DS Exclusive: Brendan Kelly on The Falcon taking a break, firing up the Lawrence Arms and the Wandering Birds…and punching babies in the face?

Dying Scene last touched base with the inimitable Brendan Kelly back in early February. At the time, we discussed the budding relaunch of The Falcon, a band that had already been a pseudo-supergroup and was now adding Dave Hause to the lineup. The band’s first album in close to a decade, Gather Up The Chaps, was still a month-or-so from being released. The band’s first-ever tour dates were booked, but hadn’t kicked off yet. Donald Trump hadn’t yet won so much as a primary, his Presidential bid still widely considered a punchline.

When we learned that The Falcon were going to take a break of indeterminate length after their recent bunch of tour dates, we decided it would be the perfect time to catch up with Beex again to bookend what some (read as: nobody but me until just now) have referred to as The Year Of The Falcon. As it turns out, an awful lot can happen in nine fucking months. Gather Up The Chaps was released to stellar reviews. The initial run of a dozen-or-so tour dates ended up extending to close to four-dozen dates in three countries over the better part of the year. And Personified Fart Donald J. Trump is President-Elect of the United States of America. Talk about taking the good with the bad…

We caught up with Beex in person prior to The Falcon’s recent gig at Firehouse 13 in Providence as a bit of a postmortem on the latest incarnation of the band. “This is it for a while,” says Kelly rather diplomatically, before quickly pointing out that it is not, by any means, the end of The Falcon as we know it. “This is just the last tour on the album cycle. And while there may not be any pending Falcon plans in the near future, don’t you dare use the ‘H-word’ to describe the break in the action. “You know what annoys me?” asks Kelly before diving immediately into the otherwise rhetorical question. “So many bands make these giant proclamations where they’re like (*mock rock star voice*) ‘We’re going on hiatus now.’…It seems to me that it’s just simply a press release so that they can still maintain a little bit of juice while they’re not active on the road. I don’t need to get into any of that nonsense.”

So instead referring to that-which-shall-not-be-named, we’ll call it what it ultimately is: the end of an album cycle.  we just toured on the record, and now tour’s over and there’s other things to do. We’re (all) still cool.” Instead of diving in to a new tour or a new studio album, the individual Power Rangers will focus on their other projects before someday returning to initiate the Falcon Megazord again some day. Hause, for starters, has his third solo studio album in the bag, set for release this coming February. And Kelly? “The next thing I want to do is put out a Wandering Birds record,” he says, much to the delight of yours truly, who still finds I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever amongst his favorite albums of the last half-decade. He adds: “I think The Lawrence Arms needs to get back out on the road a little bit, to remind people that we exist.”

Still, in spite of the fact that the one door closing temporarily allows for the reopening of a few other awesome doors, there are those among us who A) really dig the resurgent Falcon and especially dig Gather Up The Chaps and B) who can envision this project existing as a regular thing going forward. While Kelly is quick to point out that a lot of people seem to agree that this album is something to be proud of and that the shows are a lot of fun, he also points out that “it’s important for us to keep it a little bit lean in order to keep it interesting,” perhaps mindful of making sure they don’t overstay their welcome. He explains: “It’s important to be cognizant of what you’re throwing out there. We’re not a young, hungry, up-and-coming band, like PUP or something where people see it and are like “oh my gosh! There’s this new band you’ve never heard of! You have to come!” With us, it’s like “oh, it’s those guys that you’ve seen in various incarnations for the last twenty years!”

The Falcon project, and the addition of Hause in particular, seems to have recharged Kelly a bit, opening his mind to new, or at least different, ways of working. “It’s easy to get surrounded,” says Kelly, particularly of his working relationship with Andriano, with whom he’s been working since their mid-teenage years in Slapstick, “in this echo chamber, where we all grew up doing things the same way, and now we come into this band, and it’s like “oh, you’re a meticulous, attention-to-detail kind of guy. You’re very precise!” Where meanwhile, I’m more improve, you know what I mean?  That tension is really cool, and it’s informed my worldview. I think it’s informed Dave’s worldview. I think we’ve learned a lot from each other. That’s kinda the coolest part about this journey so far, for me.”

