another, but it is a solo record. So Iím closing in on being done with that, and Iíll put it out next year and tour on it and so on.
Are you looking at a physical release or digital release for that?
Weíll do both. I love physical releases, I still love being able to hold something in my hands, and this record has too many lyrics, and a more stringent producer would be like ďKellogg, WAY too many lyricsĒ. But because of that, I want to put out a nice album. I may put it out on my own, or I may put it out with Vanguard Ė I havenít figured that out, but itís really important to me that it comes out in a nice package, for those people that want something they can hold.
What kind of songs have you been writing on this solo record?
When youíre in a band, even though itís ďStephen Kellogg and the SixersĒ and some cases I got to make the end of the day decision, weíve been such a band and we always all weigh in, so you have to consider everybodyís desires to some degree. The nice thing about this record for me is at the end of the day, itís really just my thing. One record that Iíve always wanted to that I havenít gotten to yet is a record that sonically sounds like what I used to listen to growing up Ė I used to listen to Bob Segar, Cat Stephens, Jim Croce, Jackson Brown, and early 70ís songwriters. But thereís a lot of pressure especially when youíre on a label to make things that sound current, and I get it. And thereís a lot of pressure to write singles, and with this record, thereís absolutely no attempt to write any singles or to make it sound sonically current. I made it sound exactly the way I want it to sound, for my own listening pleasure, and weíll see how that strikes other folks as well. But itís super about the lyrics and the songs, thereís very little indie rock or what you consider to be a contemporary sound on it, and that to me is really exciting and thrilling.
What sort of lyrical content is on the album?
Itís similar because Iím writing about what I know and whatís happening in life, but this has been an intense record, Iím getting a little bit olderĖ Iím a damn dad four times over. Iím trying to be brave about what it is that Iím thinking, and not worrying too much about whether someone is going to like it or not. You only live once, you have to stand for what you stand for. So thereís some chances on there too, where I wouldnít have felt comfortable on a Sixers record to step out as far, because I donít want to speak for all of the other guys and have it be on them. But when itís just my name on the record, I can take a bit of a bolder stance on a thought I had or an issue, or say something a little bit edgy, and itís only me that has to answer for it, and Iíve had a lot of fun doing that on this record. Thereís some pretty sad songs, and thereís some really fun and uplifting ones too, because thatís where my life is at right now, a lot of highs and lows.
So itíll still connect with people regardless then.
I hope so, itís definitely not a drastic departure from the things Iíve always done. I think if you dig what Iíve done so far, youíll probably like it, unless you only liked the party aspects of the band. I dunno, Iím excited about it.
Over the last 8 or 9 years that youíve been touring, what have you learned about your band mates?
Man, Iíve learned so much about these guys, theyíre such incredible peopleÖI get choked up thinking about it, the idea of not traveling with them is crushing to me, theyíre my brothers. You learn what pisses people off, what hurts them, what makes people happy. Youíre in such a relationship that you learn that, and then you respect it and honor it, and try to be kind to each other. The men in this band are each in their own respect different, but quality human beings. I would play with these types of people over the best musicians in the world, thereís no substitute for character and integrity.
And following up, what have you learned about yourself over years?
Thatís such a great question, and thatís nice of you to ask. Iíve learned that Iím really imperfect and that Iím going to screw things up regularly. But when you realize that youíve screwed up, you make it right and you move on, and you donít hate on yourself. And the people that do hate on you when you do something wrong can go their own way. I think itís easy to beat up on ourselves as people because weíre not all who we want to be. I realize Iím not perfect, and Itís important to make things right and then move on with life, and thatís a great lesson because itís super liberating, because you go through the world and you judge yourself on your intentions. And Iíve found that I judge others on who theyíre trying to be a little bit more than who they sometimes are, and you canít help but learn that just by living and being out on the road, and being the quarterback of a football team, which is what I sort of do.
Is there anything else youíd like to add?
Those are great questions, I appreciate you being interested to chat. I guess if anyone was reading and they were already hip to the music, my big hope is that while the band is taking a break from touring, weíre not hanging our heads and we donít want to be out of peopleís hearts and minds if we can help it. So we hope to stay in touch through my music and stuff the other guys will be a part of, and stuff weíll be releasing as we dig through stuff.
this band really is fantastic. nicest down to earth people i've been lucky enough to talk to, even for 3 minutes. kellogg is a great songwriter and i just dont know how they didnt get much bigger. looking forward to his solo stuff.