Backstage With the Bacon Brothers: Duo Talk Sibling Rivalry and 'Hookers'

Kevin and Michael Bacon open up about "uncomfortable" new music and separating their band from their day jobs

Kevin and Michael Bacon of the Bacon Brothers Credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Outside of the Franklin Theater on the outskirts of Nashville, a crowd of middle-aged women has gathered, all clutching Blu-Ray copies of Footloose and wearing sensible footwear, with their low-heeled pumps and flip-flops tapping at the sidewalk in nervous excitement. Kevin Bacon, actor, lord of the dance and icon of their teenage dreams, is waiting upstairs — and in about an hour, he'll take the stage as part of the Bacon Brothers in trim denim that will make them swoon.

"I heard he takes people's camera phones and does selfies of himself!" says a woman with a French pedicure, pacing anxiously and peering past the shoulder of the venue's security guard, waiting to be let in, or maybe to just catch a glimpse. It's a little like Beatlemania meets Oprah's book club.

"I'm not acting the rock star," Kevin tells Rolling Stone Country upstairs in the green room, sitting on a pleather chair with his older brother, Michael. He knows, certainly, that some of the audience is there to see the Kevin Bacon, the movie star, he of glorious hair and so many degrees of separation. But he shrugs it off — this is about his music, and, as he insists, if anyone wants to see the real person beyond the booms and lights, then this their chance. "I say, when it comes to acting, you have to 'use yourself and lose yourself.' When it comes to playing music, it's like, 'this is what I wore all day, this is what I'll wear.' It doesn't change much."

Kevin and Michael are killing time before their sold-out concert amongst a hearty amount of people and a wilting craft services table — they don't look like siblings, really, with Kevin's chiseled cheeks and leather jacket to Michael's silver hair and Nantucket-red pants, but they banter like them. The duo has hit the road again to promote their newest studio album, 36 Cents — it had been since 2008 that they'd released an LP, and this time Kevin was thinking maybe they should get modern, just do some singles. But big brother won, as they often do.

"I thought, who cares if it's a whole record? But my brother, who hasn't climbed out from underneath a rock in about 35 years said, 'No, it has to be a whole CD, and it has to be 11 tracks,'" Michael says. The resulting collection spans the gamut from fast-picking country to hip-hop samples to English countryside plucks, with an Alanis Morissette cover thrown in for good measure. There's even the Tom Waits-ian opening number "Hookers and Blow," which is an unusual way to usher in an otherwise upbeat record. But it's what Michael wanted, and again big brother wins.

"Not sure why, but he's my older brother, so I have to agree," Kevin says, smiling. No Hollywood rank, here.

Rolling Stone Country sat down with the actor and the composer amidst the screaming misses to talk about brotherly love, being hip and which Osborne duo they know best.

It must be surreal for you to see the rise of the "Americana" movement — after all, your first record, Forosoco, was an early example of this evolving trend, even named for an amalgam of all things roots–folk-rock-soul-country. You've been doing that sound for 20 years. Do you feel ahead of the game?
Kevin Bacon:
We certainly didn't think about it like that, and we still don't think about it that way. But I guess what that record was pointing out was that we weren't picking a sound. And the new record is just as wacky as the other ones, in terms of bouncing all over the place.

Michael Bacon: It's just what we've always done. I made my first record in '70, '71, and it's pretty much the same sound that we have. It's what we know, and what we do best really.

"Hookers and Blow" reminded me a little of Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money."
Kevin
: Yeah, I'll take that. I love that song.

But it's not exactly confessional, since you guys are obviously happily married. So where did the idea come from?
Kevin
: There's this joke when your personal life is as dull as ours is, in terms of being married and having kids. People say, "What did you do last night?" And you say, "Hookers and Blow." So I thought, what about that as a title of a song? But all of a sudden, as I wrote it, it became this serious idea of this person who is at a terrible point in their lives and just wants to fade away. Someone who's like, "Look, I'm fine. This is what I want. I want hookers and blow." I don't want to be saved. And it's a hard song for us to play, because how do you explain that to an audience?

That's not easy stage banter.
Kevin:
And they laugh because it's sort of uncomfortable. It's like taking on a character from an actor's standpoint. We have an old song called "Woodstock '99," and it was written from the perspective of a 17-year-old kid who is at Woodstock '99. I wasn't at Woodstock '99 and I'm not 17, God knows. I probably wouldn't have even gone if I was 17, but for some reason I just wanted to think about what it would be like to walk in those shoes.

