Live TONIGHT (7/16) on WXPN's Instagram, local musician Kennedy of Highnoon is performing a highly-anticipated solo set. Their 2019 LP Semi Sweet is a CVZ favorite, and the new record comes out July 31st via indie record darlings, Oof Records. We caught up with Kennedy online to discuss their writing process during COVID and what they love most about being part of the Philly scene. Read on for insights into their thoughtful process and heartwarming anecdotes from pre-pandemic, live show culture.
When and where was the new album written/recorded?
The album was written in the spring and summer of 2018. I was just finishing up the first semester of my Junior year. I spent the summer at my parents’ in New Jersey and finished up the songs there. At the time I only had a little EP out on Soundcloud that was a few short originals and some covers I recorded on my phone. But I sent the new demos to my friend Justin over time and he encouraged me to put them out for real. I tried recording them on my computer using a little microphone I borrowed from him but I truly had no idea what I was doing so we ended up scrapping a lot of that and recording for real once I was back in Philly. We did that in a practice space he’d been renting out in a warehouse in Gray’s Ferry, mostly on weekends or during holidays from school. All the vocals were done in my bedroom. It was definitely an exercise in patience. But it was finished by late spring of 2019.
What themes, lyrical or otherwise, are on the record?
It’s a pretty introspective record. I spend a lot of time ruminating on things in my personal life which, in turn, helped me see them with more clarity. I’d say it’s about a sense of nostalgia you have for a difficult period in your life which is a pretty messed up thing your brain does sometimes. The album is also about witnessing dualities -- however contradictory they seem -- and just letting them be. Experiencing feelings of sadness but also finding ways to grow from them. That’s why I called it Semi Sweet. It’s the sweet feeling of a bitter memory.
How has quarantine affected your writing process?
I recently moved out of my old place and was commuting to my job from my parents’ place until I could find another spot. When COVID hit I found myself stuck at home again. I had actually just finished writing LP2 in February and we were working on refining the songs together as a band. We had a lot of plans for the summer and really wanted to improve on our process from last year.
There’s definitely been a bit of grief not being able to work on music together because the new stuff relies more on the dynamic of a four piece. I generally try to take a few months off before writing again just to absorb inspiration and live but it's definitely stifling being inside all the time. So I admittedly haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to. I've written a few songs here and there that don’t really fit anywhere, perhaps they’ll go on LP3. It’s hard to conceptualize what the music industry will even look like after this so I’m trying to be patient with it and get into other hobbies like skating and gardening. It’s definitely been a challenge though.
What’s the most exciting thing that happened behind the scenes in the making of this record?
I graduated college! Which is a huge feat for anyone honestly but I struggled a lot in college. I kind of regret going since I’m focusing so much on music now which I certainly did not major in. But I recognize that it’s a huge privilege to go and I’m thankful for the way it’s shaped my life. I wouldn’t be making music with my band if I hadn’t gone so it’s all good.
Who are your greatest influences in music?
Right now it’s Liz Harris (Grouper/Helen), Imogen Heap, The 1975, and Cocteau Twins. I’ve been leaning into more of a dream pop vibe at the moment so the new record will have a much dreamier sound than the debut. My first instrument was piano so I’ve been finding ways to incorporate more of that into my work. But my sources of inspiration are always changing so I’m hoping the fans we’ve made are able to grow and change with me. I feel a little disconnected from Semi Sweet already. I’ve just become a stronger songwriter I think. I’m excited to share the new stuff once it’s safe to meet up with the band again and record.
What do you like the most about being a musician in Philadelphia?
I like the community and ingenuity in Philly. I’ve made some really great friends in the scene and I like the way we all make it work even if we don’t always have the preferred resources. I like the way we support each other across different genres. When the band went on tour in November, it was so refreshing to see the talent in other cities. But coming home made me appreciate my Philly folks a lot more. I love Rentboy, Huey, the Cosmonaut, Bubble Sound, SOUL GLO, and Kississippi. There’s so much talent here and it’s an honor to have played shows with such great people.