A Fragile Tomorrow, which is comprised of brothers Sean Kelly (singer/songwriter/guitarist) and Brendan Kelly (songwriter/guitarist) as well as Shaun Rhoades (bassist) and Josh Kean (drummer), was originally born in New York state. They now are currently between Montgomery, NY, Savannah, GA and Nashville, TN.
Their latest album, It’s Better That Way, is scheduled for release on July 15, 2022. It can best be described as “art rock”. It also features Vicki Peterson (The Bangles, Continental Drifters) as well as Peter Holsapple (dB’s, R.E.M., Hootie and the Blowfish, Continental Drifters).
I had the opportunity to speak with Sean where we discussed Dominic’s departure from the band, working with Peter Holsapple as well as Grammy winning master engineer Alan Silverman and Vicki Peterson, the influence the Continental Drifters have had on his music career and the forthcoming album.
Interview by Carly Kutsup. Photo courtesy of Sean Kelly. Click here to pre-order the new album. See their new video “Lost in Art”.
Carly Kutsup: I read that your brother Dominic decided to depart the band and pursue a career in political activism. How did that affect not only you, but the band as a whole?
Sean Kelly: That’s a big question because Dom was in the band for 18 years. We started the band in our basement in 2003. Dom and I were 11 going on 12 at the time. It’s all we’ve ever known. Aside from the fact that I have kids and some of us are married and have day jobs, it still has been such a major part of our lives for so long and it is the reason that we are where we are in our lives, even geographically. We grew up touring together. Our dad used to tour with us when we were little kids when we couldn’t get into bars. Dom leaving was seismic, but he alluded to this before he announced that he was leaving. It was a bit of a long time coming because he was moving away from music on a professional level. Not that any of us have ever made any money doing this, but it’s still a profession because we have devoted so much of our life to it and it’s part of what we do.
Brendan and I co-ran a recording studio in Savannah, Georgia, which is where I live. That was a way for us to not have to tour as much and still be involved in music. During that time that we were producing, on top of our day jobs and the band, Dom was getting more into activism and politics in general, but mostly disability rights because both Dom and I have Cerebral Palsy. It’s something that’s been a part of our life for a long time, but he really kind of latched on to it.
His departure was gradual; you could sort of tell he was losing interest over time. He was the drummer for many years, and we moved him over to keyboards because he wanted to try something different. He really enjoyed it, but I think it became hard to balance all the things he was doing. We had to put the record on pause because of the (COVID) pandemic and when we finally got back to it, he basically said, “I don’t think I actually will be able to.” He doesn’t have a home recording setup like Brendan and I do, so it takes more scheduling for him. We’ve said all along that if it ever gets to the point that one of us isn’t having fun anymore and it’s just too much work, it’s not the end of the world. We’re literally family. Even Shaun Rhoades, our bass player, and Josh Kean, our drummer, are pretty much family so there is no hard feelings or weirdness.
Dom’s departure was huge in a lot of ways. We lost that component where Dom and I would harmonize. That was our thing, so losing that was weird and interesting, but Dom wanted us to continue. There was never a question of “Dom’s out so now we’re going to call it quits.” I think he understood that we could continue without him, and he wanted that. It was an adjustment, but I think it was good. Getting Peter Holsapple to come in and sort of take that place, a little bit, was sort of a bonus. It’s been interesting, but in the end, it’s been a long time coming and it feels natural enough.
Dom still comes to my house to visit. We’re brothers. It’s just going to be that we aren’t working together anymore, which in a way is weird because we did it for so long, but it’s been good and it’s just the evolution of things. It’s just how things go, and everybody’s cool We’re all grateful that we’re still doing this. He’s cheering us on.
CK: Since you brought up Dom advocating for disability rights and the both of you having Cerebral Palsy how has that affected you as a musician? What would you say to somebody who does have something similar and wants to get into music, but is struggling because of their disability?
