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Reckless Kelly start a new day

By Robert Wooldridge, November 2000

Austin's roots rockers Reckless Kelly have only been in the Lone Star state since 1997, but have quickly established themselves as one of the top young bands in Texas. In both 1998 and 1999, the quintet was voted "Best Roots Rock Band" at the Austin Music Awards, and this year, they finished second in voting as "Best New Band of the Decade."

Despite finding success in Texas, the origins of Reckless Kelly, which just released their latest album, "The Day," are in the Northwest.

"Cody, my brother the fiddle player, and I grew up in Idaho in the mountains," says lead singer and songwriter Willy Braun, 22. "I grew up playing in a band with my dad and my two little brothers."

After a decade of touring with Muzzy Braun and the Boys playing western swing at fairs, festivals and even the Tonight show, brothers Willy and Cody moved to Oregon and formed the Prairie Mutts in the fall of 1995.

"There were six of us originally," says Braun. The Prairie Mutts disbanded after about eight months when the original drummer and guitar player left. Reckless Kelly came about when drummer Jay Nazz joined the brothers Braun, bassist Chris Schelske (sister-in-law of Sara Evans) and lead guitarist Casey Pollock (recently replaced by David Abeyeta) to form a five-piece band.

Band members have varied musical backgrounds and interests. Nazz played with his father's fifties-style band in Connecticut, while Schelske played in a grunge band with his brother in Oregon. The newest member, Abeyeta, attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

"Everybody in the band has a bunch of different influences," says Braun. "Personally, once I started getting into my own thing and buying my own albums, I started listening to a lot more things like the Beatles, and then a lot of Zeppelin."

Braun says that he named the band Reckless Kelly after what he thought was a gangster. "Later I found out that he was an Australian bank robber back in the 1800's, kind of like the Australia Robin Hood."

The migration to Austin was a natural move for the band. "We always heard that this was a really great place," says Braun. "Especially for the kind of music we do, which is not really mainstream."

It seemed to Braun and company that the Northwest music scene did not have enough venues for them find enough bookings. "So we wanted a place that was a little more country rock friendly. Austin turned out to be a perfect place for us."

Their debut album, "Millican," was released on Chris Walls' Cold Spring label in 1997. Americana radio play increased the band's visibility.

"We got to number nine on the Gavin (Americana) chart," says Braun. "We were real happy with that."

Though they receive no mainstream airplay Braun says that the support of Americana, college and community radio has helped greatly.

WNNF in Tampa, Fla. is a prime example.

"The first time we played there, we had a ton of people at our show and we sold like a hundred CDs," says Braun. "We've gone back quite a few times and every time, it's gotten bigger and better. We sell a lot of tickets down there, and it's really all because of the radio. Also, we played here in Austin for a long time, and things were starting to build slowly, but as soon as we started going on the radio a little bit when ('Millican') came out things started picking up a lot faster. Really anywhere you have radio, you can tell the difference."

The success of "Millican" caused a few Nashville record labels to show interest in Reckless Kelly, but the band was reluctant to make the move to the current Nashville scene.

"We never really pursued it that much because we were scared of having anybody trying to turn us into the next Little Texas, you know. So, we never really took a look at it."

In 1998, the band self-released their second album "Acoustic Live at Stubbs." "We really only recorded that to release in Austin and sell off the stage," says Braun. "It actually turned out a little better than we thought it was going to."

The CD was re-released in June by Valley Entertainment.

Though Reckless Kelly has stayed busy touring, backing Wall on his excellent "Tainted Angel" album, and contributing to the "Will Sing For Food: The Songs of Dwight Yoakam" compilation, it has taken three years to get their second studio set released.

Braun describes "The Day" (Valley) as "a day in the life of a man and his dreams." The album has a harder edge than their previous releases with most of the songs written by Willy Braun.

Braun lists Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, John Prine and Guy Clark as his major songwriting influences. "I respect the Beatles a lot," says Braun. "But I can't really say that they influence my songwriting too much because they're so tricky, you know."

The most traditional country sounding track is the ballad "What Would You Do," which Braun says was written when he was suffering a bit of writer's block and decided to take a break and make something to eat.

"When I was making some macaroni and cheese that title popped in my head so I wrote it down," recalls Braun. "Then another thing popped in, and I wrote that down. The whole thing really came together in about 5 or 10 minutes while I was making macaroni and cheese."

The Braun brothers vocals are spotlighted on "Lonely All the Time." "I think the harmonies on there came from the Everly Brothers," says Braun. "That song just kind of has that vibe to it where that harmony fits it well."

In "Crazy Eddie's Last Hurrah" Braun revisits the familiar themes of love and murder.

"Everybody, I think, when they sit down to write a tune and can't think of anything, always ends up going back to the old standard of picking out a chick's name and kind of going with it. I always thought that the name Jolie was really cool. I got about halfway through the tune before I realized that nothing really rhymes with Jolie. All I could really come up with was guacamole. I just kind of ended up making that one up. Obviously, I never really killed anybody."

Other musical highlights include the Stones-like rocker "Torn Up," "Little Mama," sounding like a cross between U2 and Dwight Yoakam, and "Basin Butte Blues," a song co-written with younger brother Micky Braun that has already been getting significant airplay in Austin.

With "The Day" Reckless Kelly has delivered a collection of what they describe as "hick rock."

"People used to always ask us what we were," Willy Braun says of the unique label. "You can't really call yourself a country rock band because then they think you're like Little Texas. I don't think alt.-country really describes us because we're not all that alternative. I guess 'hick rock' just kind of describes the way we are - just a bunch of hicks that are a band."