Q&A WITH LEAD SINGER WILLY BRAUN
Photo credit: Machelle Dunlop
You’ve been together as RECKLESS KELLY for 15 years, persevering through management and label changes, yet still bring the same solid, quality music your fans have come to respect you for. How does this new self-released album GOOD LUCK & TRUE LOVE reflect the new dynamics in the group, doing it now all on your own?
Willy Braun: “It’s been liberating to be able to call the shots and make all the decisions. We’ve always had a lot of control over our career and our music; we have never really had to compromise to the point where we felt it affected what we set out to do, which is make good records that we care about. We’re still doing that but we didn’t have to fight anyone for it this time. It’s a lot of work but it’s also more rewarding…at least on an artistic level. That’s the one area we have complete control over and it’s the most important thing to us.”
You discuss the changing climate in country music in the song “New Moon Over Nashville.” What inspired the sentiment behind the album’s song?
“I came up with the hook while crossing the street between Exit/In and Gold Rush in Nashvilleone night. There was just a sliver of a moon that night and the title just kinda popped into my head and I remember thinking it would be a good metaphor for the state of the Nashvillemusic scene. There are a lot of great musicians and a lot of great music in Nashvillethese days…always has been. Unfortunately, not much of it makes it past the guards anymore, but there is hope that someday people might be able to hear some real country music on country radio again. There are a lot of talented artists that have been shot down in MusicCitymore than once that keep plugging away and hoping for a brighter future. That’s what the song is about–the hope that one day we might see the slate wiped clean and the actual honest talent that lives in Nashville will once again rise to the top of the charts. Until then we’ll have to see them down at Robert’s and Tootsie’s playing for $20 a night.”
This album covers it all. You worked with Todd Snider to write “I Never Liked St. Valentine,” which is something everyone can relate to at some point in their life. You take an emotional topic and put a comedic twist on it, which certainly leaves an impression. Did this song come together easily?
“Todd [Snider] and I wrote that song inNashvilleand it actually did come together quite easily. I had a verse and a chorus written and most of the melody worked out. I wanted to see what Todd could do with it because he’s so good at taking a serious subject and making it funny without ruining the vibe or making it come off as corny. He’s a great storyteller and he isn’t hung up on form or making every little line musically perfect. Sometimes the best way to get a point across in a song is to just say it how you would in real life. Todd came up with the bridge while he was taking a leak. Not kidding…it’s verbatim what he yelled out the bathroom door to me. I have a tendency to take songwriting too seriously and writing with Todd was a good lesson for me in learning to loosen up a bit.
As far as the content, we just wrote down everything we knew about different saints and went from there. It’s pretty much a true story, right down to the line about St. Nick, ‘look it up, he used to run around with whores.’ We actually did have to Google that.”
Throughout your career much has changed, especially in the way of social media and connecting with fans directly through the Internet. You’ve embraced Facebook, YouTube and Twitter–and have now begun your weekly “Fan to Band” video episodes. How do you feel this helped the band?
“It’s a double-edged sword. The Internet has helped bring our music to people who never would have heard us or may not have been able to find out where we are playing otherwise. It’s opened a lot of doors for interacting with fans and keeping them informed and updated on what we’re up to. That aspect is great and it’s done a lot of good for independent bands like us. However, this technology also comes with a lot of competition. Pretty much anyone with a computer can make music in some way, weather it is on YouTube or Garage Band and they can take it online and get in front of millions of people. It used to take a lot more money, time and legwork to accomplish what is now done with the click of a mouse. The web is also replacing print and hard copies of newspapers, magazines and other outlets that used to be the way folks found out about bands like ours. Finding the new ways to use the Internet to our advantage is the tricky part. It seems like every time we have the new thing dialed in, it’s already obsolete. We have to stay on top of the changes and try to keep up, which is not always easy for someone who grew up without a phone or electricity!
The other thing that is seriously affecting live shows is a lack of attention spans in the audience. We (and other bands as well) see a lot of kids in the front row texting, taking pictures, tweeting, checking Facebook…it’s hard to get people to live for the moment and put their phones down and just watch a show. I hope people, especially kids, don’t forget what it’s like to have a really good time at a concert. No amount of instant gratification or high speed Internet can take the place of a kick-ass rock n’ roll show. That’s a fact.”
You guys spend a ton of time on the road. What is your secret for getting along?
“Being in a band is like being married to seven or eight people at the same time but without the sex. It’s a lot of give and take. You have to realize that people are people and they’ll have good days and bad days–you have to have thick skin and a short memory. If you’re on a bus with eight other guys and you can’t figure out who the asshole is, it’s probably you.
We’re lucky to have a group of guys that get along really well. We all have a great time together and we have a lot of similar interests. We’re a family and we spend more time around each other than we do our actual families so we’re pretty tight. The biggest criteria when we add a member to the team is this: ‘can we stand to be around this guy 200 days a year or will we have to kill him on day three?’”
Being brothers, does it make it tougher or easier to be in a band together?
“Most of the time it’s great. Cody and I have found out how to make it work. We’ve been playing music together all our lives, so we can pretty much tell what the other one is going to do before he does it, so it has a lot of advantages in a musical sense. I never have to wonder if he can handle a curveball on stage…he can. Sometimes we argue like brothers do, but he’s my best friend and the first person I turn to when It counts. It’s good to know someone always has your back and if you mess with one, you mess with the other. If the Motorcars [Micky and the Motorcars–Willy and Cody’s younger brother’s band] are around and you mess with one of us, then you’ve really got trouble!”
Describe your best night on tour, ever.
“One of my favorite memories of all time was way back when we first started the band in Oregonin what must have been 1996. We were playing four or five dates at the Yreka County Fair in CA. It was our last show of the run and we went on right after the rodeo let out. As people walked by the stage, they stopped to listen. Before long we had several hundred people watching. There were cowboy-types swing dancing, there were hippies twirling around, older folks just listening, youngsters stage diving and crowd surfing, and a bunch of crazy kids started a ‘friendly’ mosh pit. We’d only played a handful of gigs as a band at that point but that night something just clicked. We played better than we ever had before and it seemed like we were all sharing the same brain. I remember seeing so many different types of people really digging what we were doing. It was a pretty awesome feeling. I knew we were on to something.”
Describe your worst night (your Spinal Tap moment) on tour, ever.
“One night a long time ago inKetchum,IDwe were playing a club called the Roosevelt Tavern. We had the place packed and the kids were jumping all over the place. I got caught up in the moment and decided to try being a real rock star and got up on the monitor and assumed the power stance. I was really getting into it when much to my dismay, the monitor tipped over and I landed flat on my back, knocking over the mic stand and breaking a couple guitar strings in the process. Luckily I was still young and drunk enough to not seriously injure myself…except my pride.”
If you record a duet with an artist outside the genre of music for which you are known, who might that be and what song what you cover?
“It would be tough to say since our style of music crosses so many genres, but I’ve always wanted to do a duet with Emmylou. She’s the best chick singer of all time as far as I’m concerned. The song wouldn’t matter; if she said she wanted to do the ‘Hokey Pokey’ I’d say ‘Sure Emmy, what key?’”
What famous historical event would you like to have witnessed?
“The first time an independent band got some real national exposure. Oh, wait…still waiting for that one.”
Which music do you listen to on the tour bus?
“Everything. We all have huge record collections and we take turns playing DJ. We’ve been on a big Springsteen kick lately. Right now I’m listening to ‘Some Girls’ by the Stones.”
What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“’You never know which way a pickle is gonna squirt’ from my dad. And he was right. “