Whether your describe them as Red Dirt, Americana, Country, Rock, Country-Rock, Rockin-Country, or a hybrid of Indie-rock and Alt-country, Reckless Kelly has delivered two decades of quality music.
And in September, the Austin-by-way-of-Oregon-by-way-of-Idaho quintet will release what band co-founder Cody Braun calls the band’s hardest rocking record yet.
“This one is definitely more of a rocker. The last record, Long Night Moon, was a little more subdued. And this one definitely kinda comes out of the shoot guns-a-blazin’. We’ve got 13 tracks. All original stuff. Stuff Willy wrote and I co-wrote a couple. But mostly Willy. Yeah, it’s just a rock-n-roll Reckless Kelly record,” Braun said from his home in Austin after getting back from the road the night before while preparing to turn right around and leave again for a western U.S. run.
Reckless Kelly will return to Salt Lake City and The Depot on Thursday. Tickets are available at the door at a Smith’s Tix.
The first single off the new album, “How Can You Love Him?” is scheduled to be released just days before the Salt Lake City show, with the album tentatively scheduled to be released in September. The album marks Reckless Kelly’s 9th studio release. Braun says it’s is more in line with 2008’s Bulletproof and 2011’s Good Luck & True Love, both guitar-driven albums with upbeat songs like “Ragged as the Road,” “Wandering Eye,” and “She Likes Money.”
“Definitely kind of in that vein. Even a little harder on some of the stuff. We’ve got a song on here called ‘Radio’ that’s probably the most rock-n-roll thing we’ve ever put out. But still kind of in the Bruce Springsteen-side rock-n-roll, that’s what I mean when I’m talking about rock-n-roll. Not quite Metallica,” Braun said with a laugh. “It was a lot of fun. We did the record here at Arlyn Studios here in Austin which is where we made our first record, Millican. So 20 years later, going back to the same studio was a lot of fun. We actually tracked, I think, 23 songs.”
While the band is looking ahead to the new record, they’re also taking time this year to look back on 20 years of music.
“We first started the band in Bend, Oregon around June of ’96, played some of our first shows. Then moved to Austin in October of ’96. So yeah, 20 years on the road. Pretty wild,” Braun said.
Reckless Kelly had been working on a 20th anniversary box set collection for fans. But Braun said the amount of material, including old demo tapes and set lists, that they had to sort through became an overwhelming task.
“We kind of hit a point where we needed to put a new record out. It’ll be almost three years from Long Night Moon and so we needed to put something new out. And so we decided to do the new record and kind of start focusing on Reckless Kelly’s 21st birthday party for the box set idea. It was going to be too much to try and put out a new record and a fallback record as well or a package set. We just thought it would be confusing for people to take in a lot all at once. So we decided a 21st birthday party was more our style than a 20th anniversary,” he said.
Still, the fact this summer marks the 20th anniversary of the band isn’t lost on the Braun brothers (Cody and lead singer Willy). Recently, the band posted a hand-written set list from one of Reckless Kelly’s very first shows in Bend in 1996.
“I do remember the show” Braun said after seeing the set list. “And I was reading through the list and there are probably ten songs on there I don’t even recollect ever learning or could even tell you what the song is from the set list. It was fun to look at. Willy posted that because he’s kind of the archival madman. He’s kind of a hoarder when it comes to all that stuff. Which is great. I’m glad somebody is doing it.” (Incidentally, when asked if Willy has kept the majority of the band’s set lists over the years, Cody said yes, especially over the past ten years. But his “filing” system isn’t as organized as one might think. “I think it’s just in a pile under his bed,” Braun said).
The band “Reckless Kelly” in the summer of 1996 was so new that some of the promotional flyers used by bars around Bend, Oregon to promote their upcoming shows still had them listed by their previous band name.
“We had been in a band and rehearsing with some other guys. The name of the band was the Prairie Mutts. And we spent about eight months in Bend just rehearsing with them. Then the manager we had at the time and some of the guys… we just had different ideas about where we wanted the band to go. They were wanting to go more of a Nashville route. And we were wanting to go more of a rock-n-roll, Son Volt kind of off-the-beaten-path route,” Cody Braun recalled.
Braun also recalled that was the same summer that the Braun brothers met their drummer, Jay “Jazz” Nazz who is still with them today. Braun said about eight months after the Prairie Mutts ended, Nazz was going to sit in with the new Reckless Kelly band who were left without a drummer. Nazz eventually became their full-time drummer because of a bad break – literally – from one his friends.
“We met Jay Nazz kind of randomly at that bar one night. He was out on vacation with his buddy after college and he had brought his drums with him from Rhode Island. They were planning on doing some coffee shop gigs. So we met him at this bar and he said he could fill in with us a few dates, but he was playing with his buddy. Two days later, his buddy got hit by a car and dislocated his shoulder. So he was out for playing any guitar that summer. So Jay was like, ‘I can play whatever you guys got.’ So he played all the summer shows we had booked,” he said.
