This week, Stitched Sound’s Liz Watts had the opportunity to get to know Oliver Kennan, the front man of the band Kennan Moving Company, and chat about growing up around music, live performances, and their newly released record, New Colors.
You guys released a new album last week called New Colors. Do you have plans to tour and promote it?
No, we’re not going on tour, but plan on playing around New York a lot. We have a show in about two weeks and plan on booking a bunch of shows over the summer but no travel plans right now. We’ve played outside of New York a bit, and it’s really fun, but for me it’s my project, my band. So I have to cover all the travelling expenses and it becomes very expensive very fast. I’m 25 and the guys I play with are between 30 and 35 so they’re not really interested in sleeping on someone’s floor!
Speaking of your band, you have David and Bennett who play with you, right?
Yeah, they’re kind of the constants in the band. David is the drummer and Bennett is the bass player, but for instance, when we played on Saturday, we had an eight-person band – a 3 piece horn section, a keyboard player, and back-up singers.
Are these people that you’ve met in the music scene in the city?
Yeah, they’re all people I’ve met here in the music scene. When we were looking for horn players I asked around and those were people who came very highly recommended.
You said this is your current project, but have you done music in other bands or under other names in the past?
Yeah, I’ve been in a few other bands. My last project was two years ago. It was called Outfielder, and kind of a post-graduation project that I did with a couple people I went to college with and had played with. They released an EP, but as college projects do, it kind of fell apart because we all realized we had to start living real life.
In college, or even before, was music what you’ve always wanted to make a career out of?
I’ve always really loved music, and it’s always been something I cared about a lot. I played different instruments as a kid. I sang choir, played violin, trombone, [and] drums. When I was 17, I picked up the guitar and pretty much immediately started a band and started writing songs. I really “caught the bug” and was totally in love with it. Pretty quickly I realized it was the thing I was most passionate about in my life. My parents were very supportive of me pursuing that in college. And so I knew before I went to college that’s what I wanted to keep doing, and it’s really continued like that. It’s the thing in my life that I care about the most, I talk about the most- kind of the only thing I don’t get burnt out on.
You said your parents were very supportive. It seems like a lot of the time when young people are pursuing an art like music, their parents are very unsupportive and worried it won’t work out as a “real job.” Have there been any people that have had that mindset and you’ve just had to brush it off?
I mean, people for sure are kind of dismissive of you saying, “Yeah I want to be a musician. This is what I want to do with my life,” because it is very improbable that it will ever become something that you could support yourself or a family with. But most musicians find other ways to make it. They’ll either give lessons or play in other bands and recordings. So there are a lot of other ways to use the skills you have as a musician.
Do you plan on ever having to lean into doing those type of things over the next couple years?
I think it’s pretty naïve for anyone to just assume that their project is just going to blow up. For some people who are very lucky, it does, and I would obviously love for that to happen. I watch a lot of interviews with musicians- I like to know what people think about what they’re doing, and how they talk about it. Something I constantly hear is people who kind of do blow up fast saying that after in life they need musicians who had it happen more slowly and gradually over time. They talk about how those people often have a better sense what they really want, and have more grounded outlook on the whole thing because they really had to work their way up slowly and really do everything themselves instead of someone just deciding who the next big thing is and taking care of everything. Often the result is not really knowing all the pieces of the machinery that really keep a career going. I’d love for everyone to listen to my album tomorrow, and headline Coachella this spring, but it’s not really something I think about.
How do you go about kind of getting your music out there? I see you have Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, but is there a particular way you connect best with new listeners and new fans?
Definitely! We use social media as much as possible. I think Instagram is great because it’s easy and very accessible. Most people I know have Instagram. Facebook is great and has built tools for musicians and artists, but I think less and less people my age are using it. To my understanding, it really depends on kind of genre is more or less active on those. My friends in hip-hop really have to be on Twitter to communicate. As for us, we’re an indie soul band- kind of indie rock, and a lot of fans we know who are into that kind of music really like using Instagram. We are trying though, to go more towards email because it’s the most universal platform- we can communicated when we want to without it getting buried in their news feed.
During your shows, what is the crowd like? Are they there because they’ve seen you and know your music already, or is it just kind of a word-of-mouth thing where people bring along their friends?
We have a pretty mixed crowd. Usually a lot of friends, and friends of friends, but we’ve definitely started getting more people finding us and wanting to come see the show. At our last show, I had a guy come up to me saying he found me on Youtube and wanted to come check it out. Which I thought was pretty wild, that someone just saw one of my videos and decided to come spend his night with me.
