New album “LOADS” announced for Nick Kelly’s musical alter ego.
The ex-front man from noted Irish band THE FAT LADY SINGS.
“The first responsibility of any artist is to find a way of doing your art that doesn’t make you either mad or bankrupt. That isn’t a simple thing to do.”
Just when you think you have a handle on a musician’s output, along comes a recalibration of the special creativity that grabbed our attention in the first place. It’s fair to say that Dublin-based musician and songwriter Nick Kelly – quoted above – has not just been around the block a few times but can effortlessly recall the number of steps it takes to complete the journey. He began his career in creative pursuits in the mid-1980s as the front man of noted Irish band, The Fat Lady Sings, which had substantial recognition for numerous singles (including 1989’s Arclight, 1991’s Deborah) and albums (1991’s Twist, 1993’s Johnson).
For the past two decades, Kelly has divided his creative energies between music and film, releasing lauded solo albums as well as engineering critically acclaimed ad campaigns for various blue chip companies. “Music and film – they’re the same muscle,” says Kelly, a man fit to bursting with insights and ideas.
Of the many advertisements he was directly involved with, you may best remember the one for Guinness that witnessed Michael Fassbender diving into the Atlantic and swimming across to New York to apologise to his best friend for a romantic misdemeanour, (with Mic Christopher’s Heyday playing in the background). Kelly also directed the 2010 film, Shoe (his third short film work), which was shortlisted for an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short.
It is music, however, that Kelly is perhaps best known for by the wider public. Although sporadically released – and without the debateable benefits of major record company muscle behind them – solo work includes Kelly’s 1997 debut, Between Trapezes (“an exquisite album,” – Irish Times’ music critic Tony Clayton-Lea, in his book, 101 Irish Albums You Must Hear Before You Die), 2005’s Running Dog (nominated for Irish Album of the Year at the Choice Music Prize Awards), and, under the Alien Envoy moniker, 2010’s inventive Nine Lives (“A deep, thoughtful, sensitive and intelligent musical artist – bravo!” – Hot Press), which, across nine monthly shows at Dublin’s Whelan’s music venue, reconfigured new songs in a live setting (hence its ‘Gestation’ umbrella title).
For the Nine Lives/Gestation project, Kelly collaborated with other musicians, a process that in turn influenced Alien Envoy’s new album, Loads. From Nick Kelly to Alien Envoy – what, you may well ask, is in a name?
“I remember around the time of the release of Running Dog that there was this singer-songwriter tag around me. It’s something of a default description, isn’t it? People would listen to you with the likes of Damien Rice and Glen Hansard in mind – they’d expect you to be in that vein, and would be disappointed, possibly, if you weren’t.”
There should be no long faces where Alien Envoy is concerned. A resource for tripping (indeed, ripping) up expectations as much as an opportunity to step outside perceived artistic comfort zones, Loads continues with Kelly’s collaborative spirit.
“In advertising – and in film, especially – you start to appreciate that you can’t really do it all yourself,” reveals Kelly, “and that anyone who works with you on any given project is going to change that project. I’m also now much more relaxed with other musicians coming in – working with musicians changes through working with actors. It influences the way you write, and the way a whole bunch of different things cross-fertilise.”
As a pioneer of crowd funding (both Between Trapezes and Running Dog albums were funded by fans and friends), Kelly’s opinions on the relationship between artist and fanbase are instructive. “People’s relationships with music can be quite ephemeral,” he outlines, “but the funding aspect is very helpful to a musician because they are, essentially, building a village, a community, that might be able to sustain you into the future.”
Engaging once more with the crowd funding approach, Loads has been funded by fans paying €25 each. For this, they receive two copies of the album, their names on the credits and free admission to a yet-to-be announced secret gig. Why two copies?
“There’s one copy for the funder, and then another for they to, ideally, give to the one person in the world they know, or feel, will help broaden the reach of the record. I like the idea of giving some ownership of your work to the village of people that you have. It gives them a bigger stake in your career.”
A record of urgency, energy, beauty, imagination, Loads touches on topics that include family, life, death, children, parents. “Children and bereavement revivify you,” claims Kelly, hinting at personal experience of both. “Things spring up because of them – how you personally react is immensely surprising, you cannot predict it.”
Finding ways and means to position his work into the world is part and parcel of Kelly’s highly efficient, self-sufficient modus operandi. “It’s incredible that someone as meandering as myself can make a living at something,” he remarks, smiling at the irony. “It is in the nature of all art that, to some extent, what you’re doing is buying prize bonds. You never know when, or whether, any given thing you do will resonate with the wider world. You just have to put your work out there, and wait and see what happens.”
The goals of such a creative work ethic, he points out, include the long-term teasing out of “interesting perspectives, themes and stories”, and the involvement of other people without having to ask their permission to do something. “My instinct is make the work, and then do something with it. You’re looking for people to be helpful and supportive, but at the same time not wanting charity. You want people to like what you do because the work is good.”
Putting a value on that work is something that continues to inform Kelly as a creative thinker and practitioner.
“Now more than ever,” he emphasises, “it is important for artists to value their own work. Not to overvalue it, of course, but the effort to do it has to have worth. It can be hard for people to feel that in the environment we’re living in, particularly if you’re not enormously famous or successful. What is incredible about the crowd-funding model is that it is the first step – a very large step – to feeling that way about your own work. That’s almost more important than the money – that people value your work so much they’re willing to fund it, sight unseen and sound unheard.
“That’s actually incredibly valuable to me. Because of that, I don’t feel like a loser – there are people out there who like what I do and who want to hear it. That’s a lovely thing to have.”
Alien Envoy’s new album, Loads, was released in Ireland on Friday October 17th, 2014