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Kenn Kweder & Richard Bush: “You Have To Risk Failure.”

August 6, 2015

KennKwederRichardBushOnline02Kenn Kweder and Richard Bush have been making music in and around Philadelphia for decades and they both continue to perform regularly.

Bush, who has fronted countless bands including The A’s, now leads The Peace Creeps. Kweder, who grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, fronted Kenn Kweder & His Secret Kidds and now does shows solo and with friends.

We listened as the two discussed the Philly music scene – then and now, as well as the art of showmanship.

Kenn Kweder: If I remember correctly, I met you in 1977 at Gene’s on the Boulevard.

Richard Bush: That is absolutely correct. We opened for you and we were terrified to open for you. We’d read about you in the paper all the time.

KK: You guys were all confident, I remember. You were on your game. You had that stage-persona clothing.

RB: Yeah, we dressed for success.

KK: A lot of bands back then were still doing the ’60s thing with no effort put into what they wore. I looked at you guys and thought, “Huh. These cats are serious.”

RB: You were very gracious, I remember. I mean, we were terrified. You were like, “Oh yeah, you guys were good.”

KK: To me, that’s the only way to be. And anyone who takes themselves seriously, you know, it just makes sense. It is music, you know?

RB: It is a business.

KK: But we didn’t find that out until years later! It didn’t seem tough in the beginning. We had infinite energy back in our 20s. It didn’t seem to take any effort to make a show happen. And any effort it took didn’t seem to hurt as much as it does now.

RB: You seem to still have energy. You are playing all the time.

KK: Back then, doing everything with an original band, writing original songs, keeping the band together was an inordinate amount of work. We were doing 50 shows per year. Imagine how much work that is. It’s insane.

Going back to the early days, what were your favorite shows, your favorite venues?

RB: I always liked playing The Ripley because it was a big space on South Street. The shows I really remember are the ones that went crazily wrong. They were kind of funny, different from all the other shows. I remember playing at The Palladium in New York. We had a last minute show opening for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. It was just the wrong thing for us to do but we had another gig that night. We had to make some quick money and go. During the first song, people were booing us.  Second song, they were on their feet booing us, giving us the finger. By the end of the set, they were out of stuff to throw at us so they were ripping the metal off the sides of chairs and throwing it at us. They could have decapitated us.

KK: There is nothing like that. You’re a showman and you’re giving it everything you got and these people aren’t even giving you a chance. Once, I opened up for Steven Wright, the comedian. I think he just booked me so he could use my guitar.  The booing started slowly and just accelerated. It was one of the most unbelievable things I’ll remember. People throwing stuff is just insanity.

RB: We opened up for The Ramones a lot and that was a tough crowd. The Ramones are so singular. We figured out that if we just said, “You know why we’re opening for The Ramones? Because we’re their favorite band,” then people would like us. Not that it was true or anything.

KK: I played for them one time but it was really early and people didn’t have a chance to form an allegiance with them yet. The ’70s thing was pretty deep. And then the ’80s? That was pretty crazy.

RB: I kinda don’t remember the ’80s. I had The Candles.

KK: I had many bands. I don’t understand how I had the energy to book all those gigs. People don’t understand the amount of effort it takes to book gigs. There’s always the chance of rejection every time you pick up the phone. It’s almost like asking someone out for a first date.  Even if it’s a club you’ve played 20 times, you could still get rejected. It’s crazy, man.

What was the best show you ever did?

RB:  It was really exciting for me to open up for The Kinks at The Spectrum. They were one of my favorite bands. And at The Spectrum? That was unbelievable. It was weird because I just felt so tiny, like I was under a microscope. Luckily, we had played some larger stages. We had learned that if you set everybody up too far apart, they can’t connect with each other. So we just set up in our little area. But it made us feel so tiny.

KK: The best feeling is that 30 seconds before you hit that Spectrum stage, that 30 seconds before you hit those big stages. I haven’t done the big stages in a while but I still get that feeling. A few years ago, I was playing at Temple University. All week, I practiced “The Star Spangled Banner” and I just couldn’t get it. All of the sudden, I’m surrounded by all the people and these athletes and nothing was more frightening than being surrounded by 8,000 sober people. At a bar, people might not catch the mistakes. This was more frightening than playing The Spectrum … and I had the lyrics written on the top of my guitar. Anytime you’re still nervous about doing stuff shows that you still respect the craft.

