After that, his considerable acting credits include beloved films such as “Diner,” “Footloose,” “JFK,” “A Few Good Men,” “Apollo 13,” “Mystic River” and “Patriots Day.”
Older brother Michael has been composing film and television scores for more than 30 years. When they aren’t hard at work in their individual fields, Kevin and Michael record (nine albums) and tour together as leaders of the band The Bacon Brothers. With a new summer single, “Play!,” currently in rotation, the Philadelphia natives were kind enough to take time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions for WAG before their Sept. 21 gig at Ridgefield Playhouse:
What can fans expect from a Bacon Brothers
MB: “We have a six-piece band. It’s 90% original songs. We throw in a cover, once in a while, just for our own take. It’s fun doing covers. The orchestrations and arrangements are varied. They go from solo guitar and voice to full, all-out rock ’n’ roll. We have a new song called “Picker” where the part our guitar player put on just blew our minds. I think people are going to go, ‘Wow.’ I play the cello as well as electric and acoustic guitar. Kevin plays percussion, harmonica and guitar. The guitar player (Tim Quick) switches off between electric and acoustic guitar and mandolin. The keyboard player (Joe Mennonna) also plays saxophone and accordion. It’s really all over the place. The songs dictate the arrangements, as opposed to a lot of bands who say, ‘This is our sound. Let’s make the songs fit into the sound.’”
So, you’re not replicating what’s the record, you’re giving songs a fresh, live sound.
KB: “Yes. We often do arrange things the way they are on the record. But, like Michael said, it’s really varied. There are so many instruments, because so many of the band members play other instruments. There’s a lot of switching off. Pretty much every song, somebody is switching something.”
What’s involved in the Bacon Brothers’ songwriting process?
KB: “We mostly write separately now, although we just started (doing) that. We started out writing together. Michael sent me a spoken lyric and gave me a little bit of an idea about what it should feel like, an up-tempo rock song. I wrote the music for it. Generally, we write separately. I don’t play the piano. For me, it starts with an acoustic guitar. I tend to write a lot with a drum idea. I love drums and I used to play a little bit drums and I played percussion. I really like the idea of building the song as much around the drum groove as I do guitar. I’ll pull up a (drum) loop and start playing along with it and build a demo that way. I’ll send it to Mike and we start talking about how we might interface it with the band.”
How easy or difficult is it to schedule time to record?
MB: “Nowadays that whole geography component is not necessary. For our new single, ‘Play!’, we booked a studio for an entire day and we all went in and played and recorded all the overdubs, which is a great luxury. Normally, you’re trying to get two or three songs in one day. It was nice because we didn’t feel rushed. A lot of our singles and CD cuts were just doing the demo ourselves, sending it to the drummer who puts the drums on and sends it to the keys guy who puts the keys on. He sends it to the guitar player, the bass player and so on. We might get together in the studio to do the background or lead vocals, but you don’t have to be in the same place anymore.
“I think the best thing to do is do it a bunch of different ways. You don’t have to say, ‘This is the method we’re going to use and we’ll never stray from that.’ The last record we did, which we released last summer, half of it was emailing around tracks and half of it we went into the studio for two solid days and cut the rest of it. I think it’s good to mix.”
What about finding time to tour with both of your schedules?
KB: “It’s hard. But we keep finding the time. For me, the challenge is that sometimes people will book a band (for a show) earlier than an acting gig, farther off the date (of the performance). I think, “Am I available in January 2020? I am right now, but I could be in Africa or something (making a movie). That’s challenging, but we figure out a way to do it.”
What are some of your individual projects?
MB: “I just had a film, ‘Master Maggie,’ at (the Tribeca Film Festival),which I wrote the score for that I’m excited about. I always have projects in the background.”
KB: “I have a show that just went on Sunday nights on Showtime called ‘City On A Hill.’”
Did you each receive music lessons when you were children or are you self-taught musicians?
MB: “I started music lessons when I was about 5 — the saxophone and then I went to the cello and then the banjo. My sister taught me how to play the baritone ukulele. Later, in high school, I did oboe. I’m very much a trained musician.”
KB: “I’m really not (trained). I had a few quick lessons on the guitar with Michael. I guess there have been times in the past when I’ve had a guitar teacher for a few lessons. I’m like a chord book learner, like a ‘put your fingers on the dots’ type player. I still do that, actually.”
Who are some of your individual musical influences?
MB: “Mine are really vast. I have all of the folk musicians I was brought up with, The Weavers, Peter Seeger, who still is my idol. He wrote one of the most beautiful film scores ever, in the 1950s, for a movie called ‘Indian Summer.’ I can sit down now and play the whole thing, and I haven’t heard it in probably 30 or 40 years. When The Beatles came in, The Rolling Stones, (they) blew my mind completely. At the same time, being a film composer, you have to be accessing the likes of Stravinsky and Bartok and Strauss and John Williams and all these kinds of things. I have an eclectic hodgepodge of influences. If I decide to listen to something, it could be any one of hundreds of genres and styles. That’s the way I like it.”
KB: “We have a few years difference (in age) and it’s either that I wasn’t that interested in it or they weren’t playing it as much, but I didn’t really grow up too much on the soundtracks and the classical stuff, or I wasn’t drawn to it. Maybe because I wasn’t forced to play (an instrument) or take lessons. (For me) it was all about Top 40 and 45s (singles) and Beatles and Stones and Motown — staying in the pop, rock, soul, funk world. Philadelphia was a big music town and we were exposed to Philadelphia music. There were also places where you could go to play with other people and put a band together, to write and share songs.”
Are there places where your individual musical influences intersect and become shared?
MB: “I think we share a lot of common ground. Of course, we also share a childhood where we played music together. The band is a pretty natural thing. We put a band together formally in 1995, but it’s really just an offshoot of what we were doing before that — trying to write music that people will like, later on writing music for Kevin’s films, which were all pretty much rejected. (laughs) I think we have a lot of common ground. We’re different types of songwriters and singers, but we come from the same place. That’s why the band sounds the way it does. We like natural, classic rock ’n’ roll instruments, but we’re not retro. I think we have an enormous amount of common ground. I think we also know good songs when we hear them.”
The world of the Broadway musical is rapidly evolving with recent winners such as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” and singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s “Hadestown” as examples. What are the chances that the Bacon Brothers have a stage musical in the works?
MB: “We started writing a Broadway musical years ago. I was brought up on Broadway songs. Richard Rodgers, to me, is the best as far as songwriters go. The mode of operating that I’ve seen for Broadway shows or for people I know who have done it, is that you get a partner and then you take all of your spare time and you devote that to writing this musical, and it’s going to take 10 years. As much as I would like to do it, I’m not sure it’s one of the things that I’d be good at. I’m sure that I don’t have the spare time to invest in that kind of thing. I admire those people that have been able to do that. Maybe something someday will drop in our laps that we feel like we can somehow transfer the relationship that we’ve had as songwriters and actors and film scorers into something that might fit into that format.
KB: “If somebody wanted to give us a jukebox musical, that would be a different story. But I think you have to have (laughs) a jukebox in order to do that.”
The Bacon Brothers perform Sept. 19 and 20 at Sony Hall in Manhattan. For more, visit sonyhall.com. The brothers play Ridgefield Playhouse Sept. 21. For more, visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org.