Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds

Interview: Brendan Kelly (Lawrence Arms) talks “Metropole,” move to Epitaph (part one)

**Featured photo from Z. Jacob Photography

“Metropole is the white, polite boys punk rock hip hop album”

It’s been almost a decade since the Lawrence Arms have put out a full length album.  In those 10 years, the lives of all three band members have changed. From fatherhood to cross country moves to changing labels, nothing seems to be the same for this Chicago trio.  I sat down with Brendan Kelly (bassist/vocalist) to talk about the ins and outs of the band’s upcoming LP release, juggalos and the aspect of aging gracefully.

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series. Brendan talks about being influenced by the Insane Clown Posse and what he looks like with his shirt off in part two of this interview. Click here for part two!

Kendra Sheetz: There were 8 years between Oh! Calcutta! and Metropole’s release and talk there might not be another Lawrence Arms album.  How did Metropole come into fruition after all that time?

Brendan Kelly: I guess the way it started was that I wrote a song called “These Pigs Seem to be Getting the Best of Me.”  It didn’t sound like a Wandering Birds song or a Falcon song. To me, it was a Lawrence Arms song.  I might have actually played it for Hear Nebraska. My buddy Andrew Norman is from Nebraska. He does this really cool thing where he travels around and he gets people playing in their natural habitat. I introduced it as a new Lawrence Arms song. Which, in retrospect was pretty presumptuous.  

Yeah, that was pretty ballsy.

I sent it to Chris and he shot back “You Are Here” almost immediately.  Then it was like “Hey man, if we had 2 more songs we’d have enough to do an EP.”  Then we had enough to do an EP and it just spiraled until we had enough songs to do a full length.  Then Epitaph got involved.  Next thing you know, we’re here and we’ve got a record.  The only reason we made a new record was because we felt that we had a new relevant perspective on what the Lawrence Arms are.  If we hadn’t thought this was good enough to stand up to our other stuff, we wouldn’t have done it.

Since Chris’ move to Portland put distance between you guys, how did the writing process differ this time around?

Strangely enough, it was a lot more collaborative this time than it has been.  I was writing a lot of lyrics but couldn’t put any music to them.  I’d send it to him and he would strip away everything except maybe one phrase.  Then, he’d write a song based on that.  For example, I wrote “Seventeener” and then Chris flew in to practice.  He knew the song from the demo, but he was like, “This is how that song should be arranged.”  When we were together all the time, we wanted to hold onto individual parts. And now that we’re so far apart, there’s a desire to reach across that aisle and finish each other’s sentences a bit. But, it was definitely the most collaborative record we have ever made in terms of song writing.  That being said, there is obviously a difference between my songs and Chris’ songs in terms of the way we both approach things.

You know there’s a whole Team Chris, Team Brendan thing that goes on, right?

That shit’s everywhere.  There’s a lot of “Team Chris for life.”  I can’t blame them.  I’m Team Chris. *laughs*

*laughs* Well you kind of have to be.  It would be a dick move if you were Team Brendan.

Yeah, I guess it would be. Fortunately, it’s never come up. *laughs*

I was wondering if there were any weird, shocking or diverse bands that inspired you guys while you were writing Metropole.

Well I mean, for a long time when I was on tour constantly with the Lawrence Arms, when I came home I wouldn’t listen to music at all.  It was really in the last two years that I started listening to music again.  I still listen to a lot of punk rock but now I listen to Ke$ha and Lady Gaga and a lot of hip hop.  But really, everything I’ve ever heard is relevant to influencing this record.  I know Chris listens to a lot of hip hop.  We talked a lot about it when we were making this record.  And while it might seem like a real stretch, Metropole is the white, polite boys punk rock hip hop album.  That’s why there are all the interludes between the songs and the sort of like back and forth vocals. It influenced how we arrange our songs, the song writing itself, those sort of melodies.  I would say that’s the interesting thing for Metropole.  I know it’s not our hardest record.  But hip hop isn’t always very hard.

You guys recorded this at Atlas once again right?

That’s correct.

How long did it take to make this album and were there any differences in the process?  

