As the creators of a cross-country, record-breaking, bus-bound awards show, we were pretty stoked when we heard about Jack Kennedy’s new online radio show/album project: NightBus Radio.
Kennedy is one of SoundCloud’s 2012 Community Fellows, a group of 15 creative people who were chosen by SoundCloud (and provided ample means) to use the sound-sharing platform in diverse, offbeat ways. Kennedy’s proposal? Travel across the country via public transport (specifically buses) and record a new song in every city.
Five cities into his tour, Kennedy took some time out to talk to the O Music Blog (as train whistles cried in the distance) about the project, his new tunes and that time a crazed woman on pills almost stole his laptop.
So how are you doing there on the road?
Good! I just got into Austin, Texas, last night so I’m just kind of waking up. I was in New Orleans for the last six days, so I’m kind of weaving across the U.S. to the South. I figure I’ll head West back toward civilization.
So tell me about NightBus Radio. How did this whole thing come about?
Basically I’m taking Greyhound buses across the U.S. — well, not strictly Greyhound, I’ve been taking Megabus as well — with the idea of writing a song in 10 different cities with 10 different artists. But it’s kind of grown into more of a radio show.
I got the idea when I was in New York. I have a band called NightBus and we’re going to put a single out with Universal. I had about two months to kill before we get started with that.
It’s a bit of a long story, but when I was in New York, I had just come back to Europe after quite a few years and had never really traveled around the United States. It had been a goal of mine to see the U.S. and really get to know my own country. I coincidentally was just on SoundCloud and I saw a banner for this fellowship thing and was like, ‘They’re offering a grant just for good ideas involving audio.’ So I was like, ‘What can I do that would involve going around the U.S.?’ and I came up with the idea of taking these buses back to L.A. and stopping and recording.
I had done enough writing and producing that I knew I could pull it off on my laptop without too much equipment. So I submitted the idea and before I heard back from them I was like, ‘Oh, f**k, I’ll just start it and if they say ‘yes’ I’ll keep going, and if they say ‘no’ maybe I’ll just do it anyway.’ But when I was in Nashville I got an email saying that they wanted to do it. So here I am.
So how is it working out so far?
This kind of traveling — it’s really magical how things tend to work out if you just let them happen. It’s a lot of work for me in terms of I have to be on the computer a couple of hours per day to get stuff sorted and organized and try to meet up with people and organize things. But it’s really amazing. All of a sudden I’ll be on a bus and I’ll just meet somebody who happens to know a musician in a town that I’m going to and then I’ll call that person. Things kind of work out really organically when you just kind of let things flow and let things happen — not be too hippyish — but the way they’re meant to happen.
So what’s an example of this serendipity?
I went to Asheville, North Carolina — the second city that I stopped in — and I didn’t know anybody there. I was just sitting in this hostel thinking, ‘What am I going to do? I don’t know anybody in this town,’ and this girl just walks in with a guitar case and I was like, ‘Perfect!’ I talked to her and she had amazing songs and a really great story and she was super cool. We spent the afternoon writing and recording. Stuff like that really seems to work out.
You must be getting enough recordings for a whole album.
I was hoping to do one song in each city and I’ve ended up doing at least two. In Nashville I did four, in North Carolina I did three. I think I have about nine tracks already, so at this rate it’s going to be like a box set when it comes out.
So… do you think it’s all pretty good?
[Laughs] I mean, I’m impartial because I’m the one recording it and writing some of it, but I think it’s really good. All the recordings are different because it’s different people, but I recorded this band in Chicago — they were like a self-proclaimed band of witches. We recorded in this dingy, cracked-out basement where they all lived. The sound of the recording, it really reflected that. When you listen to the song, it sounds eerie and spooky. It sounds really good.
What kind of gear did you bring with you, exactly?
I’m just traveling with a MacBook Pro, a Pro Tools Mbox and a Rode NT1 microphone. Usually, most places you go you can find an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar. Or, if I have to, Guitar Center has a 30-day, no-questions-asked return policy. So sometimes I’ll just buy a guitar at a Guitar Center and return it before I leave. Classy. That’s how I roll.
That’s how you have to be on the road. Opportunistic.
I almost lost my computer. I cheated and I took a train from Chicago to New Orleans last week and I found these hip-hop kids — it was like a 20-hour train ride and there were these hip-hop kids on the train — and we started talking and were like, ‘Yeah! Let’s do something.’
So we went down to the lounge car of the train and I pulled out my computer and I started playing them — I do a lot of dancey, hip-hop stuff, too — and I played them some beats. They were really into it. And then this woman sits down who’s really drunk. Like super drunk or maybe on pills or something.
She sits down in front of me and she starts yelling at me. It was almost like she had picked up a conversation from an ex-husband that she’d had like 10 years ago and thought I was him. I was like, ‘F**k, this is going to get ugly.’ So I start putting my computer away and she grabs my computer and she’s like, ‘You’re not going anywhere!’
So I grab the computer from her and we’re wrestling over it and I could feel the casing of it start to flex. I was like, ‘OK, I’m not going to break my computer over this.’ So I let her have it. And then this other woman jumps in and puts her in a headlock and her voice drops like 10 octaves and she’s like, ‘Give him his computer.’
The whole project flashed before my eyes. That’s probably the most intense thing that’s happened so far.
I’m guessing it won’t be the only instance.
Yeah, I’m hoping it doesn’t involve physical violence again, but it’s worth it, though. She was arrested in Memphis when the trains stopped. She woke up the whole cabin. By the time the train stopped the police were just waiting for her at the Memphis train station.
So how much longer do you think you’re going to be on the road?
Austin is the fifth city, so I’m going to do five more cities — so I imagine five or six weeks. The thing is, the more I travel the more I really enjoy it, so if it goes well and I get a decent record I might try to do it again in a different country.
Image courtesy of Flickr, aldenjewell