Below, you can read our interview with artist Kenn Morr, and listen to Still Shining by The Kenn Morr Band Check out our full music review of Still Shining here.
Q: Great to be speaking with you, Kenn! Your roots in both the NYC area and Connecticut since the early 2000s have you firmly planted on the East Coast. How do you feel your time spent in these locations has influenced your songwriting and musical development?
A: I grew up on Long Island. My mom loved the ocean. So as far back as I can remember our summers always involved the beach and the ocean. We would sometimes even go in the fall or dead of winter. Just to be near it. To this day the ocean/sea references appear in my writing. It represents so many things. I was also always drawn to living in the country. In 2000, right before our first son was born, we relocated to the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, in the northwest corner of Connecticut. We are living in the middle of nature, with all its wildlife including black bear, deer, coyotes, moose, mountain lions, etc.. It is a writer’s paradise. Each season presents a different kind of beauty and experience. The seasons seem magnified here. It’s an amazing cycle. We’re really spoiled. So, my surroundings greatly affect my songwriting as nature references naturally appear in my lyrics because I’m essentially marinating in nature. As far as my musical development, I’ve been blessed to work with top notch musicians from Long Island, New York City and Connecticut. My current band with multi-instrumentalist Tom Hagymasi, bassist Pat Ryan and drummer Tido T-Bone Holtkamp are the perfect musicians to be playing this music. Three of us have been together almost 15 years. T-Bone has now been with us five years. Tom’s been playing professionally since the early 70’s, T-Bone teaches drums by day and gigs at night and Pat studied bass at Berklee College of Music. Playing with them is ongoing musical development.
Q: You’ve mentioned that your musical career started at the age of 19 when you stepped away from playing baseball. Can you give us some insight into that transitional period in your life?
A: I was a right-handed pitcher who loved two things: 1. Baseball and 2. Music. I’d sit for hours in my room with an album open, lyrics out, record playing loud, reading the lyrics from all my songwriting heroes. I was fascinated with the idea those songwriters were conveying their inner-most thoughts and emotions through song! When I was a junior in high school my older brother, Gerry, would drive me to a local club (My Father’s Place,) and we’d watch The New Riders of the Purple Sage when they’d come to town from California. I even became friendly with the late John Dawson, their frontman. He loved the fact a high school kid was going out to clubs on a weeknight to watch his band! So, when my baseball career stopped abruptly at the age of 19, I realized my only other true passion or “calling” was music. I wanted to be a songwriter! I can remember the exact moment that occurred to me. So, that Christmas I got a cheap guitar, wrote my first song within a few months and then off I went.
Q: You have nearly a dozen full-length album releases under your belt, starting in 1989 and spanning through the present day with the release of “Still Shining” . How do you feel your music has evolved over time?
A: I’ve never really thought about the “evolution” process as it relates to my music. Each time I make a record it feels like a whole new project and experience. And in many ways, each record gets easier to record. So, there’s some evolution there, I guess. But the evolution is likely really in the writing. When I started writing songs, I was a 19 yo kid who had no idea what he was doing. I was just doing it. Writing about whatever,… just to learn the process and find my style and voice. Now, I’m married and father of two sons in college. By being a stay-at-home father, I basically got a second bite out of the apple, seeing the world through our sons’ eyes. That really informed my songwriting. And there’s certainly evolution in performance because being on stage becomes easier with time. There’s a lot less thinking and a lot more feeling. Especially with this band.
Q: How long did “Still Shining” take to record? What was the process like?
A: Next to our double-album, “Afterimage”, (which was basically four guys playing in a circle live in the studio,) “Still Shining” was my most effortless project. Tom Hagymasi and I rehearse once a week. Last winter, each week I’d slip in a new song onto our rehearsal list. He would learn it on the spot and then we would arrange it. The following week we would go over the arrangement and play the new song. Then, I’d introduce another new song and we’d play and arrange it. The next week, another new song… It went on like that for a few months to the point the two of us had eleven new tunes down cold. So, we recorded the basic rhythm tracks (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, bouzouki, mandola, piano and accordion.) And then T-Bone and Pat came in and effortlessly tracked their drums and bass parts simultaneously “live”. The only aspect of “time” was between the sessions due to some crazy schedules last spring. But actual “time” in studio was as minimal as it gets. Everyone was prepared before we went into the recording sessions.
Q: Your song lyrics often touch on introspective and life-related themes. How do personal experiences shape your songwriting and storytelling?
A: I started performing live as a solo act, playing cover songs. I never felt connected to those songs. They were great for learning how to phrase and sing and play guitar and handle an audience. But those songs were other people’s words. So, my connection to the songs wasn’t there. I realized writing and singing words generated through introspection and personal experience served me on several levels and at each phase of the process, from writing to recording to performing. Self-expression through music. It still feels like a miracle. There’s really no substitute for personal experience when it comes to writing. And once personal experience is in the song, the connection is there! Then, the challenge is bringing the listener along for the ride.
Q: What was your first guitar? Do you still have/play it?
A: My first guitar was a Christmas gift from my parents shortly after my baseball dream (of being Tom Seaver) ended. They knew I loved music and wanted to write and sing. Unfortunately, the guitar was from some catalogue and after a month the bridge and saddle tore right off the top of the instrument. So, I saved up some money and bought a Carlos, for only $150. Let’s just say it was a nice step up from that catalogue guitar but not in the same stratosphere as my current Martins. But it served its purpose. Got me hooked! It played some early shows with me. But one day the headstock cracked and started to pull forward and that was that. It is now in guitar heaven.
Q: Perhaps in some unspecified amount of time, your musical career explodes in the best of ways. What does that look like for you?
A: I would have answered this question in a much more fun way 20 years ago (laughs.) The simple answer: reaching many people. Either at our concerts or in their cars or homes or wherever! We really do aim to create something that makes the listener feel better after the music. So, reaching many people is what “explodes” means to me.
Q: You get to collaborate with anyone of your choosing. Who is it?
A: That’s a tough one. For me, writing has always been a solitary/personal process. But musically I’d love to collaborate with Mark Knopfler. Just have him step in and jam on one of my tunes with us.
Q: Your favorite album of all time? (Yup, you gotta choose one.)
A: You know that is an impossible question, right? Gotta say Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” album. It was the first album I ever bought. Rode my bike into town to get it. Still knocks me out. My true love of music all started right there, with “The Stranger.” Of course, I can list ten others…
Q: Your favorite song of all time? (Again, only one!)
A: That’s a moving target. Another impossible one. It changes sometimes by the week. But Jackson Browne’s “For Everyman” is a virtual masterpiece and that’s what popped into my mind. So, I’ll go with that one (today.)
Q: What would you like fans to know about you that they’re most likely unaware of?
A: We have two sons, Nolan and James, who I’m incredibly proud of. On every level. Nothing else really, truly matters to me.
Q: Any shout-outs you wanna make?
A: Yes, to anyone who took the time to read this! Thank you. And to all those folks who have supported us and booked us over the years, thank you! And to Jackie, my soulmate.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I really appreciate you taking the time and hope folks check out “Still Shining” and enjoy it. You can reach us via www.kennmorr.com