Drew Kennedy is taking a novel approach to his latest album, in every sense of the word.
Based in New Braunfels, Texas, the singer-songwriter has just released two new projects: his first book and his fifth album, both titled Fresh Water in the Salton Sea.
He recorded the album in January 2011, then spent the next six months writing and editing the novel. The lead character, Daniel Murphy, is an optimistic traveling musician who greets his 30th birthday on a solo tour of the Southwest. Every few chapters, Dan’s story segues into the lyrics for one of the new songs. All in all, it’s a revealing and entertaining story about a hardworking and ambitious songwriter who’s trying to get over a broken heart.
“I decided I could give people a glimpse into where songs come from,” says Kennedy, calling in a few hours before a gig in College Station, Texas. “And when I came up with that idea, I figured I could put the songs from the album into the book and weave the two together.”
In this conversation, Kennedy talks about the long road trip that inspired the idea, the unsung heroes of touring and the first thing he did when the books arrived.
CMT: How did the idea for the novel come about?
Kennedy: I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I was driving to Alpine, Texas, to play a New Year’s Eve show on the last day of 2010. That’s a good seven-hour drive from where I live, so I had plenty of time to think about things on the way out there. And I was thinking about this idea of writing a book. And I thought, if I’m going to do this, it can’t be just a passion project. … So that’s when I started thinking about how I could tie it into my career, which is music.
I started to get the idea about a songwriter with a lot of the same experiences I had. I think they’re interesting, and a lot of other people may enjoy reading about them, so I decided to write it from a fictional point of view. You know, I don’t lead a … I would say “musical” way of life on the road. I’d like to think I’m fairly well-adjusted, and I’m definitely happy with where I am in my life. I think writing from another character gave me creative license to make up some more interesting aspects in the read.
I thought the narrator, Dan, was really likable, and I found myself rooting for him. And he wasn’t a smart aleck, which I appreciated. What did you like best about creating him?
The reason I wanted to write it as a different person was because I feel like, across the board, musicians get an undeserved rap of being a group of lazy, uninspired members of society. I’ve always been kind of offended by that because all of the people I know who do this for a living are incredibly intelligent. They’re totally with it, and they’re great people. I wanted to stick up for them in a way, just to give people who might rely on the old stereotype a look into who I am and who a lot of these other people are. And people might find, in fact, there are some pretty smart people out there who have the courage to chase their dreams and keep it together as they do so.
In the book, you were able to show the community of people who love and support touring musicians like you.
That was really important for me to do. I know you’ve met them — and we’ve all met them. They go so far out of their way to offer a bed or a warm meal or “Hey, I know this guy that owns this place that does music.” … There are so many people who are willing to help. I wanted to thank those people in a small way. If my personally thanking them each and every time isn’t enough, I wanted to let them know it’s something that I value.
Is there a typical day for you when you’re on the road touring?
Yeah, it’s pretty boring, actually. I don’t mind driving, so the long drives aren’t very daunting to me. I’m a voracious reader, so I listen to a lot of audio books. … But more importantly, I don’t think you can write songs from a state of contentment, at the level that I like to write songs anyway. So the road is where all of these songs are born. I like to observe my surroundings and listen to the people I’m talking to — and even the people I’m not talking to. You never know what little nugget is going to hit you that might inspire your next song. To me, it’s not just going on the road playing shows and making money doing so. It’s almost field research for my next song or my next album.
For people who haven’t heard your music before, how would you describe it?
Oh, that’s a tough one! I think it’s accessible at face value, but for people who enjoy lyrics and dig into the meanings of the songs, I like to think there’s more behind the songs than you get at face value. The people that inspire me — the Guy Clarks and the Darrell Scotts of the world — I latched onto that at an early age. I think they were good teachers from afar on how to write the kind of things I aspire to write. It’s got its roots in country and the music you’d find along the Appalachian range — if not in twang, then certainly in intent. I just try to make it honest. I try not to write about things I don’t know about or can’t relate to.
Being an independent artist, did the finished books just get shipped to your house?
Yeah, I got twelve 43-pound boxes delivered to my front door. (laughs) I carried them each inside, then I opened them up and took a picture of the first one. It felt pretty good. I took the first one out and put it on my bookshelf in between some Steinbeck books and some Kerouac books, but then I felt stupid. (laughs) But I just wanted to see it there for a second!