After a lapse of non-musical endeavors, veteran New Jersey guitarist Kenny Dubman released his debut solo album, Reckless Abandon. The album effectively channels Dubman’s roots—a hearty amalgamation of 70s-tinged hard rock—while celebrating his newfound inspiration. Its presentation comes off as a rarity in today’s modern rock climate, a majority of bands otherwise gunning for instant gratification. But for the time being, Dubman strives to impact large-scale crowds of active listeners.
My discussion with Kenny pertains to his musical foundation, initial shot at stardom, and the ultimate path toward revitalization. What it all came down was a simple, straight ahead point: great music, regardless of its scope of influences, deserves to be heard.
ME: Growing up, you were around a lot of early 70s heavy music—Deep Purple and Santana in particular. And as I understand, you’d started out on acoustic guitar. After three years of that, how did it feel to make the transition into the electric guitar?
Kenny: It was awesome! Going from acoustic to electric was the spark that I needed because I wasn’t really learning any rock from the teachers I had at the time. They were just doing standard stuff out of theory books. As soon as I got an electric guitar, it just turned my whole world around. It was the catalyst that set me on the path that I’m on.
ME: Was it an easier process having more freedom to experiment with sounds?
Kenny: Yeah, it definitely was. With the acoustic, I was locked in heavy strings and traditional songs out of songbooks. Once I got an electric guitar, I could bend strings and plug in. I had a fuzzbox that I could plug into my cheap all-in-one stereo and a mic input that could go into my guitar. As soon as I was able to get those sounds that I was hearing other people do, it sent me in the right direction.
ME: Let’s fast forward to the 80s. You had a melodic rock sound with Prophet, who was critically acclaimed, but not ultimately successful. What was it like working to make a mark when glam metal was starting to peak?
Kenny: Well, it was pretty much impossible to do it in any large-scale kind of way. As you’d said, it was all about glam metal. If you weren’t at least 5’10 and skinny with long, giant hair, you weren’t really accepted. We had a fan base of hardcore music people. But as far as reaching the wide audience that was into the glam and hard rock at the time, we weren’t getting it. It was tough; we came out ten years too late.
ME: Then even as you left the rock business for a time, you never stopped playing guitar. What was it that pushed you to maintain that passion?
Kenny: I didn’t really maintain it; I kind of rediscovered it. I had gone through a really long and difficult period in my personal life. And when I finally bounced back from that, and I was feeling good for about a year, the ideas just started to come. It wasn’t really a guitar playing thing; it was a songwriting thing. Once I’d had a few decent ones under my belt, I started to take it seriously. A couple more songs down the road, I decided I needed to make a record, so I did.
ME: And by doing that, you were able to get back into music. That’s what I feel “Ain’t Too Late For Memphis” is about, reinvigorating your strengths and realizing you can still move forward.
Kenny: That’s exactly what “Memphis” is about. It’s like a “reinvention-of-myself” anthem if you will. It’s not that I never stopped playing guitar; I’d stopped wanting to be out there in the original music recording world for quite a long time. Getting back into it, it was really the songs and having song ideas come to me, that re-triggered the passion for the whole musical ball of wax. Playing, songwriting and singing included.
ME: I’d read about how your songs were structured. Some are quite thematically driven, while others came rather spontaneously. Though in a way, wouldn’t you say the whole album simply expresses the extent to which you were inspired?
Kenny: Yeah! It covers all facets of inspiration. Some of the songs are personal journeys of mine, and others are things that would just come into my head. Like “Brother against Brother—Civil War. “Little Venom” is about the history of the Jews and the creation of the State of Israel. Any little thought that could come into my head, if it strikes me the right way, will become a song. And then you’ll have stuff that’s complete fantasy, like “Devil’s Brew” and “Sunset Serenade,” that are completely fictional stories. I guess I do a lot of daydreaming.
ME: And it’s all great stuff!
Kenny: Thank you, man. I appreciate that.
ME: Now another thing I have to comment on that’s more immediate is the guitar tone. It really gives the overall presentation quite a punch, possibly the punchiest I’ve heard for a rock record from this decade. What was your gear of choice when it came to getting that sound?
Kenny: I’ll get to the gear in one second. But first, I’ll tell you that the reason it’s striking you like that in this decade is because I’m simply dragging all my 70s influences up with me to 2016. I’m still that kid that sat in a room playing Led Zeppelin and Kiss, you know what I mean? I didn’t morph into something different; when I got older, I still loved that stuff. That’s where the guitar punch comes from.
