Kenny Roby’s Kenny Roby fortifies vibrant older material (the opening “New Day”) and brand-new originals (“What’s Happening Here”) with effortless elegance (“Leave It Behind”). We recently spoke with the North Carolina native and current Woodstock resident about his buoyant new collection as well as pandemic life awakenings.
“I think many people had major realizations and epiphanies during the pandemic, which has been one of the good aspects,” Roby says. “People had time to reflect. We all had to slow down. I think we realized that (we) had things to work on.”
Describe how the new album took shape.
I had recorded “New Day” and “Sailor’s Request” before. “New Day” was on The Mercy Filter album in 2006, and I had done “Sailor’s Request” on the Black River Sides record Neal Casal and I did in the late nineties. The rest were pretty much new songs – or at least songs that I revisited and finished for this record. “Only Once” was a newer version of a song I decided not to put on Six String Drag’s Top of the World record in 2016. I literally finished “Leave It Behind” within a month and “Married to a Train” within a week of making this record. “What’s Happening in Here” was written in the studio. We finished it up the day I recorded vocals for the song.
Do you like revisiting older material?
Of course, the complete freshness comes when you have a completely new song that you come up with right there, but I enjoy revisiting older songs. I’m not doing the Bob Dylan thing where you can barely recognize the melody, but I’m into revisiting things – not only in the studio but live too. Yes, the song has been born and the version people know is on the recording, but that’s just a snapshot of the song at the time. I feel like that the writing of the song is done, but the performance never is. I like to explore what the song could have been in the studio.
Did moving to Woodstock inspire the looking forward and back in the lyrics?
I don’t think that was intention. The irony is that I’m more in the present moment than I ever have been in my life. I guess (the lyrics) are a soft reflection and a softer looking forward. I (was saying that) I’m okay with where I am. I’m somewhat content with life and accepting of the present moment. I don’t think about the future too much or worry about what has happened in the past. I think (the lyrics) are an acceptance of that. (My 2020 album) The Reservoir was looking for hope and acceptance but struggling. I think if The Reservoir was looking for recovery, this record finds it.
Explain how you settled into that acceptance.
I’ve met friends here in Woodstock, back home (in North Carolina) and all over the world who are working on that – whether it’s through any kind of recovery or trying to read more about it. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say I’m Buddhist, but I am looking into that more. I practice more meditation and really work on accepting that we’re impermanent. Life as we know it is impermanent. This too shall pass, as they say.
So many people have died in my life. I’ve had so many people change. It’s inevitable. We can be at peace if we don’t hold onto the thought that change is not gonna happen. We can be grateful and appreciate this short life and the relationships we’ve had, what we’ve said to people and what they’ve said to us. Not to get too heavy, but you never know when you’re gonna be speaking your last words to somebody.
I’ve had people die from addiction, heart attacks. I just had a friend die last week. Fifty years old. Neal Casal took his own life three years ago today. You can be thinking about the argument or friction you just had with somebody and then the next minute that person’s not in your life anymore. These things aren’t abstract anymore. I’ve seen them. Right in my face.
Explain how that influences your songwriting.
Well, I try to work on it through music. I try to become better at what I do and appreciate what I get to do. Not everybody gets to do what I do. I don’t make much money and don’t have tons of fans, but I still have gotten more out of music and art than most people I know. I’ve gotten to play with some amazing musicians and work with amazing producers. Some people have been fans for years and appreciate my stuff. I try to be grateful for that.
Also, it’s nice to hear that what you do has helped somebody though a tough day. You’ve given them a little escape at the least and at most they related to what you’re saying. People have told me that the Reservoir album helped them get through the pandemic or what they were struggling with. I wrote (my 2002 album) Rather Not Know about my dad passing away, and I’ve had people come up to me and say, “That record helped me with my parent or spouse passing.” That helps me get through the day – and helps me drive seven hours to a show with twenty people there (laughs).
– Brian T. Atkinson
Artist: Watkins Family Hour
Hometown: Vista, California
Album: Watkins Family Hour, Vol. II
Release Date: June 13, 2022
Record Label: Family Hour Records
On recording the album: “We crossed the twenty-year mark during the pandemic and wanted to celebrate that. I am kind of amazed that we’re still doing it. It doesn’t feel like it’s been twenty years, but when I think about that number, I think, Wow, there were so many transitions that happened in that period where the family Hour work could have just petered away. We kept choosing to do it.” – Sara Watkins
- Brian T. Atkinson
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