SK: As I get older, I’m noticing things more. Dom and I have had a lot of conversations about this and how when we were kids we weren’t really informed very well on the facts about CP. We always thought it was something that couldn’t get worse. That it would be something that would just plateau and kind of be what it was in terms of the physicality of it and the strain it would put on your body, but it actually is extremely progressive. You start to notice something called premature aging almost to the point where you notice certain physical signs, like fatigue. I’m noticing those things more now so the idea of touring around like we use to and sleeping in vans is a complete no-go for me at this point. When we used to do it all the time, it was hard. The great thing is that to the music community, especially the people that we were surrounding ourselves with, it was never a thing. Neither Dom or I ever felt ostracized for it or like people were treating us weirdly in music. We did get that in other aspects in life, but not in music at all. I remember touring with Indigo Girls, and we’ve toured with them many times, and it wasn’t until at least a couple of years later that we mentioned we had CP and Amy told us she didn’t even know we had it. I guess that’s because I don’t wear it, which I feel less comfortable with as I get older because that is a part of me and I’ve grown to embrace it enough. It was nice when I was younger, the idea that I could be in this community of people and feel like I wasn’t sticking out. I could just belong in this group.
So, for people with CP or other kinds of physical disabilities who are interest in music, I’ve seen plenty of people create incredible careers in all different areas with CP, people in wheelchairs, people on the Autism spectrum. One of my heroes growing up was Vic Chesnutt who, I believe, was paralyzed from a car accident. Majority of his public career was in a wheelchair. The only time I ever saw him live was a few months before he died in 2009 and I was in awe. I identified with him because of the idea that there was some representation. It was nice to see because you want to be able to see yourself in people, especially if it’s in a creative realm. I didn’t really have anything like that growing up aside from Chesnutt. I would say it’s possible and some things are going to be hard, like touring around all the time and sleeping in vans, especially when you can’t afford hotels. It’s hard and it takes a toll on you. Coming home after 3-4 weeks of that is exhausting and some nights are terrible. For example, a few years ago I was out playing bass with The Cowsills. I was having real trouble since we were doing a bunch of shows and a lot of traveling. I was flying to every show. I asked Susan Cowsill, one of the singers and almost like my second mother, if it was ok if I sat during one of the last shows. She said to me “Look, you’re never going to get a no from me because it’s not about that. If you need to sit down and play, its not going to mess with the vibe or energy. We’re not precious about that stuff and maybe some bands are.”
We sat when we did a European tour, maybe nine years ago because it was a lot easier to do since there was so much traveling and time changes that affect your body with your energy levels. I encourage people to not be afraid and adapt if you need to. I think that’s the big thing. It’s possible and you should do it. There are going to be challenges, but I think it’s ok to embrace it and make it a part of who you are. Let that inform you how you pursue your career. It’s ok to modify things and to adapt to things. It’s the way it should be, and the world should be more accessible than it currently is. That’s what I would say to anyone who wants to pursue a music career.
CK: At what ages did you and your brothers realize that you wanted to pursue music?
SK: I was four when I started playing the guitar. I then put it down for a few years and picked it back up when I was 10 years old.
Brendan was not into music at all. He was into baseball and that’s all he wanted to do. Then when I was 8, we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. My dad put headphones on him, and Brendan listed to “A Whole Lot of Love”. I remember his face was like “OH MY GOD!” He became obsessed with Led Zeppelin after that. That was it for him. I was probably 10 or so when I realized that this is what I wanted to do. Dom was probably the same age, but I think he’s just found a different path and found something that speaks to him. Dom loves music though and he’ll probably do something again at some point.
Our parents were a big part of the decisions we made as a band and have been so supportive. We couldn’t have had a better support system. Music is everything that we know, and it’s enabled us to be where we are and have what we have. I would have never met my wife if I didn’t move to Savannah, Georgia to start a studio. It’s such a huge part of our lives and it will always be that way. I could never imagine not doing it, even if I have to have a day job to help support my family and feed my music habit. It’s my career and as much as anything else is. It’s a part of my life. The same goes for Brendan, Dom, Shaun and Josh. When you’re in it, you can’t be out of it. It’s just not a thing.
CK: I agree. I think when art or music are ingrained in your DNA to try to take that away from someone, it won’t work.
