Some people love food and wine, some love cars, some love nature and mountains. Patrick Kelly loves language as expressed in words and music and how they settle on your soul. He is a musical thinker. Like other artists he is happy to receive inspiration for chords, melodies, and choruses. Yet, that is only the creative beginning. Finding just the right words is very important. He is a connoisseur of language, having appreciation for the subtleties of phrasing. He works at it. He comes back to it. He waits for new inspiration until he finds the right expressions that fit a song and live up to his vision. Patrick’s new EP, An Unclaimed Inheritance, brings this zeal to life with new six songs that have enjoyable melodies and vivid imagery throughout, imbued with the mindful care with which Patrick approaches his music.
Getting to this point of experiencing joy from digging out messages and stories set to music did not happen in a straight line. In fact, it is the sum of twists, turns, and investigating rabbit holes that feeds the creative well spring.
An Atlanta-area native, Patrick’s interest in music began early; there are recordings of him belting out songs at three years old. His father was a church minister of music until Patrick was nine and inspired Patrick’s desire to be a musician. By the time he was in high school, the lure of rock and roll was calling, and he decided that he wanted to be a drummer. Patrick’s father offered to buy him a drum kit, but only if Patrick successfully stuck it out for a year in the school’s marching band. Patrick was not keen on that condition and so, he rationalized that rock bands always needed bass players, plus there was no bass in the school marching band, and he convinced his dad to rent him one. His seriousness about playing waxed and waned until he was 19.
An area band he really liked had a bass vacancy and they invited Patrick to come over just to jam. The session included several unfinished song ideas and Patrick had some suggestions to complete them that the band liked. “I guess they liked my outlook. They offered me the spot in the band but plainly told me ‘You actually kind of suck, but we will make you better’.” That band was The Goodies. They toured throughout the region from 1993-1999 and again from 2001-2006 after relocating to Asheville in the late 90s. “We played so many shows that I naturally improved.” Patrick describes the band as a mashup of vaudeville and Van Halen. After The Goodies wound down to just occasional reunion shows, Patrick went back to school and played in a series of bands. Beginning with The Open Sky Separators, he recalls “I loved how the song chords sounded so different. Turns out every song was written in open D tuning – nothing in standard tuning! That is where I first worked with [drummer and producer] Mike Froedge.” Next was The Warm Guns. “I enjoyed listening to them so much I offered to fill in when they needed a replacement bassist and stuck around for a while. They were like a mixture of AC/DC and The Cult with a smirk on their faces.” From there it was The Greater Vavoom. “It took inspiration from Prince’s Dirty Mind. James Hall joined us just to hone his piano skills. I had seen him often as a headliner around town so I was blown away.” Eventually, Patrick dropped playing to focus on school until James called Patrick to join him, Bruce Butkovich, and Kent Aberle in a new band, James Hall & The Steady Wicked.
Each of these bands strengthened his interest in writing songs along with his insatiable curiosity that led him through a discovery of many different types of music. “I was a huge fan of Prince after seeing the ‘When Doves Cry’. I did not know who this stranger in a bathtub holding out his hand to me was, but I liked it and was an absolute fanatic until I fell into an obligatory hair metal phase. But then someone played me Janes’ Addiction and that opened my mind.” He was then spurred to seek out jazz classics. “I borrowed a neighbor’s copy of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and played it over and over. I had never read poetry not assigned in school, but soon I was buying the works of Arthur Rimbaud and then books by his influences and then Henry Miller books. These were all about the art of language for me, and I connected that my favorite songs all had great, meaningful lyrics – well maybe except Van Halen.” Friends turning him on to Tom Wait’s Bone Machine album was another revelation. “I kept flipping the cassette over and reading along with all the lyrics. I had not heard anything like it. This guy is telling stories and rock music does not always tell good stories.”
Writing his own songs became a greater priority. “The first song I wrote was called ‘Ripple Of Tranquility’ during the Goodies days. It did not come easy but was the first one of which I was proud.”
By 2012, Patrick finished school and spent his new found extra time working on songs, buying good microphones, recording software, and a drum sequencer to play drum parts the way he heard them in his head. During a long trip to Montana, it hit him how many songs he had actually amassed. “I said I would pick two favorites and base an album around them. What is a theme? Is there anything connecting the two?” He focused on the song “Benediction” and built the album around it. “It is about a guy who wakes up and realizes he is not as good a man as he could be. It is not necessarily autobiographical, but I am in that amalgamated mix of several people.” Through a long process, he winnowed 40 songs down to 11. “Every song I selected is about something where there is the potential to make the wrong decision, for the wrong reasons or one is reacting to something that is not working.” He was pleased with the record and the production helmed by Bruce Butkovich and the album Corruptibility Index became a reality.
On a creative roll, Patrick says. “I was writing perhaps some of my better work. However, the next album that was organically forming from my pile of songs was going to take much effort and time to make well.” At the same time, he had started writing songs that were more acoustic. “I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska then. I was not a huge country fan, but I was listening to Jason Isbell, and from there was checking out Willie Nelson and other classics.”
