DS Exclusive: Brendan Kelly on the first Falcon record in a decade…and so, so much more

There are a few ways to handle the composition of an interview introduction. Generally speaking, I’ll spend 500-1000 words composing a rough sketch of a story, that does its best to highlight the noteworthy parts of a conversation. This is not most interviews.

Brendan Kelly has long been one of the more enigmatic personalities in this little scene of ours, whether in real life via bands like Slapstick and The Lawrence Arms and The Wandering Birds and The Falcon, or, more recently in the virtual world (is “virtual” still a word?) that is Twitter, where his personal and Nihilist Arbys accounts are must-follows. The latter of the above-mentioned bands, The Falcon has reformed, adding Dave Hause to the already vaunted lineup that included Kelly, his fellow Lawrence Arms bandmate Neil Hennessy, and, of course, Alkaline Trio’s Dan Andriano. On March 18th, the new lineup will release the band’s sophomore followup to their 2006 debut, Unicornography, which remains the largest-selling album in their label, Red Scare Industries, decade-long history. The new album, Gather Up The Chaps, which is a dozen tracks that are just as weird and twisted and awesome and dark and depraved as you’d hope for.

So there. There’s your intro to our interview, because this one stands alone. Without engaging in too much self-congratulatory ball washing, it’s smart, it’s funny, it’s a little strange, it takes some unexpected turns. We spend a lot of time talking about the origin, and rebirth, of The Falcon, the different elements that Andriano and Hause bring to the songwriting table, and Tyler The Creator…and Dostoevsky…and killing hookers and leaving them under the crawlspace. Because you’d expect nothing less.

Check out our interview below, and pre-order Gather Up The Chaps here.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): It’s probably cliche to congratulate you on making a new album, but I’ve been listening to Gather Up The Chaps pretty regularly for the last couple weeks, and it’s pretty killer, I love it. It’s a really, really fun album.

Brendan Kelly: Oh man, thank you so much, dude. I appreciate it. There’s so few people that have heard it (*laughs*). And because it is my kind of stupid brain that made it, I went through a long period of time where I thought “this record rules!” And then right as everybody was about to start hearing it, I was like “oh God, this record sucks!” (*both laugh*) So it’s really a pleasure to hear that you’re enjoying it; I appreciate that.

I mean, I can’t really listen to it when my wife and kid are around…or at work…but otherwise it’s a really fun album.

That’s the thing, when Toby (Jeg, Red Scare Industries) and I were discussing it, he’s like “do you mind in the press release if I say this is the kind of record that you have to hide from your mom?” And I thought, “oh my God, dude, it really is! That’s amazing!” That’s the greatest compliment I could ever hear!

In that way, it brought me back to a friend of mine copying a 2 Live Crew tape for me in like 1990 and labelled it “The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Album” or something like that so I wouldn’t get caught (editor’s note: sorry mom!).

Hahaha! That’s awesome!

All right, down to business. You guys officially got back together like a year-and-a-half ago for the 10th anniversary party for Red Scare.

Yes, exactly. And that was intended to be a one-off thing, but it just happened to be so fun that we decided that we should be a band. You could very much equate it to a one-night stand that went really well. Once we got off stage…and when we did that show, by the way, we had never played together. We stepped on stage at the Metro in front of like 1500 people for a headlining show and we had never played together. We hadn’t even rehearsed.

Not even a rehearsal with Dave?

Yeah, exactly.

That’s crazy!

Oh, yes it was! It was crazy! But I feel like so much of the cool mythos of The Falcon as it evolved the sort of wacky bad ideas or whatever. And we managed to pull through it and it became a cornerstone moment.

How did Dave end up getting involved? He had obviously been around and pretty active at the time; did he seek you guys out or did you go find him?

