“Some people have an internal monologue,” explains NYC-based bandleader, Oliver Kennan, “I have an internal jukebox and I want to show people what it sounds like.”
Beneath Kennan’s youthful appearance lies an old soul. A first listen to “Waiting,” the second cut on his debut album Oh Boy (May 10th, Hornblow Recordings) makes it clear that his internal jukebox is stocked with classic 45s from the golden age of soul and funk. It’s the vintage kind, where you can see the inner workings behind the glowing glass dropping your current bop into play. On Oh Boy, Kennan is spinning bits and pieces of those records into something entirely his own.
The jukebox is stocked with modern hits, too: Kennan’s stated influences range from Otis Redding to Arcade Fire, Dr. John to Radiohead, and Wilson Pickett to Amy Winehouse. Kennan’s vocals, songwriting, and guitar playing skills honor all of his heroes, classic and contemporary, but his greatest talent may be in leading his band. The ensemble is comprised of accomplished performers in their own right, and together they are one of the city’s most exciting soul ensembles.
“Waiting” is an up-tempo funk number that recalls the Tower of Power, and tells the classic story of a young man searching for love in the loneliest big city in the world. The tune is followed by “The One,” a song notable for the fact in that it sent Kennan in the musical direction that eventually became the Oh Boy album.
“It was the first song I wrote where I really felt like I had found my voice,” he says. “Writing „The One‟ allowed me to take a big batch of songs that seemed very different and view them through the same lens. The songs on Oh Boy were written over several years, and they vary in style and vibe, but now they represent who I am as a whole.”
Kennan’s newfound confidence in his writing encouraged him to push further when it came time to record Oh Boy, too.
“It inspired me to record everything live to tape just like my favorite classic records,” he explains. “Recording live gives the music an organic feeling, full of idiosyncrasies, which shows what a band can really do without modern studio techniques.” Oh Boy was recorded at The Bunker Studios and Thump Studios in Brooklyn, and was mastered by industry icon, Bob Ludwig.
The recording setup also made for a fun feeling that permeates the grooves and makes these tunes jump up and out.
“My goal was to show who I am and what I believe in,” Kennan confides. “I want people to feel like they’re reading my journal on the dance floor at my party.”
If Kennan is still journaling, he’s still learning, which means Oh Boy is just the beginning of his artistic journey.
Album opener “Which Way Is Up” addresses this, and starting the album with a confession lends credibility to Kennan’s words right out of the gate, letting you know it’s not all show for this crooner.
“The song is a conversation with myself about all the things I can’t be sure about, and a way to make peace with that,” he says. “I used to feel very confident about my view of the world, but I have come to realize how little I am certain about.”
Back to speaking of show, though, this song also addresses every listener’s need for a group of backing vocalists sent from Heaven (or your paradise of choice.) Damn, burnt my fingers!
Listening to Oh Boy, it’s clear that Kennan can be sure of what he’s chosen to do with his life. There is an honest innocence within the strong foundation that these songs are built on.
Years before catching footage of 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival, which introduced the then 16-year-old Kennan to Redding, Hendrix, and two years later, music school, he was already well on his way.
“My fondest memories from childhood are dancing with my family,” he remembers. “I think I’ve been trying to recreate those moments ever since.”
Oh Boy, the debut album by New York City’s Oliver Kennan, arrives in May 10th via Hornblow Recordings.