For Kelly and his bandmates, and for many of us, it seems from Jump Street that the prospects of a Brendan Kelly-Dan Andriano-Neil Hennessy-Dave Hause supergroup taking the scene by storm seemed to be more than a little awe-inspiring. “Whenever you start doing something new, you get that kind of “new girlfriend syndrome,” where you think, like, “this is going to be the best ever!” There was a point where I think we all had pretty grandiose ideas about what was going to happen,” Kelly explains, his voice still full of excitement at the prospects. Did those things happen? No. But it’s been awesome. It’s been really, really fun. We’ve made great friends, we’ve played great shows, we’ve become closer as dudes. Those things are so much more invaluable than some sort of fleeting twenty minutes of playing the big stage at Reading or whatever. That shit is fleeting and comes and goes. The real building-blocks experiences out of this have been totally beyond my expectations.”

And so, it’s on to the next phase, and on to writing music under the umbrella of a Trump Presidency. But he’s also, got to get a real job. “My job kinda…ended. I was like a permanent freelancer at this ad agency, and they let go all the freelancers at once. And I had been there for four years. So…I mean it’s fine. But I’ve got to get a job.” That’s a bit more of a daunting task when you’re forty, and when you’ve only had to get a job once before. “The thing is, I never really had a job before. I’ve always done this. The band I was in in high school (Slapstick) was fortunate enough that, through whatever stroke of cosmic dumbassery, we became very popular and I haven’t had to have a real job since then. I’ve been lucky enough to stay on the road and keep making music. So this job that I was at for four years was the first job I ever had… before that…”drank beer in a van for twenty-five years!”

Something tells us that ol’ Beex will do just fine for himself. Head below to check out our full interview. We talk about more than just The Falcon, naturally. There’s the whole but about “punching babies in the face,” and a particularly interesting story about an encounter with a fan in Texas while on the tour as a seventeen-year-old that continues to influence the way that he writes music as a forty-year-old! And if you’re so inclined, check out our photo gallery from the aforementioned Providence show here.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So this (Providence) is what, the third or fourth day of the finale tour…are we calling this a finale tour, or is this just a hiatus tour?

This is it for a while. This is just the last tour on the album cycle. I don’t think there’s anything…you know what annoys me? So many bands make these giant proclamations where they’re like (*mock rock star voice*) “We’re going on hiatus now.” It’s like…no, we just toured on the record, and now tour’s over and there’s other things to do. We’re still cool. So many people say that they’re going on hiatus and it seems to me that it’s just simply a press release so that they can still maintain a little bit of juice while they’re not active on the road. I don’t need to get into any of that nonsense. But anyway, I think this is the fifth day of the tour.

I think that with most bands that you hear about going on hiatus, it’s typically most people’s “day job” bands. So I think that some of the “anxiety,” and I hate to use that word, but the “anxiety” about it from the “fandom” side is like “is this break just for a little while or are they taking a break for ten years again”…

Right, right. I think the thing is, everybody (in the band) has a lot of things that they’re in, and The Falcon is definitely one of them. For me, the next thing I want to do is put out a Wandering Birds record. I think the Lawrence Arms needs to get back out on the road a little bit, to remind people that we exist. So this is something that’s going to come back, but when will the confluence of the four of us being free long enough to do a record again and do a tour again happen? That’s just sort of the real question.

How did you expect the whole process to go? Did you expect to still be touring with it in November? Was this six or eight month touring cycle planned, or have you gone more by feel?

You know, the thing is…I think that there was a notion that we’ll just do this and see how it goes. And it’s been really fun. It’s been something that we’ve all really enjoyed, so we’ve been able to keep up the tours. I do think that it’s kind of run its course, almost. I read a review of the record when it came out, and it was like “a bunch of old guys that have been doing this pretty well for a long time do it well again.” Not really much at stake. And that’s the thing; once we’ve played in front of you and you’ve come out and seen the spectacle that is, like “Oh, there’s the guy from Alkaline Trio, but he’s in a different band!” then I don’t know that you need to go back twice, you know! (*both laugh*) It’s important to be cognizant of what you’re throwing out there. We’re not a young, hungry, up-and-coming band, like PUP or something where people see it and are like “oh my gosh! There’s this new band you’ve never heard of! You have to come!” With us, it’s like “oh, it’s those guys that you’ve seen in various incarnations for the last twenty years…” (*both laugh*) It’s important for us to keep it a little bit lean in order to keep it interesting.

 

And you pay attention to that stuff? Like, how it’s all resonating with…I don’t want to say with the people that buy the music because people don’t do that anymore…but with the people that come out?

I have noticed that this time out East, we’ve almost undergone a transfusion of fans, where before, people were kinda coming out for the spectacle, and now it’s people that are fans of the record.

Well that’s because the record is really, really good.

Oh thanks man! I’m really proud of how it turned out. It’s cool to see that different injection of fandom in the crowd. But we are kind of a new band, in a way. To see people that are coming out specifically to see the songs from the new record…it’s cool. That’s why you do this stuff.

