Q+A with Ken Demith from (Ken Demith Collection)

Q: When did you start playing music and why?
A: When I was 14 I wanted an electric car racetrack for Christmas, Instead my mom knew I was a creative kid and bought me a guitar. I was disappointed I didn’t get the car track. The guitar sat there, mostly gathering dust, while I spent my time playing on baseball, basketball and football teams in High School. On my way to an athletic scholarship, I busted my knee and couldn’t walk for 6 months. Depressed and looking for a way to express my frustration, I started playing guitar and writing songs. Writing songs was the real draw for me and within months I was in a high school band that played all over the north Nashville area. I have been writing and playing ever since.
Q: What are some of your earliest musical memories?
A: No one in my family played music, but everyone loved music. I spent summers in Rosine, KY, birthplace of Bluegrass music, my grandfather grew up with Bill Monroe and the Monroe brothers and had a farm in Rosine. We went to many Bluegrass festivals there. I practically lived with my grandparents who watched the Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell and Porter Wagner shows on TV and my grandmother had a large collection of Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Roy Orbison records that she’d let me play on her stereo. It was also a beautiful piece of mid-century furniture.
Q: What prompted the move to Frederick and how long have you lived in the area?
A: Music isn’t my primary career, I moved to DC area to work in the association world and I have been working for the Heart Rhythm Society for over 5 years. We moved to Frederick so my son could get involved in the FFA here. That worked out well as he was elected a state officer of FFA and just this week represented Maryland as a delegate for national office. We’ve lived in the area 6 years and we recently settled in by buying a house in Myersville.
Q: What are some of your favorite things about Frederick?
A: I’m feeling very at home in Frederick, I love the countryside. I just feel good driving down the backroads and there are a lot of them with the mountains, streams, fields of crops, old houses and farms. There is a fairly healthy arts scene and the restaurants are good. The schools have been good for the kids and I ride the MARC to DC and that’s easy and I get time to reflect and work on musical ideas on the train.
Q: Any favorite Frederick area musicians/bands?
A: When I first got here I would check out local music, it was very different than what I was used to in TX. There’s a lot more cover bands here than in TX clubs. I like to say, I’ve never specifically gone to see a cover band, but I’ve gone places that had cover bands. I respect the cover musicians, they are usually really quite terrific musicians, but I just don’t find it interesting to see a band play an arbitrary collection of songs by other artists. I like original music because it says something about the people who are making the music.
To answer your question, I went to see a guy named Ted Garber at the Cellar Door and he asked his friend Scott to join himon stage and he started wailing on the bass and my mind was blown. I learned that bassist was Scott Ambush of Spyro Gyra. Todd Walker is another local musician I’ve enjoyed listening to and getting to know. He is a very gracious host and promoter of local, original music along with Tomy Wright. I met Craig Stang of the Atomic Mosquitos when I auditioned to play guitar in his band Killers from Space, it was so much fun and I almost joined until I realized I needed to stick to writing and singing my own songs. I’ve been to many Atomic Mosquitoes shows since. I met Shane Gamble, sitting next to him in a barber’s chair and we connected and he shared some of his music with me and I’ve seen him a couple times. He’s a great writer and singer. Recently, I’ve gotten to know Andrew Bromhal of Silent Old Mountains and I really like their music. They put on a great show at Sky Stage this summer. The music is here, I just need to dig a little deeper to find it. I hope to find more in the future.
Q: You describe the Ken Demith Collection as an Alternative Roots Rock Pop band. Care to explain the direction, how you found your sound and who your influences are?
A: Yeah, that’s the kitchen sink isn’t it. But that’s both my influence and my sound – the kitchen sink. The first auditorium concert I went to was George Benson and the second was Cheap Trick. From there I listened to everything from Blondie and Elvis Costello to George Duke and Otis Redding. I remember waiting for months in anticipation of the release of Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” and it didn’t disappoint when it finally hit the air. Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty cemented the idea that I wanted to be a songwriter. Bruce said it best in a recent interview. “My voice wasn’t a finely tuned instrument so I had to write”. That was me too, I knew the only chance I had was to write and bring some personality to my own voice which I think I have.
Q: The band’s second album is entitled Boom a Rang and was released this year. What changes did you make on the second album? What makes it different from the first?
A: Naked Guitar was recorded quickly in less than 5 months. It was a collection of songs that I had just sitting around and I had parts of a band in Texas and I used several folks that contributed and brought in just a couple other players, like Hank Early from the Turnpike Troubadors – before he was “Hank”. It was my first record after two other records as mercyservice and the Comealongs, my first two bands (The Comealongs album was nearly finished but never released – long story). I had also just finished producing two albums for Mark Midland Hughes and Wry Dawn (DW Hadley).
By contrast, Boom A Rang took me 5 years to record and produce and I didn’t have a band. I found putting one together very challenging in Maryland where I was an unknown. So I experimented with a lot of approaches and pushed myself with the production on all the songs. It was a labor of love and quite a learning experience. I used something like 25 different musicians on the album. That made it so rewarding hearing what each new musician brought to different songs. There were 33 songs originally. I had made a list of all the songs I had written but never recorded and I was still writing so it grew to 33.
I think what makes this record different is that there was no deadline, I took my time and waited until the songs were working the way I wanted them to before releasing it.
Q: In an age where albums are arguably becoming less of a normal release format, why did you decide to release one, and especially at a 24 song length.
A: Well as I mentioned before, I had so many songs I wanted to do. But I intentionally wanted to release them all as an album. It was sort of a cleanse of all this music that was good but no one had heard any of it.
I still think there’s a continuity to releasing an album that I find compelling. Before the Beatles era, there weren’t many albums and they were just a collection of singles and the 45 single was the preferred purchase for music lovers…then musicians started thinking about the album as a piece of collective art. What goes around comes around I guess.

I don’t think this album is a “concept album” per se, but there are strings that run through it and there is a story told by listening to it in its entirety. You really get to know my way of thinking with this album. I think the overarching theme of the record is there are dark parts of this world, but there are bright spots if you look for them.
Q: What is in the future for Ken Demith/ Ken Demith Collection?
A: The final pieces of the band have recently come together. I think the sound is getting where I want it now. I have been working for 2 years with Peter Franklin on drums and this summer we added Bruce Lipson on bass. We had a nice show at Sky Stage as a trio and we recently added Dave Fenstermacher on keys and that final piece feels like it has completed the Maryland version of the Ken Demith Collection. One of the reasons I chose to name the band KDC is so the personnel could be a bit fluid. It’s hard to keep a band together and I don’t want to have to reinvent the band anytime a bandmate moves on, but I really prefer to get tight and connected with the same group of people Like the E Street Band and the Heartbreakers were from Springsteen and Petty.
It’s a challenging vision, but I’d like to build a strong regional audience, open for larger acts that come to town, play showcase shows in DMV and do short weekend tours to other parts of the country where I have a few fans. I’m hopefully that I can build a nice Frederick based following.
We hope to start working on a new album in 2020, perhaps a fall release. We have only a few songs for that so far.
I’m also writing and producing a new record with Heather Rae and Roberto Carmona out of Virginia, They are both a bit younger than me, but we’re all excited about recording together. This is intended to be a one time project, not an on going band.
Q: What advice would you give to a young aspiring musician?
A: Enjoy every minute of it, particularly enjoy the people you make music with and for whether you end up being Lady Gaga or a guy with a hat on a street corner. Life is really about creating a series of experiences that turn into a collection of memories that eventually fade away. Taking in the moment, sharing my music is one of the finest wastes of time I’ve ever known.

Author: whatisfrederick

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