Together for eighteen years, Reckless Kelly have never been a band to try to fit into a mold. They remain true to themselves and consistently produce complete albums that contain songs that are honest, thoughtful and connect with the fans. They have been on the road supporting their latest record, Long Night Moon, which was released in September and won a Grammy this past February. During their trip to the east coast last week, Willy Braun kindly took some time to talk about Long Night Moon, the changing music scene, and what's on their bucket list.
On May 11th, you guys hosted the Reckless Kelly Celebrity Softball Jam, which is now in its sixth year. It definitely seems like a good time for a great cause.
It’s hard to believe it has been six years already. The idea for the Jam started out when we were watching a game at Round Rock. We really just wanted to play some ball with our friends and the idea sort of snowballed from there; before we knew it we had a charity element involved. It turned out really well the first year, so we decided to make it an annual event. This year’s proceeds went to renovate Mabson Field in Austin. It's a really nice field in central Texas that will serve girls’ and boys’ little league so kids can get outside and play ball. We are extremely proud to have been involved with the renovation and with how great the field turned out.
It’s only a few days after the Jam and you guys are out on a six date run of the Northeast. Are you fully recuperated?
The Jam is the busiest day of the year, for sure, and a really good time. We get to see all of our buddies and play ball for a good cause, but I don’t play a whole lot, and definitely not enough to wear myself out. I coach, but it’s more of a logistical thing. You can’t really manage a team when there are so many shenanigans going on the field. I just have to make sure I have nine guys on the field, try to get people to stay heads up and get someone on deck. It's more of a mental exhaustion more than anything (laughing).
So if all musicians want to be athletes, who has the secret talent to make it happen?
None of us, we're all pretty lousy! (laughing) My little brother’s guitar player, Sunshine, he’s pretty good on the field; he hit a home run. The Whiskey Myers guys on Cody’s team were pretty good, but his team really didn’t show up this year. My team, the One Hit Wonders, won 19-7.
Switching gears from baseball to music. Congratulations on winning the Grammy for Best Recording Package for Long Night Moon in February. The packaging really is phenomenal, with so many details. How did the concept for it originate?
I came up with the glow in the dark idea and the overall concept, and they [the Dodd sisters from Backstage Design Studio] put it to paper. It’s terrific because you can give them an idea and they’re really good about coming up with even more details, transferring an idea to the actual product and making it something more than you ever thought it could be.
There is so much information on the packaging that sometimes I look at it and am like ‘wow, I forgot that was in there.’ We wanted to let people figure out the code for themselves [using the clues and the LED light], but if people wanted to find out more they could dig pretty deep because we put everything online for the fans.
NB. For an in depth article with the Dodd sisters on the creative process behind Long Night Moon, visit here.
In this digital age, what spurred you to put so much time, effort and creativity into album packaging?
Really, it doesn’t make as much sense as it used to because it is so expensive, but we still enjoy doing it. We have always considered album covers and their packaging as a part of the artistic process. For us, it is important to have a complete album with a cool cover and a concept around it. We hope it encourages people to buy the actual product instead of stealing it or burning it.
The album has been described as a concept record, and a traveling album, but is it also an homage to Idaho?
Yea, for sure. I wrote most of the songs up there in Idaho at my place. It’s all about travelling and most of it is about getting back to Idaho. It’s pretty autobiographical, but there is enough in there that I think people can make it their own story. I don’t really want to tell anyone what it’s all about, but there’s definitely a lot of stuff in there that I took from spending time and writing in Idaho.
Since you guys are adopted Austinites, did you get any slack for it being so Idaho-centric?
Nah, and I don’t really care if I get slack or not. I’ve been in Austin for half of my life. I love Austin and I love Idaho and I spend a lot of time in both places so you know, if anybody gets offended then, tough.
If you compare Long Night Moon to other Reckless Kelly records, it’s also pretty quiet.
It’s one of the most mellow things we’ve ever done. It’s a little different than a normal Reckless Kelly album, but you can’t really go out and make the same record ten times. You have to try to mix it up a little bit. Of course there are a couple rockers on there to keep the rockers happy, but the whole concept worked its way into those songs that ended up fitting really well together. We didn’t intentionally tweak or shape the record into something that wasn’t working naturally.
You also wrote everything yourself. Do you prefer to write independently?
I have co-written with Micky [my brother] and a couple other people here and there, but due to scheduling it's hard to nail people down and actually get together and write. Most of the people I would like to write with are on the road a lot, like we are, so I don’t do it a lot or make a huge effort to get it done. I guess it’s really not my thing, but I don’t mind doing it every once in awhile.
A song on the album, "Irish Goodbye," seems to pick up where "Seven Nights in Eire" left off.
Yeah, it kinda does. It's sort of a part two. Really though, it’s more that I just like that phrase “Irish Goodbye,” which means leaving the bar without telling anybody. You just sneak out without anybody seeing you, so it’s kind of like a comedy to me, even though the melody isn’t.
“Any Direction but Her," which is a bonus track, seems to fit the theme of the record. Why wasn’t it included as part of the album?
I had the album sequenced and ready to go before we even finished recording. I knew that it didn’t really fit in the sequence and pretty much knew it was destined to be a bonus track. Long Night Moon was actually going to be a ten song record. “Be My Friend” wasn’t going to be on there either, but it turned out really cool, so we figured out a way to slide it in there.
“Be My Friend” is said to been inspired by you looking into the crowds and seeing people constantly on their phones, which is sadly pretty commonplace these days.
Being on your phone has become sort of the "thing" that everybody does. I'm guilty of looking at it too, but if you're out somewhere or talking to someone, then it becomes rude and you should put it down.
