A Chat with The Kelly Line (29.03.22)

From the stripped-back acoustic music of Billy Bragg to the folk-punk style of Frank Turner, UK-based The Kelly Line brings a unique sound to the masses. We speak with Mike and Ben about their new album Manifesto, bad personality traits and future plans.

OSR: The Kelly Line is a father/son duo, but do you have any other musical background in your music?

Ben: We were surrounded by music when we were growing up, especially by my mum who plays the violin and sax. Both mum and dad encouraged us to learn an instrument from a young age. My brother learned the drums and I learned basically anything that vaguely resembled a guitar – bass, banjo, mandolin, etc.

OSR: Probably cliche, but what is it like writing and recording music with your father/son? Do you ever argue?

Mike: We get asked that a lot but to be honest we don’t really think of it as father and son, we just think of it as songwriting partners – although I always seem to end up buying the beer. I’m not sure if argue is the right word but we certainly have frequent differences of opinion, which I guess is inevitable given what we do. We actually see a bit of creative tension as a positive as it provides a bit of challenge and sharpens our thinking.

Ben: We’re definitely at our creative best when we disagree! It shows we both really care about what we’re doing.

Mike: It does and the key thing is that we trust each other and, even when we initially disagree, both of us are prepared to let the other one run with an idea.

OSR: What can you tell us about your album Manifesto?

Ben: In many ways, Manifesto mirrors the way in which The Kelly Line as a whole has evolved. Our initial aim was to see what we could achieve with just the two of us writing, performing, recording and producing from scratch. It was very much a ‘guy and guitar’ sound that was heavily influenced by folk music. As time went by we realised that by inviting other musicians to perform with us we greatly increased the scope of what we could achieve.

It was a similar story with Manifesto – the original intention was a stripped back acoustic folk EP but as the project evolved and we wrote more material the arrangements became increasingly complex. We included additional instrumentation such as a horn section, strings, drums and bass.

Mike: There’s a real mixture of songs on the album: ‘Bells’ and ‘I Never Promised You Flowers’ are very much the stripped back acoustic sound we originally envisaged, while songs like ‘Manifesto II’ and ‘Where Do The Poets Go?’ are about as far from that as you could possibly get! We actually wrote about twenty tracks and made the final selection based on what we felt would make the best cohesive album, rather than simply a collection of the nine best songs. Even though the project grew it still retained a strong element of folk in that the songs are our take on contemporary issues. In the best traditions of the folk idiom, the songs champion the cause of the underdog and question the morality of hereditary privilege and inequality.

OSR: If you could change one thing about Manifesto, what would it be and why?

Ben: I’m not entirely sure yet. I think in a year I’ll come back to it and have loads of things I’d change, but for now, I’m just proud of it.

Mike: Yeah, I’d agree with that. It’s probably too early to say but I’m sure at some point we’ll reflect back and no doubt wish we’d done a few things differently. I wonder if we’ll regret leaving out one or two of the tracks that didn’t make the cut. There were a couple of songs that we’re actually quite fond of that were left out simply in the search for balance. There were a couple of close calls and I guess time will tell if we got them right.

OSR: What inspires you to make music?

Mike: For me music, writing it and playing it, is all about enjoyment. We write the songs that we want to write rather than try and write the songs that we think people will want to hear. But that said, it is obviously nice when other people listen to our music – nicer still when they sing along!

Ben: I’ve always wanted to make my living in the music industry one way or another, writing, playing, producing. In terms of The Kelly Line, I very much agree with Mike – we do it because we enjoy it.

OSR: What do you hope people take from Manifesto?

Mike: Well on one level, just hopefully singing along to a good tune! On another level, and to borrow a line from the final track on the album – “let every line of every song rouse the sleeping from their slumber.” The songs deal with big issues – what bigger issue is there than the concept of truth and the way in which the truth is presented and perceived? Of course, we hope people enjoy listening to the songs, but we also hope that they reflect on some of the issues. I guess the ultimate for me would be someone who has enjoyed listening to the album and is moved to make a donation at their local food bank. 

Ben: I often see people on the internet saying you shouldn’t mix music and politics, and I just don’t agree. It’d be nice if people could listen and enjoy the songs, and at the same time be inspired to think about the world. From a musical perspective I also quite like the idea of bridging the gap between folk and punk a bit, and maybe even helping to expand some musical horizons!

OSR: If you could spend the day with one celebrity, who would it be and why?

Mike: Can we choose how to spend the day? I’m tempted to say Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan and we’d spend the day songwriting, but they do say it’s best not to meet your heroes so maybe not. It’d be cool though!

Ben: I’d love to share the stage with Frank Turner, to be honest. His lives shows are great just being in the audience, so I can’t imagine how much fun it would be on stage.

OSR: What is the best way to discover music nowadays?

Ben: I get most of my music from recommendations from friends, but if you wanted to find new music that was a bit below the radar I think the Bandcamp Daily blog is a pretty great place to start. They write about niche genres that wouldn’t get much coverage elsewhere, alongside big in-depth articles about much more established bands.

OSR: What is your most annoying personality trait – assuming you have one, of course.

Mike: I think Ben would say that I keep repeating myself. To be fair, he’s got a point, I keep repeating myself. My wife would probably say that I keep repeating myself. See what I mean?

Ben: Mike would probably tell you that I’m quite stubborn, which isn’t an unfair assessment. Once I get an idea in my head of what I want to do it isn’t always easy for me to let go of it.

OSR: Do you have future plans as The Kelly Line?

Mike: Loads! In the short term, we’re planning on releasing an EP of songs from Manifesto translated into Welsh called Maniffesto Bach. Ben’s based in South Wales and we’re both learning Welsh so we thought why not! After that, we’ve got a fair few songs written and we plan to release a few of them as singles later this year or early next year. They’re a bit less folk and a bit more punk, but if you enjoyed Manifesto we reckon you’ll find something to like in them too.

Ben: In the meantime, we plan to keep writing, recording and performing. I can’t really imagine any other way to spend our time!

OSR: Do you have any message for our readers?

Ben: Well, I’m tempted to say that you can stream Manifesto wherever you get your music! But, I’d also add a big thank you for taking the time to read about us and the album. Manifesto is just another bit of music to everyone else, but for us it’s massive and the fact that other people have taken the time to read about it is greatly appreciated.

Mike: And not just us, there are loads of albums and songs out there that are not well known but mean the world to whoever wrote and performed them. All they want is for people to hear their music and the fact that by reading this you’ve shown an interest means a great deal.

Many thanks to Ben and Mike for speaking with us. For more from The Kelly Line check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.

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