Kieran Kane; singer-songwriter, record producer, recording artist and founder member of Dead Reckoning records is an innovative musician. First off he played mandolin for a living, after as a teenager he performed on drums in his elder brother’s rock‘n’roll band — years later, Emmylou Harris started covering his songs. In this exclusive interview, Americana UK talks to Kieran about his new album, Somewhere Beyond The Roses, an album that was recently given a 10/10 review right here at Americana UK.
Interview by Maurice Hope
I see on the new album that you have pursued playing the banjo but I trust you have not pawned your trusty mandolin?
My brother was a banjo player and always loved it. I bought one five or six years ago in this little town where I have a summer place and figured out a way to tune it quite differently. I just love it and play it all the time. I had the idea of this record of what I wanted to use on it with guitar and baritone sax on it and wanted to do all the tunes on the banjo. So I spent about a year writing with some of my cohorts and some tunes by myself. Ordinary, I switch instruments a lot so when I do a show so it is quite relaxing staying with the one instrument, laughs Kieran. The first Kane, Walsh, Kaplin (2004) record, he continues, You Can’t Save Everybody was the first record, and first songwriting that I used the banjo for and since then I have used it more. On this one I had an idea what I wanted it to sound like with the same four people, the same four instruments throughout. Nothing is added so in that respect it is very much like a band in that respect.
One member of the band is of course, Richard Bennett?
Richard Bennett is unbelievable. I have known Richard (Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Mark Knopfler etc) for almost thirty years. We worked together once or twice and did a session one time for a Kelly Willis record and worked on a demo once. I had been familiar with his work and was thinking about Deanna who is incredible from Lambchop on saxophone and Lucas (Kane —his son) on drums and had four or five guitar players in mind and a friend said how about, Richard Bennett? Immediately, I thought he was the guy I wanted with me on the album.
I was amazed at how on some tunes your playing like on ‘Hands Across The Water’ has such a authentic old feel to it?
It is really a lot of fun and was a challenge to work with just the banjo on the record. Obviously, it is not a very traditional sounding banjo. A lot of what I do is, I think more based in a truly traditional banjo in sense that it comes from Africa. In terms of the repetitive riff and a lot of one-chord songs and music of Mali and the simple grooves of the tradition.
Yet, amazingly the same drive as Kieran Kane playing mandolin remains?
Thank you very much! I am just so groove orientated. That is the thing about the tuning, I changed it dramatically, and due to doing so I managed to dig those grooves and repetitive figures largely because of the way the banjo is tuned. On that song there is only two chords, the whole album is almost all in the same key. All but two songs are in the key of C and, sometimes that can become wearing on you with song after song in the same key but on this record it doesn’t.
You have a couple of wonderfully seasoned songwriters share the songwriting duties on the record in David Olney and John Hadley?
I have worked with John for years. I have known David (he also sings like only he can on ‘Don’t Try To Fight It’) for a long time, but it is only a couple of years ago that we have started working together, also we have David Francey who is actually with me right now as we do some pre-production for his next album.
Could you tell me something about him?
David is a Canadian singer-songwriter and his songs are just great. There is an album that Fats, Kevin and I did with David of his songs. We became his band for an album. It is called ‘The Waking Hour’ and I am sure you would get a kick out of it! It may be one of the favourite things that I have ever done most certainly with anyone else.
To close the album you choose Marion Walter Jacob’s (‘Little Walter’) ‘Tell Me Mama’, a surprising choice I thought?
Traditionally, I usually put on a song that I didn’t write and I am a big fan of early Chicago blues, early Muddy Waters and Little Walter and things like that. On one of the Kane, Welch and Kaplin albums I covered one of his songs and I loved the song, but had to work out how to do it on banjo. He was a great blues harmonica player and I thought with Richard, Deanna and Lucus the song worked out great.
With you using the banjo as an instrument to write it would be for you like going back the drawing board, such the different approach you would have to take up?
It is really interesting to use this line-up of instruments. I don’t know if it is physics or not but none of them cover another or mask each other in term of tones. Each can be heard clearly, Deanna (who also sings some sweet harmony vocals) a lot of times will be doubling with banjo riffs and things like that. Where there they are octaves apart, with a very high banjo part and a very low baritone sax playing the same line. I think in terms of the use of banjo on the record my style is different to most musicians. I can’t play like Earl Scruggs, he laughs.
How does it work with Compass Records? Was it more economical for you to work with them?
We had run our company, Dead Reckoning for a number years, and primarily, me was devoting too much of my time doing record business and not making records. It was also very expensive. Whenever we wanted to put a new record we had to hire independent publists, radio people and the manufacturing. It was a constant battle with distribution so we got together with Alison (Brown) and Gary (West) who were quite keen to work with us. So, basically this is what we do, we licence them the records so that they have them for five years but we still own them and can keep the catalogue together —it was exciting for us to be able to do that. Now we make the record, have the package designed and then turn it in and are pretty much finished with it. It is left to them to manufacture it and promote the record, they are a good company, honest and well respected in the business. Currently, we are drawing up a deal for them to take the entire back catalogue for the Internet and whatever manufacturing is to be done. There is less and less manufacturing done today and more and more downloading done on the Internet as record stores drop like flies.
I think it has been a good decision, because when your time was so short your creativeness as a writer and musician would be the biggest casualty?
You are right. It is the first thing to go, and the first thing to arrive is an ulcer. Hemmingway he would sit and write something like 500 words a day no matter what, hangover or no hangover —because, writing it is like a job and it doesn’t just come to you. Right now in New York State in the mountains and have a cabin up here and, as I said my friend David Francey came down because he wants me to produce his next record. He lives in Canada only about five hours drive from here. We have spent the last two days going through his songs and trying to figure out what we want to do, exactly. You have to put in (and have the time) the time to get the work done, I usually like to have a good basis of what needs to be done when we go into the studio, and have the structure in place. On this record I think we will bring in Richard Bennett, and hope to get Tim O’Brien, so the band will be them, Lucas on drums and myself and I am already excited about making it.
Kieran Kane’s Somewhere Beyond The Roses is out now on Compass Records. More info at compassrecords.com, deadreckoners.com and kierankane.com