I don’t recall from before…I know that Dan (Andriano) wrote his song and Dave (Hause) wrote his song, but you didn’t necessarily write anything with Dave and his playing in mind, right?

I knew when I was writing it that I was writing for The Falcon as a four-piece. But, I don’t write his parts. I just create the most slender skeleton of a song — the chords and the melodies — and those guys go off and make it their own.

Having Dave in the band and on the road though…do you find yourself writing ahead? I know you’re not going to do anything Falcon-related for a while, but does really working with he and Dan together like this make you think ahead?

 

It is cool and humbling to have somebody as cool as Dave want to join up with our entire thing. So that sort of gives me confidence. Pretty much everything in the world has a lot to do with confidence. So it’s a real co-sign that he would spend his life living in a van to do this with us. That makes us a better band. And Dave’s aesthetic and my aesthetic in terms of almost everything are pretty opposite, and it’s really that sort of clash that’s been really, really beneficial for me, and I think it was really beneficial to the record and how it turned out, and the band in general. It’s easy to get surrounded — and this is pressing it right now, I guess — but in this echo chamber, where we all grew up doing things the same way, and now we come into this band, and it’s like “oh, you’re a meticulous, attention-to-detail kind of guy. You’re very precise!” Where meanwhile, I’m more improve, you know what I mean?  That tension is really cool, and it’s informed my worldview. I think it’s informed Dave’s worldview. I think we’ve learned a lot from each other. That’s kinda the coolest part about this journey so far, for me. No one person can necessarily think of something, but two people fucking around accidentally… *laughs*

And that’s a different dynamic than you’ve had with Dan over years of doing this?

The thing is, doing this before with Dan was just a studio project. There was no live component, there was no real collaborative component beyond just putting the shit down on tape. Dan and I have worked in the studio since we were fifteen. So there might be a different dynamic, but…

…it’s still a familiar thing.

Yeah, it’s really familiar.

This is the first night with Kyle (Kinane) on tour, right?

Yeah, this is the first night with Kyle!

Where’d that idea come from? I think that’s brilliant.

We always had talked about it, and about how The Falcon is kind of a weird band, we made a dark concept album about leather daddies and drugs. It doesn’t really fit into a scene. It’s definitely not what’s cool right now. There’s not another band out there — of course, then we find Arms Aloft who are a a great band that compliments The Falcon so well. But since there’s not really a scene out there for The Falcon, we thought, we should have like jugglers and shit open for us. (*both laugh*) Like, let’s just make it totally weird. And then the notion for doing (this run) with Kyle, I don’t know if he brought it up or if I brought it up and he was silly enough to say yes… I think he’s really taking one for the team to do a punk rock tour. I think he’s probably taking a real pay cut to come hang out with The Falcon for a while (*both laugh*). It’s cool, just walking in here with him today, it was just like “oh yes! Kyle’s here now! This is going to be sooo great!”

So what’s the plan, is he going to go on between bands, like emcee style?

No, he’s doing a forty minute set right before us. So, it’ll go local openers, Arms Aloft, Kyle, then us.

How long does this run with Kyle go?

Til Thanksgiving. Nine more days.

And then that’s it…

Yeah, it ends the day before Thanksgiving.

 

So what do you do next? I know you said you want to do another Wandering Birds record.

Yeah, I’m going to do another Wandering Birds project. I have to get another job, because my job kinda…ended.

Oh really?

I was like a permanent freelancer at this ad agency, and they let go all the freelancers at once. And I had been there for four years. So…I mean it’s fine. But I’ve got to get a job. I’ve got to go home and be a grown-up. That’s my next big move! (*laughs*)

 

Is that a weird thing to get back into? Or because you’ve been balancing for so long …

Well, the thing is, I never really had a job before. I’ve always done this. The band I was in in high school was fortunate enough that, through whatever stroke of cosmic dumbassery, we became very popular and I haven’t had to have a real job since then. I’ve been lucky enough to stay on the road and keep making music. So this job that I was at for four years was the first job I ever had. So yeah, I guess it’s weird to get a job! I’m 40! (*both laugh*)

 

How do you put this on a resume if you’re going for a full-time job?

It’s like…my ad agency for the last four years, and then, before that…”drank beer in a van for twenty-five years!” (*both laugh*)

There’s got to be some transferable skill there!

Oh yeah, you just make shit up. I’m a small business owner (editor’s note: Kelly helps run Red Scare Industries with the great Toby Jeg).

