The Sunday Supplement / James Kennedy on being a Rock ‘N Roll underdog
The Sunday Supplement. 13 September 2020
It is an interesting time for Metal books. We have just seen Adrian Smiths autobiography released and soon there is the prospect of The Metal God’s, AKA Rob Halford, tome to read. Both are good (more on the latter, later this month), but neither match the raw passion of a desire to conquest as ‘Noise Damage’, by James Kennedy.
While Iron Maiden’s guitarist may have written about the problems with the incessant touring of the early Maiden years and Halford may fail to account for K.K. Downings thoughts that Priest never achieved the album sales that their stature deserved, there is now the leveller of James Kennedy’s ‘Noise Damage’.
And ‘Noise Damage’ is a book which every aspiring musician or band leader should read.
James Kennedy – Noise Damage (Eye Books)
Release Date: 18 October 2020
From the messy into, with long standing friends Glyn Bateman (drums) and Matt Warr (Bass), you know this is going to be a difficult, but engaging, read. And it is the evolvement of the band Kyshera and the changes in James’ life which forms the bones of the book.
From an early age, James had been battling towards fulfilling his aspirations. Ear problems left a reduction of hearing, which is not a great base for an aspiring musician, but an early stage of working at the White Oak Studio saw James in a good starting place. Early 2000 saw a mixture of analogue and early digital recording, helping him to learn on the job.
The desire to push himself out to the world, to crack the big time, forms the story of the book and we find out about the tough journey this entailed.
Ultimately, it is a difficult path, but the book is a splendid read about the trials and tribulations of trying to break into the music stratosphere.
“The music industry has always been something of a ‘fiction’ industry, not just because of the vast discrepancy between the glamorous lifestyle it promotes and the desperate reality behind the façade – but because of the fact that its whole shaky structure is loosely glued together by bullshit, exploitation, marketing and a ton of dirty tricks.” (James Kennedy – Noise Damage, Eye Books)
MetalTalk spoke with James about his new book ‘Noise Damage – My Life As A Rock ’n’ Roll Underdog’.
MetalTalk: Congratulations on the book. It’s a great read about the trials and tribulations of trying to break into the music stratosphere. With your hearing loss (60% now?) you have done well to even get to where you are today. Is the present day James in a good place?
James Kennedy: “Ah thanks so much man! I’m glad you enjoyed it! And yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever be in a ‘great’ place because it’s just not in my nature to let myself get too comfy, but present day James is definitely in a good place, thanks.
“I’m still off the booze & practicing going easier on myself.
“As for my hearing, yeah it’s been at 60% since I was ten years old, but amazingly it hasn’t budged at all after all the years of gigging – mostly in cramped little venues with no ear plugs. So I’m very lucky.”
The latter part of the book, after the end of Kyshera as a band, looks at a time when James was drinking less and looking towards enjoying his own music and enjoying his life. He embarked on an acoustic tour, just him and his guitar, the ‘Misfits’ tour.
We asked James if the ‘Misfits’ tour, around the UK and Holland, was the happiest one? It seems like this was his most satisfying time.
“In many ways, yeah! I missed the other guys in Kyshera desperately, but there was just this feeling of lightness and freedom that came with setting off on that road trip and playing those shows.”
Did he think that was because of lower expectations? Just to go out and enjoy his sober self?
“Totally. No agents, no managers, no bullshit, no other bands…like, literally no one!
“Not even a mate to help with driving and merch. Just me, my guitar and a van with a mattress in the back, driving the length of the country in summertime.
“All the gigs were in small, independent venues – even record shops and cafes – and the set was 100% acoustic, stripped down and intimate.
“Free entry on all shows, so if no one came, no problem. It was totally stress free.
“And it meant that I got to actually engage properly with my amazing fans rather than having to pack a van and race off somewhere.
“We hung out for hours after each show and the whole thing just reminded me what it’s ‘really’ all about – the music, the adventure and sharing a connection with awesome people. Everyone should try it sometime.”
