Stephen Kellogg started playing in bands in college at the University of Massachusetts back in 1994, and since then, he has been following his creative instincts to produce some great songs – mellow and always lyrical, heart-felt and sweet. They are songs that make you sit back in your chair; close your eyes, smile and listen. He spoke to The Michigan Daily about guitars, tunes and life on the road.
The Michigan Daily: When did you first pick up a guitar?
Stephen Kellogg: I’ve been playing guitar for the past, I guess, eight years. I started really playing toward the end of high school. I have played a lot of air guitar – especially in my high school band; I was all about the air guitar. Definitely, I was way into Bon Jovi and Motley Crue – I was a real fucker for ’80s metal bands. That all started – I guess when my sister took me to see Whitesnake in concert and that began that thing.
TMD: Do you remember the first song you wrote?
SK: I think that I do remember – I remember one of the first. It was certainly something. It was just some little instrumental thing. I think I was in maybe eighth grade. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that little tune; you can’t really forget the first one, y’know. I practiced it over and over for weeks. My dad would come upstairs and I’d be strumming my little tune over and over on the guitar, and he’d say, “Still practicing?” In high school I wrote my first song, probably called “Midnight Flight” or something like that.
TMD: What inspired that first song?
SK: Oh, absolutely dedicated to a high school girlfriend – a girlfriend of about two-and-a-half weeks, I think, at that point.
TMD: If you could choose one artist whose work you admire most, who would it be, and why?
SK: In the grand scheme of things, I think I love Bob Marley. (laugh) I heard they found something like 30 species of bugs in his hair when he died! Maybe I need to get more bugs in my hair and really start tearing up the international scene. But really, what I love is his voice, his stage presentation – and I love his ability to hit a universal theme with someone without being long winded. For example, I love Dylan and others, there are lots of great songwriters – but I like (Marley’s) ability to be simplistic but still touching.
TMD: You tour quite a lot – how would you say live music differs from your studio albums, both from the artist’s angle and the audience’s perspective?
SK: I like both – I guess I like live music; it’s so much more raw and rough, and that can be great, because perfection isn’t the most important thing. There’s something kinda cool ’bout that – little more real, I’d say. There’s ups and downs; like the highs can be higher and lows can be lower. The studio also, though, gives you a place where you can come up with a pure version that’s not screwed up by crappy sound or some dude in the back yelling “Freebird” or, for example, if you really want a sitar in the background ’cause that’s what you see in your head for the song, you can do it; you can almost bring the songs to life the way you want them to be. I do think the whole live the live thing is so cool, from my view or the audience, because you have a memory that goes along with the show.
TMD: What type of show are you planning on performing, and what kind of impression would you like to leave with the Michigan crowd?
SK: I’m doing an opening set and I’m traveling solo. For now, I’m hoping people will come and check out the show, get a taste for the music, maybe pick up records and we can start building something, which hopefully means good times ahead for future visits. I would like to keep coming to Michigan. I’m also playing on “mischief night,” the night before Halloween, so we should definitely have some fun!
TMD: I’m sure the road hasn’t always been easy, or fun. Would you say it was worth it?
SK: Oh absolutely. It’s like any other business: You just have good days and bad days. I feel like I’m having as much fun as I could have. I like to think I am learning a lot about the whole music business and about life as well. It’s funny, I never thought, never realized – y’know, you hear, as a kid, parents talk about business and it seems like this big, aloof, heavy concept that someday you’d get pulled aside and they’d say, “Now you’re gonna be involved in business.” I’ve realized it’s just what you do with your time. Everyday business for some is gardening, or for another guy, figuring out with stock is gonna grow, but for me business is driving and performing and singing songs. To me, that’s this huge insight into life, like a revelation, like I can’t believe I am in the middle of business and it’s only just being out there enjoying my life. Was it worth it? Yeah, definitely, which isn’t to say that everything was sweet and perfect – it’s not like that – and I guess that a lot of what my tunes are about.
TMD: Do you ever feel like it’s about the “business” rather than the music?
SK: Sometimes it feels that way, although I try not to let it get like that. I’m trying really hard to balance everything. Everybody has to negotiate no matter what they do, balancing between all elements of life. Sometimes the scales are tilted, but hey, I just wanna write some songs, play for people and have a good time. Definitely rock the balance and keep it cool. At one point I just wanted to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, but lately I want something a little more normal, just to enjoy things. It goes back to the whole balance thing, and in the end, my family and friends are more important than the cover of Rolling Stone. I think, I’ll just do my music my way, the way I’m feeling, and the rest of it can just be a result, rather than the end goal.
TMD: What do you want or expect from the years to come?
SK: The hardest thing is seeing what it is you’re really trying to do, and then figuring out what you want is the really tough part once you see that. You’re like OK, that’s what I want to get. So I see great songs – they’re all over the place. And I know what great songs are; that pushes me to want to do better. I just work on a day to day basis: Better to do good stuff and keep this balance thing going, and everything stays fresh and exciting. I feel like everyone has to be a sex symbol in all this rock and roll stuff, and you’re caught between a lot of absurd shit. You just have to know in your heart what’s real.
Stephen Kellogg is opening for Jeff Lang at the Ark on Wednesday, October 30.