LAST CALL - INTERVIEW WITH IAN KELBY
by Brooks Cochrum - March 16, 2016
Q: Is Last Call your first CD?
A: Yes, better late than never, huh? I had written songs and did some recording off and on for many years with friends but Last Call is my first official CD.
Q: Have you played in bands before?
A: I have been in bands with various people in the past but never felt quite right about it. Never felt secure. I don’t know if I wanted perhaps to do my own thing or just didn’t get off on some of the other material. Dealing with egos is never easy and I have played with some wonderful people as well as some stubborn individuals and that becomes difficult. The arguing and bickering and frustrations become too much and the fun and quality of the work is forced.
Q: So you are saying you prefer to work solo than collaborate?
A: I find I work better in an environment where I am free to do my own thing and one where strife doesn’t exist and the exchange of ideas flow freely and are not compromised by ego. I was extremely fortunate to find a great producer and guitar player in Russ Reiter and we work wonderfully together and trust and respect each other’s skill set. It’s not about control but about doing what is best for the song. He has been a tower of strength. The experience has been totally refreshing and rewarding for me. It feels great to have completed the CD and have something tangible to share.
Q: What artists do you think have influenced your music and writing?
A: It is funny it took me years to realize I was being influenced at all. People would ask me that question and I could never hear the influences at least in the music itself. The truth is we are all sponges to an extent and are often oblivious to what we are absorbing on a subconscious level. If I had to list my influences, I suppose they would be Roger Waters, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Nick Cave, Randy Newman, Tom Waits. Good lyrics have always resonated with me.
Q: Do you find lyrics or music more important?
A: I think in popular music most people identify with the music first and the lyrics are secondary. I have always thought if you claim to be a songwriter the lyrics are equally if not more important. If the artist has nothing relevant to say then why have lyrics at all. I remember hearing an interview with Leonard Cohen on NPR and after hearing him articulate ideas I was totally intrigued and knew I had to explore his music and what he had to say lyrically about the world and his experiences. His poetry had a profound effect on me. After discovering his work I remember having this intense feeling like we shared the same soul and I wasn’t alone. I had found an artist who was able to crystallize and put into words so many feelings that I shared about so many things. He found truth and beauty in the darkness. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at the Beacon Theatre in 2009. It was a spiritual experience for me.
Q: Not all but many of your songs are dark and cynical. Do you consider yourself a pessimist?
A: I definitely have a bit of a misanthropic view of the world and I think that comes from many things but mostly an objective attempt to look at the world for what it is and not just live inside my own bubble. There is so much suffering out there and there are so many people oblivious to it. I make a point to try not to be. I read a lot and enjoy philosophy. The relationship between morality and nature compels me. Morality is a human construction. Whether there is a right or wrong about anything factors on a psychological component that is related to the guilt mechanism that most of us are instilled with from childhood. Human beings are fortunate to be outside the food chain and this in itself provides a feeding ground for self-delusion and a clouded perception of reality. Watch the Nature Channel for a few hours and this perception will change…anything goes. We live in an artificial society and most people are unaware of how fragile it truly is.
Q: Your song Whistling Man implies you are agnostic. Is that a fair take on it?
A: The truth is I have no idea about the existence of a higher power but I have a strong suspicion despite the limits of my mind that there is nobody up there in the clouds with a pen and pad checking off all the good and bad things I have done. I am pretty sure nobody died for my sins two thousand years ago. It is clichéd but I am a spiritual not a religious person. I don’t believe organized religion is necessary for one to have a strong moral compass. Don’t get me wrong the bible is a powerful work of art with many truths in those pages that can truly inspire but like anything else there is the other trajectory where the text has been manipulated and interpreted in a fashion that has also promoted intolerance, suffering and hate. The religious wars continue. It is absolute nonsense that in the 21st century we rely on superstition instead of reason to solve our problems. I am a firm believer in separation of church and state.
Q: Is your song Last Call about the end of the Chelsea Hotel?
A: In a way yes. They are currently renovating the Chelsea into a boutique hotel. How depressing is that? My girlfriend and I stayed there about five years ago and I specifically wanted to write a song there and join the ranks of the tortured artists who struggled or succeeded with their craft in those legendary rooms. There was a romantic element that pulled me there. It is such a shame that it is nw closed and will reopen as a ghost of what it was. Last Call is a song about artistic integrity. It is also about the sense of frustration that people feel knowing that time is running out for them or the world to get things right. We live in such a dangerous time and I truly believe once the Manhattan Project went forward we signed our own death warrant as a species. It is just a matter of time before some nut job pushes the big red button. Hopefully it is something we will not witness in our life time. I would like to think that human beings are capable of compromise and working together for a better world but as I grow older that idea diminishes. That is why I admire men like Roger Waters, men who still have the courage and integrity to stand up and fight for what they believe is right and continue to try and offset the inequalities of society.
Q: Do You consider yourself a Trousered Ape?
A: Of course I do. We all are. I stole that title from Will Durant who by the way was an incredibly elegant historian and philosopher. He referred to us as trousered apes and I couldn’t agree more. This evolution thing is a slow process. We are the best and worst of what life has to offer but in the end I hope we aspire to be more than just trousered apes walking the earth, peddling fear and guzzling gas. We are just the newer, more sophisticated model of the chimpanzee. Hopefully mother earth doesn’t recall us.
Q: The song Tunnelin is about a stalker. Do you worry some stalker will find the song an anthem?
A: I hope not. I hope it will do the opposite. The stalker mentality is the epitome of desperation. It is fascinating to watch a man or woman lose sight of everything and become totally obsessed. Despite all the other fish in the ocean they can’t see past their current rejection. Incapable of moving on they end up burying themselves in their attempts to win back the one they want. In the worse case scenario everyone gets buried.
Q: There is a moving song on the CD called Brother. Is that personal?
A: Yes, I lost my brother in 1997. That song is about loss. I dream about him often.
Q: You wrote a song called Dead Farmer. It is quite different than anything else on the CD. Where did that come from?
A: Good question. That song took the longest to record of any on the CD. Russ and I were dying laughing while working on it. I specifically set out to write a story of a farmer who had an absolutely miserable life and passed away in his sleep and was better for it. I sang it in a very low octave and Russ looked at me and said I sounded like the guy who sang the Grinch song and I said “perfect”. We added all of the farm animals and put so much work into getting the timing right. A barnyard symphony comes to mind. I wasn’t sure if the song itself fit on the album but in the end I decided to include it. Why not? It adds a little levity.
Q: Do you have a favorite song on the CD?
A: That’s a tough one. A few of them are more commercial than the rest and since my writing style isn’t conducive to that form I suppose when it happens I am happily surprised. I love Russ’ guitar work on Tunnelin. I think Last Call and Whistling Man are both solid lyrically. The Price is also very personal to me as a testament to forbidden love. I think Trousered Apes is quite original. I can see a good animated video of that song at some point. My mom loves the song Love Is Waiting For You. I hope there might be a song for everybody on the CD.
Q: In the song titled Tomorrow you talk about being lost and then found. What exactly does that mean for you?
A: I wanted to end the CD on an optimistic note and Tomorrow provided that. That song is also very personal and is a little snapshot of my life. I was in an unhealthy relationship and place for many years and was delusional about many things and quite lost in many ways. I didn’t feel good about myself and the path I had chosen. When I was a younger and foolish man I thought if I could get away with something without anybody getting hurt or finding out it was o.k. Only later in life did I realize I was only hurting myself and chipping away at my own self esteem. You have to learn to forgive and love yourself if you are going to find happiness and Tomorrow is about engaging that process. We all need hope in our lives.