Jeff Fasano

The Bacon Brothers: On the Map

Star power. Many say that it’s something you’re born with, so wouldn’t that mean your family has it in them, too? At least, that’s the case with Kevin and Michael Bacon.

When hopping on a Zoom call with The Bacon Brothers, one doesn’t know what to expect. The twosome exude charisma, and much like their catalog of songs showcases, storytelling comes oh-so naturally. We got on a call with them last month and Michael Bacon was the first to arrive. He spoke candidly with us about the weather, the leaves turning, and how a once on-the-loose convicted murderer had not only been caught that morning, but had trekked through a small Pennsylvania town he knows very well. “What are the odds that this new capture would put that little area on the map?” we asked. “It’s soon to go right off the map againI But, it was a little excitement for the hometown,” he said, just as brother Kevin appeared on screen (who also noted the surprising small-world nature of this massive news story being set in what was his “brother’s backyard” in a roundabout way).

These two are laidback for dedicated entertainers, but ultimately paint a portrait of brothers and friends doing what they love. Together, though, the duo are even more compelling and somehow ever friendlier. They take their time answering questions, throw responses back and forth, and show appreciation for the world around them – especially their native Philadelphia, and, yes, even that one obscure PA community. However, it’s not their hometown pride that makes us want to celebrate them (although our regional roots coincide beautifully), it’s the music.

The Bacon Brothers have a discography that spans just about three decades, and it lives comfortably in the sphere of indie rock chords, familiar tales of growing up, and alternating vocals that envelope each and every listener. There is nothing jarring about the way these two musicians pass riffs and runs; it sounds and feels as effortless as their sibling relationship comes across on stage and on screen. Fans are in awe of their incredible sense of self, the ease in which the harmonies come, and the humble nature they weave into everything. It was a joy for The Aquarian to tap into that bond, those songs, these stories, this area, and that ever-evident star power.

Let’s talk about “Philly Thing.” To me, it is one of the best songs to be paying homage to the tales and musicality of the city. Then there is the donation aspect, as well. Everything about that project, that song, that release was so special. What was it like for you two to do that? Not just for where you’re from and what you’re doing, but to also see a really sweet response to it even outside of the tri-state.

Kevin Bacon: It’s one of those songs that just kind of popped out. I have often heard people scratch their heads about something that they hear about Philadelphia, whether it’s a fan reaction of whatever – greasing the lamp pole poles in the anticipation of winning a Super Bowl and things like that. My response was always, “Well, you know, it’s a Philly thing.” I thought to myself, “Well, if there really are things that are literally tied to the city….” So, I tried to cram as many things out that into a song. There are some very well-known people there that you might not either realize were from Philadelphia or things that never even knew were just in the city. After we cut the song, Michael suggested that there be some kind of a Philadelphia tie-in and possibly some kind of a charitable component to it. Both of us are very big supporters of kids and music, because access to music and music education was a really important thing for us when we were kids. We found Rock to the Future and then we took it a step further, which was to have some of the kids play on the track with us. We made that behind the scenes video for it and the whole thing felt great. Rock to the Future is doing really well, too, so we’re really happy to have shone a little bit of a light on them.

That’s special. Philly is one of those places where you hear both sides – you love it or you don’t, whether you’ve spent time there or not. There’s such great community there and The Aquarian knows it well. I love that you mentioned ‘water ice’ in the song, because it’s a great treat and another specific part of the culture.

KB: Thanks.

Something else I wanted to ask you both about, and I guess this is a little bit of a personal question being an only child, but how you make being both bandmates and brothers look so easy? I do not have brothers or sisters, so I always am so curious about how siblings interact in the real world, let alone on a stage or in a studio.

