pictures: Brenda Yamen
“You gotta get on the radio. It doesn’t take a lot of talent but no one knows.”
Remaining persistent. Staying independent. Constantly being on the road. And honing their musical talents through years of hard work. That’s how Reckless Kelly got to where they are today.
The Austin-by-way-of-Oregon-by-way-of-Idaho-based band has become a staple on Texas, Red Dirt and Americana radio, without the benefit of a reality TV talent show or a top 40 pop hit to boost then along. But outside of that, Reckless Kelly doesn’t get a lot of mainstream radio airplay despite 20+ years of music.
“We’ve had pretty decent success with Americana radio and the Texas radio scene, which is a whole different thing. So we get a little play down here in this region, but nothing nationwide,” said lead singer Willy Braun.
But Reckless Kelly has never been about following trends or being a flash in the pan fad. Their music is the type that sounds fresh in any generation.
That notion by many up-and-coming artists that success is measured by radio airplay is tackled in Braun and company’s tongue-in-cheek look single, the appropriately titled “Radio” off their latest studio album, Sunset Motel.
“People think it’s easy, that you just pull a trigger and a magic wand waves and suddenly you’re on the radio,” Braun recently told the Deseret News from his home in Austin just before the band launched their western U.S. tour.
The guitar-heavy, rockin’ song – one of RK’s best on the new album – reads almost like a list of lines that new bands have been fed at one time or another by record execs: “I know a few tricks and we’ll fix it in mix,” and “You’ve got a couple of true fans and a marketing plan.”
But Braun said the song is also about younger artists who think they’re ready for the big time but aren’t.
“Doesn’t seem like everybody does all their homework anymore. Kind of really don’t have an idea of the history of music or where it came from. Get a lot of people out there now who have learned three or four chords and wrote ten songs and all of a sudden think they’re ready to be a band,” he said.
As Braun also notes in the song, “You got a good look and that’s all it took to get you booked on the next big show.”
“The sad truth of it is it kinda actually does work like that now. But the people that are going to last for awhile and the bands that we want to listen to have spent a hell of lot more time than that.”
Although there are still many more years left in the RK gas tank, longevity is something Reckless Kelly has already achieved.
Brothers Willy and Cody Braun began performing at a very young age in Idaho with their father, Muzzie Braun, and their brothers Micky and Gary Braun who went on to form Micky & The Motorcars. The Braun family even landed two guest spots on The Tonight Show.
But it was when Willy and Cody set out for Bend, Oregon and later Austin, Texas, that they achieved the sound that would become Reckless Kelly. Along the way, they picked up longtime members Jay Nazz (drums) and lead guitarist Dave Abetya (a Berklee School of Music grad!). Most recently, Joe Miller came on to play bass.
For 20 years, the band has put together a series of solid albums including Under the Table and Above the Sun, Wicked Twisted Road, Bulletproof, Good Luck & True Love and Long Night Moon. Sunset Motel marks their 9th studio album. In addition to “Radio,” the album includes great tracks like “Moment In The Sun” and “Who’s Going to be Your Baby Now.”
The single, “How Can You Love Him (You Don’t Even Like Him)” finds Braun once again penning his thoughts and observations. In this case, he said the song was based on a combination of people he has known.
“I’ve seen a lot of people that are in some kind of relationship and you’re kinda of just like, ‘Man, you’re going to marry this guy? You don’t even really like him?’ I think everybody has that friend, or at least has seen it from afar. And the people that are involved in it probably don’t see it,” he said.
Reckless Kelly returns to the State Room on Thursday, which usually means several things are guaranteed: The show will sound great. Red Iguana will be getting some band business. And the band is either coming from or going to the Braun Brothers Reunion. This year, the annual festival in Challis, Idaho will be Aug. 10-12. In addition to the acts who make up the “every year club,” as Braun calls them – Reckless Kelly, Micky and the Motorcars, Cody Canada, Wade Bowen – this year’s show also includes the Old 97’s (Urban Lounge Aug. 11), The Dirty River Boys (Snowbasin Aug. 13) and Lee Ann Womack making her BBR debut (no upcoming Utah shows).
This year also marks the first time that Willy, Cody, Micky and Gary have fully taken over the reigns of the festival from their parents. Willy Braun said with his parents getting older, they were ready to be less involved in organizing the event. And while Braun said he and his siblings were up to the challenge, putting together the Braun Brothers Reunion is a lot more involved than just setting up a stage and calling their friends,
“It’s an unbelievable amount of work. It’s something we work on all year long. It is funny that people kind of think that, ‘Well, you just gotta put the stage up and call a bunch of bands and that’s it.’ But they don’t think about renting port-a-potties and how you get them cleaned out and insurance for the festival and volunteers to run the gate and who’s going to serve beer backstage and what time does the beer get there. Just an amazing amount of work goes into it. You got to have contacts with all the bands and you have to get the starge and all the lights and sound and coordinate with all those people. And that’s just scratching the surface,” he said.
In addition to being band director and making sure everyone learns the songs they need to know for the festival, Willy is also in charge this year of securing insurance policies, something that took five months. Not exactly the glamorous rock-n-roll lifestyle, but as Braun notes, absolutely necessary. (FYI, Cody was in charge of ordering the beer).
Reckless Kelly will be in the west for an extended run of shows, playing bigger markets like Seattle and Portland, and also several smaller markets in Montana and Wyoming. On the last day of the tour, the band plays in the small town of Lander, Wyoming. It’s a day that Braun had originally hoped he’d be at his home in Idaho to see the solar eclipse. But Lander is also in line to get 100% of the full event.
“I love playing out there because, for lack of a better term, they’re kind of staved for entertainment, more so than they are in some of the bigger cities or back east,” he said, noting that everyone in town typically comes out for those shows, in part because they enjoy the music, but also, “You’re the only thing going on.”