Q&A with talented multi-instrumentalist Mike Keneally, one of the world’s most creative and intense musicians

"Everything affects everything around it, I think that's the nature of physics. A great piece of music will have a specific, if initially intangible, effect on anyone who hears it and it stands a chance to affect that individual's future actions for the greater good. Sometimes, it actually does this."

Mike Keneally: The Thing That Knowledge Can’t Eat

Long acclaimed as one of the world’s most creative and intense guitar and keyboard players, Mike Keneally’s talents as a vocalist, songwriter, arranger, producer and multi-instrumentalist are nearly unequalled in rock music. Keneally has released over 30 albums of his original music since 1992 (including special editions and limited releases), and has built a body of work of remarkable inventiveness and originality. The stylistic variety present in his work indicates Keneally’s abiding love of good music above all, regardless of genre distinctions. Keneally played in Frank Zappa’s final touring band in 1988, performing as a vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist. He’s appeared on many of Zappa’s albums, and has been a touring and recording member in the bands of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Devin Townsend, as well as a member of the Adult Swim metal band Dethklok. He has also recorded or performed with Robert Fripp, Wayne Kramer, Kevin Gilbert, Solomon Burke, Steve Vai, Chickenfoot, Bear McCreary, Henry Kaiser, Michael Manring, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Andy Prieboy, Mullmuzzler, The Persuasions and many others.                                               (Mike Keneally / Photo by Martin Mann)

As of late, Keneally has been performing live with other ex-Zappa alumni as part of The Zappa Band, the only official Zappa Trust-sanctioned band playing the music of Frank Zappa live. He has also been playing with the group ProgJect, performing many of the classic ‘70s progressive-rock songs that Keneally grew up loving. He is also a member of a new band called The Bird Brain, who released an acclaimed 3-song EP late in 2022, with more new music coming this year. Frank Zappa alumni Mike Keneally will be releasing his new solo album “The Thing That Knowledge Can’t Eat” on Feb. 24, 2023. The eagerly awaited release features guest appearances by Steve Vai, Eric Slick, Nick D’Virgilio and others. With the release of his new solo album, Mike will be doing a series of Mike Keneally & Beer For Dolphins shows this year featuring a retrospective selection of material chosen from all the primary solo albums across his over-30 year career. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special Thanks: Mike Keneally & Bill James (Glass Onyon)

How has the Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I was born in 1961 and consequently just the right age to be very impressionable during the cultural events of the late '60s. I loved The Beatles above all else and felt drawn to all depictions of hippie lifestyle, and felt a natural attraction to counter-cultural comedy. All of this fed into my worldview and has influenced everything I've done in my life.

How do you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What characterize your music philosophy?

I think initially I was so beholden to whatever musical instinct arrived in my head at any moment, that I discounted how the resultant sound vibrations would actually affect human ears. Lately I think I've been more cognizant of and tuned in to how the sounds I'm making actually come across to people. I've realized that I want to present a lot of unusual and hopefully intriguing musical content in a way which is sonically appealing to a lot of people, so I think the current work period I'm kicking off (both in the studio and on stage) will likely be characterized by a greater focus on that angle.

"Making my own album, as opposed to working on someone else's album? They are really two different beasts, with the solo albums I'm of course very self-indulgent and eager to try just about absolutely everything that occurs to me. When recording on someone else's project, there's no time for that degree of self-indulgence, you have to get very tuned in the artist's conception of the project very quickly and set about finding the best possible solutions to serve the artist's intent, as quickly as you can." (Mike Keneally on stage, Klokgebouw - Netherland 2018 / Photo by Victor Peters)

Where does your creative drive come from?

I've never known the answer to that and never expect to find it, I sure am grateful for it though. Some of it was certainly the environment I grew up in, my parents allowed me huge leeway to exercise my creative instincts and I fell in love with so much music and popular art, and I hear and feel echoes from all that stuff in my work all the time. I've always had a solid internal memory retention system, so I think a lot of my creative drive might be a result of curiosity about, for instance, making a new song that carries influences from a specific children's TV show I loved as a kid. I would likely be the only one to know the influence that TV theme had on that particular piece of music - it might be a texture rather than a note, and a moment that only lasts for a second or so - but it might define that particular piece of music for me, and I might be the only one who knows about it, and that's fine with me.

What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

In every moment I'm just trying to take whatever musical impulse is occurring to me in that moment, and craft it into a real-life, hearable-by-other-people object, in the most effective way I can, and (during a live performance) sometimes in real time. I'm using every bit of technique available to me to help me whatever musical event is taking place in my soul at that moment, so I think technique and soul have to work in completely equal measure at all times. There are moments when technique has to leap into the lead for a moment in order to correctly execute a gesture that will have a major impact on someone else's soul; if the chops hadn't been together at that moment, the gesture would falter slightly, and the listener remain relatively unmoved. It may only be ONE listener who would have been affected, but hey why not do that person a favor?