With this record, it was a lot faster.  Chris came in and had 18 days in town.  We did Oh! Calcutta! and it took three months.  There was this very relaxed atmosphere we’ve adopted in the past to get records done.  Because Matt (Allison) is our friend.  Atlas is around.  We’d just go in, do what we’ve got to do and leave.  This time we went in very focused.  Matt Allison, to his credit, worked long ass days.  We all came in a lot more prepared than we usually were.  I can say that Chris came in and just had every guitar part dialed in.  If you listen to the record, the guitar playing is just right on.  It was a really good experience.  I mean, even my shitty bass playing was way more thought out than it ever has been.

I’ve read that some musicians use specific lighting or fragrances to set the ambiance for recording.  Certain people go on diets because it’s supposed to bolster creativity.  Do you guys have any weird, eccentric shit that you do while you’re recording?

I do vocals with the lights off in the room.  I always have.  I guess there’s something a little self conscious about standing in front of a microphone and you’re the only one in the room.  The last thing I want to be doing is thinking about how I look.  And I guess I don’t eat dairy when I sing ’cause its bad for your throat.  But that’s not like a superstition.  That’s like a medical thing. *laughs*

I feel like Neil would have some weird thing that he would do.

Oh, Neil definitely has weird things that he does.  I don’t know what they are.  I guess it does bear mentioning that in the recording of Metropole there were only two beers consumed, both by Chris.  On the last night of tracking, we killed a bottle of Bullet.  But that was like once we got into vocals.  We started drinking the whiskey for backing vocals when our voices were a little bit cashed.  But for the entirety of the record, it was a stone sober experience.  

Is that new for you guys?

It’s not like we go into the studio and get totally wasted.  But it’s just really easy to sit around in there and drink beer all day because there’s nothing to do.  But this time, I was getting up at 6 with my kids, going to work, getting off at 5, going straight to the studio, being there by 5:30, recording til 3 in the morning, going home and sleeping from 3-6 and then getting up again.  So there was no way that I could drink at all.  I don’t want to oversell sobriety or drunkenness.  I don’t know if it had necessarily anything to do with the result.  But it was a pretty interesting experience.

So last year you guys signed to Epitaph. Were there any major transitions or any major changes that you had to go through booking tours, recording or distributing?  Was it an easy transition over from Fat Wreck Chords?

The only hiccup we had was that I had to call Mike and be like “Yo dude.  I think we are gonna do a record on Epitaph.”  Mike and I are pretty close and I respect and love him.  When Epitaph expressed interest in us, before I even responded to Epitaph, the first thing I did was call Mike.  I don’t think it would be possible for me to overstate the influence that Mike has had on me as a kid, as a young guy, as a grown up and now as a friend.  I was 12 and he was in my favorite band.  But then again, I was 12 and Brett Gurewitz was in my favorite band.  So it’s a pretty weird position to be in.  Fat has always been amazing to us.  The only thing was that we’ve already been a Fat Wreck Chords band.  How cool would it be to be an Epitaph band?  I mean, you go around in this world one time.  I just don’t think I could live with myself if it was like you had this chance to do this thing that you wanted to do so badly when you were a kid and you didn’t take that chance.

So speaking of Bad Religion, we’re gonna go off script here.  Have you heard the Christmas album?

I have.

What did you think?

This is all very relevant to what we’re talking about.  When I was first hanging out with Mike when I signed to Fat, he was like, “You want to know a secret man?  Brett Gurewitz let me in on this. You want a good melody?  Go to old Jewish folk songs. That’s what Bad Religion does and that’s what fucking NOFX does. You turn those things into punk rock songs and they’re awesome.  All this crazy minor shit.” Then Bad Religion comes out with a Christmas album.  They went all the way around!  But it sounds like Bad Religion just with songs about Bethlehem and shit in all this weird half step minor stuff.  I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Hell of a nut sack on Bad Religion to do that Christmas album  A band made up of Jews and Atheists doing a Christmas album?  *laughs*  There’s definitely some hilarious friction there.

Metropole is the Lawrence Arms’ first full-length record since 2006′s Oh! Calcutta! and follows up the band’s 2009 EP Buttsweat And Tears. The band is heading out on a slew of tour dates supporting the new record with The Copyrights, Nothington, Great Apes and Elway. Peep those dates here.

Pre-orders for Metropole are available using the link below. The album releases Jan. 28.

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