Michael Bacon: I think we had good practice. We were brought up in a skinny little townhouse on Locust Street in Downtown Philadelphia and at some point or another, all six of us – Kevin and I and our four sisters – lived in that house. We were in that house altogether for Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever, so, as I said, there was a lot of practice. I think that the way we were brought up in that house with our parents, they really let us make our own way in terms of our interpersonal relationships. The only thing I wasn’t allowed to do was punch my sisters in the stomach. Other than that, everything was fine. I never knew why that was – they could punch me in the stomach, but I couldn’t punch them [Laughs]. What’s really cool about that is now we haven’t been altogether for many, many, many, many, many years, but we’re still all close. We’re good friends. Our sisters are incredibly supportive of the band. The band is also becoming more of a family enterprise. My only child son is now working with us! Since it’s a family business, there are a lot of advantages just for trust and communication and background. Sometimes when Kevin and I were on the road – even last weekend – it seemed like every time I thought of something, he did it. Or every time he did something, I thought of it. I said to him, “You know, we gotta stop spending so much time together.” I realized that there is so much commonality that really doesn’t exist between people who aren’t brothers and sisters. The other thing I’ll say as a follow up is that there are a lot of famous brother-bands that did not get along at all. That’s more the norm than the exception. We’ve been doing this for 27 years – playing in little clubs, traveling around the country in tour buses, staying in cheap motels and that kind of thing. I think we just get stronger when we know each other so well and no one tells us what to do. We just kind of do what we want to do. We have a bunch of great people who help us get on the road and get to the place that we have to and help us try to put on the best show we possibly can. That’s pretty much the bottom line for both of us, though: we want to entertain people in the best way we can with our songs and our playing and our fantastic band.

Having that balance of freedom and respect and enjoyment of each other must be what it is. Also, to have the ability to share ideas, know each other so well, connect with the crew… that’s vital to how you come across. If you can feel it working, so can the fans.

KB: I think part of the thing that’s fun about watching the band is to see two people that come from the same parents have a very different approach to music and to performance. Even though you could hear that our voices are the same, there are also a lot of differences. The way that we relate to the audience is very different. We’re one, but we’re not. We’re a band. Our songwriting is different. Our stories are different. I think that is one of the things that the fans have a good time with.

It’s the camaraderie between the two of you at the end of the day, because, like you said, you’re not the same person. Yes, you’re making music together and, yes, you share DNA, but you’re both very much individualists on stage. Similarly, everyone is having a good time on stage. Everyone at a Bacon Brothers show is happy to be there – band, team, fans, crew included. That all stems from the relationship between the brothers, between Kevin and Michael.

MB: Thank you for that. Yes, we feel very strongly that we should have the best time we possibly can on the road. And sometimes it’s not that easy to have a good time, but people spend a lot of money to come and hear us. We have an obligation to entertain them and make them feel good about the show. Having a great crew like that and band members we love is really vital to the whole thing.

You both seem to have a true understanding of what makes things work. Siblings and band members everywhere need to notes! [Laughs] With sibling stories on the mind, Kevin, you recently took on Madison Square Garden with Billy Joel. How do you tell your brother – who you’re in a band with – that you’re going to be singing on stage with Billy Joel. How do you go about that? How does that happen?

KB: [Laughs] I just told him! Yeah, I just told him and he said, “Awesome.”

That’s pretty great, because I would’ve been a little bit jealous hearing that!

MB: Hey, I never said I wasn’t jealous [Laughs]. It was still awesome for him.

It definitely is. So, are we now gonna see a Billy Joel song get covered by The Bacon Brothers when here in New York?

KB: Oh, yeah – Billy Joel’s coming to play with us in New York. [Laughs] Not really!

That would be cool, though! You don’t do too many cover songs anymore, but you could do a Billy song just for the Big Apple and say something like, “Well, he had me out for two songs last month, so I’m gonna do one of his now.”

KB: [Laughs] You never know, but our set now is pretty full. We have new music coming out soon – we’re putting out six songs or maybe actually a whole album of probably 10 songs. It’s good for us to play this stuff out. We’ve always had the impetus to continue to write and to continue to shake the set up. While covers are great and fun and we’ve played, gosh, multiple covers over the years…. I mean, we could probably put two albums together with the songs that we’ve covered over the years. On the other hand, we’re a songwriter band, so now we only really have one cover in the set. I don’t know if that’s really gonna change by New York.

