Playing in a band with a sibling can be a tricky business. Yes, there’s the natural chemistry that comes with writing and performing with a close family member. Then again, there’s also the natural tension and inevitable disputes that come with collaborating with someone who knows how to push all the right buttons.
For every group that includes siblings who made beautiful music together (The Carpenters, Bee Gees, Tegan and Sara), there are just as many cautionary tales about brothers and sisters who no longer speak with one another (The Kinks, Oasis, The Everly Brothers).
The Bacon Brothers, both as a familial unit and as a band, have seemingly never had any issues other than the occasional brotherly tiff. Seeing as how they’ve been playing music together professionally for well over 25 years, it’s worth asking how they manage to keep things cordial.
“Gosh, I don’t know if there’s really a key to being in a band with your brother,” says Kevin. “People always ask me that same question about my marriage, you know? ‘What’s the secret?’ I don’t know if there is a secret. I think you just have to be willing and wanting to spend time together. I also think you have to have personal and musical respect. You’re not going to agree on everything, but hopefully there will be the ability to find some common ground.”
Michael chimes in, careful not to interrupt his younger brother but also wanting to get his two cents in.
“The other thing too is that those other bands, the big ones who have brothers in them, those guys all had gigantic hit records,” says Michael. “There aren’t that many bands who play original songs for as long as we have who don’t have a hit song, but we’ve never had one.”
“It means we’ll never break up,” Kevin says rather cheekily, and both brothers laugh.
One gets the sense that not only are The Bacon Brothers passionate about playing music together, but they’re also appreciative of the success, however limited, they’ve had as a band. They’re proud of the music they’ve written, and, more importantly, just happy to get away from their respective day jobs and jam together (Michael primarily works producing film and TV scores while Kevin works as, well, a successful actor).
“Yeah, nobody’s throwing tons of money our way,” Michael says. “If we break even, we feel like that’s good. So there isn’t a ton to fight about quite yet. If we get a hit record, we’ll see if we can survive that.”
The Bacon Brothers’ 25-plus years as a band is proof enough of their survival skills. The two have played music together since they were kids. Kevin recounts the times where he’d try to sneak out to some of Michael’s gigs at Philadelphia clubs when he wasn’t old enough to drink.
“I would come and get a taste of what the live performance thing was like, and it was really seductive,” Kevin recalls.
It goes without saying that Kevin found the call of acting to be a bit more seductive, leaving Philly at 17 for Hollywood. Still, he never lost his love for playing music, especially with his brother. So in 1995, when a friend asked the brothers to play a benefit concert together in their hometown, they jumped at the chance. They also agree that they both thought it would be a one-time thing.
“We really just put it together for the one gig,” Michael recalls. “What would happen after we played that gig was the network of small clubs up and down the East Coast started reaching out.”
The brothers garnered enough buzz to where they started getting offers to play other concerts. Pretty soon, they had an entire band solidified (both Michael and Kevin share guitar and vocal duties) and soon began working on what would become their debut album (1997’s “Forosoco,” a made-up phase that combines the words “folk,” “rock,” “soul” and “country”).
“I don’t want to say it snowballed. That’s a bit too much,” Michael recalls. “But it was a slow-evolving, almost grassroots kind of thing. We finally got someone to fund a record, and people liked it. Then they wanted another record and the gigs got a little bigger. It just sort of rolled along like that.”
However whimsically the band was started, The Bacon Brothers have since put out nearly a dozen releases and tour regularly. Their most recent offering, the five-song “Erato” EP, is filled with the band’s signature forosoco sound, but also includes some notable guest appearances from artists such as iconic songwriter Desmond Child (“In Memory [Of When I Cared]”), a song Kevin described as something like “catching lightning in a bottle.” These types of notable collaborations have been something of a trademark for the group, having worked previously with Daryl Hall (Hall & Oates), G.E. Smith (of “Saturday Night Live” band fame) and, on occasion, a guest appearance from Kevin’s wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick.
“It’s kind of akin to the world of theater. It’s different from the world of film and television,” Kevin says of collaborating with other musicians. “The bass player has to listen to the drummer and the drummer has to listen to where the vocal is going to land. When you’re working on the stage, it’s the same thing because everyone has to be in sync and be listening to one another.”
Another of those new songs, the electro-country dirge “Karaoke Town,” also happens to be a collaboration that is particularly special to both brothers in that it features Kevin’s son, Travis, on production duties.
“Trav’s first word was literally ‘guitar,’” says Kevin when asked if it’s safe to say that music runs in the family at this point. He points out that he and Michael come from a large family that always had music playing as well.
“Trav was never not going to be a musician. I don’t think we pushed him in that direction. It’s just that there was always music being played, or always playing in the house, and that’s just where he went. And my daughter’s an actress, so go figure.”
After a break from recording and touring due to the pandemic, both Michael and Kevin are looking forward to touring again. In typical brotherly love fashion, they both agree they’ve missed playing live shows the most. And while The Bacon Brothers are big enough to where they can fill theaters or pack a crowd at a music festival, Kevin says they still prefer playing small clubs like the Belly Up in Solana Beach, where they’ll be performing on Aug. 25.
“We love the flexibility of being able to play in a theater, a dinner theater or even an outdoor festival situation,” Kevin says. “That’s one of the great things about playing live, but I adore a venue like the Belly Up. From the very first time we played it, it’s just got that energy. We don’t get as many bar-like gigs anymore, so I really love to play those sorts of shows. We’re looking forward to it.”
The Bacon Brothers
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25
Where: Belly Up, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach
Combs is a freelance writer.