SK: I think when people are on the outside and they look at that and say “Oh, it’s just a hobby”, they don’t understand. I say, “No, it’s part of my career. It’s what I do professionally because I have made money doing it.” I never liked the whole thing that just because it’s not your primary source of income it’s somehow just a hobby. When it’s what you do is what you do and whether you’re making a salary doing it, it doesn’t matter since it’s a part of your life. There is a difference between that and something being just a hobby.
CK: You mentioned Peter Holsapple. What was it like working with him and Alan Silverman on the most recent album?
SK: Peter is somebody we’ve known for probably 16 or 17 years. He was like my childhood hero of heroes. I would see clips of him with R.E.M. or Hootie and the Blowfish. I just always thought “Oh, that’s the guy! That’s the job I want!” I didn’t want to be upfront and be the front man, but here I am. As a songwriter, there’s nobody better. We’ve worked with him a bit on and off over the years. He became a family friend; so has his whole family. His oldest daughter is one of my closest friends.
When this record happened and Dom left, [Holsapple] was the first and only person that I thought of. We had to ditch a bunch of things and start over on about three quarters of the album. We thought, “Well, if we’re going to have to have somebody come in and play, we could either play it ourselves and fake a bunch of keyboard stuff or we could just take the opportunity to have someone come in and just put their stamp on it.” Peter was the only person that I thought of, and Brendan, Josh and Shaun were on all board with it. So, I called up Peter and asked him to it. He did 11 songs in three weeks! We would send things back and forth, along with ideas, to him. He didn’t co-produce the album, but he added additional production. We’d give him a general idea of what we heard, but we gave him free reign, especially on parts. He really produced a lot of that. Then there was the contribution that he brought in, which really ended up changing the whole vibe of the record. Ultimately, we did give him an additional production credit because he did change the course of it for the better. It was amazing! He isn’t someone who produces music anymore; that’s his own choosing. He’ll tell you he does not like producing.
I am writing a book about one of his bands, the Continental Drifters, that he produced before he was properly in the band. He produced a lot of their earlier material. We’ve had lengthy discussions about that and how he feels about it. It’s just not something that he has ever really enjoyed doing, especially after he tried to do it for a while. He’s amazing. He’s an incredible producer, but it wasn’t really his niche. I knew that going into this, but he did enough (producing on this album) that I was like “We have to give him something of a credit because what he did on this record, I couldn’t just leave it as he played keyboards.”
He has the best ear and the parts that he came up with are little ear worms and have great hooks. He’s the king of the hooks. It was great because he and I have never been able to really work together as closely even though he’s played on our material over the years. I have always wanted to be able to do that with him and this was the opportunity to do it, so it was really special. He came up to New York, when we all got together in New York, to do promo material for the record, like videos. That was amazing too since we had a great time over two days just playing songs and doing a live session. It was wonderful.
Aside from them all being musicians, Peter along with Susan Cowsill (the Continental Drifters) and Vicki Peterson from The Bangles are just the most generous, wonderful people. Any opportunity to spend any length of time with them, especially with Peter, is an absolute joy. I just love the man so much.
With Alan, we hadn’t worked with him before this. We were talking about who could master the album. They [the label] told us he had worked on some material for other artists on MPress Records. I thought “Yeah, That’s amazing.” He does such great work. Mastering is very specific, but when you do it right, it’s so subtle. There is something in the way he shapes and carves out things. Ultimately you could a-b the mixes to the masters, and while the differences were not extreme, there is an elevation to the low end that he brings to it and a real roundness to the sound that completes the picture. Alan was so cool to work with and he was receptive to our 17 reference points that were some hip-hop records and rock records. He took it all in stride and said “Well, ultimately it’s your record, so I’m not going to try to make it sound like A Tribe Called Quest.”
It’s been such a long process with this record and it’s great to have it done and that everybody that’s been involved in it has been so wonderful. It hasn’t felt like a headache at all, which hasn’t always been the case in some of the records I’ve been involved in.
CK: Speaking of mastering and pressing of an album, which do you prefer: digital or vinyl?
