Bob Kemmis' Mocking Bird has pop power
Bob Kemmis has seen more and bigger stages than most musicians, but he’s generally a shadowy figure at the edge of the spotlight, tuning instruments and troubleshooting for stars like Bryan Adams.
“I’m the one in charge of stage setup every day, and the upkeep and repair of the guitars and amplifiers,” he reports, on the line from Asheville, North Carolina, where he’s working with Feist. “When the show’s happening, I sit waiting for things to stop working, or for trouble to happen—hopefully before anybody in the audience notices that we have a problem!
“If I have to have a day job,” he continues, “it’s a pretty good one.”
There’s only one catch: Kemmis is also an accomplished singer-songwriter, and his busy touring schedule doesn’t leave him much time to perform his own music. The next time he appears here in his hometown, however, he’ll be making up for lost time with a new band, the Mocking Bird, and a new album, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.
“It just seemed weird to release this one under my own name,” says Kemmis, whose four previous efforts have hewed closer to the usual acoustic singer-songwriter template. “It was going to give me far more credit than I think I was due. This isn’t a band in the normal sense of a band, but it sure felt like a band when we were making the record, the way everyone came onboard. So it just made perfect sense to me to release it under a different guise.”
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished features such local heavyweights as guitarists Keith Scott and Steve Dawson, keyboardist Simon Kendall, and drummer Pat Steward. Its focus, though, is a body of songs that Kemmis pieced together over the course of two years, and while these ditties range from the Rolling Stones sound-alike “Quitting You” to the plaintive “No One’s Ever Home”, their basic direction could be summed up in two words: power pop.
Specifically the kind of literate, crisp, and catchy tunes that were coming out of the U.K. during the last half of the 1970s. Energized by punk but informed by the Brill Building and Tin Pan Alley, artists such as Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Squeeze provided an evergreen template for what Kemmis is doing in the Mocking Bird.
“That was the formative music for me,” he says emphatically. “That was the music that made me think about songwriting. That was the music that made me want to play in bands. Those records were and are my favourite music.”
And of course there’s another influence, too: that of the Beatles, who contributed to the invention of power pop on classic mid-career albums such as Revolver and Rubber Soul. So it’s worth noting that the bed track for one No Good Deed Goes Unpunished song was recorded at London’s legendary Abbey Road studio, during a short break in a Bryan Adams TV shoot.
“I had just written ‘I Adore You’, a song about songwriting, and I was there with all those ghosts, all those brilliant ghosts, singing and playing into John Lennon’s microphones,” Kemmis explains. “I have to say I was probably high from that for about a week.”
The Mocking Bird plays the Media Club on Friday (May 18).