Chris Kelly, the flagbearer for British indie-folk
Inspired by the likes of Tom Petty, Brian Fallon and John Mayer, Chris Kelly started his musical journey from a small town in the North East of England from a very young age. He made his debut on music streaming platforms in 2017 with his first single “My Name” which reminds you of bands like Dire Straits and King Crimson since it enjoys progressive elements that we will cover in this interview.
His unyielding passion for music led Chris to a follow up on his debut the following year with a four track EP, “Letters To You” which narrates Chris’ most intimate feelings – the genuineness of its vibe soothes the empathic hearts and stirs the emotions.
It would be three years before Chris would add to his discography with the release of his 2021 single “When It Rains”, a more up-tempo track, with a vocal melody bringing to mind Ash’s ‘90s classic “Girl From Mars”, and his latest single release, “Better Days”, released in May of this year.
Throughout these years, Chris has composed in different styles and added unique subtleties to his records; for instance, in some songs like “Armed With Apologies” both instrumentation and arrangement sounds smooth and the genre is folk, whereas in songs like “Not Tonight”, which is in the same EP, you can hear the palm mute chunks of rhythm electric guitar and the rock arrangement.
The approach Chris has adopted to create his art is interesting, drawing inspiration from his environment with a minimalistic approach to song writing, fostering an appreciation of everyday life stories.
Having amassed a sizable repertoire of original music, Chris can be seen live with his full band, or in more intimate solo performances with his trusty acoustic guitar – though, he’s no stranger to the larger stages.
Over the years Chris has appeared at various festivals up and down the UK and further afield, including a European tour in 2019 with appearances in The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Ireland.
His journey has brought many triumphs including debut EP ‘Letters To You’ being awarded Midweek Music Club’s 2018 EP Of The Year. Also, Chris’ 2021 single “When It Rains” reached #76 in the iTunes Singer-Songwriter chart. We caught up with Chris to see what plans he’s got for the future.
Chris, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us at IAMUR. It would be great to start with a little intro. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how your musical journey began?
Hey! Big thank you for having me here! The earliest memory I have of music is listening to Queen’s Greatest Hits in the car with my Dad on the way to school at probably 4 years old. I then remember one of my friends’ parents playing the same album at their house not long after and that realisation that music can be a shared experience and that it’s open to everyone was a big moment for me!
I started playing guitar at 7 purely because that was how old you had to be to start learning an instrument at our school. At first I hated it but after the school got a new guitar teacher that started teaching us things other than Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I was hooked! I started to write and sing songs at around 14 purely because I wanted a way to express how I felt through the thing I love most (music) in a more informed and accurate way when compared to just playing the guitar.
You mention Queen as your earliest musical memories. What other bands/artists have inspired you the most throughout your life, and what music are you listening to these days?
My first influences in music came from the massive catalogue of classic rock bands that we have like Queen, The Rolling Stones and Guns & Roses. As I started to grow up and meet more likeminded people, I started to listen to more modern (at the time anyway!) bands like Foo Fighters, Blink 182 Biffy Clyro and The Gaslight Anthem. It was those bands that got me to start thinking about lyrics and songwriting because their songs seemed much more personal than what I was used to. I have always gravitated towards more emotive lyrics.
I now mostly listen to contemporary singer-songwriters like Sam Fender, Phoebe Bridgers, Brian Fallon and Ruston Kelly. I feel like artists like this are the most similar to me musically and that’s a world I enjoy living in, it’s like my own musical Marvel Cinematic Universe!
In 2019 you toured in UK and your magnificent EP ‘Letters to You’ was awarded Midweek Music Club for The Best EP of The Year. What would you say have been the ‘stand out’ achievements throughout your career to date and, what has been the most challenging?
Thank you for the kind words! I think the biggest thing for me is I’m just proud that I managed to get to a place where I can actually create, perform and release music that I’m proud of. I had done several other projects/bands before starting out as a solo artist and I now finally feel that I’m making the music that is most ‘me’. Other than that, getting to tour Europe in 2019 was a big deal for me and something I never really thought I’d be able to do. It was without doubt the best experience of my life and I can’t wait to do it all again!
Many of your songs are perfectly composed in F and E Major scale. What is it about these major scales that you find alluring?
