Friday 7th January 2011 saw great sorrow at the loss of another metal musician. Y&T bassist Phil Kennemore was one of the most respected in hard rock. Rock solid, in the pocket yet melodic at the same time. Virtuosity One extends its deepest sympathies to the Kennemore and Y&T camp.
Here in tribute is our interview originally posted on 3rd May 2010.
About The Interview
Y&T are an American hard rock/heavy metal band formed in 1974. They hail from the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. The band released two studio albums on London Records as Yesterday & Today in the 1970s, before shortening their name to Y&T and releasing several albums on A&M Records beginning in 1981, as well as albums on Geffen Records, Avex Records amongst others. The band has sold over 4 million albums worldwide to date and are just about to release ‘Facemelter’ their first album in 13 years on Frontiers Records on May 21st 2010.
Perhaps the most obvious question is why a new album now? The band have been back together for some time now touring quite frequently so what’s led to the decision to go into the studio now?
Phil: For the first three or four years after we got back together we and our fans were quite content playing/hearing songs from our large catalogue of songs. For the last 5 years or so we’ve been getting question “When are you gonna make a new album. For Y & T to write and record a new record is one hell of a lot of work–and the way the record business has changed so much it took awhile to convince ourselves it would be worth it.
Why did you decide to fire up the band again? Refound joy in playing? For old time’s sake? Because you felt you had unfinished business?
Phil: At first it was a call from our old manager, with some interesting offers from various promoters–we decided we would do those few shows and see how it felt before making any real commitment to say Y & T are back. Well, it felt great–all this excitement was reborn with us so we continued on from there. Also, the fans were ready to come back to hard rock shows after years of listening to the dark, depressing, homeless lumberjacks that they called grunge.
Over what sort of time frame was the music written and recorded?
Phil: I believe we started writing in August for a few weeks, when we had a short break from touring. The rest of it was from January thru mid April. This is probably about the norm for most bands, but for us this is like making a record at light speed.
Did you have a clear vision of where you wanted to go with this album?
Phil: When we set out to make this record we didn’t have a clue as to what kind of songs or what kind of sounds we would be creating. Early on before we even wrote one song- we titled the record ‘Facemelter’ and had the dragon concept. The reason I thought this was important was it gave us all a kind of target to work to. It made the idea that ‘yeah, we really are gonna make this fuck’n record’ more of a reality. After we got a few solid ideas down there was no turning back–we forced open that creative vault that had been closed for so many years-it was very exciting and fulfilling to be creating again.
Do you have any favourite songs/performances on the album and if so which and why?
Dave: I think it’s too early for me to know completely since I just finished tracking on this record not more than 3 weeks ago, but I look forward to playing many of these songs live during the coming months and I expect that some will just become favourites all on their own.
I presume the majority was recorded in your home studio. What luxury does this give you that you didn’t have in the olden days recording on location?
Dave: The main thing for me, besides the money savings, is that the band and I are in a comfortable environment, since we use the studio for rehearsals. Also, it allows me to give inspired performances because I don’t have the extra pressures of someone looking over my shoulder waiting for me to hopefully do something brilliant. I can go into the studio at my own pace and, by myself, get into a creative mood. This allows me to get it right, how I see is a good performance. One that is passionate and heartfelt. Much harder to do that while the clock is ticking and 3 other people are waiting for you.
Is this luxury a positive in every regard or can it sometimes be too much free time for such things?
Dave: The fact that we had a hard deadline to meet from the record company gave me just the right amount of urgency to get things done in a timely manner. Y&T has always worked much more efficiently when we have a deadline. Otherwise it would take much longer for us to turn out new product.
How do you rate the new album compared to the Y&T back catalogue?
Dave: I believe we have achieved the hard task of making this new CD a classic that will stand the test of time with other classic CDs like Black Tiger, Earthshaker and Meanstreak.
Do you think you’ve improved as a guitar player and singer?
Dave: Absolutely — especially as a singer. My voice is leaps and bounds above where I started, and my guitar playing has improved in the way a good wine improves with age. I may not play as fast all the time as I did when I was young, but I have learned how to be tasteful and all the other benefits that come with experience.
Do you practice a lot to keep up your chops?
Dave: I don’t practice in a sense like a schooled practice. Instead I am always playing guitar while sitting on the couch watching movies, TV etc. This is good for me because I’m always trying to play to the music that is in the soundtracks, etc. It keeps my chops up, in a weird sort of way.
How challenging from a personal perspective was the new material? Are we talking a lot of first takes? A more structured approach? How do you like to work in this regards?
Dave: We “truly” took the approach of recording as if we were playing a show. Everyone fully expected to keep their parts and only fix mistakes – which is exactly what happened for the bass and John’s performances. I was unable to do that because we didn’t have enough separate rooms to have amps isolated from each other, so I used a Pod XT Pro to track with and played my parts again once the basic tracks were finished. On previous records, though we thought we were going to do that, we never actually did. We would just end up doing what we always did – only keep the drums and overdub everything else. I hate that way of doing things and much more prefer to make music together for the right vibe to come across in the final product. It’s funny because I’ve heard so many other bands over the years say that they took a live approach to recording, but I knew better that it wasn’t true. It sounds good to say it, but it tends to show in the final product when you really do this. The solos and vocals are the only things that were completely dome later. Some of the solos ideas I did live, made the record in a small way, because I used a few of them as a template for a place to start. It is so easy to overdub and double parts, getting tricky and produced in the studio because with digital recording there is so much you can do to mess with stuff. We purposely stayed away from that. There are many songs on this CD that I didn’t even overdub a rhythm guitar under my solo because I wanted it to sound like we do it live.
