by Rebecca M. Alvin
When Payomet Performing Arts Center announced The Bacon Brothers as the latest addition to their ever-growing list of performers coming to the North Truro tent this season, the excitement rippled across the Cape. Sure, the fact that one half of the duo is Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon may have ignited the initial thrill as people imagined finding themselves one degree closer to him, but The Bacon Brothers, comprised of real-life brothers Michael and Kevin have been making music and building a solid base of fans for their work for over 25 years.
Now, touring with their latest release Erato, a five-song EP, both are excited to be on the Outer Cape. Although Michael has never been out here, Kevin has been to Truro and Provincetown many times. In a telephone interview with both, Kevin enthuses, “It’s such a short distance between the ocean and the bay. There’s not a lot of places in the world that have that! It’s really cool…There’s no place like Provincetown in the world. Just the vibe there is so fun and so incredibly open and inclusive, obviously. And my kids just absolutely adored it.”
Both brothers have managed to carve out two distinct careers: one in film and one in music. In addition to writing songs for The Bacon Brothers, Michael is an Emmy-winning composer with a career spanning over three decades in film and television, with most of his credits in the documentary form, including documentaries for PBS, HBO, and many others, on subjects ranging from portraits of Gloria Steinem and the Buddha to deep, probing pieces on issues like depression, dyslexia, and teenage suicide.
“When I first moved to Nashville, I got calls from friends of mine who were producing a documentary in Nebraska, I believe it was, and it was on the safe use of pesticides for farmers. And you can imagine that’s a pretty dull subject,” he recalls. “So, I wrote a song and the first line was ‘Mites and skunks and ticks and slugs; Moles and weevils and hundreds of bugs.’ It sort of made the show a little more fun. And then somebody else asked me to do that and somebody else and that kind of started building up.” Later he moved to New York and switched to more instrumental music and built a career in music. “I also had a kid and was getting discouraged in the disco era being a lonely singer/songwriter on the road with my guitar,” he laughs. In addition to documentary work he also teaches at Lehman College, which has also been important for him because he says through teaching “you really start to understand your craft from a different angle because you have to tell other people how you do it.”
Both see the band as a way to explore a different side of their creativity. For Kevin, who says he loves to perform, in general, acting and music are satisfying in almost opposite ways.
“It’s not that [acting] is not personal—because you have to draw on your own life experiences—but the people that you’re portraying are not me, right? Like, I’m not someone who thinks that, you know, I’m going to just put me on the screen and that’s going to be it. You know what I mean? It’s all about trying to walk in somebody else’s shoes. But the songs—for the most part, not all of them—are pretty personal expressions of things that have happened to me or whatever, right? You know, things that I’ve been through.”
For Michael, the love of music connects both fields more directly, but like Kevin, Michael is able to explore areas he finds personally interesting with The Bacon Brothers, whether it’s through the writing and arranging, or the unique things that come up between the brothers as they write, or just through being able to write without conforming to the needs of a film. In The Bacon Brothers, both voices are equal and there is no external product they are supporting; it’s all about whatever they want it to be about.
Both brothers write, sing, and play guitar, although Kevin says it did not start out that way. “When we first started, the very first song that I was writing I couldn’t even play an instrument, you know, so that was a challenge,” he says, laughing. But, he says, he sang the melodies and lyrics to Michael who then wrote for the instruments. Once he could also play, they started writing separately, but still maintained a collaborative process.
“We’re always bouncing things off each other,” explains Kevin. “Michael will hear something or hear some kind of a vibe in a song or have an idea for an instrument or a part. I mean, we have a track called ‘Erato,’ and we decided to put the autoharp on it. And it’s not something that I ever would have thought of. In fact, when he suggested it, I was like, ’Is this really going to work?’ but it really is a very signature part of the song. So even if we don’t actually construct the song together, in some ways we construct it in the production. “
“I’m absolutely loving playing my autoharp live! I have it plugged into an amp and it’s really loud and a lot of fun to play,” adds Michael enthusiastically.
Since their first release in 1997 they have referred to their musical genre as “Forosco,” an amalgam of folk, rock, soul, and country. Throughout the years on albums such as “Can’t Complain” (2001), “36¢»(2014), and “The Way We Love”(2020), this melding of American music in particular with grounded lyrics and strong songwriting as the guide, has been steadfast. The new EP continues their style but with a slightly more contemporary feel, perhaps owing to new collaborations, one with songwriter Desmond Child (“In Memory (of When I Cared)”) and another with Kevin’s son Travis Bacon, who brought some electronic production elements to “Karaoke Town.”
Together they have created something that feels timeless in a way, with songs about the ordinary experiences of our lives, rather than politics or social issues that the brothers may have views on. Kevin says, “I think that there was a time, which in some ways I pine for, where people really did make actual cultural political changes and movements that were heavily influenced by music. And you know, maybe we’ll find our way back to that. I don’t know it doesn’t seem to be happening yet.” But both brothers agree the music is about personal life experiences and sharing that with an audience rather than using the stage as a platform for political statements. And with each new release, they find more and more to share.
As Michael put it in the band’s written bio, “Music is a life’s work. It’s a universe of things yet to know. It’s exciting to be doing stuff we couldn’t have done 20 years ago — to know that we’ve come so far, yet still have so much left in the tank.”
The Bacon Brothers will perform at Payomet Performing Arts Center, 29 Old Dewline Rd., North Truro, Thursday, August 4, 7 p.m. For tickets ($38 – $48) and information call 508.487.5400 or visit payomet.org.