A substantial part of the book covers the escapades of writing and promoting Kyshera and it is built around eleven tips for aspiring musicians using James’ experiences of being shafted in probably every way possible.
Does he think every new band should read his eleven tips before entering the studio for the first time?
“Yes! The book should be required reading for anyone wanting to go in the music industry.
“Everyone thinks they’re gonna be the next Slipknot, but more than likely, you’re gonna be the next ‘me’ – so here’s your manual…NOW do you wanna do it?”
In the book, James talks about his experiences in trying to self fund Kyshera. From a promotion point of view, the topics are probably felt by many bands. Underperforming PR Companies, Radio Plugers and then he threw all his financial eggs in one basket for ‘Made In China’.
Did this cost a small fortune?
“Oh god yeah. And I recorded all of our albums at home, for free, so we didn’t even have any recording costs.
“We did as much as possible by ourselves but even so, we were always shovelling money in to something!
“Videos, vans, touring costs, merch, equipment, artwork, CD pressing. It’s fucking endless and in the end I was blacklisted from getting credit so we had to start playing covers on the weekend to finance everything.
“That became our financial model for many years – Mr fucking Brightside.
“It made good money for the band but you could say we paid an ultimately higher price for doing it. ha ha!!”
For the album ‘Paradigm’, James had to borrow petrol money and Cat helped with a £500 loan for Mastering. At this time James’ hearing was getting worse, too. He eventually decided to have some cognitive behavioural therapy.
Did this CBT help him to keep his sanity… to break the loop… was this the beginning of an upward curve?
“In some ways – and I’d totally recommend CBT to everyone by the way.
“It definitely helped me break the loop with some of the problems I was having (causing) in my personal life, but it was no match for the sheer, relentless brutality of the music industry.
“But gaining a better understanding of your personal demons and triggers is like a super power that can improve your life in so many ways.
“It didn’t stop me from having the colossal melt down later on in the book, but when I did CBT it was for a very specific set of personal problems and for those, it worked like a charm.”
Cat is one of the consistent people in the book. She has must have the patience of a saint and the dedication of a real, true friend. We asked James how she is today?
“Ha ha!! yeah, she’s good thanks. Still putting up with me for reasons no one can understand.”
The book describes a European tour, which James and Kyshera “bought on to”, though the money paid was stolen by the tour promoter and as the tour progressed and cash was drying up, the frictions within the touring parties grew and grew.
James describes the tour as “… struggle, disappointment, expense, confrontation, sacrifice, rip-offs and a sadistic stream of bullshit, exploitation, time-wasting, incompetent, needy, manipulative, dysfunctional fuck nuts….”
Does he think it was just that the tour was badly managed, or there is no way it was ever going to be a good experience? Obviously Glyn’s fathers problems (he had a stroke) did not help…
“I don’t know, man. I think that tour conspired against us enjoying it in any way possible.
“I was already pretty frazzled by the time we left, because of all the preceding bullshit, so I probably wasn’t the most positive force to be around either.
“I could have enjoyed the shows though. I could have at least let myself enjoy the shows, but I was just past giving a shit by that point and that was unfair because Matt and Glyn were not in the same headspace as me and they might have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t for my constant arsiness.
“That tour was pretty brutal though. Even Snot got fucked over on various things and I think we were all glad when it was over.”
Do you think there is a place for any band to buy onto a tour… where this could be a good thing?
“Not really. You’re immediately putting a sign on your heads that says ‘exploit us please’ and everyone from the agents and managers, through to the other bands and venues, will all do exactly that once you ‘buy on’ to a tour.
“I can totally understand why bands would do it though and everyone in the industry that ever frowned on us for doing it was more happy to accept some bands money, when tour time came around, so fuck ’em.
“Our thinking was that we were stuck at a certain level. We’d done everything to try and break through to that next level, but we always ended up back down where we were.
