Peaking in the Top 25 on Billboard’s country album chart, Reckless Kelly’s last offering, Bulletproof, garnered the band some well-deserved national attention. Now they’re going back to their Pacific Northwestern roots to honor the work of local legend Pinto Bennett, singer-songwriter and founder of the Famous Motel Cowboys.
Bennett has been a fixture of the Northwest country music landscape and an inspiration and mentor to the Braun brothers, Willie and Cody, who make up two-fifths of Reckless Kelly. The Brauns grew up in Idaho and before moving to Austin, Texas, came to admire the front man’s creativity as well as his musical philosophy. With Somewhere in Time, the roots-rockers cover 12 of their favorites penned by Bennett and get back to the honky-tonk feel of their past. Willie Braun talked with CMT.com about the idea behind the project, who exactly “our guy” is and what it’s like to work with a personal hero.
CMT: What were the Famous Motel Cowboys like in concert?
Willy Braun: I was pretty young when we got to see them playing up in Idaho. … They were always just the band to be up there. They were a great dance band. A lot of people would go out to watch them and dance, and they were always on top of their game musically. It’s kind of strange that they didn’t catch on in the national scene.
What did you guys originally like about Pinto’s music?
It’s really different. It’s real catchy stuff, but at the same time, it’s not conventional. It’s all true-to-life stuff, you know? He writes about true stories, and he writes about real people and puts it down without worrying about whether or not it was gonna be played on the radio or who was gonna like it. He said it how he wanted to, and that’s one of the things we picked up from him a long time ago. It’s probably one of the things that he taught us the most. Which, I don’t know how that turned out for us (laughs).
Why now? Especially as a follow-up to your biggest album so far?
I think it’s really a matter of the timing being right. We’ve had this idea for a long time. We’ve always wanted to record a bunch of Pinto’s tunes. Our last album was probably our biggest success so far, so it does seem a little strange to do a covers album, but when you listen to the tunes, I think they’re such strong songs, and we tried to do our best doing justice to them. But other than me not writing them, there’s really not a whole lot of difference between this and our normal stuff — that and the fact that they’re a little more honky-tonk. The main thing for us was really trying to get those songs out to a bigger audience. They’re great songs, and we feel like they’ve been on the shelf for too long.
How did it feel to do something a little different?
It was really cool. It was fun for us to go back to our honky-tonk roots. We did a lot of that in our past. Especially when we first got down to Austin, we were playing a lot of the honky-tonks and the Texas dancehalls with four-hour sets. As the years went on, we got more original music in the set, and the shows get a little shorter, so some of that honky-tonk stuff was falling by the wayside. But it was a lot of fun to get back in there and dip our foot in the honky-tonk pool again.
A lot of fans really love the rock side of your music, and on Bulletproof you brought it out big-time. So, for those fans, how different is Somewhere in Time?
I think people will still like it. There are a couple of rockers on there, and it’s still the Reckless Kelly sound. We’ve got harmonies and a lot of guitars. We’ve got a little more country music in this one, a little more honky-tonk, but I don’t think that it’s too much of a departure. We put our stamp on the tunes a little bit. … At the end of the day, it’s still the same band.
One of my favorite songs is “I’ve Done Everything I Could Do Wrong.” What should people take away from that?
That’s an example of Pinto writing about real stuff. He was telling us a story about that tune in the studio, and it’s basically the story you hear on the CD. Just a guy that keeps messing up and can’t seem to ever get anything right. That’s all about Pinto — or as he calls it, “our guy.” Whenever you’re writing with him, he’s always talking about “our guy.” That’s who the song is always about — the guy who never gets a leg up. … And “our guy” can be you, too (laughs). The guy who’s writing it can be me, can be anybody.
What about “Best Forever Yet”?
I love that song and I remember the first time I heard it. We were jamming in McCall, Idaho, years ago, probably 10 or 12 years ago, and Pinto played that song just sitting on the back porch of this bar that we were jamming at. That was the first time I had heard it, and to this day, it’s still one of my favorite tunes that he’s written.
Pinto himself sang on a few of the tracks and took the lead on “Thelma.” What was that like to work with one of your heroes?
It was awesome. He had been hanging out for a few days, and we were like “Well, do you wanna go in there and sing now?” And he’s like, “Yeah, sure.” It had been a while since we had seen him sing or do anything, you know, so we were all wondering what it was gonna go like. But he walked in there, put on the cans and nailed it on his first take. We had him sing it one more time, mostly just because we wanted to hear him sing it again. But like 90 percent of what’s on there is all from the first take. It’s pretty wild. In this day and age, when pretty much anybody can go and make a record — Pro Tools it up and fix all the bad notes — it was really fun to watch a guy go in there and do it for real.