As far as gear, very simple. Just a 100 watt Marshall JMP head out of a 412 bottom, a Gibson Les Paul or a Fender Telecaster, and a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive. It pushes the amp a little harder but doesn’t change the tone like a fuzzbox. Oh, and a very, very good recording engineer named Steve DeAcutis. He really knows how to mic a guitar down; that’s a huge thing.
ME: Generally, with the mindset you have now, is it not necessarily about hitting the big time, but simply impacting listeners through what you have to say?
Kenny: I really want both, honestly. The first part is still a pipedream, because my music is, out of the box, an oddball these days. What I find, though, is that the rock fans that love the stuff I love are loving this record. There’s very little out there for them right now. And yes, for now, impacting listeners and having them respond passionately about what I did is great. That might be all I’ll ever get, and I have to be okay with that. But I’m still vying for the big time.
ME: Hearing an album like this got me thinking about how a lot of modern rock these days needs that heavy identity. There was blues rock of the 70s, AOR/glam in the 80s, alternative in the 90s, and nu metal in the 2000s, but the 2010s seems kind of like a free-for-all. As an artist who’s lived through those decades, what do you feel about these changes in rock, especially now?
Kenny: I feel that your assessment is dead on. Right now, in the 2010s, I still feel like we dragged up a lot of the “black t-shirt” rock. It’s a whole bunch of bands—and I’m not going to name names, we all know who they are. I think nothing has changed from the last decade as far as the sound of rock bands. It’s still very heavily produced crunchy guitars, over-the-top metal vocals and really slamming drums. Which is fine, you know? I’m not knocking it, but it’s just not my thing.
I end up stumbling upon bands that are all out on the fringe, just like I am—new bands to like. For example, Blackberry Smoke, my favorite band right now. The Temperance Movement, out of England—they’re very influenced by Rod Stewart and Faces, and Humble Pie. Their singer is absolutely phenomenal. I go see them in the club in New Jersey and there’s, you know, a hundred people in there. And this is a band that opened up for the Rolling Stones in Europe. So you know that their music is making a heavy duty impact with other musicians and big bands—obviously the Stones.
But all the music that I like is on the fringe. I really couldn’t tell you about one mainstream rock artist that I’d go see. To sum the whole thing up, I don’t think much has changed in rock music from the last decade. I think we’re just dragging up the black t-shirt metal.
ME: Another thing that’s definitely shifted is an artist’s touring priorities, yet I’m learning that no two artist’s approaches are the same.
Kenny: Here’s the thing with me and touring. I’ll tell you what I believe to be true. There are not a whole lot of people making any money selling music right now. All of the bands that are doing this are on the road—constantly. They make their money from shows, and from selling their merchandise at shows.
Unfortunately for me, touring right now is not an option. I’ve got a nine-year-old-daughter, I’m a single dad, and it’s fine because she’s my main priority. I would love to tour, but it’s not going to happen right now. If by the time she goes to college, I’m still hanging in there, and still got some hair, I will definitely entertain just cutting loose and going on the road. It’s definitely the way to reach people and a way to make money; right now, I just can’t do it. I’m doing all I can to get this out to as many people as possible without touring. It’s tough.
ME: In all your years as a musician, what have you taken away from those experiences? Is there still plenty of room to grow?
Kenny: What I take away from it is that I should have gone to medical school (laughs)!
Yeah, there’s absolutely room for me to grow. I should be straight-up hard rock—loud, electric guitar, everything. Now, you might not know this, but everything on Reckless Abandon was done on acoustic guitar and translated over to electric when we got into the studio. I think it’s a better way of songwriting for me now. The songs generate from basic elements, like chord changes, vocal melodies, and good hooks. You don’t need an electric for any of that. So when you pull it together on acoustic, you’re going to have an amazing tune once you put it through electric.
As far as my growth, I listen to a lot more singer-songwriter type artists now. It used to be just straight rock. Now I’ll listen to a huge spread of different kinds of artists, and get little tidbits from all of them. I really dig this Nashville guy, his name is Will Hoge. He writes some unbelievable songs and his lyrics are phenomenal. That’s just a little example. Chris Stapleton, another intense songwriter from Nashville.
That kind of stuff was not in my wheelhouse back then, but it totally is now. I’m not going to write songs like those guys, but I definitely take spirit from them.
ME: Last question, anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Kenny: Yeah, absolutely! Good quality music has kind of gone underground at this point. If you find somebody that you like, spread the word. Tell your friends. Buy their music; don’t try to download it for free, because it costs a lot of money to make a record. You can buy it for 10 or 15 bucks which is a fraction. Support original music. That’s what I got.
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