“I hate to interrupt, but what does ‘thirsty’ mean,” says composer and musician Michael Bacon—who with his brother, actor Kevin Bacon—make up the Bacon Brothers. “That’s a great expression, but I’ve never heard it before.”
The topic of conversation is the Bacon Brothers’ song “Let Me Happen To You Girl,” one of five on their new EP, Erato. The sensuous pop song, which incorporates woodsy Afro-pop percussion, is “horny.” The record, after all, is named for the Greek goddess of erotic poetry.
“Now you’re speaking my language,” Bacon says, translation acquired, over a recent video interview, as Kevin Bacon chuckles in another window.
The Bacon Brothers are currently opening concerts with “Let Me Happen To You Girl.” Michael, who has nine years on his brother, has more than 50 years of songwriting and composing experience. He worked in Nashville for years before finding success scoring films and TV shows. He’s got an Emmy for “The Kennedys,” composed for PBS’ “The Jewish Americans” and is currently on his ninth season of PBS’ “Finding Your Roots,” hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He recently also won the award for Best Original Score at the Brooklyn Film Festival for documentary “FREE RENTY: LANIER V. HARVARD.” He’s also a full-time professor at Lehman College in the Bronx, teaching film scoring.
“Let Me Happen To You Girl” came out of a file on Michael Bacon’s laptop titled “cool stuff.” It contains all of his work over the years, including compositions that never went anywhere. He’d written the previously instrumental track for a documentary, but it was discarded.
“I opened it up when we were thinking about the EP, and I wrote a song on top of it,” he says. “It was very spontaneous, and it’s a very ‘up’ kind of song. It’s a very thirsty kind of song. … [Opening a show] is a little bit difficult because you don’t want to get deep and heavy, and you want to make the audience feel included and fun and up, and I think that song works well for that.”
Michael and Kevin Bacon, who’s made his name as a movie star (“Animal House,” “Friday the 13th,” “Diner,” “Footloose,” “A Few Good Men,” “The River Wild,” “Apollo 13”, “Mystic River,” “Tremors,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “X-Men First Class,” “Wild Things,” “JFK,” “Flatliners”—and so many more that there’s a game about connecting anyone to him), have been playing music together for much longer than their quarter century as the Bacon Brothers.
Raised in Philadelphia with four other siblings, the brothers picked up music at an early age, with Michael leading the way. He picked up classical music, and then folk and rock. He recruited Kevin to write with him and support him when both were kids.
“The fact that we sort of started very low key just by writing songs together, I realized at a very early age the talent he had for music—even though he’s completely untrained,” Michael Bacon says. “But for music and songwriting, it’s something I don’t really think it can be taught. It can be influenced, but you either have that ability to communicate to people in a universal fashion with both the lyrics and the music, or you kind of don’t.”
Kevin Bacon continued backing his older brother in his various bands even after becoming a movie star. Eventually, one of the younger Bacon’s childhood friends, who was working at a Philly club, invited the two of them to play a show as the Bacon Brothers. This was in 1995.
“We just sort of looked at each other and said, ‘Why not? What is there to lose?’” Michael says. “I got a couple of guys I’ve known for years to back us up—a bass player and percussionist—and we put together every possible song we could, and a bunch of covers, and we went down to Philly and played. And it wasn’t too bad.”
The word got out to small club owners up and down the eastern seaboard, who began inviting the Bacons to play.
“We didn’t draw a lot of people, but we drew a lot more people than if we didn’t have a movie star in the band,” Michael says. “We sort of were a marketable quantity, and we also didn’t charge very much. We had few expenses because we drove around in my car, and I did all the food and the booking and the equipment and everything.”
“I’ve been in a lot of different bands, and if I didn’t really respect my brother as a musician, I wouldn’t do it,” he adds.
About a dozen records later, they’re still at it.
Erato is an EP because the brothers didn’t feel like waiting for more songs to come together.
“These days, why wait until you have 10 or 12 songs for a record? I like to put music out,” Kevin Bacon says. “I feel like if you write them, you want to record them. And then you want to play them live, and part of that process is wanting to share them. So we had these five, and you know we’re going to have some more. … You know, we’re not getting any younger.”
But the five songs here are perhaps the best example of the sound the Bacons describe as “forosoco,” a mix of folk, rock, soul and country.
The songs are varied, from the poppy “Let Me Happen To You Girl” (with Nashville trio ElectraQueens providing backup harmonies) to the jangly title track, addresses to the goddess herself, looking for inspiration: “Send me lightning in a bottle, Erato!”
