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‘Tis the Season For Kenny Stockard’s Family Matters

With a new Christmas EP out this very weekend (!), it’s time to highlight on our Pittsburgh’s truest songwriter and finest star.

Kenny Stockard is a diamond in the rough that the world deserves to know about. His soulful sound is swoon-worthy and his personal joy is infectious – harmonious, even. As grand as both are, though, they do not hold a candle to his dedication. Stockard has creativity on the mind and the passion to do something with it, no matter how long it takes. And while it is worth the wait, he shares with us in our intimate conversation that some of his songs have taken not one, not two, but eight years to come to fruition in order to be filling our homes this holiday season.

For his new EP, out on Sunday, he also explained how pure in nature, lyricism, and musicianship it is. “My expectation was that my family would listen to this and they would know that it was authentic; that in a hundred years, if I’m still alive and you asked me about this project, I can tell you the same story from the same narrative because it was the truth.” More from this intimate conversation with the singer-songwriter on A Very Kenny Christmas is below.

Just to know that it’s gonna be out soon must mean so much to you, Kenny – and know that it will resonate as I have listened to this new EP and felt the spirit within it, which is memory making in itself.

It’s really affirming to my process as a writer to know that sometimes you can create things that mean something. You think you might be a little bit crazy and people just might not be able to follow whatever it is that is happening in your brain, but when people hear it and are like,
Oh, wait a minute.” It kind of validates me personally to know that it reached somebody. I’m super excited by it.

Absolutely. I’m curious if there is a song out of these four that you are the most excited about, whether it be “Truth Is” or “Big Tree” or one of the others.

I think it changes for me depending on the time, like you were saying. “Big Tree” is always going to have a place in my heart, just because I wrote that in the first Christmas season after my grandfather passed. It was the first Christmas where our family dynamic was different from the way that I had always experienced it, and so I wanted to write a song that expressed the things that he really cared about on Christmas Day which I also care about – and that is really just getting the biggest fattest, tallest tree we could find. Every year that was the main thing. I’ve never really gotten into gift giving or receiving; it doesn’t have a lot of value to me particularly in the holiday season. I love gift giving anytime of year, but I don’t have a special emphasis on it during the holidays. I really get into the Christmas spirit and the songs and trees and decorations. I really love to just transform our world and say for this little piece of time, for a couple weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year, that we’re going to go all the way. It’s gonna be all the lights and all of the shows and all of the singing, all of the joy and all of the gathering. It’s a beautiful time. So, “Big Tree” is my favorite right now, and always has a place in my heart, but “None Giftless” one of the newer songs that I’ve written that has meant a lot to me, too, because it kind of expresses what I just talked about. It’s not about anything for me other than being with my family, because as I get older I realize just how valuable that time is. Things will always be around – you can always get somebody a new gift. You only get a certain amount of time with your family and with your people that you love, though, so every year I’m like a little more reminded of what’s important to me… and family is very, very important.

You know, looking at my notes from when I first dove into this record, I wrote that I found “None Giftless” to be, and I quote, a gracious tale about our inner circle and the feelings that come with that. I’m glad that you also echoed that sentiment just now as the artist behind the song. As a listener, that’s what I got – this graciousness for the people in our lives at this time of year, but always, too.

Yeah, that’s exactly it. I think like you; anybody who has an inner circle or a group of friends know the value that they bring to your life all year no matter what you get on Christmas or what you don’t get. Sometimes Christmas can feel disappointing for people because they have expectations – some that are healthy and some not so healthy. They have expectations of everyone around them to deliver. For me, it can feel like if people don’t deliver then you didn’t get quite what you wanted. You might feel a little “giftless” in this season, but it’s important to remember that if people give you things, accept them with gratitude, but also just them being in your life is a gift in itself. We can and should remember the people that are around us all year are gifting us with their presence.

Your temperament is so special – everyone can take away from that. Speaking of learning things, though, earlier this year you released Chase Chance, which also has an evident weight of understanding where love comes from, what to do with love, how to show love, feel it, and share it with people. Coming off of that record and going into this EP, did you take anything from that experience and bring it into this new release?

