Interview: Reckless Kelly Reflect on ‘Sunset Motel’, Success and 20 Years in Music
Reckless Kelly have spent the past two decades in the music business, forming in 1996 and releasing their debut album, Millican, the following year. During the 2016 Americana Music Festival, the band caught up with The Boot to discuss their 20 years in the industry and their newest album, Sunset Motel.
While Reckless Kelly's sound has changed some over the years, they say that those changes have "been a long, slow progression," and that they've always tried to remain true to what drew their fans to them in the beginning.
"We never really tried to force the band in any real direction; we kind of just always tried to stick close to what we started out doing, you know, what people liked about us in the first place," the band says. "It's just 20 years of playing together and kind of growing up together, and we all have slowly taken on the same influences. It's just been a long, slow, gradual change."
In November of 1996, Reckless Kelly turned Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar in Austin, Texas, into a music venue and performed there regularly on Monday nights for almost two years. As the 20-year anniversary of those shows approaches in November, they've been taking stock of their career and appreciating the changes that they've gone through together.
"Just having that association with our 20-year anniversary and being able to -- once that number hits, you kind of see the career, whereas it's always been 'Keep doing shows, keep playing, keep touring' and all this," they explain. "It's not so much a tunnel, it's a little bit more looking at the field."
The five-piece group -- David Abeyta, Cody Braun, Willy Braun, Joe Miller and Jay Nazz -- started out living together, sleeping on the floor when necessary and spending long days in the van headed to gigs. They've come a long way since those days and are now able to make a decent living off their music -- a feat that they recognize is a dream for many young artists starting out now. In fact, one track on Sunset Motel, "Radio," touches on the subject of success; the idea for the song came from the band being asked / told / advised to get their music onto radio stations ("Like we didn't think of that!" they say with a laugh.)
"It's kind of making fun of people who didn't really put in all the time and do their homework and take the time to work on their craft. It's about the kids that just learn, like, four chords and go out there and start a band after they've written five songs and think they're just going to be rock 'n' roll stars," Reckless Kelly admit. "It's not just country ... It's pretty much [about] all music today. There's just so many people out there, and it's so saturated with people that really didn't take the time to listen to the people that came before them."
In the end, though, Reckless Kelly are happy with their level of success.
"We're really just glad to have a job," the band notes. "We've always just wanted to make a living doing this, and we never wanted to force the music into anything that was mainstream at the time ... It's nice to look back on the nine records we've made, and we're proud of all of them, and hopefully they'll still be relevant in another 20 years ...
"We've got a good enough fan base and loyal following to where we can make a living doing this and not have to sell ourselves out," they add. "What is success, you know? Is it selling out stadiums, or is it paying your rent?"
As with Reckless Kelly's two previous albums, Sunset Motel, which dropped on Sept. 23, was released via the band's own No Big Deal Records. Even when they were partnered with larger labels, the group was very hands-on when it came to putting together projects.
"That's kind of why we started the label is, we kind of found that we always were doing so much that we were kind of like, 'Let's just cut out the middle man because we're making most of the decisions,'" the band says, "and of course there's people doing a lot of the work, but we're always involved in pretty much every decision we've ever made."
Sunset Motel features 13 tracks, culled down from around 20 songs that Reckless Kelly recorded for the project; they'd written somewhere between 30 and 40 songs in total.
"Down the road, we'll probably do some kind of big collection, at some point, of a bunch of outtakes and demos and bootlegs," they share. "It's nice to have some stuff in your back pocket, too -- with the way the industry's going now, just to buy some time to be able to put some stuff out for fun or just for free."
Sunset Motel is named for its fourth track. The band chose that song as the title track for multiple reasons: For one, because it's "a strong song," but also because "it just kind of has a classic album sound to it."
"And every good band has had a 'motel' record at some point," they add with a laugh.
What is success, you know? Is it selling out stadiums, or is it paying your rent?
Reckless Kelly are known for their versatility; the group mainly plays smaller venues, but it's not uncommon for them to perform for a larger crowd either.
"Luckily for us, we can do that without changing the band because we can play honky-tonk stuff, or we can play rock 'n' roll, and mix it all together. That kind of keeps us on our toes, and I think it keeps the fans on their toes, too," the band says. "There's always people commenting about how they love the fact that we change the setlist up almost every night because they'll come see us 10 times without seeing their favorite song, and then that eleventh time, they finally get to see it. Those kind of things make a big difference when you play as much as we do."
They're happy to be considered a part of the Americana scene, too.
"It's a cool place to be because you get these really hardcore music fans, the people that listen to the lyrics, and they listen to every record, and they don't just pick one single off of iTunes and listen to that and then move on to the next band. It's real music fans that gravitate towards this genre," Reckless Kelly note. "The people that are in this scene, the musicians, are all -- there's a lot of integrity, people that just really are in it for the music and not the money."
Sunset Motel is available for download via iTunes and Amazon; CD and vinyl versions are also available). The band is currently on the road with Micky & the Motorcars -- which includes the Brauns' younger brothers -- with dates scheduled into November. For more information, visit RecklessKelly.com.
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