Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers
- Article by: Jamie McCormick, Photo by: Megan Baker
- Posted: 10/04/2011
Two little girls – sisters – dance with rhapsodic abandon, twirling their skirts and waving their arms high in the air as they giggle and run around the living room. The girls belong to Stephen Kellogg, and they’re spinning to the opening strain of “Gravity,” the first track off the new Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers album Gift Horse (available Oct. 11 from Vanguard Records).
For Kellogg, the band's songwriter and frontman, such a reaction to his band's music justifies everything that has gone into creating it.
“When they hear the opening to that, they come in and start stomping around the room and dancing,” he says with a laugh. “I like to see that – it's very sweet.”
Although Kellogg bounces around the country, letting his music and his ambitions fly, his daughters manage to keep him at least loosely tethered to Earth. And he loves it. As he says in the lyrics of “Gravity,” “It's okay in the clouds / But I love it right here with my feet on the ground.”
Based out of North Hampton, Massachusetts, a small college town located on a winding river, Kellogg is the kind of guy who's just as comfortable playing guitar while sitting on a woodpile in his backyard as on a huge stage under blinding lights. And that bound-to-the-ground attitude permeates Gift Horse, giving it an unpretentious, unassuming feel.
With a dash of country and a sprinkling of folk, SK6ers (as their loyal cult following refer to them) create tavern rock – a unique sound with the driving force of arena rock, but with a small venue, old-time, feels-like-home quality. This is everyman rock.
The relaxed aura of Gift Horse originates in its single-minded songwriting. Laid-back and honest, Kellogg doesn't try to write hits, but writes instead about his life and what makes him happy, creating “stuff that you want to pump your fist to and hear on the radio, and stuff that you don't need a verbal decoder ring to figure out.” And what makes him happy is his family, who keep him sane in a consuming industry and inspired in an overwhelming world.
Every song on the 11-track album deals with Kellogg's life as a parent and husband, but the theme manages not to overpower the message. He explains the tapered focus and why he can’t escape the theme of family, in his favorite track on the album – a live take of the song he wrote for his youngest daughter, “Noelle, Noelle.” He says, “Someone asked me just the other day / How many songs you gonna write / About those kids and the one you took for life? / I just smile and say, 'As many as it takes / For them to know that they cannot escape.'”
While Kellogg says he and The Sixers found the lyrical focus for the album quite easily, he concedes that other aspects of the process proved much more difficult. SK6ers have always featured a varied repertoire with tracks from every genre and bits and pieces of every influence, which at times made their music hard to market. But in working with producer Mark Weinberg for their new album, they fought, wrote, edited and struggled to whittle down the multifaceted nature of their music into a single essence.
Stretching themselves musically, they found their stride in the boiled-down marrow of their music, and Kellogg says they can thank Weinberg for suggesting the shift in focus. Hesitant at first, the band finally gave in to the wise voice of experience. In Kellogg’s words, “Because he made compelling arguments to that end, we really listened to him a lot. And that's not something I do all that well. I'm not opposed to following, but it's not the easiest thing in the world for me to do. This is probably the only record where I've followed somebody else's lead.”
Musically, lyrically and interpersonally, Kellogg and The Sixers grew, both together and apart, through the experience of the most difficult album they have yet produced. And the effect was well worth the struggles they took to create it.
“Musically, we learned the value of not all playing all the time,” says Kellogg, “of space and of finding parts within the music.” And the balance on the record speaks to that newfound nugget of wisdom.
“There was a lot we had to fight for on this record,” he adds. “And quite honestly, some of the battles we lost, but I think we won the war, because I put in the record and I'm extremely proud of it.”
In the aftermath of the difficult process that turned out incredibly well in the end, Kellogg says he’s happy just to be touring with his bandmates, listening to Tina Fey audiobooks and looking forward to the next show and the next day he’ll get to spend at home with his wife and kids.
“You don't want to be too practical,” he asserts. “You've gotta dream! But there's a big satisfaction to me in just being a guy.”
SK6ERS- "Gravity" (Takeaway Video)