Simplicity has its place in pop music, but so does sophistication.
When it came time to make the first Kennedys album since 2008’s Better Dreams, singer/guitarist Maura Kennedy wanted to stretch out and challenge herself as well as her husband and bandmate, multi-instrumentalist Pete Kennedy.
Following a visit to Paris with a friend, Maura spent a lot of time thinking about Impressionist-inspired music. Her thoughts soon turned toward making music with Pete that featured “a mixture of Parisian-kinds of chord progressions and soundscapes with pop lyrics.”
“Each of us put out solo albums since our last Kennedys album, and we were trying to come up with a concept for [our] new album,” she explains from her New York home. “So that was the idea when Pete started coming up with those soundscapes for me, based on that suggestion.”
This year, The Kennedys traveled together to Paris, but it wasn’t a case of Pete playing catch-up before they finished Closer Than You Know, Maura says.
“He had already run with the idea as far as the music tracks were concerned,” she adds. “It was toward the end of the project, but it sort of wrapped it up for us. We finished up the album right after that trip.”
Working within more complex chord structures proved to be a challenge for Maura Kennedy.
“It’s much harder to write a melody over a chord change that you wouldn’t naturally play if you pick up your guitar,” she says. “And because when I write to a guitar, I use the same four, five chords. And then you tend to rely on some of the same melodic things, too. So this was difficult for me to write melodies specifically that sounded like natural melodies within the confines of some really weird chord changes. I didn’t want it to sound like, ‘Oh, there’s a weird chord change going by.’ I wanted it to sound like it wasn’t weird.”
Lyrics tend to come easy for her, but “some of these tracks that Pete wrote didn’t have the typical verse/chorus/bridge [format] — they had different sections,” Maura says. She cites the song “Rhyme and Reason” as an example. It had was she describes as “this really quick little chorus thing.” Unsure at first what to do with it, she threw a hook in instead of an entire chorus.
Not everything on the recently released Closer Than You Know was written specifically for the album with the concept in mind — or by the duo themselves. Maura wrote “Made of Sand” during the time she was working on her 2010 solo effort, Parade of Echoes. Her demo for it was straight-ahead, she recalls, but Pete crafted a soundscape for “Made of Song” that put it into the context of the other songs.
Then there’s a cover of U2‘s “Wild Honey” that appears toward the end of Closer Than You Know. Although the song was a staple of Maura’s set during the tour supporting her solo album, it was Pete who suggested they record a version for their latest album.
“I think it works out at the point when it comes in — it’s like a little bit of light relief in a way,” Maura says.
— By Chris M. Junior
The Kennedys on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Sept. 2: Rhythm & Roots Festival — Charleston, R.I.
* Sept. 7: PSALM Salon — Philadelphia
* Sept. 13: Music on 4 — New York
* Sept. 14: Amazing Things Arts Center — Framingham, Mass.
* Sept. 18: City Winery — New York
* Sept. 21: Our Times Café — Garden City, N.Y.
* Sept. 22: Westerleigh Folk Festival — Westerleigh, N.Y.
* Sept. 23-24: Dakota Jazz Club — Minneapolis
* Sept. 26-27: Chicago Winery — Chicago
* Sept. 29: The Ark — Ann Arbor, Mich.