Kenny Schick – “Light and Dark: Photograph of a Musical Life”
Kenny Schick might get labeled a singer/songwriter simply because he plays solo, his weathered acoustic guitar supporting his lilting tenor vocal, but Schick has a loyal following because those who experience his shows find a lot more ‘under the hood’ than just another guy with a guitar could ever provide. Schick’s audiences feel this passion – the experience of decades of performance in every imaginable genre and the observations of one who takes the sometimes tumultuous road less traveled. At Kenny’s shows, there is laughter, tears, musical craftsmanship, and thought provoking lyricism. The shows take listeners on a journey and includes them, with much banter back and forth.
Schick represents the dream that never died – the individual who found his calling in music as a 13 year old, took the bull by the horns, and never turned his back on his passion for music to join the ‘real world’ like almost every youngster with a dream eventually does.
Kenny is a generous performer and knows the audience is an equal part of the performance. More than once audience members have told Schick he’d have a great career as a comedian if he chose, and the comic relief is a great balance to the songs, which often explore the darker realms of human experience.
Schick started out on a path that seemed as though it could lead the kind of fame most think of where talented, driven musicians are concerned. At 12 years old, he already knew he wanted to be a musician and stayed in his room practicing guitar when other boys his age would have been out getting into trouble. Honing rock covers of the 60’s and 70’s, it was a direction that played to the mainstream crowd, but after 4 or 5 years of playing cover tunes, Schick found himself looking for something a little deeper. A brief interest in prog rock soon yielded to jazz and his first instrument, the saxophone. HIghly motivated and focused again, he studied the masters, primarily of the late 50’s and 60’s: Parker, Coltrane, Adderly, Rollins, Brecker…. Advancing quickly, Schick had his college professors supporting him and helping him pursue his dream to be among the jazz royalty he was so inspired by, but then came 1984 and a sea change that would alter his direction forever.
Always being interested in ‘songs’, and with the onslaught of of punk, post-punk, and new wave that had been at work changing the mainstream musical landscape, Schick began to experience a desire for being part of the cutting edge contemporary scene. It was a recent friendship with bassist/songwriter Mark Renner and drummer/songwriter Michael Freitas that would redirect his musical direction permanently. They asked him if he’d be interested in picking his guitar back up and joining them in trio called Dot 3 – a band at first consisting of Chapman Stick/Bass, stand up drums, and Schick on guitar – all singing/chanting/shouting in a style that was dubbed ‘post-punk tribal funk’. To the 19 year old Schick, the music was so exciting and compelling, that he just couldn’t fathom turning down the offer. Renner and Freitas would introduce Schick to a wide variety of music from more known art rockers like Talking Heads, XTC, and Gang of Four, to more obscure artists like Tuxedo Moon, Psychic TV, and A Certain Ratio. The three constantly hung out together creating, rehearsing, gigging, drinking, and listening to all the music they could get their hands on, including a large amount of world music which they would combine heartily with their aggressive take on post punk. At the same time, Schick made a change in his collegiate direction by dropping his music major and becoming an art/photography major – a move that would push his desire to untie imagery and music. Another major inspiration for Schick came at this time when the band went into the studio to cut some of their new tracks – Schick found himself enamored with the recording process, and this would be something that colored the rest of his life as well. Very quickly, Dot 3 became ‘art darlings’ of the San Francisco music scene and played many high profile shows with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, Faith No More, James Blood Ulmer, and many other national and international acts. But the ill-fated Dot 3 would often find itself a little too removed from any one direction to sink the hook on so many near record deals and other ‘almost’ opportunities – the band finally imploded out of frustration around 1990.
Although very scarred from the breakup, Schick never took a hiatus from music, but brushed off the dust and kept moving on. He started a short lived band with Freitas named Tongue Tied that used some of Dot 3’s influences combined with the up and coming grunge sound. Schick was also moved to refocus on his saxophone again when he was asked to Curveball, a 14-piece funk tribute band headed by ex-Primus drummer Tim Wright, and infused with a local star-studded lineup of stellar musicians like Brain (Primus), Arion Salazar (Third Eye Blind), Michael Urbano (Smashmouth), and Ray White (Zappa). At this time, Schick became a musical ‘slut’ and played in all sorts of bands. It was during this period he inadvertently was adopted into the reggae and ska scene. Asked by ex-Skankin’ Pickle front man Mike Mattingly to help him arrange horn parts for his new project, Neosoreskin, Kenny, amused by the fully off-center music, agreed to help record Mattingly’s first album. Schick was so enthralled by the recording session that he decided to join the band full time. Over the next several years, they would make 2 more eclectic albums together, playing shows with bands like No Doubt, No Use For A Name, Reel Big Fish, and Black Eyed Peas. It was also during this session that engineer Frank Caruso, impressed with Schick’s abilities, asked him to come record with Dub Nation, a reggae band that would come to play many of the biggest reggae festivals across the U.S. and would become the back up band for many reggae legends like Judy Mowatt (Bob Marley), Justin Hinds, and JC Lodge.