This roots enthusiasm brought him to the Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, home to a songwriter’s camp recommended by James Hall. Over the course of one week, participants spin a bottle to be randomly matched with other musicians and a second spin of the wheel gives them a photograph to be their lyrical inspiration. “One time I ended up with a drummer and violin player and we wrote a song about a GI Joe action figure that actually turned out okay.” Patrick recalls another round, “We were given a particularly evocative photograph of two trees of equal size, likely planted at same time. It hit me what a good metaphor it was about couples being together through years until the end. That spurred the song ‘Tallest Of Trees’.” Another song that incubated in much the same manner was “Invisible”.
With these two co-written rough demos – very different from his previous work – Patrick began working through other song ideas for a new record in earnest. The song “Lamb” came from a contemplation of fatherhood. “At the time, I was thinking a lot about my becoming a stepfather and the value of fatherhood. I have known many folks who have not had strong fathers or father figures and that has affected them. I had this melody and a clumsy first line about taking a lamb to slaughter. I tried to see how that tied to fatherhood and these uncharacteristic bright major chords came to me. I had a eureka moment of the image of a young man hauled to jail because he committed senseless acts that could have been avoided and might had been averted if he had fatherly advice.”
The album was coming together and Patrick was prepared to release just four songs to get something out quickly, but he says, “One night I had this dream about an old outlaw having to get out of town. I like a lot of Old West stuff. I think I have read every major Billy The Kid book that has been published and am fascinated by the stories of Butch Cassidy, and movies like No Country For Old Men. In the dream, the outlaw makes it out but soon realizes that his horse, who has been his one main companion all these years, is on his last leg. He must mercifully put him down. The song, ‘Old Boy’ ends up being about mercy and compassion. Don’t know why I had the dream but the imagery was strong and striking.”
He follows, “I had also written the song ‘Gasoline’ about my wife and I desiring to move. I had another song ‘West’ about pulling up and starting over out West. I could see that every song had something to do with family or companionship. ‘Lamb’ about a father relationship. ‘Invisible’ about a relative returning from war struggling with PTSD. ‘Tallest Trees’ is about a married couple staying together to the end. Even ‘Old Boy’ is about how we choose our family, even if that family member is a horse. I did then limit myself to those six songs so not to lose momentum.”
Patrick booked studio time and asked Bruce Butkovich, Mike Froedge, and Matt Hanson [from A Slow Boat To China] to accompany him on bass, drums, and guitar. “In a few spots on my demos, I had a few specific parts I wanted to hear, but otherwise I gave very little direction. I realized I had to trust that Matt is a great guitar player. He made some very different and sometimes unorthodox choices from what I had once thought. But he totally nailed the vibe and the parts came out better than I ever imagined. Sometimes the compressed time we worked in made me move on, and that was probably a good thing so I couldn’t overthink it.”
Like in all things involving words, Patrick was deliberate in his choice of album title. “An Unclaimed Inheritance seemed to fit well given all the songs connected to family. On the back of the CD sleeve we played on that theme referring to musicians as ‘heirs’ and those involved in getting the record made called ‘relatives.’”
Patrick continues to use his love of language to write new music; he already has a stack of new songs. He says, “I like to write. It is very cathartic for me. I could spend three hours sitting staring out a window with a guitar in my hands and something will come to me. Sometimes I don’t get anything but sometimes I do.” That creative channeling spurred his stage name. “I go by Alias Patrick Kelly because often when I am hit with that impulse to create music it is almost as if another person takes over and is doing it.” He continues, “If I don’t get to write regularly, I don’t feel right. It is the best way for me to understand how I am feeling. I have reread lyrics after having completed them and only then did I realize exactly what I had been feeling – and then know what I might need to do next. So, with this, I have been lucky to have many ‘keeper’ songs.”
His varied musical style pursuits and intense immersion into writing means Patrick will continue to write songs across multiple genres. Patrick views this versatility part of making interesting art. “Creative people want to try new things. David Bowie was constantly switching things up,” Patrick says before neatly summing up his regard for his music. “My song ‘West’ is about leaving one place and starting over in another. I thought about what if I did leave and what I left behind was found by somebody and it did something good for her or him? What if the people who bought my house then ended up having an amazing life in that house after I left it? I sometimes think that way about music and how we all build on the music left behind for us.” Reflecting for a moment, he adds “Whatever the style, it is good if sincerity is running through it all. Is something necessarily your thing? Perhaps not. However, whether the listener likes it or not, I want her or him to know that I meant every word.”
An Unclaimed Inheritance is out May 24 and Patrick is planning to tour regionally in support of it.
|Grapevine Profile: Alias Patrick Kelly|
|5 Desert Island Discs||1. Tom Waits - Bone Machine
2. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
3. John Frusciante - The Will To Death
4. Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral
5. Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
|First concert||Def Leppard - Hysteria Tour|
|Favorite concert in Atlanta||James Hall at The Point in L5Ps late autumn 1993: My Love, Sex, & Spirit Tour|
|Favorite area hangouts||The Highlander, Star Bar|
|Memorable gigs around town||My first acoustic performance at Smith's Olde Bar in the Atlanta Room. It was more or less flawless and a lot of friends got to hear me for the first time
|Favorite Atlanta music site||Atlanta Music Grapevine!|