What goes through your head when you’re performing?
Obviously it’s very fun, and we have a lot of fun. A lot of our music is pretty high energy – especially live. There are a million bands and a ton of venues, so your show isn’t always going to be packed, or high energy. I’ve seen a lot of bands get pretty discouraged because they don’t have a packed show. I think a lot of them don’t realize it really shows on their face and their body language if they’re disappointed. And then, if the musicians onstage look like that, or like they’re not happy, the crowd just reflects that. The crowd will lose energy and stop paying attention. I try to have as much fun as possible onstage, and I really try to party and hope people party with me! I find that’s always the best way- to put out the energy that you want to get back.
What are your musical influences when writing? Any classics or artists that have caught your eye recently?
I like a lot of different kinds of music and I certainly don’t just draw from one type of music, but I love soul music, R&B, rock and roll, but I also love alternative and indie music. I think people’s taste in music often gets crystalized somewhere between the age of 17 and 20, because that’s when you really determine what your personality is- what kind of person you are. I think that kind of makes sense, because when I was 16, 17, 18, I was listening to a lot of older music. A lot of Jimi Hendrix and Redding, but also to a lot of radio hits and indie music, or New York Indie rock like Suckers and Reptar. I think if you listen to it, you’ll find a lot of those eras in our music. It does seem like there’s been a resurgence in soul, R&B, and funk recently- which is awesome. I really love Vulfpeck- they’re mostly an instrumental band that would make crazy Youtube videos- and now they’re playing at Bonnaroo. I like Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Dianne Coffee – these are all bands that are in a similar zone. Obviously I don’t think we are all doing the same thing, but drawing on similar inspirations and energy.
You mentioned that you were a musician at a young age. Were you heavily influenced to do so by a certain type of music, or parents that were musicians?
My dad was a music lover, and my mom was also a big music lover, so pretty early on, my dad would definitely be playing a lot of the Beatles and Bob Dylan for me. My mom loved to dance, so we would always do a lot of holiday parties and things. Sometimes we would hire a live band and have a dance floor with all our friends and family. Those are pretty strong childhood memories, dancing with my brothers and sisters and mom and dad, and just having a good time. I think that definitely left a strong impression on me. It was a good, nice, fun thing to do – to listen to music and dance and move around. It’s definitely one of my favorite things to do.
Do you think things like that are kind of being brushed aside and called “old school” now, and done less frequently?
I think it usually depends on who you’re talking to, but I know a lot of people who love live music. A lot of my friends are into bluegrass music, and one thing that you do when you’re into bluegrass is you have people over to your house for a pickin’ party. Everyone comes and in a genre like that, there are classic songs that everyone knows, so everyone can just join in and play. Those who can’t will just dance around and have a good time. Maybe New York City not so much, but I think those still happen. It just depends what kind of community you’re in.
Right now in your music career are you settled for a while? Or are you itching to kind of see what other music is like?
I really enjoy what I’m doing right now, but I like a lot of different kinds of music. I love folk music. I also really kind of more electronic music. When we did our first record, which came out a little over a year ago, I really thought that this project was going to be something where I could explore all of the different things that I wanted to do. But through doing that, and playing live, I realized that doesn’t really work so well. People, I think, when they want to listen to your music, want to kind of get into your vibe. So, if you keep changing the vibe, on them, it’s not really what you want to do. So I am planning on doing a solo project that’s more of a singer/songwriter acoustic guitar kind of thing because I write a lot of those kinds of songs that don’t make it onto the Kennan Moving Company records. I’d also love to explore a more electronic kind of project, and that’s where it goes for me. I’ll keep making records for Kennan Moving Company and doing funky rock and roll- and that’ll be my funky rock and roll project. But then my folk music project will be separate, and I think that’ll be nice because I’ll get to explore music without messing with the listeners!
You released your first record last year and it had a little bit of a different sound than New Colors. Were you nervous at all to release record number two this last week?
I was excited. Obviously they’re a little bit different, but I think it’s cool for people to see kind of where I’m headed at as a song writer and performer, or where I’m going with that idea and that feeling. So no, I wasn’t nervous, but I feel like I’m hopefully at the beginning of a very long career, so I try to not psych myself out that much!
We’re so excited to see what’s next for Kennan Moving Company and congratulate them on their success so far! Make sure to check out “New Colors” on iTunes or Spotify, give them some love on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, and sign up for their mailing list.
Connect with Kennan Moving Company
by Liz Watts