Q&A with Stephen Kellogg

Special to the Union Leader
November 22. 2017 2:28PM
Americana folk rocker Stephen Kellogg is on the road in support of his latest album, ““Tour de Forty: Greatest Hits (so far) Live,” which follows 2016’s “South, West, North, East” and 2013’s “Blunderstone Rookery.” 
Stephen Kellogg has a lot to be thankful for.

The solo folk rocker is on the road supporting “Tour de Forty: Greatest Hits (so far) Live.” The record comes on the heels of 2016's “South, West, North, East,” an ambitious album that geographically links four distinct threads of Americana music.

But even before all that, Kellogg, who first found success fronting Western Massachusetts' country rock band The Sixers, understood what it meant to give back. He continues to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital by selling his handwritten lyrics, and often performs for United States troops overseas.

And when he comes home to Connecticut after months on tour, it's clear his wife and four daughters are a continuing font of joy.

Recently, Kellogg, who will be in Derry Friday night at Tupelo Music Hall, talked with the Union Leader about mankind's relevance, finding value in work, and the beauty of a newborn song.

I was just watching your TEDx talk about finding meaning in your work.

There's nothing like a job that you don't dig to motivate you to find something that you do dig. You need experiences to lead you to the right spot.

This year we took over our online store. We always used to outsource that. We really want to get a better experience for the people that get our stuff. So we took it over, and I end up filling out packages. You don't have to be an artist to do them, and I kind of love ‘em.

Maybe the ritual of doing the same thing over and over is a mental break from other work?

Exactly. There's something very specific in front of you ... Without taking it too new-agey, I feel like sometimes we're just ants down here. We are so convinced that what we're doing is so important and we buzz around. We're moving our little bits of sand from here and there and building our things, and then the rain comes and washes our little thing away and we get back to work. I sometimes feel like we really are just like the ants.

It matters to us. It matters to the other ants around us, but I'm not sure that it matters in the grand scheme. So it's when I zoom out like that, it helps me put it in perspective a little bit.

So do you think people need to relax more?

I think it would be healthy. Right now I'm promoting these concerts, and I get wound up because I want to make sure we got all the tickets sold, and that we're so ready, and that we play everything perfectly.

But sometimes I just step back and I'm like, “These are just concerts. It's all gonna be OK. The world will keep spinning.” That's just a better way to approach it than like this other very intense place that I can get into, but I try not to.

In your documentary “Last Man Standing: Stephen Kellogg and the Story of South, West, North, East,” you performed live a song you had written only 45 minutes before. Why not wait until it's polished?

There's always this instinct inside and this hunch, and it leads you down a lot of roads, but I find that you want to listen to that voice. It's not every day that you write a song an hour before a show. It's so fresh. It really is like a newborn baby, you know? And there it is, and you're just like, “Wow, this is sort of beautiful,” and it'll grow up and it'll get worked out and some of the little moments will get smoothed over, but it's not necessarily ever gonna be so new again.

The other reason is that I'm not a very precise sort of musician. To me there's never a guarantee that it's actually gonna get better. So I feel like, “Well if it feels good right now then it may actually go in the other direction. It may lose its fire, in which case I'd rather share it while I'm here.”

How do you brainstorm for ideas? Do they just pop in to your head? (Mine) come in the middle of the night.

Right? I know, and you're like, “Damn, do I seriously have to get up and write this down right now?” Because if you don't, you do forget and then you're pissed at yourself like, “I can't believe I let it go.” And you're sure it's the best idea you've ever had. That happens to me.

But sometimes you can't find your way back to what you were seeking. I think the best thing is to try to write it when it happens.

How do you keep track of all your notes?

Yeah, it's kind of a mess. I do have a system over the years. I have journals that I use for brain dumping, just for everything, and then if I'm actually getting words, lyrics and stuff, I move those into a notebook. So I tend to use the notebook and a journal, which are always with me, and the pen - I like that.

But it's a little overwhelming honestly. I'm 40 years old now. It's so many words that I've written, so many computers. You always think, “Is there some great idea that I've lost track of or that I'm not using, or something that needs to be said?” You can spend all your time organizing them or you can spend your time writing the ones that are gonna get through.


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