At the end of the summer, Nazz headed back to Rhode Island to finish college with the goal of meeting up again with Reckless Kelly after their move to Austin. Two months later, Nazz was in Texas, without ever finishing his classes.
The move for the band from Bend to Austin, Braun recalled, was part of a three-year plan they had to try and establish themselves in the Texas music scene.
“The Northwest was just coming out of the grunge scene in the mid to late ’90s. So there wasn’t a lot of room for what we wanted to do. Country-rock-n-roll wasn’t very popular out there and it was hard to find gigs. The gigs were few and far between. You had to drive forever to get from A to B. We just wanted to go to a city where we knew we could play every night. Just to play for tips or whatever. Just to get our sound together and really just kind of figure out what we wanted to be, what we wanted the band to be. And Austin was on the top of our list. We thought about New York or L.A. But a lot of the music we were listening to at that time and had grown up with was out of Texas. My dad highly recommended Austin as a place to check out.”
When Reckless Kelly arrived in Texas, the term “Red Dirt Music” wasn’t on the forefront of anyone’s mind.
“It didn’t exist. I mean, the Texas country scene was Robert Earl Keen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jack Ingram, Charlie Robinson, Jason Boland and Cody Canada and the Cross Canadian Ragweed guys had just started up in Oklahoma.”
In fact, it was Robert Earl Keen who initially helped Reckless Kelly when they arrived in Texas and even managed them for a couple of years. As Braun recounted, his father, Muzzie Braun, who had his own country swing band in Idaho, had recorded a Keen song.
“He remembered my dad because my dad was the first to ever send him a royalty check for like $50 or something,” Cody Braun said with a chuckle.
Reckless Kelly honed their sound by playing seven nights of week around Austin. They released their first album, Millican, in 1998, though it wasn’t until 2003’s Under the Table & Above the Sun and the single “Nobody’s Girl” that they began seeing chart success.
Since then, the music has kept rolling with songs like “Wicked Twisted Road,” “Love in Her Eyes,” One False Move,” “A Guy Like Me,” and “Give It a Try.”
In recent years, Reckless Kelly has also given special attention to the packaging of their albums. They have been nominated twice for the Grammy award for best album packaging, winning once for Long Night Moon (the other nomination was for Good Luck & True Love). Braun said the attention being given to the new album’s art work is no different.
“Oh yeah, it’s going to be awesome. The title of the record is Sunset Motel. So it’s kind of all geared around an old motel. The way we did the artwork, the Dodd Sisters (Sarah and Shauna) with Backstage Design, designed it so it’s like a two-toned thing, so you’re going to be able to look at one picture and through a device that we’re including in the package you’ll be able to look through that and it’ll change the picture completely. So there’s hidden stuff in the packaging and and all the stuff, it all transforms into something totally different. It’s like the new hotel back in its prime, then you look through the little view-finder thing and you see it’s all rundown. There’s too much to really explain, but there will be lots of fun, hidden messages.
“We’re kind of old school in the sense we still make records as a record. We consider it one chunk of art and one project even down to the artwork. We always try to make the artwork fun and interesting and interactive. We encourage people to buy the actual CD rather than downloading it or streaming it just because there’s not a lot of people still doing it and we think it’s a lot of fun and it’s something we think is important to keep alive,” Braun said.
For the rest of the year, Braun said the band would be doing its typical hard touring. They’re already booking gigs for next spring, he said. The band is also gearing up for their annual Braun Brothers Reunion festival, Aug. 11-13 in Challis, Idaho, this year featuring Alejandro Escovedo, Hayes Carll and the Turnpike Troubadours, along with the likes of regulars Micky & The Motorcars and Cody Canada & The Departed.
Speaking of The Departed, the Deseret News also asked Braun about the upcoming new record from them, which both Cody Braun and Cody Canada will appear on, but neither will sing lead vocals.
“Man, it’s really, really cool. I was really thrilled they asked me to come play fiddle and sing a little harmony with them too. It’s all early ’70s country and Jeremy Plato sings lead on everything. So it’s really different, especially for their band. But it’s really cool. Nobody’s done that thing for a long time. It’s gonna definitely will get a lot attention because it’s just so left field.
“It was really a fun, fun record to be a part of. It’s always fun when you can step outside your norm. I love the new music. I think this project will be a fun little side thing. What I love about those guys is they’re not afraid to just go do whatever they want to do. And that’s kind of why we all do music and why we’re in Texas and not Nashville because we can do whatever the (expletive) we want to do. So cheers to them for that and we’re going to keep doing the same.”