Interview – Rob Kayes

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We were lucky enough to catch up with the American Musician Rob Kayes following his 2018 release, ‘The Long Shot’. Read our in-depth interview with this talented artist below.

Thank you for taking time our for us today Rob. Tell our readers all about yourself?

I was born in New Jersey into a family of seven. My parents decided on one more and that gave us a tribe of eight. My Dad was in the US Army so we changed addresses quite a bit..All in all life was good. I first picked up a guitar when I was 11. It was an off brand model that my father brought for me. I would listen to and mimic a lot of the bands from those days like The Who, Alice Cooper, Stones, CSNY, and others. I joined a few different bands and played cover songs like everyone else. I never settled down enough to take proper lessons and only played by ear. That would come back to haunt me in later years when I would need more knowledge for writing. During High School I took Carpentry classes and learn how to construct homes and remodel them. that would give me income while I worked on song writing. It has always been my first love of life to come up with a melody and figure out words for it. I moved to Florida with only my bike and what I could carry on it. Started life again and enjoyed the South Florida scene, which when I got down here was in full swing with all of the bands that I loved. Thru all of the craziness it some how managed to all work out and I continue to pursue my dreams of writing music that I hope will make someones day a little better after they listen to it.

What is your songwriting process?

I think songs can come from a lot of different places. Most often a melody will pop up in your head and you grab your guitar and keep fooling around until it takes some kind of shape that has the feel you are looking for. Then you can use vocal noises to start to find words that fit that mood and make sense as a short story or poem. Other times you might see an event on TV or in a Magazine and it gives you an idea as something you would like to write about. For me it seems like most songs come late at night when Im listening to the night.

What’s the best gig you have ever played?

Thats an easy one for that, I will have to tell you a story:

So I’m gonna tell you a story about a night that took place 3 years ago. There was a bar up in Ft Lauderdale called Brick House that I had played at several times during the year whenever they had an open mic. One night when I finished playing this brother comes up to me and asks If I would like to come and play at a music competition that was taking place next month in north Miami.  He said that he really liked my set and thought that the last song was very interesting in it’s emotion. I told him yeah it probably was as I was pissed off in general that night over just about everything. Sometimes that translates into your music and you can come back from what’s bothering you when you let that happen. I then asked him who was putting it on and what type of music would most likely be played.. He said a radio station from north Miami was behind it and that all types of music would be played. He also mentioned that the winning song would be featured on local radio as well as an interview with the winner. Well maybe because I was feeling crazy or maybe because it was a full moon but I felt it might just be the thing to do at the moment. So I took one of his flyers and told him I would come. He said don’t let me down cause I think it would be cool to have ya play. I said thanks I’ll do the best that I can. So a few weeks go by and I don’t really think about it and I go to play at the Books and Books book store and there he is again. He comes up to me after my set and tells me “ Hey don’t forget to come to the comp, Ya told me you were coming. I told him yeah I will do my best. Two weeks go by and I’m sitting at home just playing around a little on my guitar and I look out my window and it’s a full moon again, and by coincidence I’m feeling a little pissed about some life issues that are going on. Then I realised that it is the night for the music competition and that I had told someone I would do my best. I sat and thought for a minute and decided that I should at least go and check it out. I called a few music friends that I know and asked if they would like to go with. No one was available to go on the spur of the moment. What else could I do but drive up and check it out. I picked up the card put the address in my phone and headed out the door.

I don’t know what it is about some nights from others. Some nights you feel kind of drawn back and unsure of your self. Other nights it just feels like crickets are under your skin and you can’t wait to do something. Tonight was falling into the latter of those feelings. There was also this big high in the sky full moon that was putting a spark out all it’s own. Now ya gotta understand that at this juncture of my life I am still driving a white pick up as I am still doing renovation jobs here and there. I throw my 12 string Taylor in the back and I’m off to North Miami’s VFW Hall for what ever this is gonna bring. I headed out of Coconut Grove and hoped on 95 North for the short drive to North Miami and got off on an exit that took me to the north west side of the expressway. Of all the years living in Miami this part of town was totally new to me. It was mainly a trucking and warehouse shipping industrial type of scene. I drove a few blocks past this industrial section into the next part of town which was lower end housing along with vacant land. It really seemed almost surreal bathed in the light of the full moon. 

