Up the Chain favors Philly after national tour

Reed Kendall went from making albums at 13 to playing on WXPN’s stage.

Reed Kendall of Up the Chain reflects on the success of his musical career. | COURTESY Randex Communications
Reed Kendall of Up the Chain reflects on the success of his musical career. | COURTESY Randex Communications

On warmer nights in South Philadelphia, Up the Chain’s folk music will fall to the street from frontman Reed Kendall’s roof.

“I play a lot of house shows,” Kendall said. “Recently I’ve been putting together shows on my roof.”

On Nov. 1, Kendall will release his second album under the moniker Up the Chain, titled “Seeds and Thorns.” Produced by Bill Moriarty, partially responsible for producing albums by Dr. Dog and Man Man, the album features what Kendall described as “not a change in sound, but more mature songwriting.”

While songwriting is one of the ways Kendall distinguishes between Up the Chain’s debut and the upcoming release, his vocal style is another standout. Kendall has a powerful, clear voice which sets him apart from the alcohol-and-cigarettes throats that are popular in the folk genre. This doesn’t stop him from changing things up, however.

“[Moriarty] heard me playing the songs in between takes, singing them quieter, and it stuck with him,” Kendall said.

The result caused recording the tracks to sound just like that.

A standout on the new album, “For to Give Away,” features this new vocal approach.

“It’s the first song I ever wrote on piano,” Kendall said. “I was goofing around on the piano where we made the first album [“Holy, Open, Drying Road, Toy Soldiers”]. I had the piano part for a year before the lyrics.”

Kendall got involved in music at a young age.

“Writing songs is something I always have done and always will do,” Kendall said. “I picked up a guitar when I was 12 and I started writing and recording right away.”

When Kendall was 13 years old, he put out a four-track CD of original songs. He used one of the songs from that CD as a hidden track on Up the Chain’s 2011 debut.

“It’s funny because there’s two minutes of silence,” Kendall said. “And then all of a sudden, somebody who sounds like Tracy Chapman came on.”

While Kendall mocks his formerly high-pitched voice, not many other 13-year-olds put out albums of original songs.

As far as influences go, Kendall said he draws inspiration from Bright Eyes.

“‘Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground’ is one of my favorite albums,” he said. “Conor Oberst is my favorite songwriter.”

However, his music is not in the same vein. Up the Chain’s sound favors more soulful and upbeat qualities rather than the melancholy crooning of Bright Eyes.

Even though songwriting was always a huge part of Kendall’s life, music did not become a career choice until he was 24 years old.

“I worked as a caddy for a while and would write songs on the job,” Kendall said. Up the Chain came into being as his project and has no set band. “Some people play in it for longer than others – it’s really just about whoever’s available,” Kendall said.

In support of “Seeds and Thorns,” Up the Chain will play shows up and down the East Coast for the next two months.

“I have a college booking agent, so we make billions of phone calls and put it all together,” Kendall said.

This is one of the more extensive tours he’s been on, most of them being two week stints.

Kendall grew up in Ardmore, Pa., and has based his life in the Philadelphia area, in part due to his father, Phillip C. Kendall, a psychology professor at Temple.

When asked about plans for the future, Kendall doesn’t express any other desire but to write songs and be in Philadelphia.

“I’m starting to build a studio in my basement,” Kendall said. “I’d like to be in Philly when I’m not touring. Philadelphia is where I feel the most grounded.”

Kendall’s next show in the area will be on Oct. 16, at WXPN’s The Porch at 30th Street Station.

Andrew Griffin can be reached at andrew.baerd.griffin@temple.edu.

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