SK: Always vinyl. MP3’s are MP3’s. Generally speaking, everything is digital now, and I’m so used to working in Pro Tools and mixing in the box. Having a studio for as many years as we did was nice because we worked on an analog console, but we were never mixing analogs. We were always mixing in the box since we didn’t have enough outboard gear to really be able to mix that way. I’m so used to digital things and there are some great plug-ins out there that sound like real LA-2A’s. I’m fine with all of it, but vinyl is vinyl and there’s something about it. I think it’s the experience of it. There’s that word warm that gets thrown around a lot and I get it. I think there is something to it, but you can make a completely warm sounding record from a computer as well. Maybe there is an element of it, but it’s the physicality of the vinyl album being played that I think makes the sound of a vinyl what it is.
I don’t have a ton of vinyl. Brendan is the vinyl collector of the family, but I always prefer it, but with that said, digital is just the way things are now. The real problem is when you get into streaming services and the sound quality on services such as Spotify. It’s just abysmal. If you listen to your own record on it, it becomes “What am I listening to?” That’s my bigger problem with it, but in general, listening to a nice uncompressed wav file that is freshly balanced, I’m cool with it. Overall, though, vinyl is great. Everybody should listen to vinyl. There’s no question.
CK: I also miss the album art that comes along with vinyl and CD’s. I miss opening up the insert that came with them just to see the art as well as the lyrics. You really don’t get that with a lot of digital albums anymore.
SK: No, you don’t. I’m a linear notes person so I grew up mostly with cassettes and CD’s. I’m only 30, but yes there’s something about the packaging of it and it’s also the aesthetic of the album. That’s what I like. I like to open it up and feel like I’m experiencing something. You don’t quite get that with digital. I do like there are some platforms now that are offering digital booklets so you can see that material, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as holding it in your hand.
CK: I agree. Even with CDs. You wouldn’t know what the CD art looked like until it came out. There is some CD art that still stands out to me. One of those being NSYNC’s Celebrity album. They made the art of that CD a camera lens and I didn’t expect that at all. When I think about it now, it totally makes sense, given the connection between the CD insert and paparazzi photographing them. That was really smart and thought out well. Now we get everything downloaded onto our phones and we don’t get to appreciate that art anymore.
SK: For sure. We had that CD when I was growing up and we had our boy band thing for a while when we were six or seven years old. It’s that and the fact that nobody sells CDs anymore. We are printing CDs for this record, which I’m very happy about, but you do smaller runs now because you are no longer going to move that many and it’s a bummer. I will keep making albums until the day I die even though it’s kind of a singles game now and it’s all digital. Every month someone’s putting out another song. That’s just how they do things now.
I like albums. I like conceptual things and I like the physicality of holding a CD, opening it and reading the liner notes. I also like seeing how the artwork informs the way a record sounds. It’s an interesting combination of things, which is a really hard thing to marry. It’s one of my favorite things. R.E.M. is one of my favorite bands of all time and that’s one of the things I love about their records. When you look at the artwork, there’s something about it. The visual aspect of it is married so well with what you’re listening to that it becomes part of it and it’s almost as if you can’t hear the record without thinking of that image and the color scheme. It all goes hand in hand. I love that about them.
CK: While we are on the topic of digital music, in your opinion, do you think it’s been beneficial for the music industry, or it’s been more challenging?
SK: I think it’s been largely more challenging. I also think there are upsides to the Spotify’s of the world and it’s just in the sense of if you get something on a playlist maybe more people will hear it. It’s a platform to have things heard, but does that really cancel out the fact that people rely on that income stream, which used to come from CD sales? Radio is so obsolete now that they’re not getting royalties from that nearly as much as they used to. Streaming has completely decimated people’s income streams and while it can be a good marketing tool along with be a good way people know your music is out there and to discuss it, it has largely thrown things for a loop in the industry.
I don’t think record labels at large have figured out how to play catch-up because their whole model has been selling the product. What is the product anymore if what you’re making of it is such a dismal amount of money? How do you ever recoup? How does the artist ever get paid because artists don’t get paid until the albums recoup their costs? That’s just how record labels work. That’s why they say it’s better to own your own material now.
We are very lucky that MPress is a great label who is very artist-minded, but at the end of the day the sort of mechanics of it is like any indie label where you have to recoup that cost. You really must rely on pushing hard to get something placed in a movie or a TV show or going on tour. Then, unless you are of a certain level, you don’t make money on tour because that’s just the economics of it. It’s really expensive.
