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SoundCheck: Andy Havens Takes Inspiration from Character Studies, Real and Otherwise

Courtesy of Andy Havens

Andy Havens is scheduled to perform on KSMU’s Studio Live August 9 at noon.

“I like character-driven songs. I can get into the mind of a character and explore some things that I find interesting,” said Havens.

Havens has been writing songs since he was 14 years old. That’s long enough for him to know what he’s after when he sets out to write.

“I might read something, or something catches my eye, especially people – people that I know – and relationships that I’ve either been in or I am observing. And it’s usually the more dysfunctional ones that attract me more than the mundane. Y’know, the grotesque is more interesting to write about,” said Havens.

For this episode of SoundCheck, we’re going to take a look at three of Havens’ songs and how the characters take center stage.

The song “Fighter Pilot,” off of his self-titled debut solo album, explores the demise of Havens’ real-life marriage. This recording features Kristi Merideth on vocals.

“It’s really based on one of my past relationships that I have sort of visualized as a fight between two World War I fighter pilots in a dogfight kind of thing,” said Havens.

Some of his songs have autobiographical qualities, but a lot of it is fictionalized.

“It’s dramatized, a dramatization of bits of reality, maybe. Some of them are fiction, pure fiction. My mother doesn’t believe me. She heard the second album and her comment was, ‘Very honest, Andy, you’re very honest,’” said Havens. (22)

“Love Bomber,” a song off of Havens’ second album, Strong and Devine, looks at a relationship he observed in a friend. The title term is a tactic that abusive narcissists use to manipulate relationships. They show extreme affection and love to their victims in order to make gains, such as tapping into the victim’s finances, as in this example.

“Y’know, you can be married to them, you can share finances, you can have a baby with them. Love them unconditionally. And then you can also just really hate them. So much that you want to do them harm. The extremes are incredible to me and so I always wonder if that’s maybe two sides of the same coin, maybe that’s the same emotion,” said Havens.

Our last stop on this character journey takes us to outer space. “Mindy in Space” is Havens’ latest release

Credit Jessica Balisle / KSMU
Andy Havens in the KSMU studio

and draws inspiration from a variety of sources.

“I had been listening to ‘Caravan,’ Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan,’ at the time and I was – think Duke Ellington is great – but, I was fascinated by all the different versions of ‘Caravan’ that were out there,” said Havens.

Also on his mind was the idea that sometimes people forget the value of what they already have. That you can search the whole world over for something better, but the best thing is often right here at home. Combine all of this with the real-life Mindy – Mindy Kilgore – and you’ve got a song.

Kilgore is a local model and friend of Havens. While Havens was brewing the song, she showed up in an R2D2 t-shirt and he decided to put Mindy and the song in space.

“She’s on planet Earth and then she leaves for a voyage looking for something better. And she’s disillusioned with the Earth and the Earthlings and everything. But, she realizes in the end, she has a turn around, she comes back home,” said Havens.

Through characters, Andy Havens can explore any human emotion. These characters then give us, the listener, the chance to explore emotions and ideas that might be unfamiliar to us. Or maybe they’re the most familiar.

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. When she's not wrangling operations and compliance issues, she co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.
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