I finally got to the street where the VFW was located and noticed quite a scene of cars and vans, that looked like a mixture of tail gate party meets hip hop cars. What I did not realise, because I was so absorbed in trying to figure out all the different characters that were in view from the cab of my truck. was that once you made the turn to cruise by and check out the front of the VFW  the road went into a dead end about 20 yards past the entrance. I was not going to be able to just cruise by I would have to turn around in all of this may hem that was going on. You may thinking, Why didn’t I just park and go in. After all I was in a mood to do just about anything that night to get out of the funk I was feeling. That was my original intent but now with this drive by I now knew that this was a total rap, hip hop scene. I just did’t feel like I was going to fit in with my music. I pulled past the entrance and made it to the chain link fence that came with the end of the road. I put my truck into reverse and backed up to swing around and head out. When I turned around from looking back I could not believe who was standing in front of my truck. None other that the brother who gave me the flyer. In my mind I’m thinking WTF. He steps around to my window and says” Man I’m so glad you made it” I kind of stuttered a little and said “ Yeah I thought I should check it out” So then he opens my door gives me a fist bump and says “ Com’n I got some friends you should know”. You really gotta imagine this picture. Me getting out of my white pickup with a 12 string acoustic guitar in my lumber jack shirt walking into a VFW that is totally surrounded by funky gangster cars and one large DJ radio van pumping out rap music. The other thing you gotta know is I am the only white guy there. It took me a moment to notice this but there it was In my life I have always prided myself in being as far from racist as a human could be. So the only reason I mention this is that it was so obvious in this setting.

On the way in as I’m walking behind this guy it suddenly dawns on me that I don’t even know his name. I reach forward and tap him on the shoulder “Hey man I don’t know your name” He kind of glances back and says with out really looking  “Me I’m Champ, I’m one of the sponcers here from the radio station and this is our van.” pointing to the mega rap machine vehicle. He proceeds to introduce me to several people who all ask the same thing, What kinda guitar you got there and what are you gonna play. I tell them all the same, This is my Taylor 12 string and I think I got a song that will work here. They all say how much they like acoustic guitar and they like how some people mix it into their raps. I make my way inside and take a seat off to the side of the room and take notice that there are about three to four hundred people in the hall. It felt a little more that crowded in there. A few guys come and ask me questions about my music and then the MC gets up on stage to start the show. The first thing I notice is that everything is set up for rappers. There are turn tables on stands and what looks like mixing boards. The MC introduces the judges they are from New York, Chicago, Ft Lauderdale, all are DJ’s and they stand and take a little fist pump. At this point I’m really starting to wonder if this might be a mistake and I look for reasons to back out. I see Champ and I wave at him to come over and point out the fact that there are no mic stands and that the boards don’t look like they will accept my type of guitar cable jack. He tells me not to worry he has a stand in his car and the sound guy will hook me up. All I could think to say was alright I’m hang’n. In my mind though I’m thinking I could head for the bathroom and then just slip out, but during all this the MC points over to me and says we wanna thank you for showing up and bring on some change tonight. I gave a little half wave and looked down. WTF there is no way for me to get out now I’m gonna do this. Champ comes back and has a beat up looking mic stand and says ‘Will this work for ya?” I take it an put it on the table say “Yeah thats cool”. 

The show starts and three rappers that make up this group do their thing and are strong about there message and delivery, A few more groups follow some complete with dancers in sparkly short shorts and put on a good show. Champ comes over after the last group and says “Hey man the MC wants you next” I tell him thats cool and start to get out my guitar. The last group finishes and I make my way to the stage squeezing my way up the edge of the room. I get the the stage and things start to fall apart from the start. The sound guy has no idea where to try and plug in my guitar he is only set up for mic’s. I then try to set up the mic stand and it has a leg that is broken and it won’t stand up. There I am standing there with everyone looking wondering what the hold up is. Champ comes up and says “Hey let me help you out”. He gets a girl to sit on the front of the stage and hold a mic in front of my guitar, He then takes the straight part of the mic stand and has another girl hold it up to get the vocal. All of this is not taking a lot of time but enough time to start to piss off the judges. We are just about there and the judge from Chicago looks and me and says “Hey are you a performer”, I say yes, yes I am, and he follows with “Well fucking perform” I knew it was now or never, I quickly asked for only the red lights on stage please and they obliged me. 

The song I had in my head was either going to come out or not. I let myself fall into the sounds of the starting notes of my guitar. The song was called “Whats it gonna take” I wrote it and it struck a message in me but I had set it aside because it had the same changes in the chorus of an Eminem song. I felt that tonight was the night for this song. The mood the feeling the connection that I was going to make had to be honest and felt from the heart. I never play with my eyes closed. Don’t know why but I just don’t. That was not the case tonight though. For some reason, my mood, the moon, the relief of the moment. After I had struck the first chords I let my eyes close and got lost in my music. I sang and played the song as if I was in some void of my mind in which I felt complete compassion for what I was playing. I really felt like I had a heart , mind, instrument connection that felt like the warmest of meditations. The song is around three and a half minutes long, I might have stretched it four. In that time I was free of all things and present in my music. When I finished and opened my eyes there was a hush silence over the room. I looked out and came back into this world from where I had gone not really knowing how it had sounded to them. It only lasted about three seconds and then the crowed stood up and gave me a really good ovation and the MC jumped onto the stage and started yelling” Thats what I’m talking about “Thats what I’m talking about!” I was still a little stunned and started to walk off the stage and a lot of people started handing me their cards. 

