Kevin Welch’s Musical Meanderings
by Brett Leigh Dicks
Life is meant to be a journey, but Kevin Welch takes this notion to its extreme. He has traveled the honky-tonk circuit in a van named Phyllis. He created his own record label after having worked with numerous major labels. He maintains a head-spinning tour schedule and, when not on the road with his guitar, splits his time between here and Norway. Along the way, Welch crossed paths with Kieran Kane and the two have been inseparable since. This upcoming Saturday night, Welch and Kane return to Sings Like Hell, with first-time Hell visitors Fats Kaplin and Lucas Kane. And though Welch is a difficult man to pin down — both musically and for an interview — Brett Leigh Dicks recently caught up with the singer/songwriter to share a few words.
Two things in your biography caught my attention. One was your intense touring schedule and the other was a declaration about not having a pet in your life. I suspect those two are interrelated. If we could actually be in one place for long enough, we would have a dog or something. My partner, Claudia Scott, is a Norwegian musician and spends a good deal of her time recording and touring in Norway, and so we have another house there. Between spending time in Norway and touring, I’m not around here very much.
Given that you explore so many styles and emotions in your music, what do you consider to be its common denominator? It comes down to words. And the beauty is that words aren’t a static thing. They change because the subject matter changes all the time. I say all that even though I’ve hardly written a word in nearly a year!
You seem to write very freely. Are you not conscious of opening yourself to scrutiny? For me, it isn’t a matter of editing or censoring; there’s none of that going on in my songs. I don’t include things that the song doesn’t need, and I don’t leave anything out that the song wants. They call the shots and they are what they are.
You have released albums on a major label, but now you’re making your music in-house. What led to starting your own record label? A number of years ago I saw the business drifting away from where I wanted it to be. I had had a pretty good experience on a major label and felt quite well-treated by those people. But trying to do business with mainstream radio and corporate America was just too bogus and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I had some friends who were of the same mind — including Kieran Kane. He has fooled around with just about every label in town at one time or another. So we just threw down and started making records at home. The label is now just a vehicle for Kieran and I, but we have a catalogue of about 23 CDs, all of which I am really proud of.
More and more musicians seem to be taking back control of their own musical destiny. Is music healthier as a result of this? I would say that music in general is stronger. The music scene in the United States is in a great state. Of course we’re not talking about American Idol; we’re talking about musical roots. There’s a ton of it being made and there’s some great stuff going on right now.
And this is a direct result of people’s new-found freedom? It has something to with the fact that music became so constricted and so many people decided to bail out and do it on their own. At that point, you’ve got total carte blanche and you don’t have anyone breathing down your neck. You might not make very much money, but you can make any kind of music you want. So there is a trade-off.
Obviously, you think it’s a trade worth making. That’s very true. We are constantly inventing new ways to market stuff so this side of music is a little spongy. But we are learning from each other and sharing ideas and that’s a great thing, too. Apart from maybe the late ’60s and early ’70s, when there was a lot of new musical information all the time, I have never seen the music scene stronger or more interesting.
4•1•1 Kevin Welch returns to Sings Like Hell at the Lobero Theatre on Saturday, October 21 at 8 p.m. Kiernan and Lucas Kane, Fats Kaplin, and Michael Fracasso will also perform. For more information, call 963-0761 or visit singslikehell.com.