Long before Kevin Bacon launched his prolific stage and screen career, and before Michael Bacon became known as a go-to composer for film and television, they were just two brothers, born nine years apart, coming of age in Center City Philadelphia. By the late 1960s, Michael, already a professional musician, would gig with his band at the city’s famed Electric Factory with a young Kevin tagging along when he could.
It’s a time preserved in the cover art for The Bacon Brothers’ latest, New Year’s Day, with a preteen Kevin singing alongside a mandolin-strumming Michael. The record, laden with the brothers’ trademark gritty rock and a touch of Philly soul, hearkens back to those roots in the City of Brotherly Love, when life was less complicated and music filled the air.
“My earliest memory of music was what my brother was playing or the music he brought home,” Kevin Bacon recalls. “I would sit on the steps of our basement while he was downstairs practicing with our sister, Hilda, and their band. So my heroes growing up were all rock ’n’ rollers. I wasn’t really into sports, or even movies. If I could save money I’d buy an album.”
With 2009 marking 14 years of the Bacon Brothers band’s existence, any cynical preconceptions about well-known actors “dabbling” in music now can safely be discarded. The band has gigged relentlessly to build up a following, and New Year’s Day represents their sixth LP release. Along the way, the younger brother has apparently caught up with his elder sibling in some ways.
“Kevin writes a lot more songs than I do,” Michael says. “While I spend a lot of time writing instrumental music, lyrical songs are tougher: if I write one or two a year that I like, then I’m happy. But Kevin has this amazing gift of turning everyday experiences into universal thoughts that everybody can identify with.”
The album kicks off with “New Year’s Day,” a song that, while it draws upon Kevin’s experiences, isn’t necessarily about him. “‘New Years Day’ is from the perspective of a kid, 18 or 19, who’s left Philadelphia for Los Angeles to pursue his dream of stardom, but is pining to get back to Philly for the Mummers Parade,” says Kevin, who has attended Philadelphia’s elaborate New Year’s celebration many times. “L.A. is the land of the endless summer, and everything is so beautiful. But there’s something still inherent in me that’s left over from Philadelphia, which is cold and provincial, but in a great way.”
“There have been a lot of times in my life that I’ve thought about our hometown and going back there and not going after these outrageous kinds of goals,” Michael adds. “Maybe it’s not personal to Kevin, but I still relate very heavily to that song.”
The infectious second track, “Go My Way” with its laid-back, shuffling soulful groove, is also written from a character’s perspective. “It’s a guy who’s younger than me, single and living alone in New York, not doing very well and struggling with his life,” Kevin observes. “Then this one woman keeps popping up in his life and elevates his sorry existence for a time.”
Having played with the same crew of musicians for all of the band’s existence, Michael and Kevin agree that the band has become just as much a part of the whole endeavor as the two frontmen. “With New Year’s Day, the guys in the band produced a couple of tracks each,” Michael points out. “We gave the band much more creative responsibility for the product we ended up with. I think that’s why it sounds more like a band album.”
While still encountering critics due to Kevin’s onscreen notoriety, the band continues to win believers—show by show, album by album. As The New Yorker recently observed: “Hollywood hangs like an albatross around the neck of any movie star turned musician, but this duo shakes off the burden of fame with sharply executed rock that has a blue-collar, rootsy edge.”
“I like risks,” notes Kevin, a classic understatement from an artist who’s played challenging, unsympathetic roles in everything from The Woodsman to Sleepers to Oliver Stone’s JFK. “And there’s nothing more risky about being a well known actor and playing in a rock band.”
But there’s the interesting thing about risks—sometimes they pay off. And for The Bacon Brothers, they certainly have.