Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers are one wild animal that won’t be tamed. Passing through a multitude of record labels as varied as the folk-based country/alternative rock sound the band generates, SK6ERS have taken their humble Massachusetts roots to new heights with the recently released Gift Horse. While a lively celebration of freedom and life are at the forefront of the album, there are underlying themes within each song that might be missed by the unassuming listener. To help us sift through the lyrical goldmine that The Sixers have to offer this time around, the frontman Stephen Kellogg himself took some time to talk with OurStage about the album, how his own past ties itself into the songwriting, the fans and how his solo work compares to his work with The Sixers.
OS: Thematically, I know the new album touches on the idea of being grateful for what you have. What are you feeling grateful for lately that you channeled into the album?
SK: Well, I’m feeling grateful for a few things. The obvious ones are just a great family. I’ve been blessed with great siblings and parents and kids and good friends and I feel real lucky. And anytime you put out a new record, you’re reminded of all the time you spent with the guys in the band, who I think the world of and we still laugh just as much as when we did when we met eight years ago. So, that’s something I’m really grateful for. I feel hopeful and grateful that our country is going to get out of this war in the Middle East that it’s been in for the past decade. And hopefully out in a way that most people can support. And just that I’m in America. Everytime you see what’s going on in the rest of the world, it’s such a reminder of how great and how lucky that it feels to be here in America.
OS: You mentioned the war. Did your thoughts on that go into the album at all?
SK: Not directly, but I did have that on my mind when I wrote a lot of these songs, thinking about the future. There’s a lot of themes about the future on the album. The strange thing about the war that our country has been in the last decade is that it doesn’t feel like a war. I can’t imagine that it felt like this in World War II. When you have all these soldiers fighting, and everybody’s just going on as if there’s not a war going on, because it’s just the way it is. I didn’t write about it directly, because I think those problems of how to get out of the war and international politics, I’m sure there are a lot more moving parts than I realize. So, I didn’t write about it in the direct way because it’s not something that I’m ready to go up and say “This is what we should do or that’s how we should do it.” I think politicians have a very difficult jobs and the military has a very difficult job and I feel a lot of empathy for these people who are trying to figure out what I’m sure are very complex situations. So, I didn’t really get in there so much, but I did write a lot about the future and what we can expect and what the kids of today are looking in the future and what the parents of the future kids are looking at and what they mean. So it’s more of an indirect thing that worked its way into the record.
OS: For the song “1993”, why did you title it that? Was there a certain event that inspired that title?
SK: Not to completely bate myself, I was a junior in high school in ’93. At a dance, I met my now-wife, then-girlfriend. For me, the way my life has gone has been “before Kirsten” and “after Kirsten”. My life before Kirsten was an insecure and confusing thing and my life after Kirsten has been the best. So, I was really lucky to meet my best friend in the world at a young age and that happens to be the exact center of my life right now. 1993 is the absolute middle of how old I am. That’s an interesting thing too, because it’s the before and after. So, I thought it was worthy of a tune.
SK: Lyrically, that’s what it’s totally about.
OS: You have a solo career outside of the band. Is that difficult to manage alongside your activities with the band?
SK: Well, I started doing solo concerts before I knew the guys. The band is such a band of brothers. It’s always been a real band even though my name is front and center. It’s always felt like a four-guys band. But, when it looked like the record wasn’t going to come out, we didn’t want to do a whole tour before the whole album came out, because we knew we were doing it this fall. So, that’s when I got the idea to do a solo tour. And it turned out to be such a great experience, because it really goes back to the songs and lets me do more of the folk-oriented stuff that I do. The lyrics are what moves me about music, so a solo show is much more focused on that sort of thing. That was a great thing. I think, like everything in life, a little moderation is ideal. Getting to go out to do some solo dates really made me pumped to do the fall tour with the guys.
OS: How does the atmosphere at the solo shows compare to your normal shows with the band? Obviously, the tone of the music is very different, but does the audience change?
SK: Well, because I haven’t done that many solo things, I think the audiences are pretty much the same right now. One of the things though that’s been mainly a blessing, but probably a little bit of a curse too for our band over the years, is that there’s not one type of person that comes to our shows. You’ll see a college kid and a high school kid. You’ll see a fifty-year-old couple. You’ll see a lesbian. There’s not one type of Sixer fan. That’s something we’re really proud of, but probably makes it tougher to market for the people who do that job. So, the solo thing probably appeals to the people in our fanbase who are a little more up for a “go out, sit down, and have a quiet night and hear some introspective songs from sensitive, quirky Kellogg”. Versus The Sixers show, which, for me, is more for the people who come to see the band because the music is so fun and optimistic. That’s a little bit more of a party. I think that’s what this fall tour and the band thing will be. And we try to choose venues that you can go out and really have more of a rock concert.
OS: Speaking of venues, I know there’s a lot of local love for you here in Massachusetts. What are you’re favorite places to play in good ol’ MA?
SK: Well, that’s good to hear. Local love is good. Any love is good. [laughs] Well, one of the rooms that closed, and it breaks my heart, was the Avalon in Boston. I had one of the funnest nights of my life. It’s now the House of Blues, but that used to be a really neat club. That was definitely up there for me. The Paradise, where we’re going now, I’ve had so many fun great nights there. The Somerville Theatre, we played our 999th show as a band there. That was incredible. Here I am naming every room in Boston. I’ve had so much fun in so many places in Boston and I got my start at the Iron Horse down in North Hampton, so Massachusetts is just totally full of venues that mean a lot to me.
OS: How much do you feel your MA roots bleed into how you write your music?
SK: Well, we travel the country all the time and you kind of get impressions of different states. And my impression of Massachusetts is that people are really interested in the big picture. I feel like people have an opinion about a lot of things. It’s one of the states that really shaped what our country became. It’s always very involved in political races. It’s got substantial cities like Boston but it’s also got a super rural aspect. So, I think there’s a well-roundedness and a passion that I see in Massachusetts that I think is very indicative of who we are as a band. We try not to be afraid of saying what’s on our mind. We have definitely have down-home roots, but we’re not bumpkins either. All those things I kind of attribute to being from Massachusetts.
You can find out where to pick up Gift Horse at SK6ER’s official Web site. Feel free to pick up some tickets to their show tonight at Paradise Rock Club while you’re at it. If you need more convincing to do so, check out a stripped down acoustic video of “Gravity” below.