Gabriel Kelley is one of those artists whose music grasps your attention and won’t let go. When I sat down I listened to the CD four times in a row honestly looking for some flaw, in my case not to pan him as an artist that isn’t my purpose as an interviewer. I do this so that the contrast between what may be a bit weak and what is undeniably strong allows for a strong and in depth interview, having said that I only do interviews with performers that rock me in some way. With Gabriel there is no weakness. He has a fantastic voice, the songcraft is expert, both in lyric, melody and song construction, the arrangements and performances are wonderful – authentic and honest. It was a delight to chat with a gracious and articulate artist. Here is the interview.
Gabriel first of all – thank you for agreeing to the interview. Let’s start with you giving us a little of your history.
Well, I was raised on a farm/orchard in a little rural town in Northeast Georgia, about 20 minutes from Athens. My folks were some of the early progressive thinkers back in the 70’s. In those days, they wanted to cut out a lot of the static and BS. so prevalent in our culture, out so they proceeded to buy a piece a land and began existing in a very simple manner. So that’s where I’m from. We have a little cabin out there. They still grow must of what they eat. I have 2 brothers. We were all raised vegetarian, knew what hard work was, and spent a good bit of time just maintaining the property. In my eyes, it was about as good of an upbringing as one could wish for. A focus on real value and responsibility.
“It Don’t Come Easy’ is a telling title for your CD. You waited a long time to do the album and used Kickstarter.com to raise the funds to produce the album – tell us your experience of doing it yourself.
I did wait a long time to do my first record. When I think about music, I can’t seem to ever forget that once captured a song or a record is a piece of art that will exist forever.
With that thought in mind, I wanted to take my time with my first album. I always have had music but would write a thousand songs and release them all without batting an eye. I have always tended to be a fan of the full length record. The records you sit down and listen to from start to finish almost like going to the movies. That was the kind of record I wanted to make and I knew that would take a great deal of time and effort and focus.
So then there is Kickstarter. Kickstarter is the ideal format for an artist like me. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to create with this album. I knew I didn’t want to go with some big label or mega corporation to fund this record because inevitably that would mean a clap put down on my creative process by a gavel hanging over my head whose focus is more about making money than putting love and good vibes out into the world.
Kickstarter just made sense. I had been traveling the country performing for round 5 years or so already and had a loyal fan base. It just made sense that these were the people to connect with and reach out to for support. By simple pre ordering the album fans funded the entire process. It still seems like the most holistic approach to creating I’ve seen thus far. It was a joy to feel like we all made a record as a family, that not only were the musicians, producer/engineer involved the whole community was!
That made me excited and it still does. I may even do one again here soon for the next record I have in the works.
It’s clear you have a strong work ethic – why is that important to you as an artist?
It is important to me in life in general. It’s that simple. Why would I not put every ounce of my being into my work? I find it strange, that in our culture, this idea doesn’t resonate with more people. If I don’t believe 1000% in what I do and give it my all, why should people want to listen? I feel like hard work is one of the secrets of the universe. Hard work has never been worth it and that my friend will never change.
Your travels have certainly had a good affect on you in what way do you see it in yourself?
Hmmm… Good question. I think the pace with which I live teaches me a lot about the importance of the moment. Traveling to new places, seeing new faces, always makes me very aware of my surroundings. I pay more attention to the little things. If I sat every day on the same porch and watch the sun go down at some point I inevitably will get numb to the beauty before me. When life is constantly in transit, the freshness of each experience allows me to stop and breathe in and enjoy a new experience to the fullest degree. But don’t get me wrong, it has its difficulties as well.
I particularly wondered about you living in Sweden given the very clear American Music quality of your music.
Sweden was simply a joy to experience. The openness of the people around me and the simplicity of life there, both reminded me of home. It affirmed what I had grown to know as the truth back then. I loved the culture and the language and the music there for sure.
I am from Georgia though and when a person starts to create those roots are always gonna poke through. Though from the other side of the coin, I have never really thought of those two places as being different from one another. When dissecting each down to the core values and purpose they were both really similar.
Give us a view into your process as a songwriter.
Ah man, it is always different depending on life and what’s going on. You know, I have some dear friends in the Lakota community who once explained the process of songs to me from their perspective and it really resonated.
For them, music isn’t something that you pull from your brain like a forced thought. Songs are something you catch. If you open your eyes and ears, the muse is always there and when you listen and you respect and honor it, sometimes you can catch em.
That is undoubtedly the best way I could try to explain the writing process. It is a funny thing….
