American Analog Set’s
Andrew Kenny finds new life in Wooden Birds… and American Analog Set.
BY HAL BIENSTOCK
It’s not unusual for an indie rocker to have another career.
Countless musicians serve coffee at Starbucks, teach high school or work in
fields like advertising and graphic design. But Andrew Kenny, formerly of
American Analog Set, might be the only one who took a break from music to begin
a Ph.D. in biochemistry. The lure of music called again before Kenny could
finish his degree, but stem cell research’s loss is our gain. Instead of
sitting in a classroom at Columbia,
Kenny is leading a new band, Wooden Birds, and just put out another terrific
album of mellow, acoustic indie-folk.
“I guess I traded a lucrative career for a few more years of
rock jerkdom,” Kenny says, laughing.
Wooden Birds’ debut, Magnolia (Barsuk), is a full of muted songs about heartbreak, with lovely vocal
harmonies and rhythmic percussion, most of which consists of Kenny pounding out
beats on top of an acoustic guitar. He approached the album like the scientist
he still plans to be someday. “For me, music is always about refining a process
or having a hypothesis,” he explains. “I wonder if certain things will go
together, or whether things will work out if they’re combined a certain way.”
Kenny even sees American Analog Set’s 10-year career as
something of a long-term science experiment. The band was formed at the tail
end of the grunge era, when if you couldn’t be good, you might as well be loud.
So, what else was there to do besides try to play as quiet and slow as possible
and see what happened? “That’s where I shoot myself in the foot sometimes,”
says Kenny. “I think ‘Okay, this is popular. I’m going to do the opposite and
see if I can get people to enjoy it.’
“The same thing happened with Wooden Birds,” he continues.
“When I listen to alternative music now, I hear a lot of colorful bands using
many different instruments and throwing the kitchen sink on every recording. Magnolia has one guitar sound and one
rhythm sound. I wanted to try to make the best songs possible with the fewest
Those are strong words coming from someone who not too long
ago was a member of one of those kitchen sink bands. As Kenny was recording Magnolia, he got a call from his old
friend Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, who asked Kenny to go on the road
with the band. It was an odd choice, akin to asking Sam Beam of Iron & Wine
to fill in for Ozzy in Black Sabbath. “Despite what I’m known for and what I do
with my own music, that’s not the only kind of music I like,” Kenny says. “I
never got tired of playing voluminous rock. It never got boring.”
Still, when the tour ended, Kenny had no problem leaving it
behind. He’s having a harder time doing the same with American Analog Set.
Just as Kenny was getting ready to release Magnolia and go on the road with Wooden
Birds, American Analog Set was asked to reunite for a gig at South-by-Southwest
celebrating the 10th anniversary of the band’s third album, The Golden Band.
“Just when I’m getting Wooden Birds live sound where I want
it, I go to practice with American Analog Set and it’s like ‘Oh yeah, this is
one of my favorite bands,'” he says. “But it made me set the bar higher for
Wooden Birds. After all, you shouldn’t be in a band that’s not one of your
favorite bands. Life’s too short.”
That sense of time running out that keeps Kenny going
musically also has him planning for life with a lab coat and a microscope
instead of a guitar. It’s a transition that he says may come sooner than people
think. “A lot of what I write about is affairs of the heart, and those things
appeal more to people that are younger,” he says. “At some point, I’m going to
have to admit that I have an awesome life, with a wife, a cat and a dog. There
are only so many brokenhearted stories I can mine.
“I can’t imagine being 55 and writing songs for
18-year-olds,” he continues. “Then again, when I was 22, I would have said the
same thing about someone who’s 37, and that’s where I am now, so who knows?”
[Photo Credit: Aubrey Edwards]