Kenneth Harris doesn’t seem to stop, I caught up with him days before the birth of his first child, not long after finishing co-writes and just before a bunch of live shows with Panic! At The Disco as their touring guitarist. And in between all these other projects, Kenny somehow finds time for his own music having released his second album ‘Will U B Minor?’ late last year. We talked about the album, his inspiration and juggling all the projects he’s involved in.
What inspired you to become a musician?
I just sort of did it. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I made friends with older guys that played in bands or that had guitars, and I was like that’s cool. I always liked music, I didn’t ever set out like ‘I’m gunna be in a band’, it just sort of happened and then I loved it and kept doing it. I was in a band called The Films which we actually spent a fair bit of time in England and the UK as well, but it was the same guy that I started with when I was 15.
That’s really cool!
Yeah, it’s cool. That’s not always the case in music, that you get to go and start your boyhood parent’s basement band and get to sign a major label and tour the world, so it’s pretty cool.
‘Will U B Minor?’ is amazing. It’s been my coursework survival method right now.
That’s so nice to hear! Thank you.
Why did you choose that track as the title track?
For some reason the whole thing sort of resonated with me. It’s a bit of a love letter to the whole music business. It definitely hasn’t been an easy road for me, I’ve been lucky in a lot of ways but it was a lot of unluckiness that led to luck. The whole thing is sort of about kind of going ‘fuck I’m going to do it anyway. I might as well’, for better or for worse kind of thing. It’s really about committing to an artist’s life but understanding that that might not always be in the best things for you. That song was written, I think I was in a shower in Mexico realising I’d been writing for myself, for other people, for artists, for a bunch of things, and it was just like this frustration of ‘fuck it, this one’s for me, you can’t have this’, a little bit of the take the power back kind of thing. The first track is the mission statement of the record, ‘The Impossible Dream’, which is like you can even see that little Picasso donkey, that drawing on my in-ears. I have a little one up in the studio, it’s always been an ongoing theme for me that I try to sneak in.
The album art really fits with the vibe of the album, how did you chose that?
It’s a picture my wife took, she’s a photographer but it wasn’t a conscious effort. It was just a picture that I thought was really cool, really beautiful and it fit, it totally fit. I’m glad I didn’t end up putting any writing, any artwork, any name on it because this was a tough record to make and get out and it took a lot out of me, so in a lot of ways I felt like it was just like, there it is, [laughs] like that’s out.
It really sums up the album.
Yeah, I felt that too and it was kind of like one of those things, I asked some people to maybe help me out with like a cover design and it was just like the total sophomore slump or whatever it is that I couldn’t get anyone to pay attention. But I just kept doing it anyway, kind of like the whole mission statement of the record.
How does the writing process work for you?
Well, it depends, I’ve done 3 co-writes this week and for that it’s like people come over to my humble little studio in the garage at my house, which is actually really cool and I’m very happy for it. They come over, we write for them mostly. Songs for me I don’t usually write with other people, they are ones I’ve been holding onto and something I hold dear because I guess for me as an artist every line is important and means something. For a lot of pop, which happens in LA a lot, it’s really about building up a large catalogue and sending it around, which doesn’t discredit the songs, we’ve made some awesome pop songs out in the garage, they’re just not usually for me.
What do you think are the most important, the easiest and the hardest part of a song?
I might have to rephrase your question a little bit. I’m a bit of a believer in that the idea or the thing that you’re chasing after is already out there you just have to find it. You’re kind of like the conduit and whatever it is, you just help it come to life and occasionally that little guy will just tap you on the shoulder and be like ‘here it is! Here’s the whole thing’. And other times it’ll be, like I have a few songs that for years now it’s just there’s something special about that one but it’s just not right and you just sit there and you wait, fortunately for me I can be as patient as I want [laughs]. So yeah, it can be easy. The most important part I think, is if you’re gunna step up to a microphone have something to say. It’s fun and cool to write a bunch of cool buzz words that you string together that don’t necessarily mean anything, but at the end of the day it’s like, you’re talking pretty loud but what have you got to say.
What is it you’d like to achieve through your music?
Well, that’s a good question. Things have changed for me the more I’ve been into the music business, the more I have navigated it and learned about it. I, of course, would like to be successful, I wanna take care of my family, in fact my family is ever growing – maybe any second now I’ll be running to a hospital to meet the new one. I guess I just want to keep honesty involved in it, maybe inspire a younger generation to say what’s on their mind and try to do what they want to do and say what they want to say rather than say what they think people want them to say. That’s kind of my hope.
Do you have a favourite track from either album?
Ooh. It’s kind of funny because there’s a weird little theme in there like ‘Brooklyn’, this is before I knew it, it hints at moving to Los Angeles, there’s a couple little moments where it just says to do that and that was years before I was even thinking of doing it. Then, there’s the second track ‘Predator’ for some reason I always imagined if I ever made a video it would just be like somebody on a bus just going and leaving everything behind, it’s sort of an anthem like a pump-you up. The whole record was a bit of a transition, there were songs that were started in New York and finished here. ‘Fame’ was the first song I ever wrote in LA because I was trying to fit in to the culture out here. But yeah, I’d say maybe ‘Predator’ but ‘Impossible Dream’ I like a lot because it’s just a summary of all the frustrations but they’re gunna do it anyway.