CK: Yes, I’ve noticed that over the past couple of years ticket prices of concerts have skyrocketed.
SK: Skyrocketed because they have to. That’s the only way that people can make money on tour anymore. In the grand scheme of things, the industry hasn’t quite figured it out yet and maybe it will at some point. I wish there were more avenues for artists to be able to sell their product because that’s how you’re supposed to make the money. Maybe record labels need to renegotiate things. There are these 360 deals where the labels are trying to figure out how to make the most from an artist so what they do is negotiate more money up in advances in exchange for taking a percentage of your touring revenue and your merchandise. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. They’ve tried that, and it failed spectacularly because that’s a terrible way to do business.
I think streaming though has done more harm that good though. It’s just the way of the world so I’m not going to rail against streaming, but I do think the industry needs to get it together and figure it out at some point. For me, it virtually has no part in my income stream, but I have so many people in my life that I’m very close to that rely on this and it’s distressing to hear about how 20 years ago an artist could rely on royalties to come in with X amount of money from CD sales all the time. Now, that’s either been cut in half or even three-quarters. How do you come back from that? You just tour more and more.
CK: I have noticed, especially over the last decade, that there have now been more meet and greet opportunities where fans can pay a certain amount of money to meet the artist. Would you say that has become an avenue to musicians to regain their money?
SK: Yes, I think that’s exactly what it is. Big artists do that. I think it’s because it’s no longer about you show up and you play the show. For a lot of people, it’s like “If I’m out there working and doing the show, and yes, I know my weekly salary is built into whatever we’re charging the venue or the promoter, what else can we do to make money on the road? Meet and greets.” Now with COVID, it’s even changed that landscape of things. There are ways of the Patreons and things like that where artists can still engage with their fan base and make something of a regular income stream, but is it enough? I don’t know.
CK: You mentioned Vicki Peterson from the Bangles. How did her singing on “The Fraying Wire” come about?
SK: Vicki was also a member of the Continental Drifters. She’s married to John Cowsill. She is Susan’s sister-in-law. We met Vicki when we opened for the Continental Drifters in 2009, when they reunited in New Orleans. We had already known Susan, Peter, Russ and a couple other guys. We asked them if we could open that show, they said yes, so we went down and that was the first time we met Vicki. She became an instant fan. We were like 15. I listen to that material now and I’m like “I don’t get it”, but she saw something enough in us. The same goes for all those guys; I reached out to Peter when I was 13 and sent him my music. I don’t get now what he saw in it, but he saw something. Same with Vicki. We stayed in touch and she asked us to do some Bangles shows in 2011 or 2012. That was our first west coast tour. We became friends and she’s just a wonderful person. Every time we are out in Los Angeles, we go see her.
This was one of those things where the record was done. We literally had mixes done, but I kept hearing her voice on that song. I had just interviewed her for the book because we had been talking a good bit about the book I am working on. I figured I would just ask her if she would sing on the song, so, I texted her and said, “Would you mind doing this? We have about 2 weeks until it goes to mastering.” Since Brendan did the mixing, it was easy enough to ask if the harmonies could be thrown in. She said absolutely and she did it in a couple of days. She sent it back and told us to use whatever we liked. We liked all of it, so we just balanced it in the mix, re-bounced it and updated our folder of the final mixes. It’s one of the ones I’m most proud of so it feels cool in that way too. It was great.
Vicki is the best and she’s so generous with her time and talent. What a career that she’s had. Not only that, but she just loves music. I think any opportunity to work with the people she loves playing music with that she loves to get involved. She’s somebody who genuinely loves what she does and, I think, is grateful for the career that she’s had along with what it’s afforded her to be able to do. She’s been such a presence in my life and in this band.
CK: How does this album differ from the other three that are out there?
SK: The first three we did when we were 13, 14 and 15. So from “Be Nice Be Careful” onward, we’ve always tried to do different things and to explore. We never wanted to be defined by one genre. We were a little bit on “Be Nice Be Careful”. We became sort of a power pop band. We never wanted to be defined by that, but it became the easiest way to classify that record. I think we kind of boxed ourselves in a little bit. The next record, “Make Me Over”, we wanted to make a glam rock record. It kind of threw people for a loop.