I took a lot of things from that experience, from Chase Chance, just because it was my first record beyond a single. I put out singles before, but that was the first time I put together a few songs for one project. I learned a lot along the way when I recorded Chase Chance, so it made the process a lot easier this time around because now I have a little bit of experience recording a larger project. It made things a lot more simple to execute and it made a lot more space for me to sit with what I wanted to say and the themes versus being a little more stressed about the recording process. I feel almost like a sophomore in high school now. It’s like I got through freshman year with the first project and now I’m still an underclassman, but I understand a little bit more about how this works. I think it definitely made room for me to figure out where I wanted to go, which songs would work because “Truth Is,” for example, was supposed to be a part of the Chase Chance project. When I originally wrote that album, it was about 12 songs altogether, but I just decided for budget reasons which ones could work right then and which ones needed to stay in the back catalog. When I listened back to Chase Chance, it really did help me shape what things would come out in this next project because I’m obviously the same person right as I am releasing this album and I’m the same person that I was when I wrote Chase Chance, but things have changed and I’ve experienced more love. I wanted to make sure that even though I went from the album, specifically, in a more general love place and to experiences talking about particularly Christmas, I wanted to make sure that it felt linear.  Like you said, when I listened to Chase Chance, it’s very evident – that joy. I experienced that when I listened back to it. I don’t particularly listen to my voice, but I listen to the lyrics and I listen to everything that each member of the band contributed to that music and it inspires me to keep going in that direction. At the same time, in the middle of this, being between one project just released and one is about to release, it’s all in the same year. I’m still very young in the music game, too, so I think as time continues to go, this is like those moments where my sound is beginning to shape and I’m just really following the flow of what is already happening, if that makes sense. […]

I’m not in competition with anybody, let alone myself. I’m evolving and people who are on this journey with me, I trust them to respect the changes that will occur as I continue to record because I’m still living life and still experiencing love in every way. I will change, but I’ll always try to remain pretty true to who I am in my core. I think that’s a little easier because I’m a little bit older than like most people who start off in the music industry. I’ve been singing live and I’ve been singing my whole life, but I have only been a recording artist since I was about 29 or 30, so a lot of who I was was already worked out during my twenties, you know? Just like everybody else, a lot of who I was become more concrete before I started really releasing music. In that way, I feel like there won’t be much variation. I doubt you’ll see me do something that you listen to, and are like, “That is not at all like what Kenny is and from what we know.”

That makes sense and I think that’s what makes it so joyful, so harmonious, and so concise. From your first album past spring to this forthcoming holiday EP, those traits and that perspective get wrapped in a little bow, pun intended, to sound like you.

I like that. I do feel great intent in everything that I do. Every time I sing live, I feel a greater sense of purpose. Performing or recording, every time I begin, it always feels like I am exactly who I’m supposed to be in those moments. That’s what gives me the fortitude to work long hours and to talk at length about what I do and to keep recording and not feel a pressure of like, “Oh, I just finished the album. I don’t have the energy to do another one.” It’s like… I could do it. I’ve got two more albums that I finished since Chase Chance that will be coming out next year. I feel really inspired. When you tap into like this bigger tapestry, it just doesn’t run out. I know that because I am where I’m supposed to be. I get a lot of help everywhere I go. I never have to worry about there being enough of anything. I walk in full abundance and full provision because it’s who I am and it’s what I’m supposed to do.

Did you have any pressure at all to create something for the holiday world, in the realm of Christmas spirit, and in a time of year that has art that people hold so dear to them?

No, not at all. I did not think about that at all. I know that that exists, but I literally just closed my eyes and I just thought of what Christmas felt like to me growing up and what my family means to me and our experiences. During the holidays we always sing together and we always gather – everybody will be at the same house for every holiday. We will all prepare food. We sing more – we sing a lot.

My focus was on authenticity and respect for my upbringing and for the experience that are in my heart. As I look back on my childhood, Christmas was perfect because everybody that mattered was there. I don’t have to challenge my thoughts when it comes to the lyrics or the music because I know that my experience was completely loving and completely whole, so anything that I write from those experiences… I don’t have to worry about. Whether or not it’ll reach people or whether or not it will come across is not a [worry], because, for me, as long as it is pure and authentic – and I didn’t try to commercialize it or make it more catchy – then it is right and true. I just went straight from what I felt the source to be for the inspiration, I put it straight on paper, and got it right in the studio.