Both Bacon siblings have long operated on both sides of the screen. One is more visible as an actor with a film and television career that reaches back nearly four decades. The other has worked largely behind the spotlight, composing scores for numerous productions for PBS (with which he won an Emmy for “The Kennedys”) and HBO, among other projects. He is also an accomplished cellist, guitarist and keyboardist.
So where do their careers converge? Try a folk/Americana friendly troupe called The Bacon Brothers Band. Of course, Golden Globe winning actor Kevin Bacon and composer/older sibling Michael have grown up with music. But even with a band bearing their name that began in 1995, many still know them primarily for their separate careers.
“We get to create together and make music together,” Kevin said. “It’s such a corny thing to say, and I’m sure you’ve heard other musicians say this, but it’s true — making music is such a great feeling. I mean, the rest of this — the touring, the getting there, the press, present company excepted, the airports, the scheduling, all of those things — there is nothing really fun about any of that. It might be fun if you’re 19 years old, but I don’t think it holds much thrill for us anymore.
“But when we get the chance to play and put something out there in front of people, that’s the part we both love.”
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The Bacons grew up, along with four other sibings, in Philadelphia, a city with a storied musical history. For Michael, it was an artistic metropolis that reached far beyond conventional pop boundaries.
“One of my earliest influences was the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which is one of the biggest events of its kind,” he said. “It’s the biggest one after Newport. I was a huge folkie. At the same time, I was a teenager growing up in Philadelphia with older sisters that were into “American Bandstand.” Then there were the guys I hung out with in high school, who were not as much into the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. They listened to the Miracles, the Temptations and the Four Tops. Also, classical music was a big thing for me growing up. I knew knowing all the first names of all the first chair players in the Philadelphia Orchestra.”
The most recent batch of Bacon Brothers songs surfaced in 2014 with an Americana savvy album titled “36 Cents,” although a new tune titled “Driver” offers an indication of where the Bacon Brothers may be headed. The song’s feel is decidedly folky but reflects a subtle country urgency Kevin details with a singing voice that is as unforced (yet equally detailed) as his acting. But what the Bacons take special pride in is the simple fact that “Driver” is the latest entry in a catalog of original music. The duo is not some celebrity-driven diversion or indulgence. It’s a serious endeavor that exists independently of the work the brothers pursue on their own.
“My songwriting is very different from my life as a composer, where I have a source where you can turn off like a tap,” Michael said. “The method that best describes both my method of songwriting, and for my brother, is I feel like a professional as opposed someone working in a Tin Pan Alley style. With that, you pick a title, then you and your writing partner meet at the studio at 10 o’clock and work till 4 and, in the process, try to craft out a song. We have written Tin Pan Alley style, but we tend to be a little more self-exploratory. In the 20 years we’ve had the band, that works best for us.”
Still, is there some link in the working process of their other artistic pursuits that comes into play when making music – or vice versa?
“You mean like with acting?” Kevin asks back. “Well, I have been in situations where I’ve been working on a film and gone into a little bit of a writing jag. I think the problem with that, though, is when you’re playing a part, you’re pretty emotionally in touch with whatever is going on with the story. You pretty much have to be. Sometimes because of that emotional connection, though, a song will come out.
“But that’s also what makes us come back to this — that and the fact that we’re not a cover band, you know? This is really about sharing songs. I think that was really the first impetus of having a Bacon Brothers band at all. It was about what we were doing from a songwriting standpoint. What we were trying to do together was write songs for other people to play. What we finally did, I realized, was write a song and, at some point, you want to put it out in front of people, whether it’s your family or your cat or whatever. That’s really what we’re doing.”