A self-described studio rat, Kelley Ryan is an individual who truly loves the songwriting process. The singer-songwriter is based primarily in California and has quietly racked up eight previous records (some under the name astroPuppees), a bunch of TV and film score credits, not to mention oodles of co-writes on albums by some of her well-known friends (Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon and Marti Jones among others).
I spoke with Kelley recently to find out about her brand new release Telescope. Here's what she had to say about it.
antiMusic: What can you tell us about Telescope, your latest record? Is there a summing up in terms of a whole musical statement or is it simply a collection of great songs?
Kelley:Well, thank you! I certainly love that you say it is a collection of great songs. As all of my records have been to this point, I think it is sort of like a musical collection of short stories or poems that are documenting the view of things through my eyes. It's like a diary from a certain time period in my life. For me it's usually about two years and then I think there is enough for a record.
antiMusic: Romance seems to play a big part of this record as portrayed in "The Darkest Stars", "Secret Life" and "Sacred Monster" and also the down side of things like "Cigarette" and "The Broken News". Are relationships front and central to most of your songs?
Kelley:Yes. Relationships are DEFINITELY central to my writing. They are central to me! They fascinate me. I might add that I love the description of romanticism in my songs. I would also say that both "Cigarette" AND "The Broken News" are not really on the down-side of romance. The people in the songs WANT to be there. It may hurt, but at least they know they are alive and feeling love deeply. Love is never perfect anyway. Well it's pretty perfect, but not always conventional I think.
antiMusic: My favourite song on the record is "The Darkest Stars". I love the slinky, sensuous atmosphere. What can you tell us about this song? Also, it's dedicated to Sylvia Plath and Anais Nin and Marilyn. How do they figure into the sentiment of this song?
Kelley:Well, it is written from the perspective of those three women. I was just wondering what those brilliant, creative women, who suffered so much in real life, thought about in those wee-small hours of the morning when they couldn't sleep. Like when you wake up at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. and all is BLACK in your mind? (Well, it's happened to me anyway). But I just thought, those women MUST have had some crazy, difficult nights as they struggled to balance the thoughts of "who the world thought they were" and "who they personally knew themselves to be". They were all super creative and extremely tragic all at once. I am just certain that they were always yearning for light. I guess we all are from time to time, but they had a hard time of it I'd say. I'm glad you like the song.
antiMusic: "Cigarette" appears to be comparing a relationship to a bad habit. The drowsy musical framing seems to say that it's too much effort to give up the person in spite of his faults. Tell us how this song came about.
Kelley:A year or so ago, Marti Jones sent me an image of one of her paintings and gave me the idea to write a song about the two figures knowing nothing of who they were or where they were. "Cigarette" is the result. I imagined them as a couple that hooked up every weekend in a corner bar where they would negotiate the perils of their addictive relationship over a pint (or three). After I wrote the song she told me that the painting is called "The Green Room at the House of Blues" and that it was from backstage at a show where here husband, Don Dixon, was playing in Cleveland. When you see the painting, it is mostly red. Red, green or blue. THAT was the inspiration for "Cigarette". I used the image for a YouTube video of the song. And YES! Neither one of them wants to give up the relationship in spite of its faults. I love the description you give of "drowsy musical framing" by the way.
antiMusic: I really like "Secret Life" with the additional vocal tracks that are layered so nicely. This song sounds that while the basic track might have taken shape quickly, perhaps you might have tried a variety of arrangements on this one due to its fresh-canvas skeleton?
Kelley:This one was just so fun to write. My friend, and excellent musician, Maura Kennedy works with a writer named B.D. Love. He had a book of short stories called "A Day In The Life Of A Severed Head". Maura was contacting some of her songwriting friends and asking if they would like to write songs to correspond to various stories in his book. I said "Sure"! She sent me the book and suggested the first story. That was the basis for the song. I just read the story and tried to get the kernel of the feeling from the story and just pounded it in over and over with melody and repetition. I just really wanted to express the feeling being caught up in a totally different world than others may think you are in. Secretive. A little scary. Fun actually
antiMusic: The vocals are front and center on all your songs but none more than on "Pulling For Romeo". Perhaps it just owes to the melody line but your voice is so gorgeous on this track and particularly with the multi-voices towards the end of the song. Tell us about putting this one together.
Kelley:Well, I MUST give a lot of the credit to Marti Jones for those vocals. Especially at the end. I just loved the idea of singing about a relationship that even though it is as hopeless as Romeo and Juliet's, I STILL hope for a positive outcome. As if Romeo has a chance of waking up just in time to stop Juliet from drinking the poison. But of course he doesn't. I am always "pulling for Romeo" to win the day. Can't help it. I am a hopeless romantic.
antiMusic: Your songs sound really straight-forward and unencumbered by unnecessary musical traffic. Is it hard to resist the urge to pile on the instrumentation especially when you have your own studios at your disposal?
Kelley:I tend to record a whole lot more than ever ends up on disc. My favourite thing to do is just record and record beautiful snippets of music and sounds and vocals and then begin the process of honing it down to the basic point of the song. Usually, in my case, the vocals. Nothing, to me, should get in the way of the original intent and spirit of the song and its mood and lyrics.
antiMusic: For those of us who are new to you, could you please bring us up to speed on your musical history? Also I've read that you have two studios in California and Ireland. Have you always been interested in the other side of the glass as much as the songwriting end of things?
Kelley:I have always been interested in recording my own music even since I was a teenager and my parents bought me a reel to reel tape machine. I've really just expanded on that idea. I DO live in Ireland and California and have a small studio in each place that allows me to continue working on my musical projects continuously. "The other side of the glass" question is a great one! I actually don't even think of recording as being on a separate side than songwriting. I pretty much use my whole studio, and everything in it, to write songs as much as I do my guitar. So I guess the answer is "yes"! I am simultaneously interested in both sides of the glass and always have been. I think of a record as a documentation of a song in its most 'perfect' form. It is an end in itself. Like a painting. Or a book. Performing live is a completely different animal to me. I concentrate on the recoding as my expression.
antiMusic: Don Dixon and Marti Jones are listed as collaborators. How did you first come into contact with these two?
Kelley:Not only are they musical collaborators, they have become very close friends. Marti and I in fact are kind of inseparable even though we live thousands of miles apart. Our husbands introduced us years ago as my husband had a music publishing company called Bug Music and Dixon was signed as a songwriter there. We all go way back. It's like family.
antiMusic: Will your summer be dedicated to live shows promoting Telescope or are you already thinking about your next project?
Kelley:Next project for sure! That is the point for me. To be inspired to get back into my studio and make more records. Remember, I love BOTH sides of the glass.
Morley and antiMusic thanks Kelley for taking time to do this interview.
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