There comes a time in every person’s life when the laws of human existence reveal themselves as arbitrary, unfair or just plain inexplicable. For the local rock & roll wiseass known as Kennedy, this epiphany occurred when he was still in elementary school. “Barry Manilow‘s Greatest Hits was the first album I really loved,” he remembers. “But then I was crushed to find out that Barry Manilow didn’t actually write ‘I Write the Songs.’ I couldn‘t believe it!”
The scars of this searing childhood trauma — and most likely several others — are readily apparent on Kennedy, the one-named artist’s warped and often wonderful new album (out November 5). Recorded mostly solo on a pair of computers, it sounds like someone‘s taken a can opener to his skull and spilled his fevered brains onto a CD-R. Untroubled by any sense of self-consciousness or social decency, Kennedy dives headfirst into opinionated dissections of such varied topics as drugs (“Cocaine Junkie O.D.”), frozen food (“Turkey Pot Pie”), the Silver Lake music scene (“Scott Sterling’s Extreme Sports Challenge”) and sex with a dead person (“Cold Pussy”).
“That‘s unprotected sex with a dead person,” Kennedy corrects, eyes twinkling behind mod-nerd spectacles. “It’s an autobiographical piece — it doesn‘t happen very often, but sometimes when you’re driving by a morgue, you‘ve just gotta say, ’Let‘s slip in for a cool one!’”
There‘s talent behind the tastelessness, enough that it’s impossible to dismiss Kennedy as just another lo-fi solo-jack. Check out the atmospheric “A Brain in a Room,” which sounds like an outtake from Robyn Hitchcock‘s I Often Dream of Trains crossed with Pete Townshend’s early-‘70s synthesizer experiments. Or the psychedelic country blues of “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” which contains the priceless couplet “I get hopped up on goofballs and dreamsConsorting with the devil about chicken bones and beans.” Or, best of all, “Wake Up Motherfucker,” a brawling 24-carat snot nugget that easily holds its own against such nouveau garage anthems as the Vines’ “Get Free,” the Hives‘ “Main Offender” or the White Stripes’ “Fell in Love With a Girl.”
“I‘ve never heard of any of those bands, and I probably wouldn’t like ‘em if I did hear ’em,” Kennedy insists, not too convincingly. “People keep saying that the production on my album sounds really ‘retro,’ but I was really trying to make a hi-fi-sounding record. I just fucked it up somehow.”
By day, Kennedy produces Out of the Box, the syndicated radio show hosted by MTV heartthrob Carson Daly. Since Daly lives in New York City, Kennedy has to get up obscenely early to handle the feed, a situation that doesn‘t mesh well with his nocturnal lifestyle. (In addition to rocking out with his own band, he also plays guitar for Silversun Pickups, and often serves as musical relief during Largo’s comedy nights.) “‘Wake Up Motherfucker’ is about my alarm clock,” he says. “A lot of times I‘ll close down Spaceland or the Silverlake Lounge, and then I’ll have to be up again two or three hours later. When the alarm goes off in the morning, it‘s about the most painful thing I can imagine.”
Given the raw, unfiltered nature of Kennedy’s music — and the fact that it‘s more or less subsidized by Carson Daly — one could theorize that Kennedy is some kind of karmic retribution for Daly’s various crimes against rock & roll. “Um, I didn‘t think of it that way,” Kennedy shrugs. “But I do enjoy working on his show, because I have to listen to a lot of music that I wouldn’t normally listen to, stuff like Missy Elliott or Ludacris. I love hip-hop production!”
Kennedy‘s own listening habits lean more toward classic rock, something that becomes apparent once you catch him live. Ably assisted by guitarist Yves Lelevier and a drummer who calls himself the Electric Unicorn, Kennedy (who sings and plays bass) gives his own material a serious arena-rock ass-kicking, while treating the likes of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” and Bruce Springsteen‘s “Dancing in the Dark” to sublime garage-punk make-overs. The band’s explosive chemistry bodes well for Kennedy‘s next album.
“We definitely deliver the goods live,” he says. “I’ve been playing with both of those guys in different incarnations for years, but we didn‘t actually come together in this form until July. I think the full band only played on two tracks on the record; I still like how it sounds, but as I play with the band more and more, it’s like, ‘Oh! I should have recorded the whole thing with them!’”
Kennedy plays Spaceland on Monday, October 28, and Sea Level Records, 1716 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, Tuesday, November 5.
KENNEDY | Kennedy | (Sea Level)