What song would you recommend to someone who hasn’t heard any of your stuff before?
Well, it depends what they like. I don’t know, what would you recommend?
I’ve been recommending, just because it made me cry and I wanted everyone else to cry with me, I was sending ‘Empty Nest’ to everyone.
Yeah. That one’s about my mom, it’s very, very personal and very real. It was a live performance in the studio, I mean, I overdubbed some harmonies and a harmonica but the whole thing was just a take I did at my buddy’s studio.
That one gets me every time, but it’s a good sad.
My whole thing that I try to, if I could describe what I want to do through my music I guess, is beautiful sadness. That sort of melancholy in life where it’s sort of like, yes it’s sad but it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful, it’s great. Ultimately I feel like I’m pretty positive, I enjoy life and enjoy people and I love hard, but I do tend to go towards a little bit of the sadness in it, especially melodically.
It is, it’s sad but it’s beautiful. Like ‘Peacekeeper’ – that’s sounds sad but it’s positive.
Yeah, that’s kind of like, it’s yeah. Happy sad, beautiful sad.
Who do you think has influenced your sound or who musically do you admire?
For living influences, I can say a lot of cool names like T. Rex and The Beetles and The Kinks which I love and listen to constantly. The Strokes, the first two records changed me for sure, I love The Libertines. I don’t know if anything really translates to my own music because I always wanted to make music that rocked that hard, but mine tends to gravitate to this weird song-writer with hip-hop drums. I don’t know why, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time. The new Brandon Flowers record is phenomenal, that one’s hit me hard this year. I think those are the more contemporary ones but I listen to a bunch of old, old stuff, I try not to, because it’s important to explore everything that’s going on but I listen to a bunch of old music a lot. I would say, top 3 desert island records would be Tom Petty ‘Full Moon Fever’, Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’ and Weezer’s ‘The Blue Album’, because that was like my first concert.
If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
Anyone? I mean, just because I want to meet him, I think John Lennon would be really cool and just because we would make a surly pop song. But that’s probably almost everyone’s answer and I don’t wanna be overly pretentious. That’s a really tough one. I have my publishing company pressing hard to get me and Brandon Flowers to do a tune, but that’s more a contemporary wish. I would say like, you know what, I think I’m going to say George Harrison because I think he would just be a solid hang, which is honestly half the battle in all this stuff. Like, you’re gunna make songs, but truth is the time spent making those songs is almost as important as the outcome when you do it as a job. Joe Strummer as well, I can’t believe I nearly forgot him.
You’ve got Panic!, co-writes, your own music, SheShootsHeScores, do you find it difficult balancing everything that you’ve been doing?
I do. Stuff kind of ebbs and flows, it’s tough, because truthfully too you can get really burnt out. I’ve written hundreds of songs in the last year, couple years or so and for the most part nothing much happens to them. You don’t know, you kind of do this thing that you pour a lot of time and effort and sometimes a lot of soul into and then it just kinda vanishes, which can be very frustrating. I try to look at it, it’s not really me that decides what happens next and if I like the song then it was time well spent. We had a pretty intense December/January touring wise and then I got back and I’ve been booked up with a bunch of sessions and I can tell that I’m not totally there. Also I’ve got the baby coming any second, I keep checking the house like ‘you don’t need us to start the car, everything’s alright?’ It’s tough to balance, but it’s ultimately what I want to be doing and I feel lucky to get to do it. This last record was really tough for me, it took a toll on me, but I’m starting to see little gleams of the third record. But, it might be a while. There’s been some really cool co-writes, when there’s a great co-write it’s just a great feeling, like a young band that’s going through something that I’ve gone through before and it’s exciting and cool and you’re like ‘yeah! I’m like happy to be a part of this with you, this is fun’ you get all those feelings again and that’s really nice.
What is your fondest musical memory?
I honestly don’t know, I’ve had a weird sort of like musical ride, so long I was in The Films forever that went on to break-up, Mike went on to start Shovels and Rope which are amazing, Jake went on to be a great producer and I joined Panic! The experiences we’ve had have been unreal for me. We were poor kids in a van and this is just a different level of entertaining and it’s been pretty crazy, pretty amazing. It’s tough to pick one, there’s ultimately things really special about being in a van with just some friends and just like making things and doing this and that, but then there’s also things cool about playing Hollywood Bowl and being Steven Tyler’s backing band that was pretty cool. So I don’t know, I hope that I haven’t found it yet. I do really love what I do.
Have you found being in Panic! Has helped people find your music?
It’s definitely helped, like now that name alone is so big and special to so many people it definitely spreads. People will know who you are that didn’t before. The fans are so fiercely loyal, which is pretty amazing, but I’m not sure that musically it translates all that much. I was never super concerned about that – I like both for different reasons.
