Here is the latest single from multi-instrumentalist and songwriting duo The Kennedys. Pete and Maura Kennedy have written a song that sounds instantly like a classic, a timeless piece of music that could easily be a lost gem from the likes of Emmylou Harris, Tammy Wynette or Nanci Griffith. Indeed, the pair frequently worked with Nanci Griffith over the decades, as members of her Blue Moon Orchestra, as a support act and producing her final album, ‘Intersections’. That’s the style and level of songcraft on ‘Headwinds’. Lyrically, the song is direct and immediately relatable: “The restless breeze made the leaving seem so easy // But headwinds make it hard to get back home // If it wasn’t for you, don’t know what I’d do // I’m aimless without your touch // And I regret that day I threw it all away // And I miss you oh so much // And if I knew how, // I’d undo it somehow // ’Til then I’m condemned to roam // ‘Cause headwinds make it hard to get back home.” Pete Kennedy adds plaintive lap steel to the acoustic and electric strum, while Maura’s vocal journeys through a gorgeously ranging melody that you’ll be humming all the way back home.
The video makes use of beautiful, atmospheric locations: the Hudson River and Saugerties Lighthouse, and a nearby lake surrounded by abandoned buildings. It’s an evocative environment, particularly the way the foggy conditions reinforce the theme of becoming lost and the challenge of finding your way back.
‘Headwinds’ is the title track and first single from The Kennedys first new album in five years. During the pandemic, the duo explored classic American songwriting in depth and performed thousands of songs through live-streamed shows. This gave them a strong foundation and a direction for working on new material. Maura says: “After such a deep dive into American roots music, we felt like we had a new set of writing tools. We were ready to create this body of work, and there’s just so much to write about. During our five-year hiatus from writing and recording, America changed in massive ways, divisive ways that have shaken our whole foundation. That has to be addressed by creative artists, those of us who have a voice to speak for others. Our love of the great things about this country, things that are under threat, is the reason we decided to make ‘Headwinds’ the title track of the album. Political and social headwinds are making it hard to get back ‘home’ to our greatness as a nation. We want to push back in a positive way against those winds.” The album is due for release on 25th August 2023 and promises to be a powerful, tuneful collection based on the classic sounds of acoustic and electric guitars, steel guitar and keys. You can pre-order the album here.
Exclusive Q&A with Maura Kennedy of The Kennedys about the song and video:
What is this song about? What inspired you to write it?
‘Headwinds’ can be taken on two levels – literal or figurative – our favorite kind of song! On first hearing, it fits the tried-and-true mold of relationship songs, but on a deeper level, it’s about redirecting, correcting a course that’s gotten too far from home base. It might be an individual or society as a whole coming out of the pandemic, or dealing with climate change and political upheaval. It’s a metaphor for realizing when one is on the brink of disaster, and thinking hard about the consequences of NOT making bold changes. The song is a reminder that those changes can be the most challenging, but we have to face them, individually and collectively, in order to turn back toward ‘home.’
The initial inspiration for the song is not as deep as all that! We were on holiday in the Florida Keys, staying at a motel that provided bicycles. One morning, we packed lunch and rode out over a stretch of the old Flagler railroad that was largely destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. A restored segment extends from the southern end of Marathon Key out to Pigeon Key – a historical site and park. You can cycle over the ocean on a thin rail bridge, with sharks, sea turtles and manta rays swimming in the water below. It’s a gorgeous, two-mile ride right over the turquoise waters. After we finished our lunch and headed north, we were hit with such a strong headwind that it took us twice as long to get back. As I was pumping away at the pedals, I thought, “Wow, headwinds make it hard to get back home.” That’s when the lightbulb came on. Songwriters love a good metaphor! Once I had that hook, I had to decide how to frame it. That’s always the hard part. The hook itself was a gift of the wind.
This song is an easy, comforting listen, musically. It has a really nostalgic feel. What made you go with the vibe you did on the song, and what did you want it to sound like?
When I first got the idea for the song, I wanted it to sound like a classic, in the tradition of Tammy Wynette or Glen Campbell. I was searching for a nostalgic quality that fit the lyric’s desire to return to something better from the past – a longing, restless feeling. Pete played the sliding lap steel, an instrument that sounds like a plaintive human voice. I love the wistful, sad quality of the instrumentation.
What do you hope this song says to people who hear it?
I hope it reminds people that we all have choices to make, and some choices are harder than others. As trying as that may be, it’s in our power to make changes that will enhance and improve life, not only for ourselves but the wider community as well. We’re all connected, and we all share the need to feel the comfort of home, especially in such turbulent times as these.
Let’s talk about the video. Who did you work with on the video and whose idea was the video treatment? Who directed and filmed it for you?
Back when the pandemic struck New York City, we left our Greenwich Village apartment and moved in with my sister, Suzy Allman, and her husband in a small village perched above the Hudson River. During the years of lockdown, we spent a lot of time outdoors in nature – hiking, bicycling, kayaking – and the experience was one of growth, personally and creatively. It was in those surroundings, amid the stress of the pandemic, that we wrote the songs for ‘Headwinds’, and recorded them in our own studio.
Once we had completed recording, mixing, and mastering the album, we turned to completing the artwork. New York artist Amanda Kavanagh would be handling the design, but we still required photos and a video, and there were precious few days before the start of a three-month tour down south. Up against this deadline, we brainstormed with my sister, Suzy. She is an earth scientist and media professional who specializes in environmental photography. Suzy suggested that we travel with her up the Hudson Valley to Saugerties Lighthouse, an evocative old building on a spit of land that extends almost to the middle of the river. The isolation of the spot would dovetail perfectly with the concept of the song: a deserted lighthouse pointing the long way back home, against a strong headwind. We were surrounded by visual elements that seemed to illustrate the lyrics. Suzy used a high-resolution drone camera to capture photos from a literal birds-eye view, high above the river. She shot some experimental video footage from that unique vantage point as well, and that proved to be pivotal.
The following day, after reviewing the footage, she suggested we do an additional video shoot in another location: a nearby lake, with abandoned brick buildings onshore, and a strange, ancient-looking structure on a tiny island. The site was less than a mile from home. It turned out to be a foggy, icy morning, and that was perfect for the mood of the song. The album cover photo comes from that session, and most of the video is from that location as well. The ice on the water, the fog, the broken-down little building on the island in the middle of the lake – it all fit the mood so well, and we couldn’t believe our luck, being there at just the right time for all those ‘special effects’ to be working in our favor. Most of what looks like post-production effects in the final version was simply the real-time environment that nature provided while we were shooting.
There are also a few clips of us on an ocean beach. We shot those on the Gulf of Mexico during our southern tour. I used a ‘windy day’ technique that is something of a visual trademark of mine: I shoot outdoors, singing at double speed while a stiff wind is blowing. When I slow the footage down to match the actual speed of the song, it creates a mood of restlessness and melancholy. It works really well here, with ocean waves crashing in slow motion… headwinds making it hard to get back home.
Once we’d gathered all the raw footage, I performed the edit. I love making music videos, and have made all of our official videos in the past. This is the first one I’ve done with the advantage of working with a professional videographer.
What are your plans for the rest of this year?
We’ve put together a comprehensive US album-release tour for the rest of the year, extending into 2024. We’d love to return to Europe. It’s been a while since we were there, and we have lots of old friends with whom we hope to reconnect. We also made tons of new friends and fans around the globe during the pandemic, when we aired weekly livestreamed concerts. Now they want to see us in a live setting, so we’re hoping that can happen soon.