Bacon Brothers Q&A: Getting the Band Back Together
"I don't create the movies I'm in," Kevin says. "When it comes to music, it's my clothes, it's my guitar, it's my voice, it's my song"
The Bacon Brothers are better known for pursuits other than their existence as a band. Kevin, the star of films like "Footloose" and "Mystic River" and a forthcoming Fox drama, is famously six or less degrees of separation from just about everyone. His older brother Michael is a composer with at least 80 credits to his name including the documentary series "Nova" and "The American Experience." Beginning with 1997's "Forosoco," the duo has released six albums swaying between a folkier acoustic side and bluesy American rock 'n' roll. On Dec. 1, the Bacon Brothers will make a musical guest appearance on public radio mainstay "A Prairie Home Companion." The pair spoke to Billboard about their lifelong collaborative history, fans of the music versus celebrity gawkers, and their plans for the future.
What's the musical dynamic between you two?
Kevin Bacon: My brother is the lifelong musician, he made the choice to do that when we were very, very young kids. I remember him playing in bands and listening to the music he was writing in the house -- he's nine years older than me. I started writing songs with him, and then at some point I decided I really wanted to be an actor. It seemed like it was going to be easier [laughs]. I went off and did that, but we would always get together, sing, write, play, while he was doing his music career and I was doing my acting career.
Michael Bacon: When we put the band together 17 years ago, that changed the direction from writing songs and trying to get them recorded by other people to becoming performers of our own songs. I tried to make this band as close as possible to the kind of band I would like to see, and variety in both the songwriting and the instrumentation is a big part of that. Both of us have really gotten to be much better at all these things; Kevin's pretty independent now with his songwriting. He has his little home studio and makes really nice demos. So pretty much our collaborations are when we perform live.
KB: We put the band together really just for one show. It wasn't like a big "I need a second career" sort of move, it was just like, "hey, let's do this." One show led to another and another and eventually someone let us make a record, back when there were record companies.
What can "Prairie Home Companion" fans expect from your visit?
MB: I think what Garrison Keillor does with that show is so amazing. There's nothing else like it, and it's live, and it's a huge variety of different things. I really respect what he does and I'm glad we're getting a chance to be a part of it. It's a little nerve-wracking just because we haven't played in so long, because Kevin has this TV show "The Following" which he's been totally immersed in. But the kind of guys we play with in our band, they're absolutely amazing musicians and I have full confidence that we'll be fine. Hopefully we'll get four songs in; it could be anywhere from two to four songs.
KB: We're gonna have to do a little woodshedding to get back up to speed. We're gonna do some new stuff, we're gonna bring the band. I've never done "Prairie Home Companion," but I love everything on NPR. That show has a pretty good tradition of music and musicians. There's a lot of stuff that is musical about that show. They obviously take it really seriously. I'm looking forward to it. Live radio, that's certainly a challenge.
MB: It'll give us a chance to warm up for our own Town Hall gig on May 2. That's pretty much the biggest event we've done in New York City in a long time.
Kevin, any chance you'll get involved with any skits?
KB: I don't think I'm gonna do that. With the schedule I have now on the TV thing, it's a lot to get that together. I also feel like I've really tried my best to kind of keep the two things separate. That sometimes is a struggle; obviously I'm known as an actor, not as a musician.
Can you distinguish between fans who are there for the music versus the celebrity factor?
KB: With any show we play, there's going to be a percentage of people who are there because they like or know the music, and there's also gonna be a usually pretty healthy percentage where it's the celebrity thing. They want to see what I look like in person or whatever, what kind of clothes I'm wearing. We sort of deny that-we feel like our job as a band, as singers and songwriters, is: people are in the seats, they've paid money to be there, they've carved out their time, we try to put on the best show possible and hopefully have them leave liking some of the music and wanting to come back. There's certain pockets of the country where now, when we go back and play, there are people who really know the music. They sing along. It's just like what you dream of, from a musician's standpoint. But that doesn't happen every time.
That must be a great feeling you don't really get from making movies.
KB: Let me tell you something, there's nothing really as powerful as that. For me, the best stuff that either one of us has done as writers is the stuff that is really intensely based on personal experiences. So if you have that kind of experience and you're able to sit down with a guitar and transfer that into something someone else can relate to -- even if it's "relate to" to the extent that they wanna tap their foot to it -- you feel an immense satisfaction from that. We've had people who have said, "That tune got me through a rough time." There's some similarities -- people say "that was a performance that meant something to me" with a movie, but I think the difference is I don't write the lines I say. I don't create the movies. When it comes to music, it's my clothes, it's my guitar, it's my voice, it's my song.
You haven't really performed any music onscreen, have you?
KB: I really haven't. Sometimes people have offered me things thinking that was going to be a big draw for me -- "You get to sing in this movie! Even though the movie's a piece of shit, you get to sing in it!" [laughs] I'm not opposed to the idea, but it has to be right.
What's the plan for the Bacon Brothers in 2013?
KB: We're working on stuff now. These days we don't really sit down and get in the studio and record fifteen tracks. It's sort of piecemeal, we pass things around and people add different parts. We've done six records and the tides have shifted a little in terms of the actual writing. I was super, super prolific, and now, for whatever reason, my brother is the one that's doing more writing. On the next record, however it manifests itself, there will definitely be more songs that he's written.
Are there new musical directions you're looking to explore?
MB: I think we've pretty much understood what it is we do best. It's a question of focusing on what that is and trying to get better and better doing that. There's nothing in our collaboration as the Bacon Brothers that's trying to find new ground; I'm trying to perfect the same ground I've been on for close to 40 years now in my career as a singer-songwriter. It's kind of the one professional place my brother and I rule the show; everything both on his side and my side is pretty collaborative, but when it comes to the band, it's a nice luxury to really have it be based on what we think and not having to answer to or please anybody else.