Of all the bands I’ve come across the past two years of living in Maryland, none has perhaps captured my heart quite like Mr. Husband. Led by world shaker Kenny Tompkins, Mr. Husband has been releasing record after record of charming, twang-adjacent pop songs that will melt your heart. There’s a purity and integrity to their work that feels blissfully human; or, as Kenny might describe it, full of “friendship and wonderment.”
Their newest work, Kenny Husband & The Husky Section, is not quite a b-sides collection, but something close. Or maybe, it’s a b-sides collection with a little more heart and soul. These songs feel connected, through their characters and attitudes. If every band was this attentive to their songcraft, maybe every b-sides collection would be this stellar.
Kenny Husband & The Husky Section will be released on May 3rd. I had the privilege of talking to Kenny about this new record, and he provided some insight on what makes these songs so special. Read the interview below!
You mentioned that these songs were sort of the “ugly ducklings” from past sessions. Did you have a large bank of songs to choose from? What was the selection process like?
I wouldn’t quite call them ugly ducklings but more husky bois – songs that I loved and worked very hard on that just couldn’t find their place on past releases. I do have a very large pile of material I would frame this way: a couple hundred songs. The selection process for this was more fun than past releases. I didn’t ask for anyone’s opinion or belabor it. I just let myself group these songs without an obvious theme because that had been their downfall previously so I said, “Husky bois, you are having your day in the sun. You have earned it.” And once I grouped them together, I felt like it was totally fine. We will see what everyone else thinks!
To me, there’s a theme of desperation in these songs. The characters are sort of at their wit’s end with life, friends, work, etc. Is that general feeling what brought these songs together?
That’s a cool way of looking at it but not something I was totally conscious of. Although now that you say it, it seems like most of my songs could be viewed this way. I feel desperate to have a meaningful life and that informs how I live in a lot of ways. These songs all have a plain-spoken way about them that reminded me of my redneck youth in WV, which had a desperate element to it. They are the lyrical equivalent of smoking Marlboro lights and drinking Mt. Dew while driving around in a Ford Ranger you bought for $500 that came with a Grateful Dead sticker on the back glass and then you added a Pantera sticker just to keep everyone guessing.
Some of these songs are “out there.” What was the inspiration for “Do You Love Me Too?” And, is that just you singing all those harmonies?
This song used to be titled “The Billy Joel of the Internet” because it is deeply uncool but still sweet to my ears. It always caused arguments with labels, friends, and family, and it is a prime example of a husky boi. Something I love and can’t understand why others don’t love it too, but that is the deal as an artist I suppose. Yes, I did sing every one of the harmonies layer by layer and loved that part very much. I have a fun remix of it that has some crazy drums and wizz-bang sounds that I will release after the record is out.
Since these songs were leftovers, were they all recorded in different environments? Any memorable moments from recording these songs?
Yes, they were recorded on different gear in different houses and apartments throughout Maryland, and they are little snapshots of my time in those places. Tons of memories but since you brought up “Do you Love Me Too”… that song came out of a gear test. I had just set up a new soundcard and was testing everything to make sure it worked. Without thinking about it at all, I just sang that little line that threads through the whole song “do you love me” and then thought “hey that’s fun I will make a song out of that to test this gear” and so I did. I love that sort of thing when it is accidental or casual.
I’m always interested in the gear that goes into a record. Any interesting gear used while recording these songs?
The only constant gear thread in these songs would be the KSM27 mic I used on all of the vocals (except “Friends” which used a Neumann U47 I think). The 27 has a dark sound that really goes well with some tube crunch and keeps the treble from getting too bright and gross. I also make sure to use a 4th-dimensional filter on all of my tracks to ensure that the listener transcends.
The main focus of your music, to me, is almost always your voice. For many singers, it can be terrifying to think that people can hear the imperfections in their voice, and often try to hide it. But, yours is mostly natural. How have you overcome that fear?
I think people can hear it or feel it subconsciously when you have that fear and self-awareness. I am certainly guilty of sounding this way on some records. For me, the trick is to think of the listener as an emotional being who NEEDS music to survive in this crazy world instead of thinking of them as critic of your performance. This applies to songwriting as well as performing live or on record. The more I focus on this idea…the happier I am with the things I make. More practical advice: Dylan said, “I will know my song well before I start singing,” and that is real good advice beyond the poetic point he is making. I sing my songs until they live deep down in my bones and only then do I think about recording them.
While some of your characters may be cynical, there’s still sort of this wonder and awe to your music. How do you find the balance between a “lust for life” and a bitter reality?
I used to release a lot of things that were not filled with any of this wonder or awe you speak of and a lot of my husky bois are still unreleased because they have a heavy-hearted feeling that I don’t want to put on the listener. I like my sadness with a little funny mixed in. I ask myself “what do my friends need from my music?” and while the answer isn’t totally clear I think of words like “levity” or “relief” or “sanctuary”.
“Punk Rock Hairdo” is probably my favorite song on the record. Care to expound on that song at all? Inspiration, stories, memories, etc?
Thanks! I am so glad you like it (this was another one that was contentious when I asked for feedback from different people). The lyric comes from a real moment where I got back from tour and had a job interview and needed to tone it down a bit hairdo wise. I had to laugh at myself and this song conveys that idea of laughing at your own sad passages in life. It’s like my own take on that Minor Threat song “Salad Days.”
What do you hope people get out of listening to Husky Section?
I hope that when the day is done and the lights go down on that proverbial shopping mall of their life that they find some comfort in a husky friend who is waiting for them in the parking lot just to fire up a Marlboro light, crack a Mt. Dew and let it all just warsh away. Know what I mean??
Pre-order Kenny Husband & The Husky Section on digital and cassette here.