When last we chatted with the inimitable Brendan Kelly – at an upstairs table at a firehouse-turned-swingers-club-turned-music-venue in a sketchy Providence, Rhode Island, neighborhood – his The Falcon project was winding down its year-long revival and there was talk of working on a new Wandering Birds album and firing the engines of the USS Lawrence Arms up again. It may have taken a tad longer than expected, but last Wednesday in the Boston area (see our photos and review of that show here), The Lawrence Arms kicked off the first of three scheduled twelve-day tours in the in support of their latest album, We Are The Champions Of The World.
If you’re not familiar with WATCOTW, it’s a Fat Wreck Chords-released 29-song retrospective culled from the band’s nearly twenty years in the game. We caught up with Kelly again on release day (March 30), to discuss how a band without any bona fide “hits” – at least in the traditional sense – could pull together a “greatest hits” album. The idea, believe it or not, came from their Fat Wreck Chords boss himself. “I would love — LOVE — to take credit for masterminding this,” explains Kelly, “but as with everything in punk rock, Fat Mike came up with the idea!” As you may have noticed, Fat Wreck has gotten in the “greatest hits” game in recent years, with bands like Swingin’ Utters and Me First And The Gimme Gimmes and No Use For A Name getting the treatment. According to Kelly, Fat Mike reached out directly with the proposal. “He hit me up and he was like “hey, we like you guys, I seem to recall you guys liking us a lot. We’d love to do a greatest hits record.” I was like “that seems like an odd thing to do!” Like, really? When No Use For A Name puts out a greatest hits record or NOFX puts out a greatest hits record, I get that. But we’re the fucking Lawrence Arms…it seems like an odd thing.” Ever the businessman, Fat Mike of course had a method to his madness. Says Kelly: “He made a good point, or at least I’m attributing this point to him. (He said) ‘the way people consume music these days is that they just go on Spotify and check something out. Wouldn’t you like to have a bunch of good songs in one place so everybody can just go there and you can make sure they’re not getting something that’s not that representative of your band? A greatest hits record is a great way to do that!“
With that, Kelly and his longtime TLA comrades Chris McCaughan and Neil Hennessy set to figuring out exactly what songs to include on such a retrospective. Individual fans might take issue with a particular favorite of theirs not making the cut, but the album is largely representative from the best parts of each of the band’s albums. Well…almost the best parts. Never one to pine wistfully on the olden days, Kelly isn’t the kind of guy who listens to his own catalog with any regularity. “I didn’t go back and revisit the old recordings at all, which MAYBE kinda bit us in the dick a little bit on this release, because there is a song on the record, that’s not supposed to be on there.” If you’re one of the lucky ones who already obtained one of the first pressings of the album, you may have already caught the mistake. While it is listed on the album’s official tracklist, the song “The Northside, L & L, and Any Number Of Crappy Apartments” does not actually appear on the record. In its place is “Someday We’re All Gonna Weigh 400 Lbs,” the track immediately before “Northside…” on the band’s debut album, Guided Tour Of Chicago. The mistake’s roots trace back nearly twenty years, as when Guided Tour… was being put together, not only did Kelly pull the album’s artwork and layout together, but he and an old engineer did the digital markings for the tracks as well. “This is so boring…” laughs Kelly without realizing exactly how big a dork I and many of the band’s rabid fans are. “We both didn’t know what we were doing, which is why there’s that five seconds at the beginning of Guided Tour Of Chicago that’s Track 1. So all the tracklisting is pushed as a result, and so when whoever either at Asian Man or at Fat was sending the .WAV files, I looked at them and said “oh, Track 6 is “Northside…” and it was labelled as “Northside…”when they sent it over, but it was actually “Someday We’re All Gonna Weigh 400 Lbs” instead. If you’re lucky enough to get a physical copy that has that song on it, hold on to it, because someday nerds will be fighting tooth and nail to get their hands on it!:
While We Are The Champions Of The World contains snapshots from each of the band’s studio albums – full-length and EP – it also contains five previously unreleased songs, all culled from the recording sessions for what would be their highly-regarded 2006 full-length, Oh! Calcutta!. Curiously enough, they also represent the only real unreleased music from the band’s vault’s, save for one song that the only existed on cassette tape. “(Oh! Calcutta!) was a unique record for us,” says Kelly. “We were in the studio for like three months. We were writing like crazy. I had a broken kneecap, so I was in a full leg cast. My songs kept getting angrier and angrier at the time…because I was fucking angry from being in a cast for six months! We just had this huge amount of material, and at the same time, as the record started coming together, we started to see a real vision of what it was becoming and how it was cohesing (sic).“
As you’re reading this, the band’s first twelve day run in support of WATCOTW is about halfway over; after a two-week break, the second leg fires up in Seattle on April 27th and runs through May 6th in Denver. Both runs feature the likes of highly-regarded Red Scare Industries acts Red City Radio and Sincere Engineer. Both put out stellar releases within the past couple of months. And while most readers here are well versed on the likes of Oklahoma’s Red City Radio, the buzz behind Sincere Engineer’s Deanna Belos is intense and still growing. “Deanna is awesome, man,” states Kelly with the tone of a proud older brother. “She’s just like this weird kid from Chicago that grew up listening to all the bands that played with us and she really did her own thing, man. It’s really neat. I balk at taking credit for things that turn out well! But she’s been influenced by a lot of the things that a lot of my friends and peers have done, and she’s really synthesized it into something very cool and unique. I’m really happy to be part of Red Scare to give her a platform and I’m really happy that we’re taking her out on tour!”
Head below to check out our full Good Friday (the punkest of holidays!) chat with the always entertaining Brendan Kelly. There’s also more than a little bit of information on that aforementioned still-in-the-works Wandering Birds record!