“Generation Loss” was a direct response to our mother passing away. We had started it before she died, but she was in Hospice. We finished it after she died. At the time we were listening to a lot of hip-hop. It was the first time Brendan and I had ever co-written anything together. I was always the primary song writer and Dom would write material sometimes, but Brendan had never written anything for the band before. We co-wrote that whole record together though. It was also the first time Josh Keane was on a record with us and had started playing with us. It was a completely new band.
This current record, as well as “Generation Loss”, I am most proud of out of everything we have ever done. I think they both really stand up. We set out to do something that we accomplished, which is really hard to do when you make a record. With this one, we wanted to do something a little bit more roots-oriented, kind of like a Wilco thing. Wilco started out as an all-country band, but they’ve gone in all different directions. “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” was a big blueprint for us. We knew we could do something that was a little bit different and incorporate mandolins, accordions, harmoniums and even a tenor banjo and fiddle on one song. The song “Sandy” is like a British folk song, and I knew it could stand up with “All Signs to Amsterdam”, which is fuzzy, big and bombastic.
Midway through when Dom left and we had to recalibrate, we started realizing that this album doesn’t have to be defined by one vision and we threw a bunch of material at the wall and see what sticks. We realized that the mission of this record was to create something that was an amalgamation of all the things we are interested in doing. We wanted to experiment and see what worked. It’s harder to experiment when you are working in the confines of a home studio. We can’t all play together and find sounds, but if you don’t give yourself a time limit and you have the time to really craft something, you can still experiment and do something cool.
CK: Would you say that’s where the term “Art Rock” came from?
SK: Absolutely. To me, somebody like Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel or even Bowie would probably fall under that category. Probably Wilco too because they’ve moved away from the all country thing. That’s what I like about it.
The last record, which is sort of hip-hop and kind of a krautrock record too, for us was the first time that I thought “We don’t have to be a rock band or an alternative band. We can just do a bunch of stuff. Let’s just find one term that we’re comfortable with. It’s so hard to find a term you’re comfortable with because nobody likes genre, I think, when you’re making music. The term “Art Rock” just felt like “Yeah, okay. It’s all art so we could do whatever we want.”
I remember a big moment for me was with the last record. Somebody was talking about our last record and said something along the lines of “I really have always loved what this band does, and I can appreciate some of this, but I don’t really get it and I don’t really love it because it’s just so different. There’s all these synths and things.” I loved that because it was the purpose. I didn’t want people, especially the people who had the power pop thing in their head, to get that notion anymore. That’s where “Art Rock” came into play. We figured let’s just describe ourselves as that because then it makes people go “What is that?” It’s like, “Well, it doesn’t have to be one thing.”
CK: That kind of reminds me of what The Beatles did in their later albums. They weren’t afraid to experiment or even bring in instruments from other countries into their music.
SK: Yes, I agree. The Beatles weren’t afraid to experiment and they kind of are responsible for ushering world music. That’s what I love about The Beatles. I also think that bringing in different kinds of instruments also educates people about what music sounds like in other cultures, which is probably needed more than ever nowadays.
Music should be fearless, and it should be about experimentation. I think some people get afraid when it becomes lucrative for them and they don’t want to lose that, but at a certain point you have to kind of say “Well, how do I evolve if I can’t take risks?”
CK: Speaking of influences, who are your main musical influences that have shaped you as a musician?
SK: That’s a big question. It really changes. I would say at my core R.E.M. is my favorite band. Neil Finn’s my favorite songwriter. The first single from this album is me trying to do a Neil Finn thing, so he’s a big influence. The Continental Drifters, who are a small band a vast majority of people are unaware of, taught me more about songwriting than any other band. They’re a band that did all kinds of different things. I learned a lot about what a band could be from them. Peter Gabriel is one of my biggest influences. Kate Bush is another. Q-Tip is my favorite Emcee. A Tribe Called Quest is my favorite hip-hop group of all time. I love that golden era of hip-hop. Even Jazz has been a heavy part of my adulthood and my adult music education. Bowie has always been a big influence on me and definitely on Brendan. I also love a lot of shoegaze music, like My Bloody Valentine. I love a lot of world music, like Nusrat who is a Pakistani singer.
