Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kelly Jean Caldwell Band (Interview) - Downriver LP Release Party Dec 9th

John Szymanski (of the Hentchmen) decided to start his own record label this year, operating out of his Outer Limits Lounge in Hamtramck. Singer/songwriter Kelly Jean Caldwell, who married Szymanski a couple summers ago, thought this was a great idea and wanted to start recording new songs she'd been working on with her band. But, after thinking about it, Caldwell and Szymanski decided that since she already had a whole full-length album recorded, why not release that one first... ?   Right…let’s get back to that!!

The Kelly Jean Caldwell Band celebrates their full length album
Downriver (to be released on the new Outer Limits Lounge Records), Dec 9th

Caldwell started writing her own songs when she was still in elementary school. She was born up in the Upper Peninsula, and eventually wound up moving down to Ann Arbor, where she formally started gigging and recording. From there, she came over to Detroit and has since been in a handful of bands and collaborated with several local artists over the last decade.

Throughout 2009-2011, she was performing regularly with a full band, invariably identified as the Kelly Jean Caldwell Band, Kelly Jean Caldwell & The Mountain Family Band…, or just Kelly Jean Caldwell. Those players included Craig Brown on lead guitar, Brian Blair on bass, Todd McNulty on drums, and Kevin Sullivan on rhythm guitar.

Just as 2010 became 2011, Caldwell released two divine and delightfully dark singles (“Outside Heart” & “Diamonds”), followed by an announcement that she and the band would begin recording soon with producer Derek Stanton (Molten Sound Studio). From there, most of us heard hide-nor-hair of this ostensible album until a couple months ago when Caldwell announced its re-excavation!

Caldwell spoke with me recently, and she told me about the modest-yet-workable recording space that Szymanski recently installed into an area of the Outer Limits Lounge. This is where he and Caldwell have been working on new recordings for the “stoner-rock/occult-band” The Wiccans (which features Szymanski and Caldwell, along with Aran Ruth, Jeff Fournier and Bill Hafer. So…, The Wiccans will be either Outer Limits Lounge Records 2nd or 3rd official vinyl album release (to be pressed, later, at Archer).

This Friday, the Kelly Jean Caldwell band kicks things off for Outer Limits’ new label with the long-awaited Downriver LP.

Dec 9th at Outer Limits Lounge
Kelly Jean Caldwell Band’s Downriver LP release party
with Michael Hurtt’s Haunted Hearts, the Drinkard Sisters, and DJ Eric AllenMore info

What I always loved (and love) about Kelly Jean Caldwell’s songs (and her overall vocal performance) is how spooky and sweet it is at the same time. She’s a charming balladeer who twists classic pop/rock struts, country twangs and Americana janglers just a bit askew into an ethereal, dreamlike realm, yes realm, where, if you close your eyes you might just picture fog machines and ambient moonglow.

I’m probably spellbound by Caldwell’s stylistic equation: she’d had a deep-seeded love of metal and hair metal when she was a tween and teen, then went on to filter those supernatural/sinister tones and vibes through the resplendent riggers of Ann Arbor’s sublime folk/roots/bluegrass scene of the early 2000’s. Her songs are the charming fusion of her early years’ coffee-shop mellow strums and throwback rock nostalgia as it barely tempers the nocturnal menace and theatrically eerie. That being said, her vision is comprehensively realized by the versatile players she’s got backing her up.

Enough from me, let’s chat with Kelly…

On the label and putting out Downriver
“John’s wanted to start a record label for a while, now. Meanwhile, I recorded this album about five years ago. It was in the prime of my band playing out and doing all sorts of stuff. We recorded with Derek Standon and then, just, one thing after another. Brian, the bass player, and I got divorced. I had a kid, then I got married (to Szymanski), and had another kid and it all went on the back burner. I wasn’t sure if everyone was even going to still want to play with me after the whole ‘mom thing…’ But as I reached out to all of them, they each individually said: ‘Hell yeah!’ So, then we started playing together again. John started this label. This album was already done. So, let’s just put it out!’

                Caldwell was approached by the Seraphine Collective for 2014’s Best Fest Forever-fest, to see if she had any new recordings. “Destroyer” is the third track on Downriver.