"I was born in 1961 and consequently just the right age to be very impressionable during the cultural events of the late '60s. I loved The Beatles above all else and felt drawn to all depictions of hippie lifestyle, and felt a natural attraction to counter-cultural comedy. All of this fed into my worldview and has influenced everything I've done in my life." (Mike Keneally, Roxy Chech 2019/ Photo by Jiří Štarha)

When did the idea of new album come about? How do you describe The Thing That Knowledge Can’t Eat songbook? 

This is my first new solo album in seven years – the last one was ‘Scambot 2’ in 2016, so this one has really been a long time coming. About half of the material on the new album was in the works prior to the pandemic, but the other half was created at home in lockdown in 2020 and 2021, and all the finishing touches were placed on the songs during 2022, so it’s been in the works for a while. I’ve never done so much work on an album on my own, so the learning curve was steep, but I did have help from friends all along the way, including farming out tracks to drummers who were also locked down at home. I wrote all the songs, and the lyrics of the later songs definitely reflect the strange times during which the album was finalized. A lot of my past albums have been lengthy, extended works, but this one is a tight 42 minutes, nine songs – I think it goes down pretty smooth but it travels to a lot of different places along the way. I’m extremely happy with it, and very grateful to finally be able to share it with everyone.

What would you say characterizes a solo album recording in comparison to the studio sessions works?

Making my own album, as opposed to working on someone else's album? They are really two different beasts, with the solo albums I'm of course very self-indulgent and eager to try just about absolutely everything that occurs to me. When recording on someone else's project, there's no time for that degree of self-indulgence, you have to get very tuned in the artist's conception of the project very quickly and set about finding the best possible solutions to serve the artist's intent, as quickly as you can. It's really different and can be very challenging finding your way and making your impact in that environment - a great learning experience, and when you "stick the landing" so to speak and make something happen in the studio that satisfies you and makes the artist you're serving happy as well, it's a fantastic feeling. 

"In every moment I'm just trying to take whatever musical impulse is occurring to me in that moment, and craft it into a real-life, hearable-by-other-people object, in the most effective way I can, and (during a live performance) sometimes in real time. I'm using every bit of technique available to me to help me whatever musical event is taking place in my soul at that moment, so I think technique and soul have to work in completely equal measure at all times." (Mike Keneally & Joe Satriani on stage, Auditório Ibirapuera, SP, Brazil 2014 / Photo by Ezequias Pedroso)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

First thing that came to mind was a rehearsal session in a basement I was having with some friends from the Trummerflora Collective (a group of San Diego artists/musicians making fantastic experimental music), and while I was doing a guitar solo I closed my eyelids and looked up inside my skull to the third-eye region, and series of ten brown triangles set up like bowling pins appeared in my vision and I was able to take musical dictation from them - that was a memorable jam experience! It went on for a few months too, until finally the brown triangles went away. I also have a strong recollection of a time a few years back when I was in Joe Satriani's band and we opened for Metallica at an open-air festival in Canada, and there were 100,000 people - I wasn't prepared for how it felt to perform in front of that many people, and even now it's hard to put into words. It was BIG, that's for sure. That's probably the best word to put it into - it was BIG.

Why do you think that Frank Zappa and Screamin' Jay Hawkins music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Both of them were unapologetic eccentrics, they made statements both verbal and musical that were entertaining to a lot of people, and didn't take themselves seriously, which is a very appealing trait. And certainly in Frank's case, he created a huge body of work of the sort that keeps a train-spotter on his feet for a lifetime - so many details to explore, works to compare, clues to find, music to cherish and analyze and deepen your appreciation for over time.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths? 

There will be ups and there will be downs, but the correct and satisfying execution of a musical moment that affects multiple people positively is always a worthwhile activity.

"I think initially I was so beholden to whatever musical instinct arrived in my head at any moment, that I discounted how the resultant sound vibrations would actually affect human ears. Lately I think I've been more cognizant of and tuned in to how the sounds I'm making actually come across to people. I've realized that I want to present a lot of unusual and hopefully intriguing musical content in a way which is sonically appealing to a lot of people, so I think the current work period I'm kicking off (both in the studio and on stage) will likely be characterized by a greater focus on that angle." (Mike Keneally / Photo by Liz Teisan)

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications?

Everything affects everything around it, I think that's the nature of physics. A great piece of music will have a specific, if initially intangible, effect on anyone who hears it and it stands a chance to affect that individual's future actions for the greater good. Sometimes, it actually does this.

How do you want the music to affect people?

I want it to make them joyful.

Mike Keneally - Home

Views: 926

Comments are closed for this blog post

social media

Members

© 2023   Created by Michael Limnios Blues Network.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service