‘The only way to do it’ An interview with Brendan Kelly of the Lawrence Arms


Brendan Kelly of Chicago punk group the Lawrence Arms took some time out from his kids and music to give KDHX the rundown on the current state of his bands, his family and the music industry itself.

In this phone interview, Kelly touched a wide variety of topics, from Mick Jagger to Anna Nicole Smith, but thankfully not both at the same time.

Joe Duepner: How you doing today?

Brendan Kelly: I’m all right, man. Took my kids to the zoo, so you know…

Is the Chicago zoo free?

Oh, it’s free. We head down there all the time just to dick around in the lion house or whatever when it’s shitty out. It’s shitty out today.

So you’re playing in St. Louis, Thursday, January 12 at the Firebird, one of a few shows you have on this mini tour coming up. Is that a precursor to doing some recording or anything?

I don’t know. I mean we haven’t really talked about it too much; it’s just that we’ve sort of been stopped for a while and everyone’s been busy doing other stuff. So it occurred to me, not that long ago, that it’s been a long time since we’d played these towns, and also it’s been a long time since we’d played, so I threw it out there to sort of be like, “Hey you guys want to play a few shows in the Midwest?” That was met with enthusiasm so we’ll see. Obviously the first step to doing anything is doing something.

How do you handle touring with the kids?

It’s harder, you know. I’ve got to go in concentrated spurts of time. I’ve got to make sure that it’s financially feasible. And that, that’s something that we never considered before. You know, we just toured all the time, and we never really made any money. And that was fine because it was just, we didn’t need money. We just needed to play shows. But now, when we go out and play shows I have to come home with some money. You know it costs me money to go on tour now.

But you don’t take the kids with you on tour. You leave them at home, right?

They’re still pretty small. My oldest kid is three. He’s still too small to even been in a rock ‘n’ roll club. When I go on tour I want to drink beer and dick around. I have plenty of time with my kids at home with them every day. I mean it’s sweet to take kids on tour I guess, but we need a little separation of church and state, you know what I mean?

How do bands make money these days?

You gotta play shows and stand in front of people, and that’s the only way to do it. Record sales aren’t what they used to be. It’s just much harder. You know though, that being said, you get out and play a bunch of shows, which is sort of what it’s all about anyway. Dude, I read an interview with Mick Jagger and he said, “It used to be that we’d put out a record and we would tour to support our record. Now we put out a record to get people stoked about a tour.” And that’s the fucking Rolling Stones, so I think it’s operating on all levels at this point.

Have you ever run into someone famous or infamous that made you nervous or made a good story to tell?

Well, I met Little Richard, Anna Nicole Smith, uh, who the fuck else have I met …

Care to elaborate on the Anna Nicole Smith meeting?

I went to her birthday party. For some reason she took an interest in me, came up to me, wrapped her arms around me, and kissed me. And that was that. It was really weird. One of the weirdest nights of my life.

How’d you get invited to the birthday party?

Oh, I snuck in. It was across the street from where we were playing a show.

Do you have any favorite albums that came out this past year?

I really like that Elway album that came out a whole lot. The Copyrights’ “North Sentinel Island” is really good. I like that Holy Mess record but it wasn’t new. Cobra Skulls had a good record, it was a weird year for music though. Even the mainstream lists I’ve seen I’m like, “Really, this shit was the best of the year?” No offense to the records I just named, those records are awesome, and they’re also all Red Scare releases, which I have a hand in so it’s kind of like, I just want to be up front about that. I’m not trying to be like a disingenuous corporate shill or something like that. The reason those bands are on Red Scare is because we like them a lot.

For years you guys refused to play old songs from Slapstick or the Broadways that everyone always yelled at you to play. Why’d you reconsider and start playing them?

Well, for one thing, the last time we toured we decided to play some of those songs because we wanted to do something that was a big, special extravaganza. The other thing is we have to learn those songs. It’s not just like all of a sudden I start a band with Chris [McCaughan} and Neil [Hennessy] and they know how to play Slapstick songs. We can’t just whip that shit out, we’re not magicians. People yell, “Play a Slapstick song!” How are we gonna do that? We’re not Slapstick, we’re not that band.

That’s what’s so funny, people go, “Aw man, he hates it when you yell those songs.” I don’t. It’s like going to a Radiohead show and yelling U2 songs at them. They’re not the same band. It’s just distracting. It’s not like I hate the songs, or I’m not proud of them. So the point is, we’re getting ready to do that tour, and we’re dicking around with so many songs and decided fuck it, let’s play some Broadways and Slapstick songs. People obviously want to hear them. It was always a practical consideration more than anything.

You got a new thing coming out, Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds. Anything you want to let out of the pot?

The full length is coming out on Red Scare in the spring. It’s a full band, not just me and an acoustic guitar. It’s rocking. It’s pretty different, pretty weird. I’m really excited about it. It’s taken me a long time to put it together. I really don’t know how people are going to react to it. It definitely does not sound like the Lawrence Arms, so …

What do you mean pretty weird? Are you going to be rapping on it or some Freddie Mercury style singing?

Noooo, no. No rapping. A lot of keyboards, some weird sounds. It’s not really punk. Kinda punky — it’ll be an eclectic record, I guess. I’m really excited. It’s gotten a good reaction from people that have heard it. It’s getting mixed right now as we speak.

Hey, thanks for taking the time to give us, ah, some of your time? That sounded really smart didn’t it? We look forward to seeing you.

Hahaha, thanks man.

The Lawrence Arms perform at the Firebird on Thursday, January 12.