SALT LAKE CITY — Both Reckless Kelly and Micky & The Motorcars somehow managed to miss Salt Lake City in 2014 (the Motorcars last playing here in December ’13 and Reckless in September ’13).
But 2015 is already looking like a great year for concerts as The Depot will host a Braun Brothers reunion of sorts, with both bands playing on the first Saturday night of the year.
And this time around, Reckless Kelly comes into town with a Grammy in hand.
In the age of streaming and downloading, Reckless came away with a Grammy in 2014 for best album artwork and packaging for Long Night Moon. It was the band’s second Grammy nomination (the first coming for 2011’s Good Luck & True Love).
“It’s awesome. We’ve always kind of tried to make the album artwork as much of part of the package as the music inside. We’ve always felt like that was a big part of a record is the cover. So we’ve always worked really hard on it and tried to come up with some good ideas and some different kind of fun things to encourage people to buy the actual album instead of downloading it or stealing it. So it’s cool to see that pay off,” said Willy Braun, lead singer/rhythm guitarist and one of the co-founders of Reckless Kelly.
The Deseret News talked to the two Braun frontmen, Willy and Micky Braun (lead singer of the Motorcars), a couple of days after Thanksgiving on the phone from their homes in Austin. For Micky and his brother Gary Braun, the Motorcars are gearing up for another heavy year of touring in 2015 while also supporting their new album Hearts From Above.
Willy and Cody Braun (Gary and Mick’s older brothers), meanwhile, are also getting ready for another typical heavy year of touring with Reckless Kelly. And while the band may not be as well known in Utah as their home state-by-way-of-Idaho-and-Oregon of Texas, Reckless is getting ready to celebrate 20 years as a band.
How was your Thanksgiving?
WB: Oh, it’s a good time. Had a big orphan’s Thanksgiving party at my place. Then did three shows.
Who does the cooking?
WB: Everybody does a little of everything. I do the appetizers. And everybody brings a dish. Mom does most of the heavy lifting, she does a turkey. Our drummer, Jazz, usually fries a turkey Texas-style in boiling oil. We have a bunch of friends and other people that pop by over the course of the day. Almost everybody brings a little something. If you don’t cook, you bring a bottle of wine.
Has winning a Grammy for best album artwork translated into a boost in album sales?
WB: You know, I’m not sure about that. I think we would probably sell some more hard copies than we normally would. And I think we sell more hard copies than a lot of bands just because we tour a lot. It’s really hard to track that kind of thing. I think it certainly didn’t hurt. Definitely didn’t hurt. And we can put “Grammy Award Winning” stickers on the album now! That might move a few copies.
Reckless Kelly have been releasing albums since 1998. While 2000’s “Crazy Eddie’s Last Hurrah” has become a crowd favorite in concert, it arguably wasn’t until the song “Nobody’s Girl” was released in 2003 that the band started getting more widespread attention. Since then, the quintet has been on a non-stop roll with songs such as “Wicked Twisted Road,” “Ragged as the Road,” “Love In Her Eyes,” “One False Move,” “Wandering Eye,” “Guy Like Me,” “Give It A Try,” “Good Luck & True Love,” “She Likes Money, He Likes Love” and more.
While the band doesn’t have any plans to release a new album in 2015, they are gearing up for a special anniversary release.
WB: Well, we got our 20 year anniversary coming up in a couple of years. So we’re starting to put together a 20-year kind of package, like an anthology almost, with a bunch of bootlegs, studio out-takes and board-takes and things like that. That’s going to take us awhile. And we’re talking about releasing that with a new studio album at the same time. It’ll probably be a year or two before we get that wrapped up. We’re just starting to dive into that right now.
I’ve been diving through a bunch of stuff here, cassettes and CDs and countless piles of notes and scrapbook type of stuff that we’ve been starting to dig through, And it’s really kind of overwhelming to see how much stuff we’ve done over the years. And it’s really fun too, you start listening to practice tapes from 15 years ago and you hear songs taking shape, songs that we’ve now played thousands of times. And listening to us talking about the arrangements and the original versions of them are pretty funny, and the commentary that goes along with them. It’s pretty fun to check that stuff out.
Meanwhile, the band has another full year of touring planned for the coming year.
WB: That’s our bread and butter. Don’t make a lot of money selling records or songs anymore. So we got to stay on the road.
Over in the younger brother Micky’s camp, the Motorcars recently released their 6th studio album, Hearts From Above. Willy Braun produced it and had a hand in co-writing most of the songs.
MB: I just started writing the songs for this album and talking to Willy about producing it and he decided he wanted to get on board. Tightened up a lot of the songs, did a lot of co-writing together on this record. Kind of got all the tunes together on this record, then we went in the studio and started talkin’ to Cody about playing and doing a little singing on some stuff. He said he’d love to, and we just ended up throwing him all over the place on stuff it made since to sing on.
WB: I ended up producing it. Micky came to me and asked if I’d help work on some of the songs and arrangements. Of course I said, ‘Yeah.’ And we started diving into that and kept having ideas for production. It just kind turned into, “I don’t know, why don’t you just produce this thing?” I had never done that by myself, so I was a little nervous to do it. But we were having so much fun, I figured, ‘Why the hell not?!’ So we ended up going to the studio and putting out a pretty cool record. I think it turned out really good. I ended up co-writing a bunch of songs on there. He had a bunch of songs that were about half finished or close. We worked on almost all the songs together but I only felt like I ended up writing about half of them.
How do you decide whether a song ends up on a Reckless Kelly album or a Micky and the Motorcars album?
WB: You know, normally we just kind of whoever had the idea gets to keep up. Then every once in awhile it’ll be more of a fit for the Motorcars or more of a fit for us and we’ll just kind of decide that way. But 9 times out of 10 it’s just whoever brought it to the table gets to keep it. That’s kind of the only way we’ve been able to figure that out over the years.