And do you enjoy this exercise of narrative songwriting, where you can bring the actor's imagination to it?
Kevin:
Try to. But a lot of times the songs are actually more from my perspective and personal. They are always personal to an extent.

Michael, you are also celebrated for your film and television scores. How do you compartmentalize the music you compose with work that you do for the band?
Michael
: Compartmentalizing is a very good way to put it. When I'm doing my film scoring, I have to turn it on. And when I'm done, I have to turn it off. I was a staff songwriter in Nashville, which meant going to the publishing company at 10 a.m., sitting down with someone, and being like, "Hey, do you wanna write today?" And you'd pick a title and then kind of try to write. Kevin and I did that for years. I don't think we were ever really good at that. Now, we have this place with no electricity, and I go there to write. So I don't have many distractions.

A lot of musicians will admit they take on a whole new persona on-stage — à la Beyoncé's Sasha Fierce. But Kevin, is it the opposite for you?
Kevin
: It certainly is a performance, but I look at is as lot closer to who I am than the characters I play. Being an actor, you're walking in someone else's shoes. You're wearing a costume, they've done your hair and makeup. There's an accent, maybe. A way of standing. A way of being. A way of talking. But I will say, if I feel like a performance of a song has lost something or I'm not singing it very well, it helps me to go back and connect to what I feel about the song and what I was feeling when I wrote it. Then it will get back on track.

Your cover of Alanis Morissette's "You Learn" is a cool, unusual choice. FYI, according to the Internet, Kevin, you are five degrees removed from Alanis.
Kevin
: I can't believe it's that many! That was my idea. I was thinking about covers, and I wanted to step out of the Sixties and Seventies, because most of what we've covered is classic rock — Beatles and Stones and so on. All stuff that we adore, but I thought we needed something a little different. So we went all the way back to the Nineties, and I specifically thought I would like to cover a song by a woman. I like women songwriters, and I went back and listened to Jagged Little Pill. I love everything about that record. Sonically, the arrangements are so good. It's a little complicated of a song, but the message is really fantastic. And the message is good for an older person to put across. It's like, yeah I'm 56 years old. You learn shit. You go through these experiences, you lose something, you cry, you bleed, you scream, you fall, you learn. So the fact that she had that idea when she was so young is kind of amazing.

Michael: It's a tough cover because she is such a vocalist. And it's very hard to separate her vocal style and her songs. It's a perfect match. Kevin doesn't have the gymnastics that she has.

Kevin: That's for sure! That's putting it lightly.

Where does the little hip-hop flavor on "What Am I Gonna Do" come from?
Michael
: There is indeed a little bit of record-scratching.

Kevin: That was something that [bassist] Paul Guzzone put on. It was his idea, getting the beat down. Some kid from Brooklyn who was a DJ came in and he actually played the part. He brought his turntable and scratched a specific part on that track.

A live DJ — that's pretty hip.
Kevin:
We are not hip.

You are a family band, so do you keep in that spirit by asking your wives for opinions on your music?
Kevin
: Oh yeah. [Wife Kyra Sedgwick] is the first person. She plays songs 40 times in a row. I tell her, "You don't have to play it so many times."

Do you guys think you disagree more in the writing process because you're brothers, or are you able to have an easier time hashing through things because you are related?
Michael
: I think we both really, truly do admire each other, and I'm a huge fan of my brother's songwriting. I wouldn't even be in the band if my brother and I didn't feel that way. We have a lot of people we travel with, and a lot of money goes in, and a lot of money goes out. There is a sense of trust that you need to have. And we're down in Franklin and today my wife, Kevin, and I got to spend time together, and that's a really nice thing.

Do you admire other "brother" bands?
Kevin:
Oh yeah, I love Oasis. Beach Boys. Kings of Leon. Kinks. Who else? What are some other brother bands? There are so many good ones.

Punch brothers?
Kevin
: Yup. And Jackson Five. We used to do a Jackson Five tune. The White Stripes … oh … wait.

How about the Brothers Osborne? You should look into them.
Michael
: Who are they? Is that a different band than the Osborne Brothers?