Knoxville singer/songwriter Stewart Pack has been making music for three decades now. He's released nearly half a dozen albums in as many years through his Locust Hill basement studio, and has recorded a staggering body of work throughout his career. He's done the solo thing, and has been involved with local bands like Pegclimber and the 1-900s. Pack has played, written, worked, recorded, and toured with the likes of Metric's Emily Haines, Guided by Voice's Doug Gillard, Sparklehorse's Scott Minor, and Superdrag's John Davis.
So it means something when Pack declares his latest project to be the highlight of his career. Currently at work on a three-song demo, homegrown supergroup Stewart Pack and the Silent Kays features a handful of musicians who have been long-time fixtures on the Knoxville indie music scene.
"This is, without a doubt, the best and most diversely talented group of players I have ever assembled," Pack says. "Each player is not only an ace at what they do, but we've all played for so long that it's just falling into place."
What's "falling into place" is an eclectic blend of guitar-driven rock, three-part harmony, and piano pop, with some classic country influences thrown in for good measure. It's definitively American, but not Americana. "For the past few years I've let a lot of old influences creep back into my music," Pack says of the Silent Kays' sound. "I grew-up during the FM era of rock and was raised on classic country.... We have a piano in the band now so it's leaning toward the Band/Don McLean bent on more of a Matthew Sweet/Tom Petty vibe."
Always a prolific songwriter, Pack has been cranking out one or two songs a week lately—a pace that can be attributed, at least in part, to the insidious horrors of DIY. "My hands gave out when we were building our house and it completely sucked," he says. "Sucked. It was like a loss in the family because there was something missing. I've had a guitar in my hand and a song in my head for 30-plus years and not being able to play left me with only being able to write songs, so that's what I did. I wrote songs I'd never written before like duets, stories about lovers, addictions, the new neighbors—one finger at a time with a Casio Genie chord and a tape recorder, as God intended. We're pretty much playing all-new songs so I guess there's an upside."
Stylistically, Pack's music has always been "all over the place," and still is. He's played in bands and written songs representative of a wide range of musical genres, from loud-and-rowdy guitar rock to country tunes and what he calls "silly stuff."
"These poor guys I'm playing with now were hit with about 60 demos, but I'm only excited about the three new songs that I've not finished yet, so I guess I move on pretty quickly."
Besides Pack, the Silent Kays' lineup features guitarist/vocalist and fellow songwriter Knathan Haliburton, also of the Leningrads and source of the Silent Kays name; professional composer Spencer Corden on piano and vocals; bassist Gregg Dunn; and drummer Jeff Bills. It's a collaboration born of mutual respect, longtime friendships, and a shared passion for making music. Pack and each of his newest bandmates have always enjoyed strong support from Knoxville's music scene, but he feels that now is a particularly good time to be a K-town rocker. Thanks to the rejuvenation of downtown and the Old City, Knoxville is enjoying something of musical renaissance.
"The Knoxville music scene has always been good to me," Pack says. "People are coming out to shows and I see new faces all the time. And as far as performers go, I'm continually amazed by some of what I'd consider ‘the board members' of the music scene—folks like Robinella, Todd Steed, Mic Harrison. Plus I recently saw/heard a live video of the Dirty Guv'nahs online and I was amazed by their performance and blown away by the recording. I'm stingy with props, but it was top-shelf."
With a demo in the works and several live performances coming up, Stewart Pack and the Silent Kays are poised to make quite an impression on the local music scene, and Pack is loving every second of it.
"I'm writing the best songs of my life, sharing them with my wife, Kimberly, and three kids and playing them with my friends," he says. "Sounds corny, but I'm pretty sure it beats having a needle stuck in my arm."