On returning to songs
“As a songwriter, you’re always looking forward. It can be easy to just write off your old stuff. But I revisited these songs and said… ‘Wow…’ These songs are about a very specific time in my life and I think it’s all kinda encapsulated in those songs, from my time I lived Downriver. It’s like putting on different outfits, I think; you might have an old shirt that you wore the first time you met your ex-boyfriend and you might think of him when you wear it, but….but it’s still a good shirt!” (Laugh) “But it feels good to play these songs with these guys cuz we really did hone them and they really are like a family to me.”

On the recording
“I think (Derek Stanton) really embraced the role of a producer and brought out a lot in the songs. While I hate that one song wound up keeping the title “Fucked Up,” it definitely sticks out in my mind because it is so much the essence of the record. Really spooky, with sort of random noises and this out-of-tune flute that we recorded at two in the morning. I have great memories of recording that song, but it’s a song we’ve never played live and probably won’t, ever…”

On Jeff’s favorite song, “Telepathy”
“That’s probably also my favorite one, because it’s sort of, to me, recalling the time I lived in Nashville. I had a band down there (with Brian) and we had a guitar player and a drummer who were from Nashville and they’d remarked something like: ‘Oh, this is the Detroit Twangasaurus,” or something… I do think there’s a certain soulful thing about the song. Definitely one of my favorites. And I think ‘Water’ is another one I like, where (Stanton) helped orchestrate this Pink-Floydy type of vibe, which is something I never would have thought our band could have....”

On growing up and getting into music
“I’ve always wanted to make music since I was a little girl. I was writing songs back when me and my childhood friends started a band. But, I really thought, at that time, that you had to be a man to be a led singer. Because it was all about Bret Michaels and Vince Neil and David Lee Roth… Ya know, there was Lita Ford and Doro Pesch, but there wasn’t many women. I figured I’d just be the editor of Metal Edge Magazine someday, because I thought a woman could only write about these men. But I think that stayed toward the back of my mind; cuz I got a guitar in 1998 and started writing songs. I moved to Ann Arbor shortly after that and it just sort of happened. There was a lot of house shows back then in Ann Arbor and I’d never even had to buy an amp; I could just show up. Then I transferred, I started doing shows over in Detroit and they were like: ‘Uhh…you need a pickup, an amp, and…a band.’

On The Seraphine Collective
“I don’t think there was anything like this (in the mid-2000’s) and they’ve definitely stepped it up in the last few years. They are a powerful group of women and individuals. I hold all of those girls in the highest respect, especially Shelley (Salant), whom I’ve known since…, I don’t know, she seemed like she was so young when she first showed up. But to see her now become this community leader; I just love it. I couldn’t be more excited about what they’ve got going on…”

On performing
“The first show was with this short-lived band I had called The Marigold Comedown.’ We practiced so much and I remember getting up there and standing on stage for the first song, feeling like: ‘I was wrong! This is terrible! I thought I wanted to do this, but I don’t…’ And all these thoughts are running through my head. But then, by the time we got done with our last song, and we only had about five songs, I felt it! I felt: ‘this was it!!’ And then I never really went back after that. I just realized: Okay, you need to power through that initial stage fright and nervousness. If you start crying in the middle of a song, just go with it; cuz everybody loves drama. Embrace the fear!”

On her band:
“I usually write a whole song and I might have a vibe in mind: like an early Kenny Rogers vibe…! Or I might get specific and ask Craig to play like a C.C. Deville guitar solo… My band are all stellar musicians. Brian is a very musical person. Craig is a phenomenal guitarist and a songwriter in his own right. And Todd is the most musical drummer I’ve ever played with. We really did work together on this album, which is the reason I wanted to call it: The Kelly Jean Caldwell Band…as opposed to just Kelly Jean Caldwell.”

After Wiccans' record, The Hentchmen have started working on new material. Later on in the new year, there's a new batch of material that Caldwell plans on recording with her band. It’s basically a five-album plan, for now; so they’ll see where there at in the middle of next year! Hopefully a year from now I’ll be writing about albums 6, 7, and 8, from Outer Limits. Until then…here's the info on this Friday's show! 

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