It's barely been a year since the release of Lay It On Down, the eighth studio album from acclaimed bluesman Kenny Wayne Shepherd. When Mixdown speaks to the 40-year-old singer/guitarist, however, he's fresh from laying down the foundations for album number nine. “We did a run of about ten shows back in March, and then we went right back into the studio after we were done,” Shepherd reports from his Los Angeles home. “Most of the first half of the year I've just been writing and focusing on this new record in between spending time with my family. We hit the road pretty hard in the second half of the year, so it was important I got both in while I had the chance.”
When queried on what motivated him to work on new music so quickly after Lay It On Down – which he is still touring – Shepherd counters with a, “Why not?”. “We just wanted to keep the momentum going,” he explains. “I'm feeling prolific right now with how much I've been writing, and I wanted to record it and get it down. It made no sense to slow down while I've got the ball rolling already. I tend to just go wherever the creative process is calling me, and right now that's where I'm at.”
Since arriving in the spotlight as a wunderkind guitarist at the ripe old age of 13, Shepherd has countless world tours and three platinum-selling albums to his name. Even so, the Louisiana native still finds motivation to be as creative as he possibly can. At a time in his career where he essentially has nothing to prove, Shepherd is adamant about being so more than ever. “I'm inspired by real life, man,” he says plainly.
“I mean, you can just look around every single day and find something to write about. I've got a lot of kids, and the biggest changes in my life have come from them. I would also say that whenever I'm writing, I always make sure it's got a positive focus. Typically, in the tradition of blues, if a song is about a woman it's about how she's evil or she's done the guy wrong. When I write about a woman, I want it to be about how wonderful she is. I just want to put something positive out there, because I think the world needs as much of that energy as it can get.”
Shepherd applies the same logic to his guitar playing as his songwriting. Despite having played guitar for longer in his life than he hasn't, he agrees with the sentiment that every performance and every tour brings new lessons. “I feel like I'm constantly trying to refine my craft,” he says. “There's always something new to learn as a guitar player.”
“You have to remain willing and open to learning new things. As long as you are, there's no shortage of opportunities. There are plenty of players out there doing stuff on the guitar that I'd never think to play, or doing stuff that I can't do.” That's not to say he's at a loss at all, though: “I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job for the style I've developed for myself in the style of music I play,” he continues. “I might not be the guy that can play a million notes in a particular passage, but I am the guy trying his best to put the maximum amount of passion and emotion into everything I play.”
In October, Shepherd and his band will return to Australia for a whirlwind three-date theatre run. Although the tour is brief, Shepherd assures his love for the country is as genuine as it gets. “It's a place that means a lot to me,” he says. “I've played a lot of great shows here, but my wife is also Australian so I've spent a lot of time over here with her family. I'll never forget the first time I came over there – I was playing Bluesfest, and I was so taken aback by Byron Bay and this amazing surrounding that I ended up getting a commemorative tattoo. Australia's on my body, man.”
Catch Kenny Wayne Shepherd touring Australia’s east coast from Thursday October 4.