The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Stephen Kellogg & the South, West, North, East 

When: Friday, Nov. 24, 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry 
Tickets: $25 at

Not alone for the holidays
Stephen Kellogg brings his band to Tupelo

By Michael Witthaus

 In his seminal 1986 book on songwriters, Written in My Soul, Bill Flanagan asked James Taylor if someone could know who he really was by listening to his music. “No, not necessarily,” Taylor replied, pointing to the many sad songs in his catalog. “I don’t write as much as I’d like to about the upside of my life.”

Similarly, one could easily confuse Stephen Kellogg with the characters in his songs. The love and loss in “Father’s Day,” a song done with his old band The Sixers, or the broken romance sketched in “Open Heart,” from his latest album, South, West, North & East, certainly seem to reflect a life bruised by sorrow and regret.
It’s not. Kellogg married his high school sweetheart and is the father of four kids. But in a recent interview, he insisted his songs are autobiographical in many ways.
“The art is to write away the melancholy, and the blues, and the things that do threaten to break my spirit on a daily basis,” he said. “Somehow ... it’s cathartic enough, and allows me to lead a relatively happy life. I’m a very lucky man, and there is a lot of joy, but there’s also sadness and frustration, too. Somehow by reckoning with it, and writing it out into these songs, it helps keep it at bay.”
Born in the ’70s, Kellogg connects his parents’ folk rock records to the tone of his songs. 
“I said to my dad, ‘Damn, you let me fall asleep to Tea for the Tillerman; it’s no wonder I have melancholy tendencies.’” 
Along with Cat Stevens and Harry Chapin, his older sister’s collection of Bon Jovi and Motley Crue helped shape his musical outlook.
Kellogg is also fond of early Rod Stewart and Billy Joel. He considers the latter to be immensely underrated, and points to Joel’s line in “Vienna” as exemplary. 
“’Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true’ ... is what I want my kids to know,” he said. “Keep having big lofty ambitions, but realize they’re not all going to happen, and don’t let that make you stop dreaming. It’s a simple way of saying something very profound.”
Given his diverse influences and classic rock grounding, the direction Kellogg took with his most recent studio album is fitting. 
“The Bob Lefsetz blog says ‘Old people don’t get it; records are dead.’ I was sort of struggling with that,” Kellogg said.
 The answer he came up with was ambitious: a double CD, made in four different regions of the country, using different bands and co-producers at each stop.
“I had this idea in my bones that felt exciting,” he said. “I just allowed myself the artistic freedom to operate in the various genres that I like to work in, without having to really pick a lane or market myself as something other than the hodgepodge artist that I think I actually am.”
Upcoming shows with a band named after the album at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry and New York City’s Bowery Ballrom will be a departure for Kellogg, who since disbanding the Sixers mainly tours solo. 
“There’s something about going back to two venues that I have played a lot over the years, with a full band,” he said. “Maybe this is midlife crisis or something, but sometimes you just want to go out and show you still know how to rock and roll. It’s a reminder that we’re relatively young, and there’s a lot to celebrate.”
That said, five years on from the Sixers’ split, Kellogg is comfortable as a solo artist. 
“I think any relationship that you love that goes away in your life, it’s easy to pine for the things that were great about it,” he said. “We had a wonderful band and I miss the companionship [but] the silver lining is we have all gone on to do things we would not have done had we been making ourselves stay together. It’s almost like a couple that gets divorced but still loves each other ... I feel that bittersweetness for the band.”

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