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Author Topic: Band Member Spotlight - Troye Kinnett  (Read 21262 times)
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« on: January 20, 2011, 07:08:51 pm »

Kinnett Makes a Big Impact on Mellencamp's Music

Article by Thad Requet

Photos by Brian Bruner

As we continue with our series on past and present band members from John Mellencamp's band, we focus on one of the more versatile artists in the band, Troye Kinnett. Troye, a native Hoosier, joined the band in the midst of the Words and Music Tour, and has made an impact in Mellencamp's music since joining, both in the studio and during the live shows. In this article, Troye talks about several different aspects of being in John's band.

Troye Kinnett grew up near Muncie, Ind. in a little town called Selma. He's lived in Indianapolis for about 20 years. He grew up influenced by Elton John in the 70's and Edward Van Halen in the 80's. By the 1990's he was writing production music for radio and television commercials, and listening to whatever was necessary for the project he was working on at that time. "I did a movie soundtrack a few years ago, so I got into that thing for awhile." Since joining the John Mellencamp band, Troye has listened to a lot more 60's classic rock, focusing on groups such as The Band, The Doors, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. "Now I'm pretty much a channel surfer," he explains. "I'm flipping through my iPod and may go from Snow Patrol to The Carpenters, to Oscar Peterson, to Steely Dan. My son, Sam, was in The Nutcracker this month, so now I'm reverting back to the 1800's," Kinnett said.

Kinnett is a piano player first. He became an organ and accordion player later on. "I've got a guitar and a bass that I can play, but I don't make any money playing that. Over the years of writing stuff for advertising, I've had to write riffs on guitar. So I can play it enough to use it as a writing tool," he said.

Troye said that growing up in Indiana, he was very aware of the music of John Mellencamp. "I worked at TRC (studio in Indianapolis) with John Cascella. That's when I started getting more exposed to his music. I heard it on the radio just like anybody else." Troye had just gotten an entry level writing position at TRC, a place where John had done some additional recording for the Uh-Huh album. "I had heard some of John Cascella's work that he was doing with John, plus he was touring with John. After I heard some of the stuff, I was like 'Oh wow, this is something I need to be more familiar with,'" he said. "You know, "Minutes To Memories" and The Lonesome Jubilee is when I realized how good that stuff was," he said.

Playing the Accordion

When asked about how challenging it is to play an accordion, Kinnett said it is much different. "It's an easier transition to go from piano to organ than it is to go to accordion. The left hand is so much different. You can't see the buttons. It's like using brail. But a lot of what I do in the band is right hand melodies anyway, but I do incorporate the buttons on some songs," he explained.
With the accordion and fiddle being such a big part of Mellencamp's sound on much of his music, Kinnett realized the importance of what he was doing. "Being an Indiana guy, I realized I really need to learn how to play this way. I just love playing with Miriam" (Sturm).

Small Town Old Rugged Cross Hymn at the 2:35 minute mark

Troye really enjoys doing the hymn with Sturm. "On the new version, we go back to the melody of the original hymn and you hear people responding to it, like that's what they were waiting to hear. "I love doing "Minutes to Memories," he explained. He said that he and Miriam are kind of their own little section of the band. "Sometimes in rehearsals we'll get together early before everyone else so we can work out some things that we have to play together. It might be a melody part that really works together or sometimes the other guys will take a break and we'll just stay in there and workout our stuff. We will also email things back and forth. Miriam might have an idea for something we're working on like the "New Hymn." So a week or two before rehearsals we will have already been in contact and sent each other some tracks, or some ideas. Usually we're close, but it might need something. There's nothing like getting in that room and working it out," Kinnett explained.

Getting Involved With Mellencamp

Kinnett joined the band in the middle of the Words & Music Tour in the spring of 2006. "I was recording with John in the fall of 2005. I worked on some of the rehearsals and recordings for Ghost Brothers, then came back and played on the first demo of "Our Country" in 2006," he explained. "(Michael) Ramos had been playing that tour for quite a while so it was just a matter of coming in and playing everything the way it was already played. Actually that was easier than coming in and starting from scratch. So it was a matter of executing it," Kinnett said.

Troye already knew everybody in the band and how things worked, so it wasn't like he was coming into a completely unfamiliar situation. "I had a pretty good idea that you better be prepared, so I was." He did whatever he could to be prepared for whatever was asked of him. "The Ghost Brothers rehearsals was when I really first got my foot in the door. That was right after Hurricane Rita. First there was Katrina, then Rita. My grandparents lived in New Orleans and they had been through so much that my brother and I were going down to move them back up here to Muncie on this particular weekend. I got the call on a Thursday to go down and record at Belmont (Mall Studio, John's recording studio) on the following Monday. So my brother had a truck and we were pulling a trailer. It was a big truck with a cab, you know, four doors, so I rode in the back seat and practiced my accordion all the way down there while he drove down there and back, so I could be ready for Monday," he explained.

