Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers' Intoxicating Energy

Still dedicated to their cause after 5 years together, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, average almost 300 shows annually. Their current tour, “Celebrating 5 Years” consists of over 90 dates nationally and internationally; 2 of those evenings were spent in Chicago at the Subterranean. After a little PG-13 nudity, some insight into their personal lives and a double encore, they proved to be, not only great musicians, but talented performers as well. Kellogg explained that they try to give their fans an entirely unique experience each night but they break a few rules when writing their set list, “We never play a song just because we’re supposed to and this might make me sound like a dick, but because people want to hear it, we try and give people a really honest, real experience and that helps keep it fresh every night.”

And not only do they perform almost nightly, but there’s the time spent pre-show talking to press and post-show signing autographs and greeting loyal fans; it could leave one wondering where this super-trio finds the energy or time to write fresh material. But with a new album, American Standard, set to be released the early part of 2009 its clear they have tapped into their subhuman powers. Stephen Kellogg took a moment on his way to St. Louis, MO to explain, the fears that accompany being on the road for such extended periods of time, the process of producing another set of boldly personal ballads and to clear the record, he claims, “really, no I’m not a pothead. Even though I have a regular arsenal of guys who are like ‘Kellogg you wanna go get baked’ and I appreciate their generosity, but I’m not.”

Stephen (skunk) Kellogg the self-proclaimed “most worthless” member of the band, plays guitar and sings; he’s also the one responsible for the rich dialogue that keeps the crowd entertained between songs. Although not formally considered an instrument, it surely takes some fine-tuning and a great deal of talent to get this one just right. Keith (kit) Karlson plays accordion, bass, tuba and piano while Brian (boots) Factor plays drums, mandolin and banjo. They clearly have more instruments than arms, but don’t expect to see them using looping devices or pre-recorded music. “I’m just playing guitar pretty much, but we switch it up a lot, we switch instruments. The songs, sometimes they sound the way the sound on the record and sometimes we decide to play them in a really different way and that’s just part of it. I think its part of the fun of coming to see our band. You don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s not for everybody but I think its cool.” They give you real music in real time; no bells and whistles, just honesty.

They sing about love and pain with an inspiringly candid expression of fear and doubt; but they paint their narratives on a canvas of hope. Although Stephen, who is married, explains, “those particular fears [of never finding love] are not mine but I have fears that my family will feel that I’ve abandoned them or that I didn’t care. So, I think the way I reconcile that is, that your born with this desire, this predisposition to do this job and if I didn’t go out and play all these shows and do all this stuff I wouldn’t be any good to anybody because its what I do, its what gives me my sense of self. So you have to follow your dream and sometimes life is challenging and that’s one of the challenges that we meet. But it also inspires me to want to do better and better at my job and get to spend more and more time at home and be around them. The better we can do and the more [people] we can connect with in shorter amounts of time then the more time well have to be at home.”

“Its one of the old rock and roll clich├ęs because you dream about doing this when your little. You love playing music and then your lucky enough to do it and make a living doing it; then after a couple of years of doing it, your like wow there’s a price tag on the amount of time you don’t spend on traditional day to day life with the majority of your friends and family.” Kellogg also adds that it’s much easier to trace the lines to connect to your friends and family in a digital world; they are always a phone call or an email away.

But, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers didn’t begin traveling cross-country playing sold out shows to hundreds of enthusiastic fans each night. The group of friends formed the SK6ERS in 2003 to begin what they call, “an adventure without regret.” They started out humbly playing coffee shops and college dives and endured a few unflattering reviews. But in July of 2007 the tides turned when they released their 4th album, “Glassjaw Boxer.” Described as “a letter to the world about family and friendships,” it was hailed as one of the top 5 albums of 2007 by USA Today. They have since shared the stage with an impressive list of peers: Guster, James Brown, Jason Mraz, Kathleen Edwards, Josh Ritter, Ani Difranco and Hanson and their song, “Hearts in Pain” was recently featured on the show “One Tree Hill.”

And although these are the things that make headlines and expose the SK6ERS to the masses they are not necessarily the most fulfilling moments, nor are they the moments that define the band. Kellogg explains the moment he felt most accomplished, it “was when we went into New York on Thanksgiving weekend, we played on my birthday last year and the show was sold out at this room that I had gone to see concerts in when I was a teenager, and there it was sold out, and we ended up playing for two hours. We did four encores…it’s a fairly large venue and we finished not plugged in, acoustic, singing Glass Jaw Boxer. Nobody had left and everybody was sitting there singing the song with us and I just thought, this is what I dreamt about when I was a kid; this is it right here, its just, it made me, I cant remember feeling more proud with what we’ve done with our lives than I did that night.”

In December the SK6ERS will begin a new chapter when they head back to the studio to record “American Standard.” Their previous release “Glassjaw Boxer” may have hints of spontaneous prose, having been recorded in only 9 days. And while Kellogg describes the gratifying effect of producing an album as raw as “Glassjaw Boxer,” he looks forward to the time they will spend on “American Standard.” “On the last record I think we thought it would be really interesting to go out and just make a record really fast and not try to edit it all up and that was an experience, but it was a short one and I think that we’re ready for something pretty different. And we just get so much less time generally speaking to work on the different ways of making records so right now we’re really excited to spend a bit more time making this new record and I think it will be, its like everything we do, we’ve never made a record taking as long as we’re about to take on making this record and that’s exciting to me. Its fun to try new things….I just don’t want to rush it, I think we’ll make a more kick ass record if we just wait and make sure the songs are [ready]. We have some really good songs written and I wanted to write some better ones and I think in waiting we have gotten even stronger material.”

The band has only continued to improve and grow stronger over the past 5 years and although one can only speculate, I believe its safe to say, the SK6ERS have yet to reach their peak. As far as their future, Kellogg remarks, “, its hard to speculate what the future holds I know that our litmus test has always been, are these six months more fun and is the music better than it was six months ago, and are there more people listening to it. As long as these questions all come out in the affirmative, I think we will continue doing what were doing as long as it feels right.”

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