Music Leads the Way
Local performer, Stephen Kellogg, comes full circle
Kellogg has performed more than 1,500 concerts in over a dozen countries, both solo and with the Sixers. A UK tour is in May.
Photo by Will Byington
Stephen Kellogg spent most of his formative years in Fairfield—growing up on Melville Avenue, attending Fairfield Prep, and playing his first gigs at the Beanery on Old Dam Road. But it’s taken the singer-songwriter over two decades, a split with his longtime backing band the Sixers, and touring relentlessly around the country to find where his musical soul lies.
On February 12, Kellogg released South West North East, an ambitious, four-part record flavored with the sounds of each specific region of the U.S., and only the second full-length album since the demise of his group. Now raising four young daughters in Monroe, and having spent much of his career bending genres and switching styles, the record exists as a road map of a songwriter still searching to find his voice after years of trial and error.
“I thought it would be cool to make a record where you unapologetically get to say, ‘You know what, South is going to be a southern rock vibe and West is going to kind of be cowboy songs and East will be the pop section of the record and North can kind of be the crunchy indie, rock thing that we do,” Kellogg, now 39, explains. “My hope, for selfish reasons, was that maybe at the end of the process I’d have a sense of where I want to go with my music, and I did.”
Recorded in Nashville, Boulder, Woodstock, and Washington, D.C., South West North East, despite its eclectic coloring, is a classic Stephen Kellogg record at its core —an open-chord canvas that allows the artist’s lyricism and Americana roots to shine through. Born in Pennsylvania, Kellogg moved to Fairfield as a child and was first introduced to rock ‘n’ roll at a Whitesnake concert at age ten. The showmanship and energy of the 1980s hair metal era stuck in his mind, but by high school Kellogg’s musical taste had started to drift backward in time, latching on to 1970s songwriters like Crosby, Stills & Nash and Jackson Browne.
As Kellogg was beginning to make a name for himself on the national stage, singer-songwriters like Ryan Adams were coming back into vogue, combining more traditional American folk music with contemporary pop and rock. Over the years, Americana has peeked its head back into the mainstream in cycles, most recently with acts like Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers. And though Kellogg has often felt pressure from record labels to embrace a more pop-friendly sensibility, he believes honest, bare-bones folk music will never truly go out of style.
“I don’t see it ever going away completely because there’s always going to be something special about the sound of an acoustic guitar and singing,” he explains. The Sixers went on hiatus in 2012, just as the most recent folk-rock boom was beginning to take hold, and Kellogg spent the following year touring largely in Europe.
Ultimately, South West North East did not lead Kellogg to new terrain, but rather back home to his roots. The portions of the record that speaks most profoundly to the direction he hopes to take with his music are West and North—stripped-down tracks reminiscent of the music he fell in love with as a teenager in Fairfield. Coming of age in the 90s, Kellogg was part of a class of musicians, athletes, and artists from Fairfield—former professional tennis player James Blake and guitar virtuoso John Mayer among them—who have all gone on to achieve success globally. Kellogg credits his hometown with enabling him to find his own path and continually work toward achieving his dreams.
“I think there are a lot of towns where nobody would believe that you could be one of the best tennis players in the world, or one of the best guitarists in the world, and here people do believe it,” Kellogg says. “In a community like Fairfield, people believe that anything is possible.”