I love a lot of things and influences change for me all the time, but I think the biggest people that shape my songwriting, my view of music and how I approach things are probably Neil Finn and R.E.M. because they co-write together. Then like I previously mentioned, Peter Holsapple, Kate Bush and A Tribe Called Quest. Those are the core artists that have shaped my perspective on music.
CK: You stated that the Continental Drifters are the ones who really taught you about songwriting. Explain that process to me. What does that look like for you?
SK: When I was younger, I was really obsessed with sitting down, writing a song and finishing it in the sitting because I thought that’s how people did it. At some point I realized, especially when we had a studio, we could build a song from the ground up by recording it. I realized that it’s really rare to actually finish a song in one sitting. A song can be informed by, and should be informed by, the people you’re playing with. You can have other personalities come in and add their own thing. That’s what makes the product; that’s what makes the song. That’s why as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more collaborative even if I’m the sole songwriter on something. Even if I have a vision in my head of what a band would sound like playing a song that I’ve written, I don’t go into things and say, “This is what the lead guitar part is, this is what the bass part is and this is what the drums should sound like.” Even when I would have a baseline, Shaun Rhoades would interpret it as he likes. He’ll put his own thing to it and it’s a million times better. I think that is what makes a song to me. It’s not just the bones of it and the very stripped-down nature of the song. It’s the combination of elements that makes the listening experience of a song and makes the emotions of a song come out best.
CK: Would you say a collaborative effort is important to a successful album?
SK: I would absolutely say that, and I think there are various ways to interpret that depending upon your project. I’ve produced a fair number of albums at this point and even engineered material. I have never found that having one person do one thing and limiting it to that thing has really yielded the best results. That’s why bands would come in and want to make a record with us, we would always talk about how they envision doing it and how they saw us fitting into it. I think collaboration is crucial because somebody else is going to have some idea that you would never have thought of. Maybe it just might evoke a visceral response at first because it’s not what you had in your head, but it doesn’t hurt to just try something. It doesn’t always have to work out. There are so many things on this album that we tried and felt didn’t work, but you don’t know until you try it and that’s where collaboration comes in. Somebody’s going to have an idea and you have to allow yourself to not be too precious about your ideas. You can’t let ego come into the fold because your ideas are not always going to be welcome. However, if you are working with people who allow you the opportunity to try things it makes that process much easier to do. Granted now there is something to be said about having too many cooks in the kitchen on a project.
CK: I love that and you’re right. There definitely is something to be said about being able to be involved in a collaborative effort with people who are supportive of each other’s ideas. Also, like you said, having too many people involved can cause a bit of frustration. There definitely is a fine line between when it’s a collaborative effort verses having too many people involved and not being productive.
SK: Yup. You really start getting bogged down for sure if too many people are involved.
CK: Last question. What would you say to someone who wants to either pursue a career in art or music, but the people around them aren’t supportive like your brothers and parents are, what would you say to them?
SK: That’s tough because on some level I needed that a little for myself, but at the same time you don’t really need it. If you want to do it, just do it. There are so many avenues to pursue creative careers. You just have to start doing it. If you don’t have people in your life that are supportive, it might make you work harder to break some ground. There is no reason not to if something you want to do makes you happy. Life is really hard as is and what’s the point of all of this if you can’t do something that makes you happy in your life? If you want to do music or you want to be an artist, there’s not a reason not to. Yes, it might be costly and it might be hard to get to different stepping stones, but you kind of have to just go for it. Just believe in yourself, believe in what you are doing and put everything you have into it. I guarantee that the more you do it, people will come around to that because they’ll start to notice that you’re really good at it.
Again, if it makes you happy that’s what’s most important because life is a roller coaster and there are just a lot of ups and downs. It’s just the way life is. Nobody’s ever going to be truly happy all the time, but if you can find little pockets of joy and little things that make you happy in your everyday life that get you through the day, that’s what truly matters. If people aren’t going to be supportive of the career you want, just do it anyway because it’s not their life, it’s yours.
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