Kevin’s musician and composer son, Travis, jumped into the mix, producing “Karaoke Town.” The two don’t work together on music often.
“He’s (Travis Bacon) been a musician forever. He’s never really done anything else, except for being a bouncer,” Kevin Bacon says. “Those are the two things that he’s done. His music; he has a pretty wide range of things that he listens to. Music that he plays when he’s in bands is very, very hardcore. The current band is kind of industrial, Nine-Inch-Nails-type stuff. But he also is a composer and has written the music for my wife’s [Kyra Sedgwick] latest film, and for other things that we’ve made together. He can kind of work both ends of the spectrum.
“I wrote that song, and it had an obviously kind of folky sort of feel; sort of fingerpicking, Neil-Young-type style,” Kevin Bacon says. “I really wanted it to go someplace else. There’s a kind of darkness to that song in a way that I think that Travis could find, and theatricality to it that I think that he could find.”
Kevin emailed him the song and asked him to use his experience in electronic music to move the song out of its folk framework and sound. The two bounced it back and forth a few times before Kevin visited Travis in L.A., where he has a studio in his loft, to cut the vocals.
On record-opener “In Memory (Of When I Cared),” the Bacon Brothers did something they’ve never attempted together, partnering with an established hitmaker in Desmond Child, whose credits include Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Aerosmith’s “Crazy,” Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself For Loving You” and Ricky Martin’s “La Vida Loca.”
The crushed-heart anthem originated from a demo by California musician Void Stryker. The Bacon Brothers came up with a list of song titles, and this one particular demo sparked their creativity.
“We just started pounding it out, and then Kevin sort of took over—because he’s doing the lead on it—the production,” Michael says. “He took it back to his studio and started over doing vocals and stuff like that.”
It was around this time that the EP was beginning to take shape, and the song became its keystone.
The two typically don’t write together in the same room anymore, Kevin says. They have too much going on in their lives. Instead, they write separately and record demos on their own before sending them to each other for input.
“Sometimes it’s things like just adding autoharp or cello, like that great cello arrangement on ‘Dark Chocolate Eyes,’” Kevin says. “Sometimes … I think a lyric needs to be adjusted or, ‘Have you thought about putting a solo here?’ or maybe it needs to key change, doesn’t need a key change, whatever. Then we take it to the band, or some band, or find some way to actually produce it from that point on.”
Michael added cello and autoharp to several of the songs.
Why autoharp? It’s because in Kevin’s drawings of the goddess Erato—which became the EP cover—she was always holding a lyre.
“I always had an autoharp,” Michael says. “I just dragged it out, and it just happened to work perfectly. Now I have one more thing to lug around to all the gigs.”
His interest in multiple instruments started at a young age, as he started playing the cello when he was 7 or 8.
“If I were a ballplayer, I could be a bowler, a tennis player, a baseball player, football player—not necessarily great at any one thing, but instruments are just something that I can do,” Michael says. “I added the banjo and all the fretted instruments. In high school I switched to the oboe. I’ve had a lot of background in different instruments.”
Much of the recording took place between the brothers’ lives and main jobs. Kevin slotted it between film and TV shoots. He’s remained as busy as ever and has several forthcoming projects, including another season of Showtime series “City on a Hill,” Netflix suspense film “Leave the World Behind” (with Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali and Ethan Hawke), a remake of ‘80s B-movie “The Toxic Avenger” starring Peter Dinklage and Peacock horror film “They/Them.”
“They/Them” is a horror movie sort of molded after ‘70s and ‘80s slasher films. But the horror of it is that it’s a gay conversion camp,” Kevin says. “The heroes of the film are LGBTQIA+ young people in this camp, and I play the head of this camp who believes that they can be converted.”
There’s also been rumors that he’s linked to a “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Marvel) project, which would make sense because in a prior film, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) said Bacon was one of his heroes.
“I don’t know anything about that,” Kevin says, smiling.
Kevin Bacon says when he’s on set, he always has a guitar with him. It’s not because he’s looking for an excuse to find someone to jam with—although he loves jamming with fellow actor Jeff Bridges: “Jeff’s a good guitar player, songwriter, singer, the whole thing”—but in case inspiration strikes, or if he needed to practice for a Bacon Brothers performance.
“Also, it’s a kind of a calming influence to be able to play a little guitar,” he says.
The Bacon Brothers continue to stay busy, but they have no plans to hang up their very unplanned music careers.
“We were sort of blown around by the music business,” Michael says. “We haul in our sails when it’s the right time, and we let them out when it’s not the right time. That’s the way it’s been for all these years, and I think it’s worked really well that way.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.