"We were seeing all these trailers on the way down there. We just wondered what they thought of us. You know, here's this construction truck pulling a trailer and here' s me in the back seat playing an accordion," he said with a laugh.

Re-Arranging Walk Tall

Kinnett talked about the re-arrangement of songs. One in particular is the song "Walk Tall" that has taken on a whole new life on the No Better Than This Tour. The song went from an urban beat, acoustic sounding song with layers of vocals to a bar-room bluesy piano jam that sounds like it came right off of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. "John was rehearsing with the other guys minus Miriam and me for a week to get some of these arrangements together for this different approach. So they had already gotten together and worked out the basic groove of that song. Andy said that John want's piano on this. I've played a tack piano on a couple of tracks on Life, Death, Love and Freedom, but it's just not what I would normally go to for one of his songs. But it totally worked the way that we're doing it," he explained. "John said 'why don't we get a real piano.'" That would be Troye's assignment. For the next three days straight, he was on the internet looking for a piano. He had suggested to John that they get a Tom Thumb piano. Troye had recorded with a Wurlitzer Tom Thumb piano a few years ago. "It's two octaves short of a real piano, so it's a smaller piano and there were tacks on it and it just had a cool sound. So that's what I was looking for. We could have gotten a normal piano, heck there's one in John's studio, but I knew for this song that (Tom Thumb piano) was the way to go and sure enough we found one and got it going, and now it's in the show."

Check out Troye's solo around the 2:00 minute mark

Check out Troye's solo around the 1:40 minute mark

Kinnett said they had played the arrangement several times in rehearsal, but it didn't really come to life until they added the Tom Thumb piano to the song.

Troye has a solo in the middle of the song that has become a crowd favorite on the current tour. "I was kind of surprised about that. It pretty much worked, the only thing is that at first I didn't start out with the high...Jerry Lee (Lewis) piano solo. I didn't go aggressive with it. That was one thing he (John) noticed and he wanted it to stand out more when it came in so you could really hear a change. Once I did that, the arrangement was done."

Stepping Up and Contributing

Troye really made a positive impact on the sound of the Freedom's Road album, especially on the song "Jim Crow" where he implemented some very unique sounds. "That was a breakthrough moment because I wasn't really approaching anything, thinking outside the box, like I did on that one. A lot of those songs were really guitar driven, so I wasn't really taking the lead on a part. That song was the time. I needed to step up and think outside of the box on that part. For some reason it was the right time of the night. It just felt right. It worked right away, it was just like...whoa! It changed the song and set the mood and took it to a different place. From that point on, I felt like it was okay to try something that you wouldn't just normally hear on kind of a folk-rock song," he said.

Kinnett said John not only allows his band members the freedom to come up with new things like that, but he expects it out of them. "Everybody is responsible for their own part. There's times when he might start off right away and say 'alright, I want you to do this, whether it's an organ part, or a particular melody or whatever. But if he brings a song in and they're working on the guitar parts and drum parts, that's my time to be thinking what am I going to do on this song. And I need to jump in there and do what I feel is right, without just standing there and waiting on someone else to jump in there and say 'this is what you are going to play.'"

He's quick to point out that John does oversee everything. "In the end, there is nothing that we play on stage that he doesn't know about," he said.

Kinnett talked about the aggressiveness and power that he brought to the song Troubled Land. He played a studio B-3 organ on the album track. "That's another one of those songs where I had room for a big part. It just happened to be Andy (York), Dane (Clark) and me in the studio one night. There was all kinds of room for me to play that night without the full band there, so I just filled the space and as it turned out, it was like, wow, that just took it in a new direction, where now it's driven by the organ part," he said. The song ended up making the NCIS soundtrack, and being heard by many people. "It's just a blast to play."

"That song is an example of why I'm so glad they did the Life, Death Live and Freedom album. Some of those songs took on a new life when we played them live. That (Troubled Land) was one. Another one Kinnett is proud of is the live version of "If I Die Sudden." "If I Die Sudden"...I mean it just kills live, and it's because of the way we do it live. When we first started playing "If I Die Sudden" nobody knew it because the album wasn't out yet. But by the second chorus everyone was singing along with it," he said.

Preparing for a Tour

When it comes to deciding what songs are going to be chosen for a tour, the more songs there are, the more of a challenge it is to decide which ones are going to be done. "John decides what songs we are going to do. We kind of have some ideas about the order and how it might work. We spend a lot of time, probably more than any band, working on the flow of the show. John is really good at that...knowing what's going to work, when it's going to work. (On this tour) It seems to be working really well," Kinnett explained.

The first leg of the the No Better Than This tour received great reviews across the nation last fall. Troye said he's talked to people who have seen Mellencamp six or eight times live, who have said this is the best show they've seen yet.

