Being a military brat, and having moved a fair number of times during my childhood, I missed out on a lot of time with my grandparents. One set lived in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, the other in Southern Mississippi, and after leaving Mississippi at the age of four for California, I never lived fewer than eight hours away from either pair. In fact, with my dad taking two tours of duty in Germany during my teens, I was an ocean away for six years.
Looking back, I cherish the way I was able to grow up, living around the country and the world, but there is a regret there, an envy, when I hear from friends who were able to grow up closely surrounded by their extended families.
Nashville based songwriter Chris Kessenich took inspiration from his grandfathers, both named Art, for his latest project. Arts Fishing Club, named for the time Chris spent on the water with his grandfathers, released the first part of its debut record, Human, late last month.
Human I is the first of a two part song collection featuring jangling guitars, equally soaring and contemplative keys, and introspective lyrics highlighting the lessons his imparted to Chris at the feet, and behind the reel, of his grandfathers.
I recently caught up with Chris to chat about grandfathers, the new record, and life lessons learned from fishing.
BRO – Fondest memory of those fishing sessions with your grandfathers?
CK – Unfortunately, my dad’s father, Colonel Arthur Kessenich, passed when I was in fourth grade. I literally only have one or two memories of him and one of those was him teaching me how to fish off a dock at a cabin in Wisconsin. The fishing connection with him is particularly meaningful, as it represents 50% of my memories with him. My other grandfather, Arthur Schmidt, used to take my cousins and me up to Canada fishing. I don’t know that there is one particular memory that sticks out. Just getting to spend that much time with people you love doing nothing but slaying pike and walleye. Those were some pretty special times.
BRO – Fly fishing? Spinners? Preference?
CK – I’m so enamored by fly fishing, but I am god-awful at it. We grew up fishing on the lakes in Wisconsin, so it’s primarily spinners, spoons, bucktails, and jiggin’. To be completely honest, I’m a pretty terrible fisherman relative to all my cousins. I’m the guy that will be in the boat and everyone else will have caught four big ole boys and I’ll have lost my one hit. I think I’m better at singing and drinking. Things have been better in recent years, but that is probably why my grandfathers’ philosophy – it’s not what you catch, but who you share it with – has resonated with me so much.
BRO – Human is coming out in two volumes. Is there a particular theme that defines this first set of songs and sets it apart from the upcoming second volume?
CK – The subject matter in both parts of Human covers a lot of emotions and ideas, so I wouldn’t say there is a particular theme, except for the exploration of what it means to be human in this day and age. Human I is much darker in lyrical tone. Human II is less lyrically intense, though it still has its moments.
BRO – We are featuring “Icarus” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
CK – “Icarus” was written to be a bit ironic or satirical. Whichever one, I always screw those up. The story of Icarus in Greek mythology is about hubris and excess. When I wrote the song, I was looking back on a time in my life that was marked by partying and undue excess. It’s supposed to feel like a party song that gets you dancing, because that’s what we’re doing. We’re partying. But when you start peeling back the layers, you’ll find it is more of a critique than a rallying call or manic party tune.
BRO – Flash forward to your first time fishing with your own grandchild. What’s the first lesson you impart?
CK – Well, that’s a fun though to entertain. Suddenly, I’m grinning from ear to ear. I think I’ll steal from my grandparents. That taught me that fishing is about casting over and over again, coming up empty-handed and doing it over anyway. And if we don’t catch anything, we haven’t wasted our time. I think that fishing is such an amazing metaphor for creativity and life. I’d want that lesson to sink in. Either that or make sure you know what’s behind you before you cast the hook!
Arts Fishing Club’s tour schedule is pretty quiet until December, when fans can catch the band in Nashville and NYC. Until then, be sure to check out the band’s website for tour updates and how you can get your hands on Human I and the forthcoming Human II.
Make sure you take a listen to to “Icarus,” along with new tunes from The Brother Brothers, The Watson Twins, Greta Van Fleet, and many more on this month’s Trail Mix.