Many successful rock artists struggle with substance addiction and the caprices of fame. For Myles Kennedy, the music that earned him a spot next to Guns N’ Roses icon Slash also plunged him into a struggle that has proven more subtle, but no less challenging.
After years of playing music at high volumes, Kennedy was left with tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears that he likens to the whining of an old television set. Many tinnitus sufferers are vulnerable to anxiety and depression, and Kennedy is no different. But he has finally made peace with the intrusive ringing, and has used new volume-monitoring technology to avoid further hearing loss.
“I don’t want to say that I like it, but it’s been there for so long that it doesn’t really bother me,” says Kennedy. “I can still hear it now, but I’m really lucky… I had my ears checked out a few years ago – they just wanted to see how things were going – and the technician commented that, for how long I’d been doing it, my hearing was actually pretty good. That made me smile.
“Had I come down with tinnitus 30 years ago, when we didn’t have the opportunity to use in-ear monitors and we had to rely purely on the wedges and stage volume, I would have been screwed.”
Touring with Slash, Kennedy’s band goes by “the Conspirators,” though perhaps “the Collaborators” would be more apt. Kennedy has contributed to all of Slash’s solo records and has helped Slash form a musical identity separate from Guns N’ Roses.
“There are people who know Slash from the ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ riff or ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, and there was certainly much more of that initially, when we started touring,” says Kennedy. “But now, we’re seeing signs that the newer music is resonating with people as well… It’s kind of like that saying from Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, they will come.’ If you put in the time to the body of work, you’ll develop a fan base… And if you play your cards right and harness that collaborative effort, you can create some real magic.”
Kennedy was not a born collaborator; in his early 20s, he wrote and recorded mainly as a lone wolf. He found the value of collaboration both through songwriting with friends and working as a music instructor.
“One of the best opportunities I had as a young musician was trying to convey that knowledge I had to somebody else,” he says. “It really helps you crystallise your approach and [learn] how to make music your own. It makes a big difference. In a lot of ways, teaching made me a better guitar player more so than going to school for guitar.”
Slash, Kennedy and the Conspirators will bring their new album, Living the Dream, to Australia this February. What sets Living the Dream apart from the group’s prior collaborative release, 2014’s World on Fire, is that Dream was given more time to develop. Most of Living the Dream was written around 2015, says Kennedy. As the group separated to work on other projects – Kennedy with Alter Bridge and Slash with Guns N’ Roses – they gained a new perspective that let them flesh out the album’s themes and work out kinks in problematic tracks like ‘Read Between the Lines’.
“When you have a certain amount of time in between the writing process and the recording process, it helps you gain a new perspective, almost like the first time you hear a song,” says Kennedy. “When we reconvened, it came together real quickly.”
The Living the Dream tour will incorporate classic Slash tunes, but the setlist will be weighted heavily in favour of material from the last decade.
“If you want some ferocious guitar playing, come to the show for sure. We’ve been a band now for coming up on a decade, and we love making music together. Hopefully, listeners can hear that vibe we have when we get together to make music.”
Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators will tour Australia from Monday January 28. Living The Dream is out now via Snakepit/Sony Music Australia.