Change isn’t all bad. Having recently moved from Boston to Chicago, Fred Kelly can attest to that fact. In their new EP Still, Kelly finds solace in change. This deeply personal 3-track release reflects on transformation and acceptance.
The first track, “Untangled” is a healthy retrospective of a relationship that was worth having. How refreshing in a world of toxic relationships and explosive breakups to just be thankful for the time spent together–even when it doesn’t work out. Kelly sings /I’m a little more you/You’re a little more me/We’re sipping on honesty/You know it feels so good to be/A little untangled/. Romantic entanglements are often so messy–especially in songwriting (looking at you Alanis. “Untangled” gives one hope that sometimes paths can cross and uncross without all the DRAMA. /Yeah, it hurts that I’m not your match/ But I’m better for the times we had/No need to wonder what could have been/I know that I’ll love again/. Talk about healthy!
“Drive” is a mellow jazz progression that opens up into a pop ballad. Sometimes it’s good to be the one to take initiative. Drive is about those other times—when you just want to be gently and romantically seduced. /Baby, I want you to drive/I want you to drive /If you like to take the lead/I’ll be ready in the front seat/But I want you to drive/. Open communication, and being upfront about your needs–this EP is a masterclass in relationships, folks.
“Hands in Your Pockets” closes out this collection and it begins with one of the most poignant lyrics in the EP /I’ll know that I love you/When everyone wins/. Pizzicato strings, pedal-steel guitar, and delicate Rhodes organ accompany a dreamy acoustic ballad. /Me in your gloves/ And you, with your hands in your pockets/. Kelly’s voice is a comforting companion throughout Still. There’s a casual, conversational quality to their tone that carries through the entirety of this release and binds together elements of folk, rock, indie, and pop.
This EP is a bit of a departure from the guitar-driven power-pop of your past releases. What was the impetus for that change?
As a listener, I started to notice that the songs which grabbed me the most tended to bend genre conventions and make something new. I love finding music that makes me say “wow, I’ve truly never heard anything like this before.” So for “still”, I wanted to take more risks production-wise and let myself be weirder. One aspect of my music that I like to keep pretty traditional is melody, and in that sense the bones of these songs are closer to country songs than anything else. I tried to find the “weirdness” by wrapping these country melodies in electronic production and being more conservative with how I use electric guitar. Otherwise I can end up sounding a bit too Weezer. I’ll always be a guitar player at heart, but I think I make more creative decisions when I try to bring other sounds to the forefront.
Speaking of change, how are you adjusting to Chicago? Will you be playing many shows in the area in the coming months? What about touring?
Chicago has been wonderful! The artist community has been super welcoming, and there are so many opportunities for new bands to perform. I’ve been playing occasional solo acoustic gigs, and I’m working on a live setup with a laptop that captures some of the electronics from the EP. There’s a delicate balance between using technology to make things sound fuller and just singing karaoke, so I’ve been experimenting with what parts need to be live and what parts need to be backing tracks! I’m definitely ready to play more shows in Chicago, though no touring plans right now.
There’s a very diverse sonic landscape in Still. What was the recording process like for this EP?
Drive and Hands In Your Pockets were recorded in New Hampshire with my roommate Max Grazier, who’s an unbelievable producer and engineer. We stayed at his parent’s house for a week last June and recorded in pretty much every room of the house. One of my favorite parts of those sessions was coming up with a unified palette of electronic sounds to use throughout the EP. We used Mellotron sounds somewhere on every song, which is this quirky 60s keyboard instrument that mimics flute and violin sounds. But mainly we mined Ableton’s vast sound library for more delicate, softer textures that resonate with me. For Drive, Max also set up remote recording sessions with our friends Addy from Rat Tally and Cole from Macseal which was a huge honor.
Untangled I self-produced once Max and I moved to Chicago. I had a session with another producer friend I met in Chicago (also named Max!) to add some more layers, and these small background parts have become some of my favorite details on the EP. He played the beautiful pedal steel part on “Hands in Your Pockets” and also 12 string guitar. For all my previous music I’ve worked totally on my own, and it was a lovely experience to involve more people on “still”!
What artists are you particularly inspired by now? What do you listen to when you’re driving?
I’ve had MUNA’s new album on repeat lately. I think they’re making music that truly pushes music forward because even though their production is ambitious and experimental, their melodies are like top-40 catchy and their choruses always hit hard. Working with MUNA has been on my bucket list since I first heard them a few years ago. Naomi McPherson is a genius. Another musician I’m always inspired by is Jon Brion. He’s most famous for his film scores, but he has an under-the-radar solo album called “Meaningless” that’s Beatles-meets-00’s pop, and is a masterclass in building a signature sound world with quirky instrument choices. He’s the reason why I love the Mellotron! And many of the flourishes on “still” are inspired by his work.