“So we were happy to ‘take a punt’ on a Buy On by that point, if it meant that we could force our way into the cool club, make some contacts and get off the club trail and onto the touring circuit.
“So I don’t blame bands for doing it, but I don’t know of anyone who’s gotten any success from it as of now.”
‘Noise Damage’ describes the final, sad collapse of Kyshera and eventually Kennedy releases the solo album ‘Home’, with some success. The album notches up in excess of a million streams and makes the Amazon Top 50.
The Kyshera breakup was not the best of spilts, and James talks about how his feelings that other two members are not still close friends.
Is James sad that the rest of the band could not share in the success of ‘Home’?
“Very. It’s such a shame that that whole period went the way it did.
“Listening back to that album is very bittersweet for me.
“It brings back so many memories of being in one of the lowest places I’ve ever been in my life but also of the beginnings of a new appreciation for what’s really important in life – which is something you can hear on the album. And I never intended on making that album, it just kinda ‘came out’.
“I guess it was my way of expressing the full range of mixed emotions I was going through all at the same time.
“And I’m really proud of that album – yes it’s very different from anything else I’ve done but it’s a painfully honest album and I think it’s got some great songs on it.
“But making a record completely by myself, promoting it & touring it without really even speaking much to the other guys in the band was just so weird.
“And when the album was well received, it was even weirder that it wasn’t a shared success with my comrades, but a solitary one.
“Their absence was like a grey cloud hanging over the entire period.”
As someone who has battled with reduced hearing all his life, James has had to work harder than most in working towards his dreams.
We asked James about his work with charities and hearing tech companies.
“Some of what I’ve done has involved trialling new hearing technology – which means getting to play about with some super sci-fi toys.
“Hearing technology is so advanced these days, I had NO idea, man!
“There are gizmos now that can move sound around in different directions (inside your head), remove background noise from busy social environments, boost different frequencies for different hearing needs and so much more – all in real time and on the move via an app!
“It’s been a real eye opener.
“I think I get asked because I’ve got experience of living with hearing loss but also because I understand the language of audio technology due to my studio experience.
“So I guess I cover two, often conflicting worlds, which is useful for companies in that industry.
“The other side of what I do is pure charity work, just helping to raise awareness about hearing loss and Tinnitus (I have had a constant, loud hissing noise in my left ear since I was ten – all day and all night).
“So I do talks at seminars and use my social media to help break the stigma of hearing loss and try to help save others from the same unnecessary fate.”
James releases his book 18 October 202, through Eye Books. It is an engrossing read and sure to smash home with many truths felt by most musicians, whatever their level.
You don’t have to be an arena touring band to have great stories and while much of this book is a succession of painful knock-backs, even almost relentless, it is something which every aspiring and practising musician should read.
James says in the book “My failure wasn’t just a little bit gutting; it was fucking soul-crushing. But life goes on and you’ve got to deal with it or spend the rest of your life being an irritating, moany pain in the arse, in which case the only people you’ll attract into your life will be other whining losers.”
Do he still see it all as a failure? In the context of the book, there is not a million selling album and there are lots and lots of set backs, but it was a great ride……
“Well that’s kind of how I see it now.
“Would I trade all those knockbacks for a simpler, more comfortable younger life?
“Hell no! I’d have been bored out of my mind if I’d chosen the straight and narrow all those years ago.
“I’ve had amazing adventures, made incredible friends all over and learned a hell of a lot of lessons through the struggle.
“And I got to experience the electric thrill of standing onstage with your best mates beside you & the power of a thousand watts in your hand! Over and over again.
“It was an awesome ride and I only saw it all as a failure because I was measuring everything I did, relative to some unattainable dream that only really happens to less than 1% of the musical population.
“It’s a cliché but I think it really IS all about the journey, ya know.
“And I wouldn’t change a thing…actually that’s a lie ha ha, I would change a lot!”