Editor’s Note: This week, CMT.com focuses on the artists and sounds of Texas. Today, we check in with the group, Reckless Kelly.
“Aaarrgghhh! …ye have reached Willy’s voicemail. Unfortunately, the old Captain Morgan has ordered me on his vessel for a trip on the high seas … Leave a message at the sound of the Aaarrgghhh … Aaarrgghhh!”
Judging by his phone message, lead singer and songwriter of the five-piece Texas country band Reckless Kelly, Willy Braun has quite the sense of humor. And so does his brother and bandmate, Cody Braun, the fiddle, mandolin and harmonica player. “You just have to ignore each other,” Cody joked about working so closely with his brother. “I mean, I don’t ever see us having a big Everly Brothers breakdown — but you never know.”
Named after the Australian bandit, Reckless Kelly is made up of these two humorous brothers as well as lead guitarist David Abeyta, bassist Jimmy McFeeley and drummer Jay Nazz. Since the group began in the late ’90s, they’ve seen their fan base expand beyond just the familiar Texas scene. But reaching airplay on country radio hasn’t been an easy task. “The Nashville mainstream … isn’t really our cup of tea,” said Willy. “We’ve been waiting for that to change for about 10 years. Hopefully something will break and we can kind of get back to the traditional side of country a little more. I think that would be the best thing.”
“It’s definitely more about live music down here,” said Willy about playing their adopted home state of Texas. (The Braun brothers are originally from Idaho.) “Nashville, I think, is a little bit more about the industry, which is fine. You’ve got to have a little bit of both. I think the Texas guys are a little bit more of that outlaw [thinking], the mentality of screw everybody else, do-it-our-way kind of thing,” he said.
This same outlaw mentality can be heard on the album, Bulletproof. Released in mid-2008, it was their first in nearly three years. “The band has just gotten a little faster, a little louder as the years have gone by,” explained Cody. “[I] just spent a little more time on the lyrics and then eventually the music as well,” Willy added. “We had a little extra time to record so we got to try out some different stuff that we previously wouldn’t have the time to do.”
Reckless Kelly spent about three weeks recording Bulletproof at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio. “It’s just a little edgier this time around in terms of content,” said brother Willy. “Sonically, I’d like to think we’ve raised the bar a little bit. I think it’s the best sounding record yet … Just a little more rockin’ than the last ones.”
But the beat isn’t all that’s heavier on Bulletproof. So is the message. Weighing in on subject matter from the Iraq war to Hurricane Katrina, Reckless Kelly isn’t afraid to speak out, however this may be taken. “American Blood” has such lyrics as “Johnny can’t drink ’cause Johnny ain’t 21/But he’s 18 and pretty handy with a gun.”
“That’s the line I actually had rollin’ around in my head for a long time,” Willy said. “I wasn’t really trying to do a big political thing with it. I just wanted to write a song that was about the war. Once I was done, I was looking back on it and I was thinking, ’Wow, this is probably going to be taken the right way and the wrong way, depending on who’s listening to it.'” He added, “I think a lot of people are ready for the war to be over and to bring them all back home. There’s been a lot of people that have appreciated the tune. So, that made it worth the few people that didn’t like it.”
The band also wrote with fellow Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen, a friend they’ve shared the stage with in New Orleans on several occasions. Willy and Keen collaborated on a song for the first time, the powerful “God Forsaken Town.” The song expresses such lyrics as “X’s on the windows say there’s no one left inside/If you count the painted numbers you’ll know just how many died/And I’m one in half a million so at least I’m not alone/The hurricane is over but the storm keeps raging on.”
“I didn’t want [it] to be just another song about the storm,” Willy said. “The people in New Orleans have really responded to it. It’s nice to do a song that makes people think.”
But for those yearning for hard-hitting Texas tunes of heartbreak and love-gone-wrong, these too can be found on the album. “Love in Her Eyes” is one of Cody’s favorites (he plays the mandolin through a fuzz box), “Wandering Eye” takes a tough-love approach and the tongue-in-cheek “How Was California?” is quite the insincere love song.
“People just think that if they move somewhere else all their troubles are gonna go away,” Willy said. “But California’s got troubles, too, and so does New York and so does Austin or anywhere really. If you’ve got baggage, it’s gonna go with you.” He later elaborated about his own baggage, jokingly admitting, “I haven’t had a full-time girlfriend or a serious relationship in quite a while, so I’m kind of running on fumes from my own personal experiences at this point.”
For fans who see the group perform live, they should expect a different set list nearly every live show. “It keeps it fresh for the band, and it keeps it fresh for our audience,” said Willy. “This way, fans can always count on the favorites.”
When asked if they’d like to leave a final message for their fans regarding the new album, Willy joked, “Go buy two copies.” Cody replied very much the same. “Go get it! Help support starving musicians,” he laughed. “There’s a little bit of everything in there. It’s kind of the way we roll.”