Guy Kelly is a man of many talents. Starting off in the instrumental indie quartet Telavet, Kelly went on to play bass with City of Ghosts (full disclosure: a band I was in for many years) and then Your Black Star. And after that… he just kind of vanished from Louisville music, that is until just a few years ago. That meantime saw Kelly move to Cincinnati, where he has lived and worked now for some years, all the while honing his skill as a multi-instrumentalist. Last year Kelly joined Thousand Faces on drums, and a bit after that he joined Golden Dead on bass. You can catch Kelly with Thousand Faces tonight at Zanzabar with Jayle Jayle and Pale Dīan. We caught up with him about on his choice of instrument, Mormonism, and teleporting bass flangers. In the meantime, listen to Thousand Faces below and get ready for tonight.
Never Nervous: What was your entry into the world of music? How do you feel that you’ve evolved as a musician?
Guy Kelly: When I was a kid my parents forced me to take piano lessons for several years. I hated it at the time and didn’t take it seriously. It wasn’t until I got my first bass at age 12 that I fell in love with playing and creating music. All I wanted was to be in a band and play music all the time. As time has gone on, I actually feel less skilled than I did when I was younger. I used to be pretty confident in my skills, but now I realize just how much more I have to learn about being a musician.
NN: How did Telavet start? Was it your first band?
GK: Telavet began with my long-time music collaborator, John Kirk Sutton. We’ve been writing songs together since I was in high school. We tried several times to start bands with different people, but it never seemed to work out. We had a band called Soft Scan for a few years with a few different people on drums. We played 3-4 shows and then I left on a Mormon mission to Seattle when I was 19. When I returned 2 years later, John Kirk and I immediately started writing new songs that became the first Telavet songs. Eventually we got together with Billy Bisig on drums, and Scott Brooks on guitar and keyboards.
NN: From your perspective, how was your time in City of Ghosts?
GK: I was a big fan of City of Ghosts before being asked to play bass. It was my favorite local band at the time, so it was a big deal for me to get to be in the band. Songwriting in City of Ghosts just felt so natural, and it was exactly the kind of music I wanted to be making. The musicianship was excellent, and it’s still some of the music I’m most proud of being a part of creating. I definitely feel like the band and my involvement with it ended too soon.
NN: How did you come to join Your Black Star? What was your tenure like in that group?
GK: I got a call out of the blue one day when Jeremy asked me to be their new bass player. I was a fan of their band as well, so it was fun to get to play with them. Your Black Star was my first experience with touring, and that was a lot of fun. We had small tours with tiny crowds, and then we toured with Elliott on their last tour playing to hundreds of people a night. For the most part I really enjoyed my time in the band.
NN: To my knowledge, you were absent from music for a number of years, or at least from public performance. To what do you attribute to that?
GK: After Your Black Star I got a corporate job, and despite sitting on my ass all day it was draining and wore me out. When I’d get home all I wanted to do was relax. Suddenly music wasn’t my primary focus and it was hard to find time for it. I always had song ideas in my head and I always told myself I was going to get up and start making solo music, but I never got around to it. It has just been the last couple years that I’ve summoned the motivation to get back to playing.
NN: I understand that you moved to Ohio in the mid 00’s. Why Cincinnati? What made you move there? How is the scene different between there and here?
GK: I moved to Cincinnati because of a job that offered me a good opportunity. Cincinnati had a good market for someone with my skills, and I couldn’t find a comparable job in Louisville. I haven’t been very involved in the scene up here, but it definitely feels like there is a greater range of creativity in Louisville.
NN: What led you to work with Golden Dead?
GK: I’ve known Brian, Scott and Pinker for a really long time. While chatting with Brian he mentioned that they needed a bass player. I wasn’t playing bass in a band at the time, and I thought it would be fun to play bass and re-connect with some old friends. It is completely different music than what Scott and I made in Telavet, so it’s been an adjustment learning to play a different style.
NN: What can you tell us about Thousand Faces? How did that start and how did you come to be involved?