If you could create a band out of anyone living or dead, who would be in your dream band?
[laughs] That’s hard, that’s really hard. I don’t think I can. I was never like a great knower of names of players. Like I appreciated a good song when it was recorded and cool parts and this and that, but I was never knew names all that much, I just knew songs.
If you’re buying an album would you buy it as a CD, digitally or vinyl?
Okay, that’s a good question, I subscribe to all the music sites which is just how it is now for better or for worse, which for a not big artist is kind of for worse. But I’ll buy a record on iTunes or I’ll stream it. I’ll buy my friends records on iTunes – I’ll just buy them. If it is a have to have then I buy it on vinyl. I just go ‘The Desired Effect’, the new Flowers record, which is good. The problem with vinyl is that it’s so expensive to make. In an ideal world everything would be, hopefully make it so you always get the vinyl and a digital download which I think is most records now.
This is a question from my Mum that she gets me to ask everyone. What is your favourite app on your phone?
Jeez Louise. I would say, I’m pretty big into Instagram, but Panic! has given me the nickname Mood-lighting Harris, and they’re not wrong. Whenever I’m in a room and it’s too bright I have to change it. I’ll pull lamps from other rooms, do something, it’s just not right, people weren’t meant to be seen in that light. But, I have a thing called Hue, there are these special light bulbs and they go into any lamp and they’re all the different hues and colours, and you control it on your phone. So all these different lights come up and down at certain times, and there’s even ones that line up with a beat, so I would say that’s probably my favourite one. You gotta get the whole package to get that one but it’s pretty sweet.
What song pushes you the most live, either instrumentally or vocally?
That’s a really good question. The issue is I’ve been so busy since I put this record out and I haven’t really gone out and played any shows, which will be coming, mostly in LA of course. I think that the toughest one is going to be ‘Gen.Y’ because that’s a tough guitar part to play and sing but it can be done.
Have you ever met an idol and freaked out?
I haven’t freaked out as much, but I’ve met some pretty cool people. This is a pretty funny story; I was at a friend of mines CD listening party and I got talking to this guy and I was like ‘man, this guy’ we were talking guitars and we were talking about Mike Campbell, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, he was like my favourite guitar player. We were like, ‘yeah man solos need to be four maybe eight bars long and you should be able to sing them back to me’ and we just had the same philosophies about everything, he was talking about song writing and all sorts of things and I was like ‘man, who is this guy?’ We’re like in love with each other, or I’m in love with him, and it turned out it was Nick from The Strokes who is also another one of my favourites, like no wonder I like saw eye to eye and was having such a good time because like, I didn’t know it was him, but I was like ‘oh my god I love you when I found out’. That was pretty cool, that was fun.
I wish I was that cool and collected. But I freak out about everything, before this I was freaking out a little.
You don’t need to freak out! Don’t freak for me.
I was gunna say you’re a freaky person but that is not what I meant at all.
I like that. One of my favourite things I could ever be described as is dangerous. But in a good way. Like, in a lot of ways I am and I can be, but I won’t be.
What has been your highlight moment of 2015?
I’m still in a blur, I can’t believe it’s 2016 already and I have such a poor memory. I would say definitely finding out I was gunna be a dad and have a little guy, that’s been number 1 headlines I think for everybody involved. That was huge. That’s it.
Based on that then, I’m gunna guess being a dad is what you’re looking forward to in 2016?
You know, I am. I’m nervous, I think I’d be crazy not to be a little nervous about it. It’s not a traditional lifestyle and I will be still touring, but fortunately it’s a good situation and we’ll have help and everything will be okay. There’s no way to know how you’re going to feel being away from somebody, a little stranger you haven’t met yet. It’s gunna be the biggest part of everything and it’s kind of funny I’ve been thinking when am I gunna write the dad song, and I was trying to, but I decided not to force it. I haven’t done it yet, but I kinda want to see what happens and have something come out of that.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring musicians?
Probably a lot [laughs]. I’ve done so many things wrong, one thing I will say that I wish that I had done differently is just be more appreciative of the moment that I’m in when I’m experiencing it. I think a lot of people get caught up on the way, especially in bands and things. You have this ultimate goal, which by the way if you’re wired to be like ‘what’s next’ like I was, whenever you get anywhere there’s never going to be that peace that you find of like ‘ah, here we are’. Music is my favourite thing, it’s one of the biggest parts of my life, I wish I would have taken more time to appreciate the road to where I am now. Especially early on, rather than thinking about what’s next or this is going to go away or what do I need to do, because even when you get to a certain place or level you’re going to change so much and perceptions are going to change so much that, really it’s about the people you are on the journey with and how it happens day to day. I would say, enjoy the ride. As cheesy as it is, take time to appreciate the things that you are doing and how special it is, because things are always going to change.
If you haven’t already got ‘Will U B Minor?’ then I recommend getting it right now, it’s one of my favourite albums and is one of the few things my whole family will listen to. Kenny was such a genuinely lovely guy and really down-to-earth, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next and hopefully catch him on UK shores.
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This interview took place on 28/1/16.
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