Interview: Kendell Marvel Sings Less, Does More on ‘Solid Gold Sounds’
In mid-September, the "Wall of Fame" at Nashville's Exit/In gained a new name: Kendell Marvel. The gritty, soulful country rocker, who has hosted 20 of his Honky Tonk Experience showcases at the venerable Music City venue in a little over two and a half years, is now among an exclusive list of acts (Brandi Carlile, Tom Petty, Paramore, Guster, Waylon Jennings, to name a (very) few) immortalized on the club's dark walls.
"There's just so many people that, my name should not be anywhere close to theirs on a wall," Marvel reflects to The Boot the morning after his "induction." He’s being perhaps too humble: In addition to writing songs with and for big mainstream country names such as Randy Houser and Chris Stapleton, his 2019 tourmate, Marvel has a way of bringing people together. "Blood in the Water," one of 10 songs on his brand-new album Solid Gold Sounds, was co-written by "Big Al" Anderson and features Brothers Osborne member John Osborne on guitar. Both men are past Honky Tonk Experience guests.
In some ways, Marvel’s 2017 debut as an artist with Lowdown and Lonesome, after operating solely as a songwriter for years, relied on those connections and his history in the writing room: Two of its tracks were previously released by Houser and Stapleton, while another frequent collaborator, Jamey Johnson, sings on one song. Solid Gold Sounds, out Friday (Oct. 11), though, is “a whole different beast.” Marvel and producer Dan Auerbach, along with a few collaborators (Anderson, John Anderson, Paul Overstreet and others) wrote nine of the 10 songs in a matter of a few days. Their sessions were so fruitful, Marvel says, there was no need to dip into his back catalog.
"It's chill, but it's got grit."
On the recommendation of his manager, Clay Bradley, Auerbach and David Ferguson co-produced Solid Gold Sounds. Bradley floated the idea to the Easy Eye Sound studio owner, and, Marvel recalls, “two days later, we met, and two weeks later, we started writing songs. It just fell right together.”
“Dan is a country music junkie … He’s a jukebox; he knows all that [classic] stuff,” Marvel continues – and he had some ideas to shake things up. When they started working together, Auerbach played Marvel a Charlie Rich song as an example of what he wanted to shoot for.
“I was like, ‘Holy s—t, absolutely,’” Marvel recounts, “but I was like, ‘Have you listened to my first record? Because this is nothing like that.’”
That was Auerbach’s goal. “And I was like, ‘No, you’re right.’ A real artist should explore … It keeps it interesting,” says Marvel.
From the jump, listeners can tell that Solid Gold Sounds is a Dan Auerbach production. The artist / producer’s Easy Eye Sound studio band includes some of the studio musicians who played on Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto” and “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” famous exports of the Memphis music scene of the mid-20th centure. Auerbach imbues that quality into each of his releases, including those from artists on the rise such as Yola and Dee White.
“I compare it to a good craft beer,” Marvel says of that “Easy Eye Sound.” There’s a brewery in the Northeast he enjoys that makes multiple craft beers, “but there’s something in all of them that tastes the same. I can’t put my finger on what it is, and that’s the way his acts are at Easy Eye …
“There’s a common thread in all of us,” he continues. “We’re all completely different musically, but there’s something the same, and [Auerbach] is that ingredient.”
Auerbach also taught Marvel an important lesson: Sing less. Simply by softening his voice, Marvel brought out a more angst-filled side of his sound. “It’s still got the grit,” he muses, “but there’s a lot more tenderness and softness, for sure.” Solid Gold Sounds focuses more on love songs, but even the rollicking album kick-off “Cadillac’n” feels different than what you'll find on Lowdown and Lonesome.
“I’m used to [being] a live singer, so it’s different. When you’re singing live, you’re just getting into it,” explains Marvel. “It’s not really an adjustment – that’s just how I’m going to sing live from now on. It’s so much easier to sing live, too … The adjustments, just the little tweaks he’s had me make, are going to help me a lot.”
Marvel's new singing rule helps him shine on Solid Gold Sounds' only cover: "I've Gotta Get a Message to You," originally by the Bee Gees. Auerbach suggested the track by playing Marvel R&B artist Swamp Dogg's version of the song, "and then, [at the end], he was like, 'Oh, by the way ...'"
"It's so melodic and so pretty," Marvel reflects of the track, professing his admiration for the Bee Gees' work beyond their well-known disco tracks, "and the story is a really dark story, but it doesn't sound like it."
Truly, the Bee Gees are a fitting cover choice for an album Marvel (who credits one of his band members for coming up with the phrase) describes as "lava lamp love-making music."
"It's chill," he explains, "but it's got grit."
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