The tones on the album are superb – what gear did you use, it sounds pretty stripped back?
Dave: I used my new Diezel amp and my Mesa Tremoverb Rectifier. John used my Rectifier and his Marshall amps. We played through a combination of my Mesa 4×12 with vintage 30w Celestions and 2 different 4x12s with Tone Tubby speakers, one with Alnico magnets fro the cleaner stuff. Phil played direct into an Avalon Bass Direct, and Mike used his old red Yamaha 24” kit with Ludwig snares. I used a combination of about 6 different guitars. My old Kramer Baretta, 68 Les Paul, Yamaha SG2000, custom Bisceglia guitar, and my 2 Fender Strats, both a blue custom Strat and my “Blackie”.
The production on Facemelter is rather rudimentary. Not a lot of sheen but a very direct, dry mix. Was it a conscious decision to achieve that sound, or was this result simply what the budget allowed for?
Phil: That’s interesting that you say ”what the budget allowed for” – you know it cost absolutely nothing to crank up your reverbs, digital delays, compressors etc. So, no, it wasn’t a budget thing. For almost every album we ever made we would listen to the rough mixes and think” holy shit, this sounds great-just think how much better it’s gonna sound when it gets mixed.” Well, guess what, more often than not the power of the band was lost in an over processed mix, sure something’s got that nice sheen to them a nice rounded polished sound–so we are very aware of all these techniques–and we do use them–but we start backing off when they start taking over the power of the band.
There is a nice live feel in the new material – was that a vibe you were going for?
Phil: Yes and no–we always start out saying were gonna go for a live feel–but on some records it just got away from us. On this record we were able to retain that feel but we were prepared to do what ever it took to make sure the songs came off right. This is the first record I remember, except for the first two Yesterday and Today records , that I didn’t totally over dub all my bass parts–the only over dubs I did were major mistakes. I did next to zero bass polishing–there are a few clicks and pops and some runs I could have played better but my focus was on the over all song and feel and that’s far more important than any perfectly played part.
The recording industry has changed a lot since the last Y&T album. How did you end up on Frontiers?
Phil: Since the mid 90s we’ve had our own record company, Meanstreak Music, on which we released four original releases and the re-masters of most of our catalogue. So, we are pretty much use to the ‘new’ business model, although it does keep growing and becoming a pretty solid alternative to the old “major” players. In America we will release “FACEMELTER” on our own label. When we were looking for someone to take care of Europe there were three companies we were interested in –after talking with friends from different bands and figuring out what was the best fit for us and who we thought had the best marketing plan–we went with Frontiers–the last thing you want to do is bust your ass making a record and no one ever hears about it.
How does being on a independent label compare to the A&M and Geffen days?
Phil: It’s a huge difference actually. When we were with A&M and Geffen they pretty much set up everything from acquiring producers to photo shoots, interviews, video shoots, artwork–it goes on and on. These days every detail is taken care of internally–it’s a double edged sword–it’s great to be able to control your own business but it’s also one hell of a lot of work, especially for our manager–she easily does the work of any 10 people at A & M or Geffen.
The last product from the band was superb “One Hot Night” DVD, it showed the band firing on all cylinders and really kicking a lot of ass. Did the positive reaction to that DVD give you the emphasis to come up with new material?
Phil: It was certainly a stepping stone-the enthusiasm proved to us that there was still a strong fan base around the world that wanted to hear more from us.
Will the upcoming tour feature lots of new material, or will it be a greatest hits set with one or two tracks off Facemelter?
Phil: It’s too early to tell-but I would think we would play a minimum of 3 from Facemelter—
Sancho who did the review wants to know will the upcoming tour have a Belgian gig, and will Monster Joe be the opening act? I doubt you remember but they opened for Y&T in 2006 😉
Phil: Hello Sancho–don’t know exactly when or where but I say —YES–we should be in Belgium this year—and I’m sorry but I don’t remember Monster Joe.
Has your audience evolved? Would you say it’s still mostly the old fans showing up (accompanied by their kids) or is there a rejuvenation going on?
Phil: Yeah, it has evolved–it’s still mostly the older crowd but we are seeing quite a few younger fans lately–it’s really easy to spot some 18 or 20 something hot chick at our shows—I Want More!!!
Is there a difference between US and Europe fanbases?
Phil: Years ago I would have said absolutely yes–I felt that the Americans were more sheep-like and had to be herded by radio, MTV and other mainstream media, and the Europeans sought out what they liked and were less influenced by what is “Hot” this week. But now, because there is no mainstream media for hard rock I view them more the same–it’s just the love of the music and the vibe–nothing to do with be trendy or hip.
Do you still enjoy playing the older songs, or have those become too much like “work”?
Phil: As long as the fans are liking it —I’ll like playing it.
Any particular song you always look forward to playing?
Any final messages for the readers?
Phil: For our new fans welcome aboard-for old fans–thank you for sticking with us all these years–Hope we see you soon on the “Facemelter 2010” tour.