The title track “Hearts From Above,” also features all four Braun brothers singing on the same song for the first time since they were children. When the Braun children were growing up in Idaho, they often toured as a country-western singing group with their father, Muzzie Braun. The Braun children opened for the likes of Johnny Cash and made two appearances on the Tonight Show, once while Johnny Carson was still the host.
MB: I usually have a favorite song on every record and on this particular one I really love the way “Hearts From Above” came out. I think it’s probably my favorite tune on there. But I really was happy with a lot of the songs on the record and how they were produced. Everybody played really strong and had a lot of good ideas. And working with Willy was a blast, we’d never done that before. We had a lot of good laughs and a lot of good fun just recording the project.
Micky Braun, who also got married in October, is in a happier head space than he was a couple of years ago. The songs on the album reflect that brighter outlook. A video for the next single, “Long Road to Nowhere” is expected to be released around the first of the year.
Still, if anyone knows how to write a “good” love-gone-wrong or hitting-the-road-again song, it’s Micky. (If you’re new to MMC, listen to “Naive,” “Long Enough to Leave,” “Any Longer Anymore” and then “Bloodshot,” “Carolina Morning” and “Grow Old” for good measure. Oh, and “Rock Springs to Cheyenne,” which many Utahns can probably relate to).
In 2015, after Salt Lake City and the annual Steamboat Music Festival in Colorado, the Motorcars will be packing their bags for Europe.
MB: We are going back for sure in May to Europe. And we actually recorded a live album last time we were over there. We played 22 shows in 23 days and we recorded two of the shows separate, about four days apart, to see how the quality was when we got back. Plugged them in and listened to them and they really came out a lot better than we had actually even hoped for. We kind of hand picked a lot of songs that weren’t on our last live album and we’re probably going to release that just over in Europe in the the Spring and in the late Summer we’ll probably release it over here as a nice little in-between studio albums teaser, but I doubt we’ll get too crazy it.
I feel like we just got done with (recording a new album) and we’re already starting to book into the next year. We’re going over to Germany in May and then France to play a festival in July and plan on touring a lot. Need to go back to the west coast in the Spring and then go to the east coast like we always do. I never have played France before. So I’m really looking forward to playing there.
What are your thoughts on U2 giving away free music? Does it hurt independent bands like yourself who are already fighting an uphill battle selling albums?
WB: I’m not really that critical of U2 for the way they did it. I thought it was really cool on their part and their decision to give it away. Honestly, I didn’t even know it was on my phone until Thanksgiving and we were talking about it and Micky’s old drummer Shane said, ‘No you have it. It’s on your iTunes.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And there it is. So I can understand when some people were mad because they didn’t ask them and it took up their storage space. But that was their call. And I don’t think that’s hurting as much as streaming services. I think Spotify and Pandora and things like that, which I think are great outlets for music and I think it’s cool people can get music that way and it spreads the word, but the way they pay artists and songwriters, it’s totally unfair. They need to restructure that and be a little bit more fair with the people who are putting the product out there. Taylor Swift just pulled her stuff off of there and that’s why people are starting to talk about it. Arguably the biggest pop star in the world right now just pulled her stuff off of there, which kind of opened a lot of people’s eyes to how unfair it really is. It’s so bad it makes all the big time labels and all the people who made their money back in the day look like angels.
David Lowery of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, has been long outspoken opponent of Spotify and similar streaming services. But it does seem like it took someone on the level of Taylor Swift to grab the public’s attention.
WB: I admire her for doing that. It took a lot of guts to do that, especially on her level. I saw an article the other day, and I can’t remember what the song was, but the highest or the most streamed song on Spotify was 168 million streams and the three guys who wrote it got $4,000 a piece. And the other thing is the way they structure it, the more streams you get, the less they pay you. That’s kind of backwards to any industry or any sort of incentive in any business.
Micky, you play acoustic guitar on every song in concert, every show. Ever thought about picking up an electric guitar for a song?
MB: I’ve always played the acoustic live just because we have two electric guitar players. My brother Gary is always playing electric and Sunshine, our lead guitar player, is always playing electric as well. So there’s really not any point in having another electric guitar going at the same time, and the acoustic really warms up our sound and gives us a little bit more of that country vibe, which is what we have anyway. But I’ve always wanted to. If Gary ever picked up an acoustic for a tune or wanted to switch out for a few songs, I’m definitely starting to lean that way. I’m getting kinda of tired of just playing the acoustic for a few set.
I’ve never written on a song on an electric guitar before. I’ve never written anything except on acoustic guitars. A got a few of them around. But I keep the songwriters here in the house in Austin. I don’t take ’em on the road. They’re my babies that I like to write on so I keep them here.
I’m going to try and make it to my first SXSW in 2015. Any suggestions?
WB: It’s going to be really crowded. But it’s a great party. You got to try some of our BBQ and some of our Mexican food. That’s pretty much a must. You can’t go wrong. There’s a lot of great stuff here in town, but one of my favorite Mexican places in Maudie’s Milagro.
For BBQ, Braun recommended Coooper’s or The Salt Lick.
Likewise, Micky also recommends Maudie’s for Tex-Mex and the Salt Lick for BBQ, in addition to Southside Market and Jack Allen’s.
And in case anyone questioned the Braun’s taste in food, Micky said the band eats at Salt Lake’s infamous (and my personal favorite) Red Iguana whenever they’re in town.
MB: Always, every single time. It’s definitely a musician’s spot. I heard about it nine years ago. Everyone you talk to about Salt Lake and being on the road, every single time it’s like, ‘You ever been to the Red Iguana?’ ‘Oh yeah! Mole!’