Blog, Friday's Five Good Answers, Thoughts

Friday’s Five Good Answers: Nashville Singer-songwriter Gabriel Kelley talks about faith, music, his dance moves, and his solo-project with the Cardinals

(This particular Five Good Answers originally ran March 18th, 2011.Since the interview, Kelley successfully raised money for his project and is now busy placing the final touches onthe upcoming album).

Born and raised on a farm in Northeast Georgia, Gabriel Kelley grew up living a simple life surrounded by music. In his youth, he left home to travel the country and share his music. After eighteen months, life on the road brought himback to Athens, Georgia, where he started his own band. After touring for some time, his regional success attracted a publishing deal from a prominent company based out of Nashville, Tennessee. In the spring of 2005, Gabriel relocated to Nashville, and signed a deal with Style Sonic Publishing, where he began writing songs for Tim McGraw. During this time, he released two EPs: Light at the Bottom and Stranded in Nashville. In 2009, Gabriel made the decision to leave his publishing deal behind in order to pursue his own career as an artist. In order to do so, he sold most of his belongings and moved into a 1977 Dodge RV to create simple music about real life experiences. He has spent the past two years writing material for his first full-length record, It Don’t Come Easy, with plans to begin the recording process in April 2011. He is currently raising money to finance the record. (You can learn more about how to contribute by clicking on the album cover below).

Last summer, my wife and I walked several miles in the rain through our favorite Chicago neighborhood to a three-story row house famous for good music and checked in with the tatted-up guy at the door to find out which stage Gabriel Kelley was going to play. We grabbed a seat in the corner of the front room and enjoyed watching as people and bands filed in and out of the venue’s large basement to play in a Battle of the Bands. Several minutes later, Gabriel Kelley walked in with some friends. Quiet and unassuming, he stood out from the other patrons, not because of his tattoos, but because of his formidable O Brother Where Art Thou meets Sons of Anarchy style of beard. He politely waved to the small group gathered to watch him and proceeded to set up his guitar in the main room of the house. People continued passing back and forth from the bigger venue in the basement barely noticing… until he began to sing. I have to admit, I had listened to his recordings and had heard good reports from Nashville friends about his live shows; but hearing him sing and play in person was remarkable. The patrons of this small Chicago club were taken with his powerful voice as well. We watched curiously as many of those who had been quickly passing by the room on the way to hear other shows in the house turned and decided to sit and listen. The night before, Kelley had played in front of a huge crowd at a popular music festival; however, he performed for the small gathering with the same passion and intensity that I imagine he might have delivered the previous evening. By the time he finished his set, the room was full of listeners — beers in hand — enjoying his rich voice, earthy, transparent songwriting and truly heartfelt performance. Kelley will tell you that he wants to make music that “feels honest”. Those who see him play will tell you, with all honestly, that he makes great music.

You can check out one of Kelley’s demos for his upcoming record here:

Gabriel Kelley is one of the more engaging young artists I have heard recently. There is a depth to his music that is unusual for such a young songwriter and his intentional andsincereapproach to his craft is something that I believe many older musicians (and writers) could learn from. I encourage you to check out more about him at:

I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with him about his work, his influences, faith, and his love of shaking it on the dance floor. I think you will enjoy this week’s “Five Good Answers” with Gabriel Kelley.

Matt: Who is your biggest influence musically?

Gabriel: Willis Alan Ramsey is my main point of reference these days. Willis made one record in 1972 with Leon Russel here in Nashville at the age of 22. A few months after the record was released, Ramsey was so fed up with the music industry he left the business and went back to Texas and never made another record.

The self-titled record from ‘72 was life changing for me. His story-telling has reflections of Woody Guthrie and his voice just drips emotion. It is a record I think anyone should have.

Matt: How does your faith play a role in your music or art?

Gabriel: Faith is all of it I think. If what you do isn’t an adventure of putting your entire being- spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally -into it, then why bother? If we are breathing then we are alive, and if we are alive then we are already part of something bigger than we can fathom. From there it is just a process of discovery or rediscovery depending.

