One Degree from the Bacon Brothers

Michael and Kevin Bacon—yes, he of Footloose fame—are in town tonight for a Revolution Hall show. They talk songwriting, defying categorization, and why Kevin won’t give up his day job.

By Fiona McCann June 15, 2016

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Kevin (yeah, that one) Bacon and his brother Michael play "forosoco" for whomever wants to hear it. 

Image: Timothy White

They play a kind of music they call "forosoco"—a little bit of folk, rock, soul, and country. They’ve been together for 20 years, and released seven albums. They’re really brothers, and they’re really called Bacon. We caught up with Michael and Kevin Bacon—yeah, that Kevin Bacon—ahead of their Revolution Hall show tonight, Wednesday, June 15, to hear about writing songs, finding an audience, and why Bacon the younger (by nine years) won’t give up his day job any time soon.

You’ve been playing together for more than 20 years now and yet music critics are still struggling to pinpoint your sound. You coined the term "forosoco"—and even gave that name to your first album—to describe a sound that crosses genres. Does it matter that people find it so hard to categorize you?

Kevin: I guess it does to the extent that you’re trying to describe something to a radio station, or to get something played, or to give people an idea in an article, whether or not they think it’s a show they would wanna see or not see. On the other hand , whenever I’ve read descriptions—or an iTunes categorization or whatever—I find them irritating. We’re not really a folk band, and we’re not really an alt-country band, so whenever I read those, I think that’s not really what we do. It would be a mistake to try to say we have to find a sound and stick to it; I don’t think that would work for this particular band. And when it comes to the live shows, I guess people are going to hear a whole bunch of different things. I’ve been at shows where we start playing something kind of quiet or confessional and you see some big dude head out for a drink, and then I’ve been at shows where we’re tearing it up and there’s a lady in the front row with her fingers in her ears.

You both come at this with different backgrounds, despite your shared early life. Michael, you’ve been in the music business for most of your professional life. . .

Michael: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t consider myself a musician, and in the late '60s I dropped out of college and started pursuing rock and roll, pop music. And about 30 years ago, after my son was born, it was sort of slow-going with the singer-songwriter thing, so I started going into film scoring.  I’m still doing that, but 20 years ago [in 1995] Kevin and I put this band together, and I went back into the rock-and-roll business—and here we are.

Kevin, by that time, you’d already become a household name with Footloose, Oliver Stone’s JFK and A Few Good Men, among other movies. Were you playing music all that time as well?

Kevin: Yes, and I would write songs and Michael and I would write songs together. I would often try to keep a guitar around, keep a guitar in the trailer while I was shooting and tinker around with it. So it was always a big part of my life.

You officially formed as the Bacon Brothers in 1995, and have been performing and recording together ever since. Tell me about how the songwriting process works with two musical brothers involved.

Michael: It’s kind of evolved over time. When we wrote our very first song Kevin was really a pretty young kid and didn’t play the guitar, but I knew immediately he had a very good sense of putting ideas across with lyrics and melody. He would sing me the melody and I would structure it and maybe help write parts. When the band was put together, Kevin’s musical skills had to take a big jump up—I’d been doing that for years, but he’d never played in public or played guitar in public. From that point on his musical skills have developed where he doesn’t need me to help structure the songs or help him with the cords—he does that himself, he has recording technology. Occasionally we’ll contribute to a song together, but not sitting down like we did in the old days.

Has the fact that one of your members is an internationally famous actor been a help or a hindrance? 

Kevin: I think it’s both. I think there’s a natural reaction to it, which is "These guys are going to suck." I know this is true because I feel the same way. If I hear about an actor being in a band, that’s exactly where my head goes. I’m ashamed to admit it but it’s true. And I think that people have such a strong and deep relationship with music, that it’s the soundtrack of their lives, and musicians become really super iconic figures to people. I think their relationship to that is beyond the kind of relationship that they have with actors. So it’s much easier in people’s minds to think that a musician is capable of acting than it is to think an actor is capable of being a musician. So we realized that early on, and then went, well, now what do we do? Now we just have to play and see how it goes. You can’t walk out on stage, saying, "I’m so sorry I’m an actor, I’m so sorry, please, please like me." You have to like me because you like my music.

I do think that you might not have been doing this interview if I wasn’t in the band. So in some ways it can be helpful—we can get a few people in a few seats, just having no connection to the music at all. Then the job is for those people to leave, and the next time we come through town they say, you know what, I saw these guys, they’re actually pretty good.

Tours often come on the back of a particular release. You guys have released seven albums to date, and this time around you’ve got some new songs in the bag, but they’re not in album form. What pushed you to hit the road again? 

Michael: It’s hard to answer that question, because I started when people played records with needles, scrapes and scratches. We don’t have a new CD out, but we have a couple of songs that we’re working on a video for...

It feels a little bit more like how the music business works these days. 

Michael: I'm not sure anyone knows how the music business works these days. My feeling has always been that all you really can do is write the best song you can, produce it and sing it the best you can, go out and tour with the best band you can put together, and then that’s pretty much all you really can do. 

Michael, you're immersed in music professionally, but Kevin, you have a whole other life. If you had to choose between your acting and your musical career, which do you think would triumph? 

Kevin: I would never give up being an actor. I love it and it would be stupid. A lot of people say to me, "Well, you do this as a release from that silly acting." I’m like, you’re out of your mind! I love being an actor. I don’t do this to get away from acting. I do this because I also love making music and love playing in a band.

I do find, and this applies to being in a band too, that as you get older you get more and more tired of the other stuff—the travel, hotel rooms, the selfies. You do all of that stuff so you can have, in a band, an hour and a half on stage, or a week in the studio. And as an actor, you do it all for that time between action and cut, just to have that chance to be somebody else.

Are you aware that there’s a school principle in North Portland who shares your name?

Kevin: That’s so funny! In Portland, here? That’s awesome. There’s actually a pretty well-known British music producer, who produced some pretty big records, and I met him and he said: "You subjected to a lifetime of disappointed looks when I make dinner reservations and I show up." Apologize to [Portland’s Kevin Bacon] when you see him.

The Bacon Brothers play Revolution Hall tonight, Wednesday, June 15. 

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