Can we expect the Wandering Birds project next year? Or is it job first, then see what happens?

I’m really pushing for 2017. I’ve got three songs written that I’m 100% confident will be on the record, then a couple other ones that…we’ll see what’s up. It’s coming along nicely. Unless I die or Trump blows up the world…

 

Yeah…but that could actually be a thing — a very real thing that happens — very soon…

Yes. It could…

In hindsight, we’ve sorta been in a good place for the last eight year. Does the prospect of what’s potentially going to happen over the next four years influence you from a writing perspective? Do you feel yourself channeling any of that weirdness?

I’m informed by my surroundings, as we all are. And so, in that regard…yeah, I’m sure it’s going to have an influence. It weighs very heavily on my mind. We’ve elected a completely unprepared idiot, unquestionably. And it’s scary. But at the same time, so much of the stuff that I do is personal identity sort of shit. So much of what I find interesting in writing is humanity and the fragility of the soul. The dark impulses that people have.

Well, you’ll have a lot to draw from…

Yeah, this contributes to the national anxiety. So — I’m kinda talking through this right now because I haven’t thought about it — but I guess, yeah…the idea that this fucking maniac has got the nuclear codes is probably going to bleed into my songwriting quite a bit! (*both laugh*)

When you write about things like that — and I know it was Dave that sort of spilled the beans about what “Black Teeth” was about —

Right.

–and I had listened to that song…a hundred times? And then that explanation came out, and I would have never guessed…

Sure, it’s pretty obtuse.

Yeah! But that seems to be more your comfort zone, rather than taking on…

I think…I love the idea of human interpretation. So I would hate to hit you over the head with the intentionality of something. I write something and look back over it and think “oh, that’s what this is about.” Obviously there’s something that’s been on my mind and I can see it, but I just try to keep it to humanity, and my perspective is what I’m writing about, and what my pathos is bound up in is what comes out in the song. But I don’t like the idea of intentionality. Like, when people say “this song’s about ‘fuck sexism’.” Then you’re stuck. When I was in high school, we were playing a show in Texas, I was sixteen or seventeen. This dude comes up to me and tells me that he loves this song by my band. And the song is called “Not Tonight.” And the dude is like “I love that song.” And I said “yeah, it’s about being too drunk to drive.” And he’s like “What? I thought that song was about casting off the shackles of your shitty small town and going out and taking life by the balls and making something of it!” And I was like “…I wish I hadn’t told you what it was about now.” (*both laugh*) In that moment, I was really young, but it was a real teachable moment for me, because that guy’s idea of what that song was about was so much cooler than what that song was about. But I ruined the song for him! There’s no doubt in my mind that he went home and was like (*makes throwing motion*)…straight in the garbage can.

But that could have gone the other way too. You could have been a 16 year old kid writing about being free from the shackles of your town and he could have thought it was about getting too wasted to drive. It could have worked the other way.

I suppose. But…that guy taught me a lot. And there were two things he taught me. Number one: never ascribe overt intentionality to your song because you’re going to ruin it for somebody, because their own personal journey with the song is more intricate and nuanced than you could ever hope to achieve by your explanation of it. And number two: fucking take care to write your songs about something! (*both laugh*) You know? Don’t be stuck in a situation where you’re like “this song’s about being too drunk to drive!” Write your song about something else. Even if it is about being too drunk to drive, make it about what made you get too drunk to drive, or the oppressive circumstances under which this level of drunkenness is not okay to drive! (*laughs*) You know what I mean? Whatever your take on it is, make our songs about something. Even to this day, I am 40. It has been longer since that day than I had been alive at that point. It still fills me with shame.

Right. That one time in high school that you were too literal…

In Texas! I’m lucky enough to be in Texas at age seventeen, talking to a college student about his favorite song that I wrote, and I’m like “let me fuck it up for you!” (*both laugh*) That’s just terrible.

And you still actively think about that.

Mm hmm. That’s the thing. It’s a real teachable moment. I owe it to the people that are crazy enough to keep paying for me to be able to come out here and do this for a living. I owe them my best. And when I recognize that I didn’t, that really sucks.

We’ve talked about this to a different degree before, when people mistakenly take too literally some of the things that you’ve written. Because you look at Fat Mike and he’s pretty literal in the things he writes, or Joey Cape is pretty literal. So the assumption I guess is that when Brendan Kelly writes a song about stuffing hookers under the porch or whatever (*both laugh*), they think “that guy’s fucking twisted!”