Matt: How has your approach to songwriting changed with age or experience (or has it)?

Gabriel: It has…My approach to songwriting has gone through quite a few changes since the early days. Thinking about it, it is pretty ironic how cyclical the process has been for me over the years. I grew up in Northeast Georgia playing a good deal of old-time music from Appalachia and I believe thatmusic shaped my approach to writing. Everyone surrounding my youth played music because it was part of life, part of existing, and a way to share in something with those around you. That thought was something that was fused into my bones early on, so naturallywhen I began to create my own music it just made sense that I would write about my real life experience: the good, the bad, and the ugly. At that point, my writing was something that just happened. I would feel some strong emotion and would simply pick up a guitar to hash out what was going on. It was a very organic process.

Then at 21 I moved to Nashville and started to shift my approach. To be honest I got caught up in “the business.” All of the sudden I had gone from living in a van in Athens, Georgia to having a salary and writing songs for Tim Mcgraw. It was exciting but stressful. That world is so cut throat. The mentality was: write everything you can, Force it out so you have a bigger opportunity to get “cuts” because cuts are where the money really is… People kept explaining the “formulaic hit song thing.” Things went from writing for myself to writing for an audience- or a specific demographic of people. So I wrote and wrote loads of songs often feeling so bad after a writing session that I would go home and write my own tune just to “break even.” I was told this approach to writing would eventually allow me to write what I really wanted later on – once I began to have success with “cuts.” I couldn’t grasp that idea. I could stop thinking that if writing what I really feel is most important- doesn’t it deserve all of my attention?

The long and short of it is- I decided that it does deserve my full attention. In fact, it deserves everything I can give it. Always. If that means life in an RV, having very little, and asking friends family and fans to help me fund my debut record independently – well, then so be it.

So after five years in Nashville I learned more about what I don’t want to be than what I want to be – which is sometimes the way life goes. Now I am back to the place I started, but with a more profound understanding of my values and more passion for the path I have chosen.

Matt: What is a passion you have that your fans may not know about?

Gabriel: Dancing, that’s right, dancing. I know. I know. Most folks take a look at me and assume I’m a Lumberjack or with Hell’s Angels or something and would never dance, but I absolutely love it. I grew up clogging and square dancing with my mother and it birthed a love of dance like no other. I often laugh with my close friends how I would have been a dancer if I wasn’t a musician. I mean Latin, Swing, Popping and Locking, a good old barn dance; you name it I am there. I’m getting excited just thinking about it actually.

Matt: The Cardinals are a great band (even without Ryan) what are you hoping they can bring to your solo project?

Gabriel: First let me say it is such a blessing to have some former Cardinal members working with me on this record. The guys are truly amazing musicians and men and it’s an honor to share the studio with them.

For this record, the main goal has always been finding a team of players who have a similar understanding of the value of music. Intention is the key. It comes through in recordings. This project isn’t a job. It is an expression of the heart not just for myself but for everyone involved. We are trying to collectively capture a moment, a spontaneous yetcohesive moment of expressing. Maybe I can explain it like this.

When I hear a song that I love out with friends the way I express myself is shaking my rump on the dance floor. So as far as a band goes, I need 4 guys who also wanna “shake it” out on the dance floor. If the way they expressed themselves during their favorite song was leaning against the wall nodding their head with their hands in their pockets obviously it wouldn’t work.

All the guys involved on this record are very seasoned and mature players. There is no replacement for performance experience and hours with an instrument and they all have decades of playing under their belts. Reggie Young, our guitar player for example began recording in the early 50’s. It is incredibly humbling and extremely encouraging to share a creative space with the likes of him.

From tone, to taste, to touch these fellas are my favorite players and have even inspired my creative process with record they have been a part of in the past.

Real is what we are going for and real is simply all I have ever heard from each player who will be with us. I am extremely excited.

Here is the lineup:

Jon Graboff- pedal steel -former cardinal

Brad Pemberton- drums – former cardinal

Reggie Young- Guitar – Elvis, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, John Prine …etc.

Dave Jacques- bass- “John Prine ” Shelby Lynn”

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