GK: Thousand Faces is another collaboration with John Kirk. He had written several songs over a few years and he eventually decided to start a band with them. His songs have this beautiful, epic vibe that I always love playing along with. Originally I was going to play bass with Cole Street playing guitar. Cole plays really textured, huge guitar parts that complement John’s sharper guitar lines really well. We had a hard time finding a drummer so I switched to drums and we brought in Matt Watkins on bass. Matt’s bass playing is really creative and melodic. All together we create songs that can go from slow and smooth, to loud and spacious. We are getting ready to play our first show, and we’re all really excited to perform these songs.
NN: What do you identify as your instrument of choice and why?
GK: I’m a bass player. That’s what I’m best at, and what I enjoy playing the most. I’ve learned drums and guitar just good enough so I can write and record songs by myself, but guitar and drums both require a lot more practice and concentration.
NN: How would you describe your solo music? Do you plan on representing that live in any way, or is that too much on top of your two other musical projects?
GK: This probably sounds ridiculous, but I often describe my music as being equally influenced by post rock, and funk. My songs don’t really sound like either of those genres, but the guitars have lots of delay on them, and the bass and drum parts are super tight. I don’t like tons of repetition, so I rarely repeat parts. Rather than a verse, chorus, verse structure, there will be an intro, move on to the second part, move on to the third, etc.
I would love to find a way to play these songs live, but finding the right players has been difficult. In a band, I generally like collaboration and freedom for all members to influence the song. But with my solo music I think I would want the live experience to reflect the recordings, so I would have to dictate what everyone plays. I don’t know if I want to do that, and I don’t know a lot of people that want to join a band like that. But if I found the right group, I would find time to make it happen.
NN: How do you balance adult responsibilities with your creative goals?
GK: These days I feel like I almost have to schedule time to work on music. I don’t have a planner or anything like that, but I have to say, “I’m practicing as soon as I get home.” Each day I usually have specific goals in mind, whether it’s practicing songs for the bands or writing new material for myself. When I was younger, practicing was fun and just what I did all the time anyway. Now that I have other priorities, practicing can seem like a chore. But I’d rather treat it like a scheduled chore than just sit on my ass again and not be playing.
NN: How did and does your religious views impact your music?
GK: I was a devout Mormon until about 5 years ago when I had a sudden crisis of faith and left all religion behind. Mormonism is very demanding and strict, and there was no part of my life that wasn’t at least partially dictated by the church. I didn’t like talking much about my religious views when I was younger. I think I was a little embarrassed about it. Now that I’m out of the church, I’ve had to reevaluate much of what I believe. What is my morality now? Does morality really exist, or is it just a concept used to manipulate the thoughts and actions of people? This change in my life has given me something to say, which is why I’ve recently started experimenting with vocals in my music. It’s still difficult for me to talk about some times, but I try to open up and really let my true thoughts come through in my lyrics.
NN: Which member of Aerosmith do you think would be the easiest to take in a fight?
GK: Oddly enough, I’ve been in the same room as Aerosmith. We happened to visit a museum in Hiroshima, Japan at the same time, so I’ve been up close in a small room with them. The drummer is the shortest, so he might be easier to get in a chokehold. But Steven Tyler is so thin, breaking one of his limbs would be much easier. Just don’t mess with the bass player. He’s enormous.
NN: Would you rather have a double kick drum pedal that allowed you to travel through time or a bass flanger that allowed you teleport? Defend your answer.
GK: A bass flanger that can teleport me to and from Louisville for band practices would be way more practical for me these days. My least favorite part about playing in the bands I’m in is the long drive home.
NN: What non-musical things get you excited? Have you read, watched, eaten, or drank anything worth mentioning lately?
NN: At the moment, what are the five most essential albums in your collection and why?
GK: In no order:
- Inventions for a New Season by Maserati blew me away when first I heard it. Spacey. Driving. Epic.
- Reachin’ (A New Refutation Of Time And Space) by Digable Planets. The rhymes are buttery smooth with a jazzy production.
- The Argument by Fugazi is the band at perfection. Most people seem to like their earlier work better, but I think the band got better with every single release.
- At Action Park by Shellac is a classic album I listen to constantly.
- The Popcorn by James Brown is my favorite record of his, and he doesn’t even sing on it. It’s from the late 60’s and is super funky. It makes me want to get up and dance. I’m not much of a dancer, so that’s really saying something.