Well, (it was) when I knew we were going to do the show. Toby who runs Red Scare with me…actually…I should say that “Toby who runs Red Scare, of which I’m also a small part,” to put it much more accurately, he said “dude, you guys are the reason the label started, you have the biggest selling record ever on the label, you have to headline this show.” And I was like “well…see if Danny (Andriano) will do it.” Because I wasn’t going to do it with a scab lineup. To headline the Red Scare 10 Year show, it’s gotta be right or we couldn’t do it. So Danny agreed, and all of a sudden I realized we needed a guitar player. We’ve always had a kind of rotating cast live, you know? So I sent out a tweet that was something totally obnoxious, like “Anyone want to play guitar in The Falcon? Must already be famous.” (*both laugh*)

Oh shit, I vaguely remember that, yeah!

And Dave texted me, like, right away and said “hey, are you looking for somebody to be in The Falcon?” And I said…”holy shit…I was thinking of somebody a lot lower caliber than you, but if you want to be in the band, fuck yeah! I’m totally into that! That rules!” (*both laugh*) So yeah, next thing you know, we’ve got fucking Dave fucking Hause in the band! And it’s fucking awesome!

So at what point after that does songwriting actually start? I know a lot of the songs are your songs, but at what point do you guys start tossing ideas around?

Well, we walked off stage after that show and, like I said, we had never even all rehearsed before as a four piece; and we walked off the stage and I said “wow…that was one of the most fun shows I’ve maybe ever played.” And we all felt that way. And it was sorta like “okay, we’re a band now.” And I went home and started writing songs that night. So, the way that The Falcon kinda works is that it’s all more-or-less centered on my songwriting. Dan wrote a song that I contributed like half of, and Dave wrote a song, and those are the last two songs that we completed for the record. It was mostly…the way The Falcon mostly works is that I write the songs, I discard the ones I don’t like, and I sent the ones that I do like via demo to those dudes. Not that it’s different than the way I write songs for The Lawrence Arms or The Wandering Birds; it’s pretty much the same thing. But in this particular case, I’m a lot more isolated, you know what I mean? I write it pretty much all on my own.

Do you write songs for The Falcon differently than you do for The Wandering Birds project? Because there’s a few songs on there, like “Hasselhoff Cheeseburger” or “Sailor’s Grave,” sound like they could be Wandering Birds songs, maybe with a different arrangement. Do you write specifically different for one versus the other?

The difference between The Falcon and The Wandering Birds is that The Wandering Birds, to me, is not a punk band. And The Falcon very much is. Aesthetically, I think that the notion behind, like they say the id that drives both bands is pretty similar. But I think The Wandering Birds is more straight-up malevolent and slightly evil, whereas The Falcon is just hedonistic, if that makes any sense.

Yeah, yeah totally.

And also, The Falcon is like an aggressive rock band, where The Wandering Birds…by the time you hear the next Wandering Birds record,I don’t even know if there’ll be distorted guitar on it. It’s more of a rock and roll band, not a punk band.

This really is not a stereotypical punk rock sound on this album, but it is very much probably one of the punkest albums that I’ve heard in quite a while. And maybe it’s just the way that it all came together.. But this is a really aggressive album and it doesn’t really follow any formula. But I think one of the punkest things on the album in that regard is there’s a line about “cocks and balls” on “Sergio’s Here” and Dan just laughs in the background. That gets me every time I hear it, and it actually gets funnier. There’s not any pretense of taking things too seriously, because it’s a dark and depraved, but then to just have Dan laughing in the background…kills me every time.

It was so awesome when it happened too. You could tell that had never heard the lyrics so clearly and then all of a sudden he was in the studio and he just went “ha ha ha!” and then there’s another part on the album, on the song “Glue Factory,” where Dave goes “oh my!” and it’s the same thing…he hadn’t really heard it before and it was just a visceral reaction. And that’s the thing, I think The Falcon is a visceral band, you know? Those are the kinds of things that I love. Like I love when you hear like an old Op Ivy record or something, and there’s the little noodling of a guitar between the songs. The stuff that you can’t plan. That stuff is great.The Falcon is not like a polished band; if anything, we’re the opposite and we wear that on our sleeves.

In talking about the album, I think that Dave’s song sounds like a Dave Hause song; it’s tight and punchy and melodic and it sounds like Dave, even though the lyrics are a little bit darker. Did he write it for the album specifically, or is that something he had kicking around?

