“Corona Tune”, written by Kevin Bacon, is a cornerstone of the new record. It’s a stark and stunning reminder of the gravity of the present moment with a thin margin of comfort. It’s the kind of song that some writers spend their whole career waiting to arrive, and it may be the best moment the Bacon Brothers have given us yet.
Speaking with PopMatters, Bacon says, “There are a lot of times when people will win an award or have some great moment and say, ‘My dad is looking down on me.’ That’s cool if that’s what people believe, but I was looking at our current situation and thinking about my parents a lot, and the song is about taking comfort in the fact that they’re not seeing what’s going on.”
Tell me about the origins of this new album.
Kevin Bacon: I don’t think we sit down to write another record. What happened, in this case, is that we had a bunch of songs that just kind of popped up—more than we expected. I always say, whenever I write a song, I always think it’s the last song I’m going to write, so the idea that we’ve done this many records is astounding. If I look back, I think, “I can’t believe we’ve written this many songs, and that we’ve made this much music.” I feel the same way about this one. It’s just really surprising that we turned around and had ten songs.
I come more from the mindset of just release singles. I think Michael’s a little more into the idea of a completed album. But I have to say that when I got the whole thing, sitting down and listening to it, even though it’s pretty all over the place, which is typical for our music, there’s still a cohesiveness to it.
Michael Bacon: We never really plan anything. We plan short-term, but it’s never, “After four years, we’ll do this, after eight years we’ll do that, after 25 years this.” Once we seem to have enough songs banging around, we’ll look around and say, “Well, maybe it’s time.” As Kevin said, that concept of an album is a very old-fashioned one. I like thinking about making a CD. It’s also good for live shows. You have something people can take away with a picture on it with credits and everything. Until somebody tells me to stop, I think we’ll keep putting out CDs.
Kevin, you touched on an idea that fascinates me: The idea that whatever you just wrote might be the last one. There’s a certain exhilaration that kicks in when the next idea comes along.
Kevin: If I knew what the inspiration was, I would go there when I felt like I wanted to write. But I really don’t know what the inspiration is. I don’t even have a routine around it. It’s not like I sit down every day and say, “OK, what rhymes with orange?” Sometimes they come easy, and sometimes they come hard. You hear people say, “The best ones were written in five minutes.” I think that can be true, but there are cools songs that I’ve had to really plug away at. Some little thing will tip it in the direction it needs to go.
I use the voice notes on my phone, and sometimes I’m cleaning them up just because there’s so much crap on my phone. I’ll hear eight or ten different versions of something with different keys and different melodies and different grooves and, generally, what I think is the idea got to someplace that was better. [Laughs.]
Lyrically the songs aren’t overly complex but I think sometimes capturing the excitement of the British Invasion or the joys of domestic life might be a little harder to capture accurately and without sound cliché.
Michael: I think that over the years we’ve been doing this, we’ve gotten more subtle. I remember when we first started, Kevin would sit down with me, and he’d have pages of lyrics. I helped him organize these fantastic lyrics that fit into more conventional popular song formats. I think, when you look at this record, it’s pretty concise.
Our songwriting has become simpler, and we’ve never done so well with these Tin Pan Alley situations where you sit down in a room with a bunch of writers. We have done it and done it successfully, but I think that most of the time, we’re looking into ourselves for inspiration.
We’ve spent a lot of time on the road, and something will happen, and three weeks later, that will pop up in a song. I go, “Oh, I was there when that happened.” That’s kind of our source. Not always. The best parts of life tend to be simple things and if you can figure out some way of capturing something that someone has gone through eight trillion times in the history of mankind and come up with a slightly different slant, where someone hears it and says, “I never really thought about it that way.” To me, that’s what a successful song is for us.
I really think “British Invasion” captures the excitement we feel when we’re discovering music for ourselves: It’s not necessarily what our parents or somebody else passed down to us; it’s “ours” somehow.
Kevin: Mike’s nine years older than me. I was born in ’58, so I was very young when that music became popular. But I heard those records and felt it. He told me a story about going to see a British Invasion show, a package show, where they had all those types of acts. I don’t know if it was the particular acts that I wrote about in the song, but it was that idea.
Michael: They’re all the same acts.
Kevin: They’re all the same?
Michael: Very accurate. [Laughs.]
Kevin: Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, the Animals. He told me this story about going to that show, I think by himself and meeting this girl. I don’t know why, but I thought it was something cool to write about. I do a lot of writing from my perspective, but once in awhile, I try to take on somebody else’s character in a way, sort of like playing a character with the lyric. The character, in this case, was my brother.
That combined with that sort of soccer stadium chant thing. I spent a lot of time in England, and “Oi” is just such a funny thing to me, it’s a way of going, “Hey!” or “Yo!” It just always tickles me for some reason. It’s tough, hard-edged—more of a working-class kind of thing.
Michael: I love the song. It has about ten hooks in it. There’s the “Oi, oi”, it’s got a guitar lead hook, it’s just so catchy. I always like putting something at the front of the record that people are going to be surprised about. I think it sets the tone for an overall really up, fun kind of record. We haven’t played it live, but I can’t wait to. It’s going to be really fun.
I’m working on a video right now with pictures from my band from 1968 when the Carnaby Street garb came over, and all these people were wearing these clothes and didn’t look comfortable in them. We were Americans and didn’t have that style. I think there are a lot of really fun, light things to put into a video about that strange, interesting time.
“Momma Pop Culture” is a co-write. Is this something you sat down and wrote knee-to-knee?
Michael: [Laughs.] One of the things that is very different about Kevin and I is that he tends to be more edgy. There are exceptions to everything. Kevin can write a knock-you-off-your-seat love song. but overall his feel for music tends to be more driven, more rhythmic, a little bit darker.
When I first got the bug and would play a song I’d written, and someone would say, “Wow, I could hear that on the radio”. I was maybe 13. I’d think, “Wow, that could be on the radio?” That’s when I started thinking about how if I could write a song and sing a song and record it, put it out, make a song that everybody would like, maybe I could have a famous song and I could be a star.
Since that time, that’s kind of been my motor, even though that’s never happened. But I have had a very long and fantastic musical career. But I’ve never had this huge hit. So, I wrote this goofy love song worshipping this popular entity, this organism that shrouds the entire world and everybody’s trying to get into, and every week a thousand more kids with enormous amounts of talent are lining up trying to grasp it. That’s been more my motor all these years and still is. I still believe that, at some point or another, we can have a hit song.
I really love the lyrics. They really nailed what I was trying to do, but I didn’t want to write the rest of it because I would bring too much of my beauty and sweetness to it, that sort of thing. I knew it would be the perfect song for Kevin to write. I sent him the lyrics and didn’t hear anything from him for almost a year.
All of a sudden, he sent it back in demo form, and I absolutely loved it. I thought it matched the lyrics perfectly.
I think the title of the album ties this collection of songs together nicely.
Kevin: I always thought it should have been called The Way We Love. I suggested that right out of the gate and then we took a left turn for a while. You listen to the album, and you can see the way that we love music and family and our wives—certain things about life and nature. There’s just a lot of that in there. When I hear the title I think, “Wow, it’s kind of amazing that there’s never been a huge song called ‘The Way We Love”. How many different ways can you approach the word “love”? That was new to me.
Michael: I wasn’t sure at first. [Laughs.] I came up with the title Troubadour , and oh my god, it was shot down so hard! Our manager did the research on all the albums called Troubadour, and there are about 70,000. I came around.