Proud to be Uncool
Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers
When Stephen Kellogg talks of live shows being the lifeblood of his band, The Sixers, he could simply be repeating one of the classic clichs of rock 'n' roll. Or he could be referring to the very real fact that the group makes much of its living on the road, playing 200-plus dates a year. But what Kellogg is really saying is that he feels the concerts are where he and The Sixers truly shine and offer something genuinely unique to fans who have discovered the Massachusetts-based band.
"I think what we're doing that's unique is we're giving people music that's not silly music, but we're giving them a light evening," Kellogg says. "You get to go hear cool music and kind of have a laugh. It's like getting a comedian and a cool artist at the same time. And I think that's unique, and I think that's special about our group of guys."
Kellogg has a point. Proudly displaying a sunny, poppy disposition is not exactly the hippest thing to do in a rock world that sometimes seems to value only groups that seem serious, agitated or downright near-suicidal. Kellogg says his unwillingness to play to that trend hasn't done The Sixers any favors as far as getting reviews or being viewed by the music press as a "cool" band.
"We're not cool," Kellogg says. "We're not dark and we're not mysterious and we wear our hearts on our sleeves. I admire those artists… But it's not who I am. I can't do it."
Actually, there are those who feel Kellogg could complain plenty about his lot in the rock 'n' roll life.
He has an extensive discography dating back to a 2000 pre-Sixers album, but it was his 2005 self-titled release that really started to shine some attention toward the band. The first of the group's CDs to have major-label distribution, Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers, got strong reviews and had quite a few critics predicting a commercial breakthrough.
It didn't happen. The self-titled album topped out at about 25,000 copies sold-the best total for any of the group's CDs.
Kellogg, though, isn't complaining. He says he never let himself get caught up in the next-big-thing predictions, and he sees lots of progress when it comes to the band's career.
"People have sort of written about us (being) on the brink of success for years, and for some people it's like, 'Well, that didn't happen and it's over,'" Kellogg says. "But what's ironic to me about that is everything we've done has always moved forward. We haven't had a rocket ride up, but if it's a tortoise-and-hare thing, every six months we look around and go, 'OK, are there more people at the shows? Yup. Are we selling more records than we were previously? Yup. Are the songs getting better and more focused? Are we clear on who we are as people and what the message of the band is? Yup.'"
Kellogg is certainly right when he talks about the band's continued musical growth. The group's current CD, Glassjaw Boxer, is the strongest, most focused effort yet from Kellogg and his Sixers band mates (drummer Brian "Boots" Factor, guitarist Chris Soucy and bassist Keith "Kit" Karlson).
Like the earlier albums, it is a straight-ahead pop-rock record that tries to be timeless as opposed to trendy. It works because Kellogg has a genuine gift for hooks, both in his vocals and the guitar/piano melodies that support his singing.
But live, Kellogg explains, his songs can take on a different personality than on the albums.
"I think the live versions always seem to have an extra dose of fire in them," Kellogg says. "They're a little faster. The arrangements are sometimes a little more aggressive and dynamic… When you go to a live show, a little recklessness feels kind of fun."
Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers headline an 8 p.m. show at Shank Hall on Saturday, Oct. 18.