At shows, I don’t really mind people taking a few pictures at all, it’s more about the people that are just standing in the front row tweeting, texting or checking their Instagram; that kind of stuff. Then there’s some people that will stand there and film the whole show or take a thousand pictures. You know the people who, when you go to the front of the stage they get their camera out, and by the time they get it out, you’re gone. To me, they’re too busy trying to get a photo rather than enjoying the moment. It bothers me, but I also feel sorry for people who can't live in the moment; it’s really their loss.
The band recently passed 200,000 “likes” on Facebook. How important is a social media presence to Reckless Kelly?
We don’t do a ton of it, but you have to because it helps the band. It’s important because it’s one of the only ways to get your product out there. No one reads newspapers or hard copies of anything anymore, it’s all apps and the internet and blogs.
Jazz [Jay Nazz, RK drummer] and Neil [RK office manager] really do the social media. I post the set lists and go on Twitter every so often. We used to do some YouTube videos, but not lately because of the time it takes. We film a ton of stuff, but when it comes to getting it done, well, we slack on that part because of the editing, which none of us are really good at. Every once in awhile we’ll get on a kick, but we have so many irons in the fire that it’s tough to stay on top of that kind of stuff. I need to get back into that on a more regular basis.
Since you guys started out, a lot has changed in the business. Specifically, how has touring changed for you guys in the past few years?
Well, getting a bus changed everything as did gaining a full time crew. It gives us a lot of time to work on the show or get a little bit of sleep. We also try to be smarter about how we tour. We play a little less because we have control over where we play and where we want to go. There are definite places that we are going to play, but as our fan base continues to grow we will branch out and play new places or return to the same town and move up to the bigger clubs. There is always going to be room for growth.
The music coming out of Nashville has also changed quite a bit. Has the Texas music scene changed as well?
There is still a lot of great new stuff coming out, but a lot of the music is getting watered down. It’s not as bad as Nashville, but there are so many new bands coming up that are just trying to emulate what’s popular. That’s just like any music scene though, whether its rock, country, or grunge; when something’s popular there will always be a bunch of bands trying to jump on the bandwagon and do the same things. There are also Texas artists who have the whole "Nashville sucks attitude," but then they go out and do the same thing [they complain about], use the same producers and write the same songs.
We just want to continue to make music and records that we’re proud of and put on shows that we would want go see. We would rather put ten good songs on an album instead of one song for download and nine songs for filler. Lyrics, too, are really important to us. We don’t put in the time and effort into making it commercial really because it comes back to same the problem where if you try to do what’s popular now nobody is going to like it in two years. We want build our fan base, and part of doing that is keeping your fans knowing you’ll be consistent and make quality music.
After eighteen years, are you where you expected to be and where you want to be?
I don’t know; it’s hard to say. We always want to keep getting better, play bigger rooms and sell more records, but we’re really happy with where we're at. When you start out you always think you’re going to be the Beatles, but as it goes along you realize there is never going to be another Beatles. We really always just wanted to make a living doing this, so as long as we can do that we’re happy, you know. It’s always icing on the cake if anything beyond making a living happens. The love of the music keeps us going. We have a lot of fun on the road, and we all enjoy what we do. There’s a lot of easier ways to make a living. If we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t be doing it.
A goal of ours was to have a bus and a crew, which we have now and they are things we don’t take for granted. We have gotten to play some really cool rooms, as well as play with our heroes and record songs with people we look up to. Those are the things that are important to us more than making money and getting recognized at the airport, although bartenders tend to recognize me (laughing).
Reckless Kelly will celebrate twenty years together in 2016. Have you thought about what you might do or is it too far out to think about?
We are starting to talk about doing something; maybe an anniversary anthology type album with a bunch of live songs, demos, B-sides and stuff we never released. We have a lot of ideas, but we need to sit down and start throwing out the bad ones and moving forward with the good ones.
In addition to everything else you have going on, you also produced your brother Micky’s [Micky & The Motorcars] new record.
We just finished up with that. It was sent out to mastering and should be released in late July. They funded the record with Kickstarter, which was really the only way they could have gotten it made. It worked out really well for them; they had a lot of support and surpassed their goal. I don’t know where that stuff was years ago when we were broke trying to scrape up ten grand to make an album!
Being that you, as a band, are independent and have your own label, would you ever consider taking on other artists?
We have talked about that. There are a couple acts we’re looking at working with, but we are not really sure how much work we’re able to take on as far as expanding the label. We wouldn’t do it for anything that we weren’t absolutely in love with because it would be a lot of work. Something might end up happening in a year or two but there is nothing too concrete right now.
You guys have had some pretty cool experiences over the years. Do you have any bucket list items?
I do have a bucket list. You know, it’s funny because a lot of stuff ends up happening where you’re like ‘that was pretty cool, I never even thought to put that on my bucket list’ so I put it on there after the fact and cross it off. (laughing). One thing we want to do is perform the National Anthem at every ball park in the country. There are thirty parks and we have sang at eleven of them. Nineteen more to go; so we’re working towards that one.
Can you recommend any up and coming artists you think are worth a listen?
Sure, there are quite a few. The Peterson Brothers are really young guys, teenagers, who play blues and are just good beyond their years. Also our friend Dani Flowers from Nashville, who is a great songwriter with a great voice. And of course, Sons of Bill from Virginia who are really good guys who we have done some shows with.
Besides Jay’s infamous streaking incident, do you have a memorable road story?
I always point to that story because it’s a good one. Most of the stuff that happens on the road happens at 5am. It’s hard to pinpoint because there are always shenanigans going on, it’s like a circus every day and a never ending story that keeps building.
But, it's funny because everyone always asks that question, so I think I should definitely have a few answers ready in my back pocket.
Reckless Kelly plays the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on June 1st. Get your tickets here.
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Listen to "The Last Goodbye" below.