In the fall of 2019, after more than 20 years of performing on local stages, singer-songwriter Kevin Aldridge needed a break. At the time, Kevin Aldridge & The Appraisers were a regular fixture on local marquees, with a string of EPs and a loyal fanbase who would show up most times to hear the band’s brand of heart-heavy Americana, but for the sake of his mental health, Aldridge knew he had to put the gigs on pause. He still intended to work on new music with the band, but then the pandemic rolled around, thereby cooling even those abridged ambitions.
As life moved on, Aldridge’s band drifted ever farther in the rearview mirror, yet he kept writing, and as time wore on, he began to jones to play live again.
With new material in hand, he hit up some of his old bandmates. What might have been another iteration of the Appraisers soon became its own thing, the five-piece rock ’n’ roll outfit Hotel Satellite.
Like most artists, Aldridge has written songs as a way of dealing with the various emotional and mental malaises concomitant to being a human stuck on Planet Earth. More simply put, music is as much therapy for him as it is creative expression, so, for him, quitting performing was a big deal.
“I told the band my anxiety for being in public was not in check and that I wanted to transition to writing a record with them instead of gigging,” Aldridge said. “We started doing that, but the world shut down, and we didn’t see each other for a long time. But when I got the group together again, I was really committed to writing and gigging. I had a lot of ideas and had maxed out what I could do on my own at home.”
Aldridge, along with guitarist Steffin Ratliff, keyboardist Robert “Maui” Miller, drummer Neil Saunders, and bassist Chuck Brown, began jamming again in the spring of 2022, though this time around, they weren’t just working out Aldridge’s solo songs into full-band versions.
“I didn’t want to feel like, ‘Oh, everyone is getting their band back together post-pandemic,’ ” he said. “I felt like it was an opportunity to try something new.”
For Aldridge, removing his name from the band’s moniker was a reflection of his desire for the project to be more of a group effort rather than his songs performed with backing musicians. “Honestly, we could’ve changed the band name into something more collaborative five years ago.”
And anyway, Hotel Satellite sounds distinctively different enough to qualify as a new project or at least the next logical progression from the Appraisers.
In the beginning, Aldridge said, Hotel Satellite was “a continuation of the Appraisers, but now we only play one of those songs. In some ways, it’s the same band because it’s most of the same guys, but we were way rootsier back then than we are now. [Ratliff] and I have gone out of our way to write away from Americana, certainly when it comes to guitar textures.”
Still, the lush, stacked chords and heavily fussed-over guitar tones that fill Hotel Satellite’s songs will be familiar to anyone who’s followed Aldridge’s bands — before Hotel Satellite and the Appraisers, there was Chatterton and Brasco, and both expressed their melancholy in the vein of Tom Petty’s “You’re So Bad” filtered through the Jayhawks and R.E.M.
“It’s not unfair to say it’s a second phase of the Appraisers,” Aldridge said, but Hotel Satellite also reflects what he was doing during his break from playing shows: making music for his podcaster friends. “I did one for a pay-per-view wrestling show called Black Label Pro. It was a silly cover version of ‘Space Oddity’ because the host is an ex-UFC fighter named Filthy Tom.”
Essentially, the podcast tracks — Aldridge also knocked out a hilariously great version of “1-800-Bartend” for one of them — sharpened his ear for writing hooks. “It was like I was writing commercial jingles, but it made me play a lot of guitar, and that’s been a big part of what we’re doing” in Hotel Satellite.
Another big part: He and Ratliff are now writing partners. In the past, Aldridge’s songs would have been given heft by Ratliff’s solos, but these days, as Aldridge has become more confident in his own leads, Ratliff has been happy to turn his attention to rhythm parts.
Ratliff, Aldridge said, is “having more fun coming up with the supporting vibe. He’ll give me a demo and be like, ‘OK, this is where you play something fuzzy and out of control,’ and I’ll send him a demo with a lead, and he’ll work out his version or just be like, ‘I think you should just play it like that.’ At one point, he sent me something with a slide part, and I don’t play slide, so I just slathered on the effects and learned to play my version. And the result is what it is. There’s no getting your feelings hurt about it.”
Four of those demos have found their way into a studio situation. Last year, Hotel Satellite recorded four tracks with Joel Raif at Niles City Sound, and the first, the single “I Don’t Know Where to Start,” will be released to streaming services on June 16. The band’s live sets draw from almost 30 songs — some are covers, most are new, and only one is from the Appraisers’ days.
“I think we’ve gotten to the point now where we aren’t tinkering so much … where we don’t really want to revisit old stuff,” Aldridge said. “We have a lot of unrecorded Appraisers stuff, but we’ve kind of decided to just write new songs.”
Aldridge said he’s also going to release a video for “I Don’t Know Where to Start,” which is another first for him and also a little surprising from a musician born in the early ’70s who came up at the same time as MTV. But more than anything, he really wants to play live shows, an aspiration for which a Hotel Satellite single is particularly relevant.
“I wanted to put it out there because I want to play more shows,” Aldridge said. “It’s basically a booking tool. It’s not like we’re putting a record out on a label. Touring isn’t really a thing with this, but I’d like to do more regional stuff and maybe some out-of-town gigs.”
At least for the next few weeks, Hotel Satellite’s calendar is well-marked, with shows at Lola’s on June 16 with the Taylor Young Band and Spring Palace; a three-set marathon of a gig on June 17 at the Jaxon Beer Garden in Dallas; and then the Double Wide in Dallas with Son of Stan on June 23. While nobody’s anxieties every truly go away, that Kevin Aldridge is hitting the stage with his band again is proof that they can at least be kept at bay by doing the thing you love the most.