Yeah, that that’s what I’m really up to! It’s funny, because, and I had to use a term like “PC culture,” because it’s been hijacked by the alt-right as a way of slurring leftists or people that are thoughtful enough not to insult people to their faces! (*laughs*)

Right? Heaven forbid!

But…I reject the idea of safe-space bullshit. You can call people out on being assholes. Like, if somebody’s at my show grabbing women or being homophobic or something like that, I’ll be like, “hey, you know what, get the fuck out of here.” It’s like…you’re not owed safety anywhere in this world. Nobody is. And maybe that’s a very white, privileged thing to say, but the world is dangerous and fucking scary, and you can’t expect other people to take care of that for you. You’ve got to fucking police your own environment. And for me, I am lucky enough to be a big, white guy, so when I see someone who’s not as strong as me being picked on, I like to say something, you know what I mean? The notion that you can’t make art and offend somebody, because your fictional character in a song did something that they don’t like is completely fucking bananas to me. It’s like no, you know what, fuck you! You don’t have to listen to my art, then. You don’t have to look at my art, then. I don’t owe you anything with my creative output. I owe it to people that like what I do, to offer them a high-quality product. I’m not out here for anybody’s feelings.

Do you actually hear about shit like that? I can be a little tone-deaf when it comes to that. Do you hear from people that they got offended by the stuff you write?

 

No. Because I think the thing is, for me, first of all, I’ve been around for a long time so I think people know that my heart’s in the right place. Second of all, the shit I write is so fucking outrageous that I think that anybody who would be offended wouldn’t even bother engaging me. They’d be like “this guy is singing about killing hookers, and holding the drugs just out of reach until you take off your underpants. That’s fucked up!” (*both laugh*) I think at that point, you’re beyond any sort of shocked offendedness. More like “oh, that’s just not for me.” Which is fine.

Right. There’s probably not a new crowd of potential Brendan Kelly fans who would stumble into your music at this point and get offended.

Yeah. And again, I think the idea of a sense of humor, and nuance, and handling things with style goes a long way. It’s obvious, I think, that whether or not you think I’m an idiot or you think I’m stupid, that I put a lot of energy into crafting songs and words. It’s not a tossed-off thing. Like “I punk babies in the face” or something like that. There’s something more sinister and thought-out to it.

Which at some level might be scarier for some people. If you are singing “I like to punch babies in the face,” I think the assumption is that you’re not going to. If you have a story as nuanced as “holding the drugs away while you take off your underpants”…(*both laugh*) That comes from somewhere.

(*laughs*) “he’s done that before!”

Right…that guy’s seen some shit.

And you know…I have! I’ve seen some shit! But that shit is art, man. It’s not…Dostoyevsky is not advocating killing old ladies by writing Crime & Punishment. (*both laugh*)

But as we talked about before, for whatever reason, with songwriter’s it’s different.

Yeah, and I think that that’s total bullshit! (*laught*) The whole first Wandering Birds records was a direct response to that.

When you’re on the road, do you have ideas that pop into your head where you think “oh, this would be a good Wandering Birds song or this would be for the next Lawrence Arms thing…” And you’ve probably been asked that question a thousand times.

No, it’s fine. But the way I write is that I sit down with intentionality towards a project. I never sit down and go “oh, which pile should I throw this one into?”

What a luxury that would be, right?

Yeah! All my records are pretty conceptual, at least for the last fifteen years. They’ve all been concept albums. So I sit down, for lack of a less pretentious way to say this and I apologize in advance, but I’m writing the chapters of a book. I know what the idea is and I know what the book is, so I sit down and I write it. There’s never…I think there was one moment during the writing of this Falcon album where I wrote a Wandering Birds song. But I knew it was going to be a Wandering Birds song. It came out…it’s called “Shitty Margarita,” and I wanted it to sound like a Cheech & Chong kind of song. There’s this descending riff, and it’s pretty hilarious. The song came into my head and I said “I just have to get this down.” But other than that, there’s never been a question. It’s always done from the top down.

Looking back on The Falcon and this run, is it as good as you hoped it would be, or better than you hoped it would be? Did you get everything you wanted out of it?

Whenever you start doing something new, you get that kind of “new girlfriend syndrome,” where you think, like, “this is going to be the best ever!” There was a point where I think we all had pretty grandiose ideas about what was going to happen. Did those things happen? No. But it’s been awesome. It’s been really, really fun. We’ve made great friends, we’ve played great shows, we’ve become closer as dudes. Those things are so much more invaluable than some sort of fleeting twenty minutes of playing the big stage at Reading or whatever. That shit is fleeting and comes and goes. The real building-blocks experiences out of this have been totally beyond my expectations.


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