Interview: Brendan Kelly

Brendan Kelly - Photo courtesy of Brendan Kelly

Brendan Kelly – Photo courtesy of Brendan Kelly

Although he has been active in the punk rock scene since the early 90s, it is only recently that Brendan Kelly – known over the years for his roles in Slapstick, The Broadways, the Lawrence Arms and The Falcon – decided the pursue the route of a solo artist.

Interestingly enough, his newest endeavor, Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision or departure from his current bands, but rather something that just came out of his songwriting.

“I was just working on songs,” Kelly said. “And when they all came together…I kinda looked at them and was like, ‘No, this doesn’t seem like a Lawrence Arms record to me.'”

The result, instead, was “I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever,” a 12-song album released earlier this year on Red Scare.

Listening to Kelly discuss the album, there is an overwhelmingly relaxed and almost accomplished feeling to his words. But he admitted that there was initially a personal sense of insecurity surrounding its release.

“You know, I was like very antsy about the whole record coming out before it did, because…this record is a big departure for me,” he said. “It was a lot of work and there [are] times that I was like, staying up at night, like you know, pulling my hair out, freaking out about it. But, you know, ultimately I’m real happy with how it turned out.”

Now that his work has seen the light of day, Kelly shared that people generally seem to like it, and he even received positive reviews from people who weren’t familiar with his work in the Lawrence Arms. So it appears that his fears about a negative reaction were mostly unfounded, but he did take some time to talk about the lyrical content, perhaps the album’s most shocking quality.

Indeed, although Kelly is known for being a songwriter who speaks freely and not always about the most comfortable of topics, the content of his solo album covers topics that range from, in his words, “morbidly comic to shocking.”

“There’s the rich history of art studying the form of like the diseased mind. And it’s only when it’s music somehow that that suddenly becomes a taboo,” he said, explaining how people are critical of lyrics that make people uncomfortable. “[But] you can’t, like, get inside that perspective without being that perspective.”

He made reference to a favourite illustration of his, in which Dostoevsky’s protagonist in “Crime and Punishment” killed someone deemed to be of little worth, not only to do a favour to society but also simply because he could. No one, Kelly explained, assumed it meant that Dostoevsky himself wanted to act in the same way, but in music, many people assume that to be the case, that the words a musicians pens are entirely representative of what he or she thinks, feels, desires.

Kelly’s argument, then, is that just because he writes something questionable, it doesn’t mean he believes in what he writes. Rather sometimes he is pushing the envelope, just because he can.

“You are allowed – or should be – to experiment with different points of view and perspectives, even some that are like, sort of like unseemly,” he said. “[And if] it’s fucked up, [I] just push it even farther in that direction. That’s like the only way to do it to make it cool.”

This brings up another idea Kelly is particularly passionate about, which is pertaining to art and its purpose or place in society. More specifically, he referenced the idea that people not only judge the output of an artist, but also want to analyze the purpose of art and assign a specific meaning – something which shouldn’t necessarily be the case.

“There’s this overwhelming perspective that you have to have an answer for [the question of why you did something] and that answer can’t be, ‘I just thought it looked awesome’ – which is so completely fucked up and wrong. It’s like, that should be the only reason. That’s the motivator,” he said, pointing to the gut instincts and reactions that he believes should inspire art. “[Artists are] doing stuff because it looks cool. They’re doing stuff because it sounds cool. And the meaning will be imbued in the fact that they have a perspective and a point of view and that will come out in whatever they do and in whatever they think looks and sounds cool.”

Excusing himself from a tangent, Kelly brought the argument back full circle to say that this visceral-based ideology is what his own solo record was ultimately based on: doing something because it sounded cool.

“Fuck the notions of my intentionality and stuff like that,” he said. “My intentionality is to make a record that people want to put out and listen to, for whatever reason.”

Currently, Kelly is in the middle of a European acoustic tour with Dan Andriano of Alkaline Trio. After a positive experience doing the last Lawrence Arms European tour via train, Andriano and Kelly decided to take the same route on this one, largely in part because it’s new territory.

“That’s like what I’m the most excited about, is just…the different experiences of doing it [this],” Kelly said of the low-pressure appeal of taking trains around Europe and playing without too much additional equipment. “[Doing an acoustic tour is] not something I’m really particularly known for.”

He also cited the minimized costs of overhead and convenience as two motivating factors, plus the fact that driving often requires that a musician can’t hang out after the shows to drink and socialize with friends and fans.

“And that’s sort of the whole purpose of this tour,” Kelly said. “I’m just looking forward to getting to hang with everybody and kind of do a cool international tour on such a small and intimate level.”

To celebrate the tour, Andriano and Kelly recently released a split, aptly titled “European Vacation.”

“We got the seven-inch as kind of like a little, you know, like, real live momento,” Kelly said. “It’s something a little more than a t-shirt that we could bring.”

Of course, long-time fans of the two musicians and their various projects are in for a real treat, as Kelly and Andriano plan to not only play their own songs, but also one another’s. Kelly also insisted they will play some of the Falcon songs, but was a bit more of a naysayer when it came to the question of Slapstick.

“I don’t know how much anybody on this earth really wants to hear two 35-year-old men do acoustic versions of ska songs written by 16-year-olds,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like there’s any possible way that that would be good.”

And he’s probably right. As such, it’s a good thing that Kelly is moving forward, because he’s one of those musicians who manages to continually produce some of the most honest, unapologetic music in the punk rock scene today.

“I’m always gonna write stuff, and I’m always gonna wanna put it out and have people digest it…that’s just like a part of…who I am and what I do,” he said with a knowing laugh. “The most challenging part of it is also the saving grace to me which is that, like, you got nobody to blame but yourself.”

Brendan Kelly plays this evening at the Ramones Museum in Berlin. The show begins at 17.30. Tonight he will play a show with Dan Andriano at Roter Salon. The show begins at 20.00.

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