What must be in a Gabriel Kelley song?
Heart. All else is icing.
Your CD “It Don’t Come Easy’ is swinging for the fences, with full spectrum – highly produced – big hook songs, great country band pieces, and an absolutely wonderful and simply produced singer/songwriter song. Your fans and your new fans to come will love this CD. Every album as a story about its production – give us that story from first song till the last cut was in the can.
Our process was really simple. I wanted a family vibe on this record. I wanted everyone involved to want to be there. That may sound silly, but in this day and age you’d be surprised how seldom that happens on records. That being said, Organic was the mantra. We wanted to capture a moment in time. An honest moment. No one had heard any of the tunes prior to tracking. I played each song on the acoustic, in the control room, for the band right before tracking it. We hand pick each player because we wanted them to do what they do, not what I tell them should happen. So we chased em down, one after the other. It was a hell of a ride! We all brought something to the table to achieve a cohesive thought. What a cool thing to be a part of. A blessing really.
My mom and dad came up from Georgia and cooked meals the whole time and we’d take a break from tracking and all go sit as friends and catch up on each other’s lives. That to me is where the magic is. It is in friendship and connectedness. Hopefully all of that comes through on the finished project.
Of the big numbers ‘Faith’ was a favorite. Great lyrics, great arrangement. Tell us how this cut came to be.
Faith was a picture of a moment in time much like all songs are. I usually tend to just let the song speak for itself. I could give you the rundown of what life situations were happening and how they went down, but I always think that gets kind of redundant if you’d heard the tune. I’m a simple guy so what ya hear is how it was.
You’ve played and toured solo for years and have also worked in groups. Which do you prefer as a performing artist? As a songwriter?
My preference is always changing with that. Right now, I am out almost always as a solo artist. I am vibing really hard these days on solo performance. I still feel like a youngster in the whole scheme of things, so performing solo is, in a way, me getting my chops up. If I can pull of the vision of the song with just a guitar, a voice, and maybe a harp here and there, then it is probably a good indicator of if a song is worth a damn or not. It’s a great way to filter my work. Also in a full band setting, sometimes things can start to feel contrived. Inspiration is a necessary part of music and keeping an individual inspired is hard work on its own. When you multiply that by six it obviously is that much harder to dial in. Though there is nothing quite like five or six folks all riding the same wave all the way down to that trash can ending.
Of the live band cuts ‘Goodbye Jessie’ was my favorite – tell us about the creation of this song.
I can say this. There was a woman in my life for years and our relationship was the focus of my muse for a long time. Once that relationship ended the process of learning to write from a new place was a challenge. I knew I couldn’t write about that relationship anymore and Goodbye Jessie was the last song ever written about that.
What is important to you as a songwriter and as a performer?
As a songwriter, heart. Simple as that.
As a performer heart again, and being appreciative to everyone who comes and supports my art.
I was taken by surprise, happily, when the last cut on the CD started ‘Holding Me Down’ – just you, a guitar and a little keyboard toward the end. A wonderful song, and a fantastic performance – Gabriel Kelley unplugged. Your chops as a songwriter and as a performer show up dramatically on this cut. How do you see yourself as an artist?
Man I don’t really know how to answer that. I am too close to know and honestly it’s a bit of a mind fuck if you go there too often. I just do me the best I can.
How do you think your fans see you?
Ha! This is also another area I am no expert in. Who knows man? I like to think that music is for us all. Just because I wrote a tune doesn’t mean it’s just for me. The beauty of music is that we all have our own perceptions and that my friend is pretty lovely.
What will your fans hear when they come to your concerts?
Songs by a large bearded man I guess. Ha! Probably will hear me stumble through between song banter cause I never know what to say if I’m not playing. My biggest hope is that they hear something they connect to.
How about introducing us to the talented people who contributed to the project?
Ah man. The list is long. The band alone is some of my favorite legendary musicians. There are so many talented people who made this album happen and beyond the players and producer there are all the fans and friends who contributed to the project as well. Everything contributes, that is part of the beauty of life. Every experience and person there in is relevant in the process of music. That is why it’s magic my man. It always blows me away when I think about it.
What’s next for you?
Music ad nauseam….
Well Gabriel is there anything we missed that needs to be said?
I think we are good brother.
Thank you my talented friend for a great interview and we’ll all be watching your career closely.
Thanks so much and much love
Interview by Ken Lehnig
Gabriel Kelly ‘It Don’t Come Easy‘
Purchase on Amazon
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