Kevin Caffrey has been writing and recording music for more than twenty years. Several years ago, as his songwriting ability continued to improve, as he continued to release albums that he believed in, and as he consistently went out and played shows feeling that he was getting better & better as a performer, the sad reality was that at the end of the day, like many independent singer/songwriters, not a whole hell of a lot of people were all that interested.
“I was booked to do a show in 2007 at a bar/restaurant on Long Island and was set to perform for two hours. This was about a year after my last album [Noah’s Dog] had come out, and just a few months before my wife & I had our son. I remember spending a lot of time rehearsing, a lot of time practicing…feeling that, at that moment in time, I was as strong as a performer as I could be. It’s exciting as a songwriter and performer to get to that point where you can fill a two hour show with mostly your own songs. It’s actual evidence that you’ve consistently written songs throughout your time as a musician that you believe in. And, ultimately, it was one of those shows where no one that was familiar with me was there; it was just people who happened to already be at the place that night. Which is fine, because that’s what most of my audiences consist of! But on that particular night, as I played for two hours, performing, I felt, really well… I don’t think anyone clapped even ONCE over the course of the whole night. It was very odd. 20 years of playing live, and I don’t ever remember that happening. People usually will just clap to be polite! As a performer, I’d honestly rather hear boos than silence from an audience. But, on that night, song after song, no one clapped. No one cared. And, feeling very depressed, drinking more Guinness than I usually would during a show, I remember thinking…what now? Was it worth it to keep doing this? What am I trying to achieve with this? If you're an artist, there is a natural desire and drive to create, and ultimately the good artists do it for themselves first and foremost. And even without success, you can't just stop doing it. You can’t just switch it off. If you *can*, then it’s obviously not your calling. But it would be a lie to suggest that you don’t feel the sting of creating something that either no one is hearing or no one really seems to care about. And the thing is – I’m not alone. Now more than ever, there are thousands upon thousands of singer/songwriters out there doing exactly what I’m doing – working a day job, but passionately writing and recording music and playing shows whenever they can squeeze it into their already very busy lives. And in the year 2013, unlike twenty or thirty years ago, we don’t expect to get a record deal, a $1 million dollar advance, and go on private jets and tour – at best we expect to sell a few CDs, get a review in a local paper, and book some shows. And, maybe get a little respect. That would be nice. But it’s a struggle. And I wanted to write about this struggle, because I wasn’t really hearing it--at least in the music--from other singer/songwriters that are in the same boat as me. And it's a really big boat.”
The title of Medium Talent was inspired by the infamous backstage brawl between Bill Murray and Chevy Chase during the second year of Saturday Night Live. As recounted by Director John Landis: "And the thing I remember about Bill Murray — I don't know Bill Murray, but he's screaming, you know, foaming at the mouth, "F**king Chevy," and in anger he says, "Medium talent!" And I thought, "Ooh boy, that's funny. In anger he says 'medium talent.'” Caffrey explains: “I’ve always loved Bill Murray, I’ve always loved that story, and I’ve always loved that phrase. And it seemed appropriate for the concept of the album—not being the best at something, but not being the worst at something—and how to exist within that reality. But I guess if you think back to that fight between Murray & Chevy Chase, at the time Bill Murray was the new guy and not getting a lot of respect from the audience and he was filled with anger, passion, and trying to prove himself. And Chevy Chase was the breakout, mainstream commercial star from the show who had left to do movies and make a lot of money. And maybe that’s what Murray was really lashing out against and what he represented at the time – the anti-establishment. And I can relate to that.”
As if making a preemptive apology to the listener, Caffrey kicks Medium Talent off with the short and simple “First Song” before diving right into the ten minute long acoustic prog rock of “Dedication,” where he has simple, plaintive advice for indifferent audiences (“so pay no mind to me/I’ll pay no mind to you/and pay no praise to me/I don’t want it from you”). The back-to-back punch of “At Full Speed” and “Words” crystallize common frustrations of an artist, before the somber yet hopeful “Hope & Pray” brings things back to a peaceful equilibrium.
“I think “Hope & Pray” is the best song I’ve ever written. It’s about the support someone can give to you, but it’s also about never undervaluing what it is in life that you care about. Whether it’s a Monday night open mic where you play 2 or 3 songs, or whether it’s longer performances or gigs where you’re playing for 15 people…I really feel that you have to treat it like it’s the most important thing in the world. Even for an open mic or a small showcase, I spend a lot of time thinking about the song choices, the dynamics of the performance; I rehearse a lot leading up to it, try to take care of my voice that day. And so many people would say—and even I tell myself very often—dude, you’re playing at a dive bar for 10 people—it’s not a big deal! But, it is—it’s everything! If you don't take it seriously, why would anyone else take it seriously?"
Compared to his other releases, Caffrey takes a raw, stripped-down approach to the vocals -- trying to draw the listener in with a less-is-more approach and trying to emulate what you might expect walking into a quiet bar and hearing someone quietly singing and playing their guitar. After the heaviness of “Hope & Pray,” a more lighthearted approach is taken with “One More Round,” where it's decided that maybe it's OK to sit back and let life pass you by every now and then. There’s a bass-heavy, Police-vibe on the inspirational “Last Laugh,” which fittingly leads into the album’s sprawling closer, “Proclamation #8.” Chronicling a day in the life of Caffrey’s musical self-examination, the listener joins him as he journeys by foot across a popular stretch of highway on Long Island, passing bars that have gone out of business, walking into a popular record store during its last dying days, and finally settling in to reconnect with his roots in an Irish pub. It's his "Ulysses" for the singer/songwriter crowd.
“With that song and with the entire album, I’m basically proclaiming that—for better or worse—this is what I am going to spend my life doing. Before Medium Talent, I don’t think I ever really wrote songs *about* writing music or about being an artist. And after this album, it’s going to be back to writing about everything else in life. But, for this moment, this is the part of my life that I wanted to concentrate on and express. Next to my family, it’s the most important thing in my life. So, why not write about it as honestly—as truly and at times as painfully honestly--as I can?“
After all, it’s only everything.
[With the release of Medium Talent came live performances throughout Virginia, as well as features in the Free Lance-Star and Front Porch Fredericksburg. Kevin was also interviewed on FXBG Pirate Radio, and performed as part of the legendary Fredericksburg Songwriters' Showcase series in January 2014. He has a string of shows lined up for early 2015 and is also in the midst of recording his next CD.]