Dave’s song and Dan’s songs are really interesting to me because they’re, like, their idea of The Falcon, which I think is so fascinating. Because, the idea of The Falcon is my deranged-ass idea of what punk rock should sound like (*both laugh*) So their take on it is almost…I don’t know how to describe it. It’s almost like…have you ever seen somebody who can’t speak English impersonate what an English accent sounds like?

(*not gonna lie…I laugh my ass off*) Right, absolutely I have!

Yeah, so it’s like that! It’s like “oh, so that’s what you think I am doing!” And I don’t want that to sound condescending by any means, because they’re doing their thing. That’s a Dave Hause song and that’s a Dan Andriano song. They sound like themselves more than anything because they have such strong signatures musically. So it’s really pretty interesting and awesome as an admirer of both of them to see them be like “this is my version of what you’re doing.” And I’m like “holy shit, that’s awesome!”

Dave’s song is more aggressive, certainly, than Devour was, and I think he probably needed that coming off that album. I talked to him a couple times at each end of that cycle, and it seemed toward the end that there was a need for him to do something completely different because Devour was such a heavy album.

Yeah, yeah for sure! I don’t know how much Dave catharsis Dave found from writing that song, but I do know that when he was in the studio doing the backing vocals and playing the guitars and stuff, that he came in with kind of a different idea of what the record was going to be. We started playing and started doing guitars on “Skeleton Dance,” which is a big song in the middle of the record. He came in and played this riff, and it was really like a beautiful, melodic riff, and it just whipped it out and nailed it. And I was like “uh…that’s not really this band.” And he’s like “what, that doesn’t sound good?” And I said “no! That sounds fucking awesome!”

(*both laugh*) Right, and that’s the problem!

But I’m like, “The Falcon is ugly.” The pretty parts shine through and they are rare, and they’re in short supply. And he’s like “you want me to do something like this? (impersonates a fairly straight-forward tremolo-bent riff).” And I was like “yes, but move it down a half-step and make it more fucked up.” And then he did that. And I’m talking about that this is a guy who came in and prepared all of his parts, and from that moment and that conversation, he immediately had the fucking wherewithal to know exactly what to do on every other song. It was so impressive to see, like, what a fucking professional this guy is. He had an entire album worth of shit planned and, as far as I can tell, he threw it all away based on one minute-and-a-half thing. It was neat to see as a fan of Dave.

And you contributed to Dan’s song, “You Dumb Dildos,” which has got to be my favorite song title ever…(*both laugh*) I’m assuming that you wrote the back half and Dan wrote the front half? Because that song sounds at the start like a quintessential, textbook, super awesome Dan Andriano song. The first third of that song could be on a Trio record, it could be on an Emergency Room record…but then it gets all Falconed up in the last half.

Yeah, so, he wrote the beginning and he wrote that long round at the end. But the long round at the end that he wrote was like the droning chant underneath it all, and then Dave and I kind of went in and fucked it up I guess, for lack of a better word (*both laugh*). We screamed over it and stuff. And then I wrote the rest, except for the one verse that Ice Cube wrote.

It’s funny you say that, I just got the lyric sheet yesterday, so it was fun to actually read along to the songs, and they’re more deranged than I thought they were…but in my notes for the end of that round part in Dan’s song, I wrote “all three of them are singing…this sounds like a fucking car crash.”  (*both laugh*) Which I think is the point!

Yes! It’s absolutely the point! The record is supposed to be very unhinged. I want it to sound dangerous. I want it to sound like it’s almost on the verge of falling apart, that’s the stuff that I think is the coolest. That’s one of the reasons that I love that fucking Pup record so much, because it’s like holy fuck, those guys could fall to pieces at any second now. It’s so relentlessly kickass. And I don’t think that we approach it with that level of volatility, but I mean…fuck…I could be their dad.