If I’m honest, I’m not much of a musical theory kinda guy, I just make sure I can sing a song without it sounding dreadful and go from there. Thank the lord for the capo!
I’m interested in your approach to songwriting – can you tell us a little bit about how you approach composing a song? Are there any standard processes you’ve adopted?
I tend to start by improvising some gibberish lyrics over some guitar chords and try to pick out a line or phrase to resonates with me. After that I think about how it actually relates to me and my life and build on it from there! The first verse and chorus usually come relatively quickly but the later verses always seem to take much much longer.
Can you tell us about your set-up and recording environment, and perhaps talk us through the instruments you are using? Are there any bit of kit that you simply can’t live without?
I am by no means a great producer but I do love to at least record the music myself. I do this at home on my laptop with my Line 6 Helix and Fender Telecaster providing all of the electric guitars, a Taylor GS Mini for acoustic and whichever bass I can borrow from a friend at the time. I am definitely not a drummer or keys player so my friends Frank Harris and Noah Lawson record those for me remotely. Once a song is fully recorded, I send it over to my producer Jonny Rob who mixes and masters it.
In your song ‘My name’ we hear this excellent time signature change move that reminds us of Dire Straits for instance. Why have you not repeated that practice again in your subsequent compositions?
The time signature change in My Name is a combination of a fluke and a compromise! I had two different song ideas that I really liked but they were too similar to finish as individual songs so I just meshed them together.
I imagine there’s a lot of pieces you’ve created that you’ve not released. How do you go about sifting through your ideas to determine what makes the final composition?
You’re not wrong, I have far too many really bad songs and unfinished ones too. Song selection is pretty important but also difficult because I have to start thinking about ‘will other people like it?’ etc etc. I try not to let those worries get to me and I just sit on a song for a long period of time before releasing or performing it and if I still like it after a while, I’ll keep it around!
What are other activities that you draw pleasure from beside music?
I’m a massive Star Wars nut, and if I’m honest, that’s the only thing that comes close to the love I have for music. I cried A LOT at the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series…
It’s clear you don’t create music just to satisfy the audience and increase the number of listeners daily. Where does this authenticity come from?
I’m a fan of music first and foremost above being a musician and being able to put out music that might have a similar connection or meaning to someone, compared to the music I love, inspires me greatly.
As an independent artist out there making music, what is your opinion on the state of the music industry right now?
Things are pretty interesting for music right now. There’s a lot of excitement at the moment now that we’re moving away from COVID. The appetite for music is definitely there so there are now loads and loads of great musicians releasing music. The whole TikTok-ification of music a little strange to me though. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting lost in a funny TikTok video loop, but I find the fact that a lot of fans only ever listen to one minute clips of songs a little jarring. Having said that, all music is good music and as long as we keep going, all will be well!
You released a track called ‘Better Days’ in May and you wrote on your Facebook page: “I wrote this song to remind myself that as long as you have hope and keep trying, better days will come. So wherever you are and whatever you’re going through, nothing is permanent and there is always light at the end of the tunnel.” How did this song come to fruition and what were inspirations and environmental effects?
I wrote Better Days during the first lockdown of the pandemic but that wasn’t necessarily the main inspiration for it but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere. I spent that time at home really trying to work on myself and fight some ‘demons’ I had been living with for a while before after having a very rocky few years personally. I’m happy to say that the post on Facebook and the song itself have come to fruition and things are a lot more sunny nowadays!
I understand you are acquainted with another artist we’d spoken with recently in your neck of the woods, Dean Parker? Have you guys collaborated on any projects in the past, or is that something you have considered?
Yes, me and Dean know each other well, he’s great! We actually used to work together in our local music store and we have also done a few shows together, North East England is without a doubt one of the nicest places in the country but it is also rather small!
In terms of other musicians you play with, and in particular regards to your own band – what do you look for when choosing a member and what criterion is the most vital for you?
Being a kind and fun person is without a doubt the most important thing for me when looking for musicians to work with! Also, being able to put up with my Star Wars rants is a big plus!
What can we expect next from you Chris, and what are your aspirations for the future?
Plenty of shows and 2 more releases yet to come in 2022! Stay tuned for more on that!
Listen to Chris Kelly on Spotify:
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