James Kennedy is a Welsh musician, formerly the frontman and founder of rock band Kyshera, and now working as a solo artist… and author. Noise Damage, to be released on October 18th by Eye Books, is a refreshingly different addition to the crowded shelves of rock autobiographies. This is partly because James tells the familiar booze-fuelled-tour-antics story from a different perspective; he tells the story of the ninety-nine percent of bands that don’t make it. But Noise Damage also stands out because it is remarkably well-written, with humour, humility, and insight.
James Kennedy grew up in rural Wales, and at the age of nine, he received an old acoustic guitar – a last-minute desperate birthday gift from his Dad. From that moment, despite a hearing impairment that left him with tinnitus and partial deafness, he was determined to become a rock star. The sacrifices he made along the way were immense as he went to extraordinary lengths to achieve his dream; living with his parents, living in squats, getting and losing job after job, falling deep into debt, squandering relationships. It’s a rollercoaster with many more downs than ups, and so many close calls when he was tantalizingly close to success but was foiled by the vagaries of chance. There were so many times when he could have, perhaps should have, quit. But he never gave up.
“No matter how bad things got, I could always, always, rely on the soul-restoring, life-affirming power of a good tune played loudly.”
The major factor in James’ bad luck was timing, since Kyshera appeared at the beginning of the most turbulent period in the music industry, during the Noughties, when streaming took over and record companies imploded. The music industry in 2020 is unrecognizable from that of 2006, for better and for worse, but the years in the middle were a black hole into which so many talented musicians disappeared. Kyshera tried to ride out the storm, and James’ experience throws an interesting spotlight on some of the industry scams that harm vulnerable musicians, such as the rigged chart system, PR fraudsters, cut-throat record label bosses. The book also addresses the mental health issues that afflict musicians trying to navigate this impossible system.
But despite all the downs, this is a light-hearted book. James is self-deprecating and self-critical, and he also has more than his fair share of drunken mishaps and hilarious on-the-road incidents. He vividly captures the sheer grubbiness of being on tour – living in a cockroach-infested van with a drummer who snores louder than a Marshall amp; sleeping in the Canadian youth hostel from hell; falling through stages, breaking bones, being pissed on by audiences, rolling from a London gig straight back to work in Wales the next morning, night after night – and still, somehow, having a life-affirming experience. Because he also accurately captures the rush of performing on stage, the love for it that will drive you to sacrifice everything just to play a half-empty room.
While this is billed as a story of failure, it is ultimately uplifting. There are evil industry moguls, fuck-ups and disasters, but there are also kind and supportive characters throughout, who believe in James and are appreciated. There is the joy of creation; of composing your own music and sending it out into the world. And James is rather hard on himself – because while Kyshera may have ended in relative obscurity, along the way he released critically-acclaimed albums, performed in thousands of concerts, and he has also been a music teacher, songwriter, sound engineer and producer, as well as working with hearing charities and political campaigns.
Whether you are a musician, a music fan, or neither, you’ll find this book relevant. It becomes a sort of self-help book and asks you to question your own life – what would you have done? What constitutes a good life? Sure, James Kennedy wanted to be a rock star – but ultimately it wasn’t about the success and the fame, but the love of music, and the enrichment that music brings to people’s lives. He claims that he loves performing to a half-empty pub just as much as a stadium .. and I believe him. And if he could go back twenty years, he would probably do it all again. This is a book about the journey; about following your passion and never, ever, giving up.
“If my disastrous rock n’ roll pilgrimage to nowhere has taught me anything, it’s this: there is far more to gain by having a go and failing. Your destination point is only there as something to aim for, it doesn’t matter whether you reach it or not. The good stuff is what happens along the way.”
James Kennedy’s latest album, Make Anger Great Again, is released on September 25th, 2020, and his book Noise Damage: My Life As A Rock N’ Roll Underdog is available to pre-order now.
By: James Kennedy
Publisher: Eye Books
Release Date: October 18, 2020
Format / Length: Paperback / 288 pages