Michael Bacon fought to make a life of music for himself. He’s been a Nashville songwriter, a major label solo artist and a rocker. He’s even been in a jug band. When times got tough, he refused to give up. He finally found a way to make some money scoring movies. His brother, Kevin, is a movie star. And that is where the story of The Bacon Brothers as a band begins.
How seriously do music critics take The Bacon Brothers? About as seriously as they take themselves. They are happy to perform the Kenny Loggins 80s hit, “Footloose,” title track to the movie of the same name. That movie, of course, was Kevin’s breakout role. They know that Kevin’s fame put fans in the seats, especially in the beginning. But after six strong albums, snarky bloggers or not, they have gained the respect of their peers.
Gene: You guys are from Philly. How did that city’s music influence you?
Michael: I think if you have to use one word to describe music in Philly, it’s eclectic. It has a huge jazz scene. So many legends came from there. The 50s, Cameo-Parkway Records with Bobby Rydell, people like that. That was a huge music scene then. Then you can cut to Gamble and Huff and they became sort of a prime mover of not only soul music but white soul music. You can put Hall and Oates in that category. At the same time, there was a very rich tradition of folk music; the Philadelphia Folk Festival and, of course, classical music, the Philadelphia Orchestra. I knew all the names of the first chair players in the Philadelphia Orchestra, more than I knew the names of the Phillies. So it’s just all over the place. I think for my brother and I growing up, that contributed to the sound of our band.
Gene: How much did you play together in bands as kids?
Michael: Well, I don’t really remember a time we weren’t playing together. We came from that kind of a household where if I were playing guitar, my sister would be playing the flute and maybe she’d be playing a ukulele and Kevin would grab a drum. It was a very creative household. Spontaneous creativity was really valued, so it was a huge part of our childhood. Also, my parents had a very eclectic style of listening to music. They weren’t actually musicians themselves, but we fell asleep every night to the FM radio.
Gene: Was music ever a competitive thing between you?
Kevin: I don’t think so, no. Mike’s a few years older than me. So I grew up kind of listening to him both singing and performing, but also writing. The songs being created from down the hall or whatever. If your older brother does something and does it well, it kind of makes you want to try it. We would get together and work on tunes. When we first started, it was really about trying to write songs for other people. Michael was writing songs for himself. But the first song I ever wrote, I thought it was going to be covered by Michael Jackson. I was about 13 or something like that and so was he. So I figured I’ll write a song for him to sing. But I don’t think that it was a question of competition.
Gene: You guys recently played with another musician from Philly–Daryl Hall [of Hall and Oates fame] on his Webcast, “Live from Daryl’s House.” What was that like?
Michael: That was an amazing experience. When you go to “Live from Daryl’s House,” which actually takes place up at his house in New York state, you get there in the morning and his musicians are there. You decide on the songs you’re going to record. The entire day is filmed. He sang some of our songs. We sang some of his songs. It’s not about getting it perfect. It’s about getting a groove and sitting around in a room with a bunch of guys and winging it. That is, in a sense, pretty much the opposite of “American Idol” and something that just really doesn’t exist except on the Internet. It was a really great experience for us. He’s a great guy, an amazing singer and the guys in his band are fantastic. One of the really great things about being in a band is you run into situations where you get to interact with other musicians you never really thought you would. Last weekend we played at the Grand Ole Opry with The Bellamy Brothers who are a huge country act. I think it’s my favorite part of being in a band.
Gene: One of the songs you did there was “New Year’s Day” from your latest album. Where did that song come from?
Kevin: You know, I don’t know. That’s a really hard question. I can’t really remember what the moment was when I thought, “Let’s, write a song about the Mummers.” The only memory I have is thinking that, just from a rhyming standpoint, mummer and summer and bummer might be a fun thing to try to work out. It just kind of came out.
Gene: Listening to the lyrics, I couldn’t help but picture you, Kevin, heading to Hollywood to be an actor. Was it from a lot of your own experiences?
Kevin: Yeah, I guess it was. I certainly didn’t set out to write something that was autobiographical. I mean for one thing with all the time I’ve spent in Hollywood, I’ve never actually lived there. When I left Philly, I moved to New York. I’ve lived in New York ever since. But I guess that feeling of being a stranger in a strange land, which in a way I have a real kind of love/hate thing with Hollywood, both as a culture and as a place. I mean I spend so much of my life there and at the same time, there’s a piece of me that’s never 100 percent comfortable there. So I suppose there are elements of it that are autobiographical.
Gene: Michael, how is writing a three-minute song different than scoring for a movie?
Michael: It’s totally different. The most obvious difference is the lyrics. Music is something that flows out of me. I can write music if I could stay awake, 24 hours a day without a problem. Lyrics and the integration of lyrics and music, which is what songwriting is, is much more complex, a state that you have to get in. So, they’re both music, but they couldn’t be more different.
Gene: Kevin, Do you devote equal time and energy to both the music career and the acting career? Or does one have more appeal than the other right now?
Kevin: It’s hard to calculate time because I don’t ever really feel like I’m not at work. If I’m not acting it doesn’t mean that I’m not working because I’m in pursuit of it or trying to generate material. It’s an ongoing thing and music’s kind of the same thing. The band is always there. So, I don’t know. I think they both seem to be happening concurrently.
Gene: Does your acting ability help you when you are writing or performing a song?
Kevin: Yeah, I think so. I don’t know if it helps me, but I know that it’s what I use. You know what I mean? If I’m feeling like a song is not working or it’s not coming across, I have to think of it as kind of an acting exercise and get back in touch with what the song was about and what I was thinking about when I wrote it. And that’ll sort of reconnect me to the song and will actually make me sing it better.
Gene: When the band first started you had to work against people’s assumptions that this was a star powered band as opposed to something that was operating on musical merit. All these years later, you have six albums out. Do you still have to fight against those assumptions?
Michael: Well it sort of goes both ways. I mean I suppose what you have to do is compare what the band would have been if Kevin were not a movie star and what it is, which is that he is a movie star. So we don’t really have anything to compare it with. But I think that still there are a lot of people who are skeptical. I mean in the world of blogging you can see some relatively nasty stuff every once in awhile. But also, we have a fan base that really is truly devoted to the songs we write and the music and the band. So, I don’t consider it a big problem. As Kevin said, we kind of just move forward.