MB: That’s the thing, we have a lot of songs that we really enjoy playing and the people enjoy us playing. Taking a song out of the set is a strangely difficult choice. In the long run, I think you never really a 100% miss it, and if something really, really was important to you, it kind of finds its way back in, ultimately. It is hard to find room to do everything we want to do, which is a high class problem for a band of songwriters to have. I mean, luckily I don’t consider myself too prolific – if I write a couple of good songs that I like a year, that’s good to me, but Kevin’s very pro prolific. He just can’t help himself. As long as the songs keep coming, that adds a lot of excitement, a lot of nervousness, and a lot to the set. For instance, we have a new song that we I wrote about a club in Texas called Green Hall, which is a historical Texas dance hall. That gig is coming up and so far we have not successfully performed the song in soundcheck [Laughs]. It’ll probably get a lot of noise because it’s specifically written about this little town in Texas, but I’m nervous to get it right. I am going to have to tune up my engine to really figure out how we’re gonna do that. […] I’m going to spend a day working with a band to figure out how they all come in, including myself, at the same time. We’ve gotta figure this out technically with clicks and count offs and stuff like that, so it’s a challenge always, with new stuff. New stuff is just so scary to start with, but it’s a great feeling if you can. It usually takes about four or five performances until a new song starts to feel comfortable, but once it feels comfortable, all of a sudden you have a new song on the set and you can sort of judge what people think about it. That is really exciting. One lesson we’ve never learned is that as you get older, you should write less lyrics in your songs. Why didn’t you tell me that, Kevin? Nobody?

KB: Look at “Hands Up,” which has as a boatload of lyrics, too. You should just go, “Ok, I gotta cut back or just write instrumentals,” because it’s a lot to remember [Laughs]. This song that Michael’s referring to that he wrote is… I mean, t’s basically a novel, or at least a short story. It’s got a lot of lyrics – too many lyrics to put on a little piece of paper at your feet that you can refer to. A lot of times we do that once we’re learning it, but this one… it would be like a side of a magazine and we’d have to turn the pages. [Laughs] We’ll see what happens.

That is kind of a good to have. The inspiration is still there. You’re still telling these stories that you both feel need to be told. I think a long song with a lot of verses can be fun, like flipping through chapters of a book. It might be hard on stage, though. I do get that.

MB: I hope we pull it off somehow.

KB: It’ll be solid by New York, I think.

MB: Yeah, I’m a little more worried about New Braunfels, Texas, but, yes, by New York it’ll be ok.

Right, because there is a little bit of a personal, lyrical stake in Texas. The nerves should be there, but nerves can always mean excitement.

MB: That’s what I think, but you gotta have nerves under control. Nerves is is an asset to a performer, though, for sure. Terror? Not so much, but you know, little butterflies here and there is fine.

I’m glad that you both echoed the fact that a setlist gets harder to make over the years with new music always being rolled out. Of course you want to please most people as possible – from the fans who’ve been around since Getting There to the fans who are kind of just jumping in because of “Philly Thing,” but we all know we’re going on a journey, not only in the songs, but also in the lineup of the songs slotted within one another. I love that as an audience member. “Don’t Lose Me Boy” is probably my favorite song of yours and it’s often played live, so I am not one to complain.

MB: That song won’t go anywhere. I just love singing it. It’s actually a pretty technically hard song to do guitar wise, but I like that challenge. I really have to concentrate on it. You know, that song means a lot to me. Also, over the years, it’s really nice when a couple of our songs connect even deeper. I’ve noticed particularly with one song Kevin wrote called “Angelina,” that it has gone into people’s lives in an unexpected way, in almost a curative way. One woman who I’ve sort of gotten to correspond with who lost her son said that “Angelia” helped get her through an unimaginable tragedy. If one of our songs does that and helps someone… that’s an amazing feeling. That is a special gift to us.

That’s so amazing. You must feel so proud and honored, even sentimental.

MB: Yes, I hope that we continue to offer that with the new music.

With music on the way and highlights to remember, we must chat about the Walk of Fame in Philadelphia. You got a plaque!

KB: Yes, it’s like the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, but from the Philadelphia Music Alliance.

That’s what I was picturing, but this is something a bit more “in stone,” literally and figuratively, and so rewarding. It puts the work of The Bacon Brothers on the Philly map.. I can only imagine how that feels. What was that experience like? Being told you were receiving that? Being part of the ceremony and seeing it?

KB: It’s so great. It’s in good company, too.

MB: We are in really good company.

KB: You know it’s even more special when it’s a stones throw from where we grew up. Obviously as we’ve talked about, but also if you go back in our music, Philadelphia, “Philly Thing,” and references to Philadelphia go way back. One of the first songs Michael ever wrote, probably in the sixties, was called “Philadelphia.” Wasn’t it?

MB: Yeah, something like that!

KB: You see, we have a strong bond with that city, and it’s not too often that we are recognized in that kind of a way, especially as musicians. It was great. It was a nice day and it was a true honor.