The MC called me back and said “Hey you gotta come get your score” I walked back on stage and the DJ’s all gave me very high score along with some praise for the song. As for me I still just felt relieved and calm. The night proceeded on with three more acts left. I had lots of people give me their cards and told me to get in touch to work on some music together. I really did’t pay a lot attention to it because I thought to myself , It’s only that one song. I hung around for one more group and then slipped out the side door. The next day I get a call from Champ and he asks me” Where did you go? You didn’t wait for the judging.” I told him it was late and I had my kids to get back to. He said “Well you should have stayed because you took second place and they want you to come and do and interview for some station in Ft Lauderdale. I said that’s cool and I’ll be in touch. Now I don’t know why maybe I figured it was just a one time thing. I never did call Champ back and I never called the people who gave me cards. I think in my mind I did not want to change the memory of that night by not being able to collaborate on anything decent. One of the main things I do think of is that no one was with me that night and what happened was only known by the people there and me and I guess that is where it will always stay.

It goes to show you never know! Tell us about your latest release?

‘The Long Shot’, Thats the title of my latest release. I have always wanted to get together with a few really good musicians and do a live recording ..  With the help of one of my best friends William Montgomery  this time I was able to get the sound that I feel really reflects what I am trying to convey thru my music. It was such a really enjoyable process I can’t wait to do it again… There are a lot of different subjects covered on this release, Of course there are songs about Love, but I also go into life events like War, loss of my son, life ending for a friend, and a good old bar dance…. so there is a pretty wide spectrum here. So much credit needs to be given to the session musicians for their great interpretation of my songs. I could not have done it with out these guys.

Brilliant and what is your funniest gig moment?

Hmm the funnest moment. Well since the session musicians that I used are in Dallas and I am in Florida I use backing tracks off of my phone when I play out sometimes. So there was playing this song off of my latest release and I forgot to turn off the phone part of my phone. So my wife who thought I was finished calls me and it cuts in and she starts going on about how I need to get home because she is wanting me right now. Then I had to let her know I was still playing and everyone was listen. She just said hi everyone and hurry home, everybody cracked up…. and let me finish early.

What message do you think your music conveys to your fans?

It is nice to me when you can perform a song that can give a person there own personal message that they take from that song. Of course it is nice if someone thinks you wrote it for them, because in a sense you are. If the message of your song connects you can suspend time for that person for just a few minutes into there own little world and thats a great feeling. When you connect with a big room its great when it gets so quiet you can hear a pin drop. Then you know everyone is all the way in. Its alway nice to cover love, hope and happiness.

Who are your musical influences?

As I said earlier I grew up during my High School years with, The Who, Alice Cooper, Rolling Stones, CSNY, Beatles. More current are Ed Sheeran, Panic at the Disco, Willie Nelson, Green Day, Tom Petty, Jack Johnson and the like….. More that any one artist to me it’s the feel of the song and how it makes for a change of day.

Who are your non-musical influences?

In my life I have always been influenced by some great story tellers like Hemingway, Mark Twain, Poe. I also really like stories where someone goes against the odds like Jackie Robinson, JK Rowling, Bethany Hamilton, Steven Speilberg and make life a real adventure. On the spiritual side I like the teaching of the Budda and the Meditative practices of Dharma Singh Khalsa and of course love taught to me by my family.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?

9. There is an old saying “ I have suffered many a catastrophe many of which never happened” So I think worrying about how it can all come together to make something happen can stifle ones ambition to put themselves out there to the public. In actuality there are more avenues than ever to present your music but at the same time the shear amount of music available to the listeners is astounding. There does not seem to be the same R&D money available from labels either, and radio stations are controlled by fewer and fewer major corporations that have their agendas pretty well set. They only play the money makers.

What advice would you give to other bands/artists starting out?

When do we ever really stop starting out? Even the biggest name entertainers have to reinvent them selves to stay current. First you have to love singing, playing, writing, you cannot go into it for the money. You can only be yourself and if it works out great if not you enjoyed what you were doing any way. I cannot think of anything better than connection with yourself thru your music. When a song falls out of the sky into you lap there is nothing better. If you create a great song if will find it’s way to the person who should hear it. So just take it as a never ending adventure that you can create you whole life because music is forever.

Finally, what are your hopes for next 2 years?

Finishing this live recording was a big one for me. We recorded 14 songs in 4 days. I just don’t know how it gets better than that but it will. Getting a couple of my tunes placed in a movie or show would be great as well as some airtime on the radio. Playing live with the guys I recorded with would be a super night. Have to work on that one because that is totally possible. Peace, Health and Happiness to all the people who desire it. Always have your best day ever…..

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