Troye's wife might have described the tour best when she told him it was like watching a musical. "It takes you on these ups and downs. And you have to credit that to John for knowing how to put together a show." Sure enough it does work. It's upbeat at the beginning. Then it goes into the acoustic section, then it ends big. "I'm really glad it's set up for a theater. There's a lot of dynamics on the stage," he explained.

No Slowing Down

In the past few years, John Mellencamp has had several projects going on, some overlapping others. In the last four years, John has released three studio albums, along with a live album and a box set. He has also continued working on the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County project with Stephen King, and has toured constantly throughout that time period. On top of that, he was inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame during that time. "There are a lot of artists that just don't have a tour going like this. Some artists have had to cancel tours in the past year, so it's great to have something rolling right now that's so well received," Troye said.

Favorite Songs

A couple of Troye's favorite Mellencamp songs to perform include "Minutes To Memories" and "Check It Out." "When I started playing in this band, that (Check It Out) was always one of my favorite songs to play. Now that I'm playing piano, that might change, I love playing piano. But definitely "Check It Out." Troye said of all the Mellencamp songs they haven't done since he's been with them, he would like to do "Ain't Even Done With The Night" or "I Need A Lover" from the early stuff. "I don't know, I think "Forgiveness" would be a good one to do if I was choosing a recent song. I'd love to do that one...actually, I've done that one with a church group," he said. Troye said he talked to a guy who was going to work up "Forgiveness" for a Catholic Mass.

In His Own Time

When Troye's isn't playing with John, he does a lot of studio work and writes music for commercials. "I've always had some band thing going on, whether I'm doing theater shows, or playing with bands for corporate gigs. I don't do a lot of club work." He's also the music director at The Garden at Beef and Boards Dinner Theater in Indianapolis and has been doing that for several years.

When they are on down time with Mellencamp, band members don't see a lot of each other, but Troye says they keep in contact by email. "Just the other day Andy saw a review and sent it to me. So usually when we do contact each other, it's about band business. Let's face it, when we get back together, it's going to be nothing but us on a bus looking at each other," he said laughing. "Like anything it becomes a job. It's not easy, it looks like fun and it is fun when you're on stage, but the rest of it can be really tough. The traveling is tough. You really have to get into the groove. The last week of the tour, everybody is really ready to be home," he said. "But this is what we do and traveling is just part of it. That's why I love recording. Especially working at home on Pro Tools. I can work and look out the window and that's about as good as it gets. Right now is a good time because we tour for a few weeks then come home, then go back out. I'm able to travel, but not so much that I don't see my son growing up.

Looking Down The Road

John Mellencamp and his band are getting ready to crank up the second leg of the tour with the first of 33 dates on Feb. 3 in Lowell, Mass. They will play all over the country from New York City to Los Angeles. They will also be making a stop in Austin, Texas for the Austin City Limits live at the Moody Theater. One of the highlights for Kinnett will be the New York City stop, where the band will play two nights, Feb. 18th and 19th. "I'm really looking forward to Radio City Music Hall."

For more information on Troye Kinnett, check out his website at

« Last Edit: January 24, 2011, 09:56:52 am by sharonc » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2011, 08:43:00 am »

Radio City....looking foward to it also!   What a wondferful article, really enjoyed the behind the scenes info and getting to know Troye.....Thanks Sharon, continue to post these!
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« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2011, 10:26:56 am »

I really enjoyed this Band Member Spotlight.   As with all that goes on with, it's easy to see that a lot of work went into this.  Thanks all, for all you do.  I can't wait for Radio City Music Hall!
« Last Edit: January 22, 2011, 03:35:41 pm by marianne123 » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2011, 11:56:08 am »

Great job, Thad!  I really enjoyed that article and the pictures are great too!

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« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2011, 07:22:32 pm »

Great article!  I really enjoy watching Troye during a show!  Very cool to learn more about him.
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« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2011, 09:07:44 am »

Excellent article! I really enjoyed getting some insight into how the band crafts their sound. 

Troye's contribution to "Troubled Land" (especially the live versions) is one of my favorite sounds in John's recent music.
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« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2011, 12:42:40 pm »

What a nice piece of work. Thanks for sharing.

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« Reply #7 on: January 22, 2011, 07:11:30 pm »

Yes Thad, I too enjoyed the write up on Troye! Learned all kinds of things I didn't know.  Smiley   I look forward to your future looks into other Mellencamp band members. Wink
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« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2011, 11:50:38 am »

Thanks to Troye for taking the time to give this info to us! I love this kind of stuff about the band members, their rehearsals. Thanks to Thad for doing the excellent write up. I haven't got the time to watch all the clips right now but i will be back to see them. I have always enjoyed Troye's addition tho the band!

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« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2011, 02:48:22 pm »

Thank you for this insightful and lengthy article.  Really gives you some insight into the man and the talent.  Also loved the photos, very nice!!  Will watch the clips later but wanted to add my notes and thanks.
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