Aside from Schick’s constant presence on stages in the Bay Area and abroad, there was plenty brewing underground in basements where Schick set up his own recording studios. After the influence of Dot 3, Schick would never be fully satisfied creating genre-specific music again. So taken with the recording arts and always on journey to experiment combining all his musical influences, he began to collect tools for his own studio, or ‘musical laboratory’ as he liked to call it. This entailed always moving into houses with useful spaces or such activities, and this turned out to be house after house with basements, 3 in a row in fact, which would eventually spawn the name he still uses for his company, Basement3Productions (also a nod to Dot 3). The first solo album, ‘Eating the Cannibal‘ took the better part of decade to complete, impeded by constant gigging, a disastrous break up of a 7 year relationship, and meticulous problem solving both artistically and recording-wise. Both a perfectionist and a lover of artistic process, Schick has always had a hard time with the birthing process of his ‘babies’, but finally in 2000, the first of 5 solo albums would see the light of day. Purposefully experimental and artistic, the album saw great reviews by lovers of the obscure, but like much of his favorite music, the scope of recognition was limited. Unhindered by the lack of commercial success, Schick upgraded from his single ADAT machine to his first Pro Tools system and began work on a follow up release. The second Basement 3 release, ‘Rising‘, came out in 2002, and again garnered rave reviews in Europe and among lovers of obscurity, but was again too eclectic for the mainstream palette – it also felt short of Schick’s own expectations. Schick also started realize that lack of a live entity to help promote his albums could prove to be a hinderance to their recognition, but was unable to get a live act to materialize that would do justice to the densely orchestrated arrangements. It also started to appear that his stubborn aversion to convention was also playing a role in his ability to market his music. Despite his observations, Schick began work on the third release, ‘Fuzzyland‘ (2004), another epic work that would be much closer to his vision and would have a more focused aesthetic than the previous two releases. With new influences of acoustic music and Americana starting to make their way on to his palette, the songs began to display more melodic themes while still retaining the layered and textured concepts. Again, the underground press raved.
Another sea change was brewing. As was already evident, Schick realized he had to develop a live act to promote his music. He began to think that he should try to create a solo act to support his solo albums, and wondered if he could strip his ‘paintings’ down to ‘sketches’ via solo acoustic performances of his complex music. Experimentation led to a singer/songwriter approach to performance that would fully influence his musical direction again. Having spent his whole career as part of band, the solo performance concept was both intimidating and exhilarating to Schick, so he spent a year performing at open mics to get his footing for the new approach before selling the act for public consumption. This new approach had an enormous effect on the way Schick would view composition as well; the song itself would now be the primary focus, and the ‘sculpture’ of sonics would become secondary, whereas in the past they had both played an equal role. Schick was quickly recognized as a stand out performer, having a complex, vivacious, and intricate musicality to accompany his songs. A year of writing and performing/touring in the singer/songwriter circuit made Schick realize he was again a different form of ‘outsider’, not prescribing to the seemingly rigid conventions and dogma of the traditional singer/songwriter. Recognizing his acceptance in markets outside the U.S., Schick began to entertain the idea of traveling to Europe.
In an odd turn of events, his attention was diverted to Australia, as he had a met a girl on the then popular MySpace who resided down under and also shared his passion for the creative/unconventional, as it turned out, she was also a song writer. After an 8 month online romance, Schick quit all his bands, his day job of 14 years, and packed instruments and a small mobile recording rig and headed to the other side of the world to see what a new adventure would bring. As life always demonstrates, imagination and reality often differ, and Schick had a different experience than he had imagined, but the shock of change yielded an album of new songs for him and a first album for his then girlfriend Sabine Heusler, all recorded in her Melbourne apartment. Both albums were stripped down and acoustic, his being primarily just guitar and vocal.
After 8 months abroad, Schick returned to the States and released his 2007 CD, ‘Under‘. Again in a long distance relationship with Heusler, Schick toured in support of the new CD. During this time, Schick also completed the Heusler/Schick album, the duo deciding on the name ArtemesiaBlack. The songs, as it turned out, were mostly about the ‘dearly departed’, and it was apparent that a ghost theme was the inspiration for this lovely, but quirky music. Sabine finally made her move to come to the U.S. in 2008, and the couple immediately packed up Schick’s car and drove across the country, playing music at venues along the way, including the infamous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, and exploring the vast country from a photographic perspective. The two were married early the following year, and formed their own company, Basement3Productions, that specializes in recording/production, photography, graphic design, teaching, and performance. They released a second ArtemesiaBlack album, ‘Ghost Stories‘, in 2010, and performed specialized theatric local shows.
Busy recording and producing albums for other songwriters, focusing on ArtemesiaBlack, and again performing with a multitude of other bands, Kenny’s own music writing slowed, but there were still songs being recorded in between client work. In 2011, Schick noticed there were quite a few songs complete and recorded, and also realized that there was a body of previous work never released. Much of the work was unrelated, but all was worthy of release, so the thought of multiple albums came to mind. After some consideration and influenced by current trend in music listening, namely iTunes in shuffle mode, Schick decided that a single long album of seemingly unrelated material appropriately named ‘Shuffle’ would be timely and conceptually fitting. He decided the album would include revisits of the first 4 albums, along with new and unreleased material. It is with this concept and over a decade of artistic formulation that Kenny Schick releases his first album in 6 years, a comprehensive body of his work entitled ‘Shuffle‘.