The Nashville music scene typically offers musicians one of two potential career paths: the stage or the studio. Simply put, studio musicians rarely support artists live, and live bands don’t often back artists in the studio. Jason Aldean’s band, however, provides an exception to that rule, and Tully Kennedy has been an integral part of the band’s sound in the studio and on the stage, from the beginning of Aldean’s career to his current status as a country superstar.
A player heavily influenced by rock, pop, and alternative music, Kennedy’s rhythm-section contributions go beyond providing traditional “country style” bass grooves, infusing them with reggae-style syncopation, driving rock rhythms, and melodic upper-register fills, such as in “Wide Open,” and more recently, “Burnin’ It Down.” We spoke with him at Stage Wright Studios, where the Aldean band has cut all of their previous albums, and where they’re currently recording a new one that drops later this year.
How did you end up working with Jason?
I met him in late 1998 through our producer, Michael Knox, who had discovered Jason down in Georgia earlier that year and brought him up to Nashville to secure him a publishing deal. I had recently moved to Nashville with two goals: to play live and on records. Jason and I began writing together and formed a great friendship in the process, and then we set about forming a band that would play both in the studio and on tour. It has been the same core guys ever since.
How long before you guys realized you were onto something?
We got our first record deal in 2004, but it wasn’t until Wide Open in 2009 that we really hit it big. We probably played 260 shows a year from 2004 to 2008, and you could feel the momentum building up to that album.
What were your goals with the band?
The band’s vision, and that of Michael Knox, as well, was always to be an arena-rock country band. We wanted to be like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers or Bon Jovi—bands you go to see in a big venue. And that’s exactly what we did. We also wanted to do everything together, on the stage and in the studio, and our producer helped us by pushing back against record companies that wanted to use outside musicians on the records. He explained that Jason’s unique sound came from the whole band, not just the lead singer, and the only way to get that was for us to record together.
You tend to use space in interesting ways, and you often syncopate your lines and use the upper register melodically. What drives these choices?
Sting is a big influence, and so are No Doubt’s Tony Kanal, Adam Clayton of U2, and Nashville session bassists Michael Brignardello and Michael Rhodes. Each of these guys uses rhythm and space in productive ways, and Sting and Kanal both have that reggae thing going on, which I like to incorporate into some of our songs. I also listen closely to the vocal and try to connect with it via melodic phrases when appropriate.
How does the band approach studio sessions? We approach it just like an outside studio band. We don’t learn the songs in advance or anything. Instead, we all show up, we’re handed charts on the spot, and then we set about recording the tunes like normal studio session players. That works really well for us.
What have you learned from spending ample time in the studio and onstage?
I tend to approach every note I play live as if it’s being recorded, which has helped me become a more consistent player in both contexts. I also try to play every note strong and with confidence. I benefit from being in a great band where each member pushes the others, so I am always being encouraged to improve my playing, whether in the studio or on the stage.
With Jason Aldean (all on Broken Bow) Wide Open (2009), My Kind of Party (2010), Night Train (2012), Old Boots, New Dirt (2014)
Basses Sadowsky PJ5
Rig Aguilar DB 750, DB 680, DB 412 cabs
Effects Aguilar effects, Dunlop Cry Baby wah
Strings Dean Markley