Part of Jul 2011 by

Interview with The Wooden Birds’ Frontman Andrew Kenny

The last time I saw Andrew Kenny perform was at a wedding at the Elks Lodge in Austin, Texas. I am guessing that Kenny probably never aspired to become a wedding singer and this was far from a typical gig for him. His band at the time–American Analog Set–had all but faded away and I would not be surprised if this scaled down wedding gig (I remember it being a three-piece, but maybe it was four) was one of their final live performances.

Flash forward a couple years to 2009, when out of pure happenstance I stumbled upon The Wooden BirdsMagnolia, Andrew Kenny’s first post-Analog Set release. While Kenny’s vocals are unmistakable, Magnolia bears little resemblance to the albums of the Analog Set’s cannon of work. But having heard Kenny perform at that wedding a couple years before the release of Magnolia provided me with a unique vantage point; sonically, the band that performed at the wedding was more The Wooden Birds than Analog Set. Kenny was obviously going in the direction of sparse and concise pop songs, and Magnolia is the result.

Andrew Kenny

The Wooden Birds went on to release Montague Street EP in 2010 and then in June 2011 the full-length Two Matchsticks. AdobeAirstream chatted with Kenny while he enjoyed a brief respite at his Austin home from The Wooden Birds’ tour in support of Two Matchsticks. The Wooden Birds’ tour will conclude back in Austin at The Mohawk on July 20th.

It is only logical that music journalists will attempt to compare and contrast The Wooden Birds with Analog Set, and as Kenny sees it, “Analog Set was and still is one of my favorite bands–and not just a favorite band that I was in. I had a great time in that band and I love the catalog of songs that we put together. We didn’t stop playing because we didn’t get along or we ran out of stuff to write about; we just all wanted to do other stuff. I have never considered us broken up because breaking up is something you do if you don’t like each other. There needs to be a new word to describe what we did. It is not hiatus because we don’t have any plans to do anything in the future.” Kenny does notice “a common thread in terms of subject matter. My songs have always been about people, and to some degree heartbreak. I have never written a song that would be considered political, or economical or social; a lot of my songs are affairs of the heart. If you look through my record collection, that’s a lot of what is there. I like to think that I have gotten better at telling the stories and writing the songs in general. Analog Set had a lot more instrumental passages because maybe I just had a little less to say. With The Wooden Birds, a lot of the song ideas existed because they worked with each other but they didn’t work as Analog Set songs for one reason or another. That was a lot of the motivation to start a band like The Wooden Birds. The Wooden Birds is built to play a song; the song is really important–not that the song wasn’t important with Analog Set.”

The burning question in many Analog Set fans’ minds is whether or not The Wooden Birds will be performing any Analog Set songs during their live sets. According to Kenny, The Wooden Birds play “Anna Maria” a lot, “because Analog Set never played it; it worked on the album but it never worked in the live set; we also play ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ and ‘The Postman’–those songs are very vocal-intensive, they all tell a good story, and they work in The Wooden Birds format.” Kenny goes on to explain, “The Wooden Birds is a good rock show. Live, it kind of comes up a little bit. On record the songs can be a hair understated and I think the live shows are–by the same hair–a looser and more live interpretation of the songs.”

Kenny moved to Brooklyn several years ago in order to pursue Ph.D. in Bio-Chemistry (“science would be my imaginary career if I didn’t already have an imaginary career”) but returned to Austin a few years ago, with his wife, on a sort of a whim. Kenny recalls “we were in our kitchen in Brooklyn about a week before SXSW a few years ago and my wife just put her hand on the brick above the sink and she said ‘I need a window right here, and I need a tree, at least one, and a dog on the other side of this window.’ We looked around for a house during that SXSW and a couple weeks later we moved to Austin. We are not very impulsive people but it was just that day we–together–made an extremely radical life decision that affected both of us and ended up being overwhelmingly positive. Living in Austin, it feels okay to make music; it’s not like living somewhere where I would be the weirdo on the block. There are a lot of musicians living on my street, and we get to talk about what tours we have coming up and share gear and guest on each other’s recordings if we want to. Austin is awesome; unless you want me to finish graduate school, in which case Austin is horrible.”

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