Singer-songwriter Kevin Abernathy knows what it’s like to be a young rocker full of flashy guitar riffs and songs about the glories of rock ‘n’ roll. Look at photos of the Madisonville native from his days in San Francisco and you’ll see a lot of hair and flashy late ‘80s metal outfits.
There’s a little of that still left. The guitar chops never left and he still has hair. The hair is just a lot shorter and less puffy. Yet, sitting across from him at SoKno Taco, he seems a long, long way from those flashy clothes and rocker poses. Since returning to East Tennessee at the beginning of the 2000s, Abernathy has been one of Knoxville’s most consistent singer-songwriters, albeit one whose guitar work sometimes overshadows the depth of his lyrics. His music is as down-to-earth and real as his demeanor.
Abernathy’s new album, “Family Hour,” couldn’t have been more aptly titled. All of his albums have included songs and references to family, but the new disc is nearly all about Abernathy’s life with his wife, Christine, and the couple’s three daughters, Roxie, Lucy and Eliza.
The girls are the subject of the disc’s opening rocker, “You Kids.” Abernathy says the song is sort of a continuation of his earlier song “Drama House,” which depicted life as the only male in the household.
“I wrote ‘Drama House’ when the kids were little — little girls screaming around the house,” he says. “It’s kind of the other end of that. Now they’re growing up and we’re thinking about them moving out and going to college.”
The song begins with: “One of these days this house will turn quiet, they’ll pack up the noise, step off the porch, go start their own riot, leave us with the cat and the dogs, repainting the kitchen, waiting for a call … .”
“It’s just the natural progression of being a parent,” says Abernathy. “You know?”
Abernathy’s daughters show up again in the song “Stage Dad,” which humorously reflects his life with daughters who now have their own music act, The Pinklets.
The song “Don’t Say My Baby” is about being married to a strong woman, the sort who would (and did) dig a swimming pool in the family’s yard, as is documented in the song.
“Well, it’s really about the male chauvinist who lumps all women into the same category,” Abernathy says. “The guy who says, ‘Do you need to ask the boss?’ That really irks me. In a sense, I do, but I don’t call her the boss.”
Abernathy says the album really developed when he wrote and recorded the song “Beach Music,” a nostalgic song lamenting the lack of music on the beach now that everyone is plugged in to their own music. The song was released as a single in 2016, but the rest of the album was a long time coming.
“2016 was kind of a weird year,” Abernathy says. “We did a lot of family time and a lot of woodshedding. It wasn’t extremely fruitful, but I did get seven songs and one instrumental.”
Feeling that the songs he had all had a theme, he didn’t want to wait to add any more. The disc clocks in just under 30 minutes, making it as long as The Beatles’ early albums, but almost an EP by modern standards.
One song, “Rock Star Dying Blues,” simply seems to reflect the year it was written about.
“There’s a lot of rock stars who died in 2016, but there was a lot of other stuff going on, too,” Abernathy says. “People seemed to focus on the rock stars more than kids strapping bombs to themselves. It’s kind of ambiguous in that kind of way, but that was what I was trying to get across. There’s so much more important stuff going on in the world. That’s just the way it’s going to be from now on. Baby boomer rock stars who had a hard life, partying for 50 years, they’re gonna die. Prince was a shocker. But you might as well get used to it. Everybody’s getting old.”
While Abernathy is recognized as one of Knoxville’s premier songwriters, he says it still doesn’t come easy.
“What’s never changed is I don’t know how I do it. It seems like you’re down in the trenches with a song or an idea and you come out of it and you have a song and you say, ‘Wow. How did I do that? That’s great, but I don’t feel like I will ever be able to do it again.’ It’s the same every time. It doesn’t matter if it’s about family or a car or some kind of social issue, it’s all the same. They either come quick and you know you’ve got something or you know it’s not going anywhere. It’s like starting over every time. … Maybe I’m doing something wrong!”
Wayne Bledsoe, USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee Published 4:00 p.m. ET June 8, 2017 Knoxville News Sentinel
Kevin Abernathy talks about the song that made the biggest difference in his life.