RB: It keeps you on your toes. Keeps you in the moment. If you’re just phoning it in, what’s the point of doing it, you know? I don’t want to see that from anyone, let alone myself.

KK: Phoning in is a drag.

RB: Why give it a half-assed effort?

KK: That’s why we do this. It’s in our genes, in our DNA. How about all the guys who quit at 33 or 34. There were other circumstances that maybe prevented them from going on. But it is a tricky thing to continue on.

RB: I totally just lost my train of thought.

KK: Talking about phoning it in and stuff like that. I started in the ’70s. You probably started around the same time.

RB: I started as a kid.

KK: It takes a lot of drive to continue to do it. The amount of money that you should get paid is seemingly never there. And you’re still doing an original band. I don’t know how you do it.

RB: These guys are great. I’ve been in a lot of bands in my life but this one just feels so great. Every time we get together is so great.

KK: It’s like a clubhouse. It always starts that way. Then there’s a business plan. Then there’s no house. Then you start drifting, so you start the clubhouse back up again.

RB: I’m all for live, original music. That’s what attracted me to music, even more than recording. It’s like, “Whoa. They’re doing that right in front of me.”

KK: The other day, I was hosting a show with all these bands at a church in South Philly. There were like 20 bands and they were fucking good. It’s like they’ve never had a setback in their life. I don’t even know their names but they were fucking good. I’m just glad that someone’s carrying the torch without any sense of regret.

RB: It’s really tough. You have to plow it out and do it on your own. You don’t get much help. You’re underpaid, you’re under-appreciated. And people don’t realize how much they really need us.

KK: I think that’s really true. It’s like when you’re looking at a building and you don’t realize how it makes you feel calm because of how pleasing it looks with its symmetry and all. We’re that for your ears. If that all disappeared, there would be some quiet dissonance or something. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all but it’d be weird.

RB: We wouldn’t be people then. People need art. It’s how we evolve.

KK: Even the cats who were doing stuff on the cave walls. There was something they were trying to express, to get out.

RB: Music is here for a purpose. It wasn’t always there. We created it. The human race created music because we needed music. A recording is a record of something that lasts. It’s the blueprint of the song. When you do that song live, it’s whatever that song is at that moment. It may be kind of close to the original but they are two different things. What works during recording doesn’t necessarily  work live and what works live doesn’t necessarily work during recording. You could have the greatest live show and then you listen to the record and you’re like, “I never want to listen to this again.” It’s all part of that live experience. Live shows are singular experiences. To make a performance real, it has to be in that moment and you have to be true to yourself.

KK: I grew up when The Beatles were around. Then they were gone but Paul McCartney was still doing stuff. He did Wings and other stuff and then he said he was going to do Beatle’s songs. I saw him do those and my friend was like, “Now I can die.” Even though we’ve heard those songs a million times, I got the chills. And no drugs either.

RB: I saw Iggy Pop I don’t know how many times. Every time I saw him, he was entirely different. I never knew what I was going to get from him.  And even if it was not what I wanted or expected, I couldn’t be disappointed. It was always real. The frontman as a focal point, a thing of interest, comes and goes. Some generations kind of miss it. Sometimes I see a band and I think, “This band would be great if there was something to watch, if someone was connecting with me instead of staring at their shoes.”

KK: Sometimes you’re waiting for something bad to happen. You know, with Iggy, he could get injured.

RB: I saw Iggy one time at The Tower. It was Halloween night. I was standing in front of the front row. He was hanging right over me and I was thinking, “This is so great.” At the same second, I was like, “Do I really want to be this close to Iggy?” There’s that danger. You never know what’s going to happen.

KK: It’s like a mercury thing.

RB:  You have to risk failure. Because otherwise, it’s too safe. If you’re not doing something new, a little risky, you start falling into habits. You have to find a new way to sing things every night or you’ll just fall asleep.

KK: Sometimes I went overboard.

RB: Yeah but that’s the only way you can achieve something you haven’t achieved before. I’ve fallen off the stage maybe five times in my life.

KK: Sometimes I give everything I have and I think I’m going to collapse.

One Comment
  1. August 6, 2015 3:44 pm

    Great piece!

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