Posted On 27 Sep 2017
On “Hike Up Your Socks,” Liz Kennedy’s latest full length album of soulful, uniquely poetic narratives, she finds fresh and colorful ways to define rootsy – including bringing in legendary bluesman Taj Mahal, who plays harmonica on the whimsical front porch ballad “Love Gave Me Away” and contributes his inimitable vocals and banjo to the buoyant, self-reflective opener “Everyone Knows How It Goes.”
The 12-track collection is produced by Joel Jaffe, the renowned engineer and producer of Studio D in Sausalito, CA where legendary artists like Bonnie Raitt, Ringo Starr and Carlos Santana have recorded. Jaffe has helmed all her previous recordings and adds numerous string textures to Kennedy’s songs, including acoustic and electric guitar, dobro, mandolin, lap steel and ebow. Among the several Bay Area greats who trekked up to the homey sessions at Kennedy’s studio to help her realize her vision for Hike Up Your Socks were keyboardist Eammon Flynn, drummer Billy Johnson, bassist Marc Levine, vocalist Omega Rae, accordionist Pete Contino and fiddler Suzy Thompson.
Read more about Liz Kennedy in the following All Access interview with her here-
Thanks for your time today! How has 2017 been treating you? Musically, did you approach this year any differently then you did last year?
I besieged this year. I hacked my way through the days and months to find the sound I liked. To see myself more clearly. So I’m liking this year. Lots of hard work. Many euphoric moments with band members. Also experienced a wonderful working relationship with long time producer Joel Jaffe.
Where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood?
No music right now. It’s a heat wave (I should listen to that song!). 100 degrees in San Francisco. I’m listening to a fan. But earlier I was listening to the Hamilton Soundtrack. I like listening to music different from my own genre.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
I did always want to be a musician. A song writer, more to the point. That was hard to express as a young person … not to digress but I heard Carl Reiner talking on NPR yesterday about his son Rob who always wanted to be a director but told no one because how can a scrappy 17 year old kid with no experience say that. I felt the same. I needed to prove I could write good songs before saying I was a song writer. I wrote songs from 12 years old on. My first joy of song writing came from playing a banjo uke. I still remember it … The Man From Shiloh. Can you imagine what a 10 year old would have to say about a man from Shiloh. I fell in love with that instrument at camp … 10 years old? I already played the piano … but strictly note reading. UGH UGH. I learned chords on the banjo and guitar and finally learned chords on the piano later. That changed everything because I am a total loser reading notes. I admire those who can. I am a big reader of books but slow as a snail yet I remember like an elephant. So I always wanted to write but never sure I’d be good enough. Who knows what good is? Comparing ourselves is hard on the joints. But I wasn’t a GREAT piano player and knew I wouldn’t be. Short fingers. So I went into film production for 20 years. But kept writing songs. And finally came out, as it were, much later.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your hometown has affected who you are as a musician and the art that you create?
I was raised in the country really … in the wilds of Orange County, California! It was wild then. Truly. Beautiful country. Desert like. Cactus everywhere. The native squat palm trees. Rattle snakes. Cattle on the Irvine Ranch. I was a cowboy. Had a horse. Road everywhere in the back hills. The freedom of riding and visual beauty can be a great starting point for anything.
Let’s talk about your forthcoming album, “Hike Up Your Socks,” that you will be releasing this month. What was it like putting this collection together? Did anything surprise you at all about the whole process? Were there any unexpected challenges?
First, it was all recorded (but for one day on a B3 in a studio in Sausalito) at my house. It’s a make shift assortment of amazing equipment owned by my producer, friend, band member Joel Jaffe. We have always worked together, for the last 14 years or so. So the environment was lets say homey … and no commute (for me).
I felt a clarity I never felt before. A cleansing. I am more aligned with this album personally, with my own roots. And it is special also because I recorded it without my husband’s ready ear during the process. Without him. One never knows how one will face life after loss. Do you give yourself big breaks or pick yourself up faster? It is the latter for me. I did it all for him to be proud. To know I’m ok without him.
What was it like working with the legendary bluesman Taj Mahal on this collection? How did that collaboration first come about? What did you learn from him?
I did not know Taj before this album. My producer extraordinaire knew him and had a lovely insight that it would be great to have him play on the album. He sent a track to Taj. And Taj said he’d love to join in on banjo. Now the singing … we weren’t sure if he’d want to sing. And sing he did! Taj had been my idol for years and singing together was joy. Pure and simple. Past and future fused. And the song he sang on was all about the power of music back in our youths. And the power of music now in our older lives. He brought it to life.
What are some of your favorite songs on this collection? Can you talk about how some of them were created?
“Everyone Knows How It Goes”, the song Taj plays and sings on, has all the crucial elements I hope the album suggests. The search for fun. The power of community . Approaching life with a positive feeling.
“Hike Up Your Socks” sings about the necessity of putting yourself out into your neighborhoods. Not to just drive through, but to walk. To hike up your socks. That’s where community begins.
“Say the words” … forget pomp and theater and just say it.
With the summer being just about over, what was your favorite part about it? What was something fun that you did or tried for the first time? Did you get to play out live at all?
I swam in the ocean again. After a long break. I have such strong memories of body surfing as a kid. The ocean is so important to me. I have never lived far from the beach. I eat olives all the time to get that taste of the sea. Not strong ones … just these briney picholines. The aftertaste feels just like being exhausted and exhilarated after catching waves for hours.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? Do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these hard times?
I heard someone talking about Artificial Intelligence taking jobs. Others make a case that new jobs are being created. I don’t know. But I thought about what jobs can’t be taken over. Creative art. Art is everyone’s job really, either making it or examining it. Art is something we all can do whether we think we can or not. And it is the ultimate mirror of the world in which we live. But even more, each of us needs our own mirror. We need to look into ourselves. We need to recognize at least some vague outline of truth. We need to be our better selves. Singing sad angry joyful songs all go to the same core.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
Randy Newman. Paul Simon. Bonnie Raitt as a songwriter. But I have idols in more recent days, too. Fiona Apple for one.
What do you hope is the message of your music and what do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
The importance of intelligent fun. Poking fun at ourselves. Being able to feel emphatically.
What advice would you give to someone just getting started on this music path? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
Never stop if you want to be a musician. You don’t have to be a great musician to be a great musician.