As one of Texas' leading roots-rock bands, Reckless Kelly have built a solid reputation through 15 years of touring hard and writing believable songs. But above all, they've gained the respect of country fans by doing things their own way.
"We've had good luck over the years with labels," lead singer Willie Braun explains. "They've always been pretty willing to let us do most of the things we wanted to do."
However, the band members have taken that independence to a new level on their latest release, Good Luck & True Love, by starting their own record label called No Big Deal Records. Free of any outside influence, the album is a return to Reckless Kelly's bread-and-butter after 2010's tribute to songwriter Pinto Bennett, Somewhere in Time. The new album features the kind of beer-soaked, heartbroken, open-highway tunes that longtime fans have come to love.
In case there was any doubt their leadership has already proved itself, the circus-themed artwork for Good Luck & True Love is currently nominated for a Grammy for best recording package. The inside booklet and jewel case turn into a silent-picture movie viewer, while the CD itself transforms into a fortune-telling spinner wheel.
Braun called in to CMT.com to talk about striking out on their own, jamming in Lee Ann Womack's hotel room and trying to pry kids away from their phones long enough to dance.
CMT: You've always been an independent band, but now you're really taking the whole process upon yourselves. What prompted the change?
Braun: It finally just got to the point where we've been doing it for so long that we've kind of been making most of the decisions ourselves anyway for the last several years. We've gotten our contacts built up, and we decided to just try to do it ourselves. Save a little money. And the way the industry is running these days, it's all stuff you can do on your own or with just a little bit of help.
Was it exciting to produce the record yourselves?
Yeah, this is the third one we've done ourselves. And not having to answer to the label at all was really cool this time around because we didn't have to fight anybody for it. Any outside-the-box thinking, we could just go ahead and do. We didn't have to convince anybody that it was a great idea.
What's one thing that's different about this album as opposed to 2008's Bulletproof?
I think the biggest difference is that the whole band is really the only people that play on it. We had one mixed harmony vocal and really just wanted to sound like a band sitting in a room playing. A lot of records we've done in the past, we've had guest musicians come in and play steel or piano or stuff like that. This time, we just tried to make it sound how we sound live, and we wanted all of the songs to kind of match. We were trying to make this record really old school, and that was just one of the ways we could do that.
Since it's been a few years since your last album of original music, were there a lot of songs for you to chose from?
Yeah, actually I had almost four years to write this album. So I did have a ton of ideas, and it was almost more of a treasure hunt than it was a songwriting session. I had written so many different things that I had scattered all over the place in various notebooks and scraps of paper and napkins, and I had like 300 or 400 voicemails on my phone. When I finally sat down to organize it all, it took me, like, three days. I'm definitely gonna try to be organized in the future. (laughs)
You wrote "I Never Liked St. Valentine" with Todd Snider, and I can hear his humor in the verses. Is that meant to be kind of a grouchy song?
I figured he would be a good guy to throw that one at because of his great ability to take a serious subject and make it funny without making it corny. It's a little grouchy and a little tongue-in-cheek and a little fat and a little funny. We tried to cover all the bases. It ended up being a little funnier than I originally thought it would. But, hey, that's what you get when you write with Todd.
When I think of classic Reckless Kelly, I think of a road song like "Weatherbeaten Soul." Is that what you guys were thinking, too?
That one was real natural. When I was trying to get songs together, I went out to this condo on the lake here in Austin, Texas, and just holed up for about four days. That was one of the only songs on the album that I wrote for this one start to finish. Then when I brought it to the band, there wasn't a whole lot of arranging that we had to do to it. We just kind of took flight in it, and it ended up sounding like classic Reckless Kelly.
Who is the backup singer on "I Stayed Up All Night Again"?
That's a friend of ours from Nashville, Dani Flowers. We met her at Steamboat MusicFest. She's a good friend of Lee Ann Womack. We were up jamming in Lee Ann's room one night, and Dani was there, and she started singing, and everybody in the room was just like, "Holy shit." We jammed for a couple nights up there and got to know her. I told the guys, "I gotta write a song so she can sing on it." She's really got a great voice. That was the only other person on the album outside of the band. And it was like, "Well, you gotta be pretty good to break the one rule I had."
You guys are known as a live band, so in your 15 years on the road, what have you seen that's changed?
It's still a lot of the same. But I'd say the biggest change that has happened in the last few years is that it's a little harder to grab people's attention. You see a lot of kids out in the front row that used to be jumping up and down and having a good time, and they're kind of distracted by their phones and their Twitter. And everybody's got a camera on their phone, so they're just taking pictures. Which is cool, but it's hard to get people to live in the moment and just enjoy the show. They'll post on Facebook like, "Oh, my god. We're at the Reckless Kelly show! It's amazing!" It's like, "Well, post that later," you know?