Oh god…that’s depressing, because you and I are the same age (*both laugh*). You mentioned the word “deranged” before, or maybe I did, but that’s sort of a recurring theme either with The Falcon or The Wandering Birds. You’re more insightful, I think, than most guys are in this scene, so you’ve gotta know sort of what your reputation is, whether through Wikipedia or wherever, in terms of drugs and depravity. Is it sorta weird to you that that’s become your reputation since that’s not really who you are?

No, because I love the sort of visceral reality of humanity. I think it’s really fascinating, and I think it’s the only thing about being alive that interests me. So it’s like, if you want to reduce me down to being somebody who likes drugs and alcohol and talking about dirty fucking and stuff, that’s fine. But I find that to be pretty reductive. Human beings are a lot of things, and every single one of us, with a few really bizarre exceptions, everybody is into the darker side of things, where happiness meets sadness. Where depravity feeds itself in you, whether it be whatever you want to do with your body, or somebody else’s body, or what you want to put into your body substance-wise or whatever. And just because I’m not afraid to talk about it doesn’t mean that I’m even close to the most depraved person out there.

I just think, in punk rock, and especially the corner of punk rock that I found myself in, either paints a cartoon-like picture of hedonism in general, or just eschews it altogether. And I think that shit is fascinating to me! The weird…things like sex and drugs and violence, and I don’t mean violence like punching random strangers in the face, I mean like emotional violence, the harsh, sad reality of waking up and looking at yourself in the mirror, you know? That’s where the good stuff is, man. It’s one thing to sing about being a vampire, for example. It’s another thing to sing about barfing into your kitchen sink in the morning, you know? (*both laugh*) And then to sneak out of your own house and leave somebody that you maybe don’t know in it. That kind of stuff is where the real emotional resonance is. So I find that seedy underbelly of the world fascinating. If you want to reduce me to being some kind of party animal or whatever, that’s fine. But, it’s like, I’ve got two kids and a wife and a full-time job. I’m probably not what a lot of people think I am.

I feel like that’s something that’s exclusive to the music scene. I don’t think that, if you’re a filmmaker or an actor or an author, I don’t think that people get really pigeon-holed by their roles, and you don’t assume that a person in real life is what their role is. But for whatever reason, for fans and “critics,” and I use that term in air quotes, in the music scene, we tend to attach the songwriter to the persona that they write about. And that’s obviously not fair, but…

Oh absolutely. I think that’s a great point. I say this all the time, when Tyler the Creator was blowing up and everybody was like “he’s a rape apologist.” It’s like, just because he makes art about that doesn’t mean that that’s like the way he’s living his life. Nobody thought that Dostoevsky advocated killing old women to see if he could get away with it.

Right!

And I’m not here to defend Tyler The Creator or anything, I don’t know enough about him. But that was actually something that I had a very strong reaction to. And again, because I don’t know him so I’m hesitant to use a term like ‘witch hunt,’ but the backlash to him was a lot of what prompted me to write that Wandering Birds record, which was all about cutting up hookers and throwing them into the crawlspace and stuff like that. I was like, “fuck it, are you going to reduce me to this? You think this is who I am?” And I expected that record to fucking end my career. It turns out that when that band plays, it’s like 80% women that come to the shows.

Really?

Yeah! Turns out I don’t know anything about anything!

I love that record. Dave, the guy that runs Dying Scene, and I both had that record on our best-of list the year that that came out, 2012 or ‘13 or whatever. And I feel like that album is grossly underrated. It’s really, really solid. And like you sorta said, I’m a husband and I have a kid in the other room and a normal full-time job and I teach for god’s sake, I’m not depraved by any stretch. But that album resonated in a lot of really cool and fucked up ways.

I appreciate that. It’s weird, you know, because it was very much a reaction to the idea that you’re talking about.

But there are some personalities, to use Fat Mike for example, he sort of owns his depravity and writes songs about it, so I think that we all sort of assume that everybody that writes songs like that must live in that world, especially if you do it well and you sound convincing, which you certainly do. Which I mean as a compliment!

Well, yeah, I mean, it’s been a long time since I’ve properly cut up a hooker and thrown her in the crawlspace (*both laugh*).


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