By Ida V. Eskamani
Brendan Kelly needs no introduction. A prolific rebel-rouser of The Lawrence Arms, Slapstick, Broadways, The Falcon, the Wandering Birds, and on his own, he’s already left an indelible imprint in punk. But when it comes down to it, Kelly is a man convinced of his luck, and that he’s never doing enough. Punknews Contributor Ida Eskamani interviewed Kelly about his upcoming “Here Goes Nothin’ Tour” and his three-decades in music.
“When I look back, the overwhelming thought I have is holy fuck I got so lucky, so many times, over and over again.” Brendan Kelly is leaning into the zoom screen from somewhere in the city of Chicago, gearing up to hit the road while proudly donning his freshly de-sleeved Guy Fieri tee-shirt that reads “I want you to have a kick ass summer.”
His upcoming solo “Here Goes Nothin’ Tour” will be the first time Kelly hits the road since the global pandemic. According to Kelly, its origins are rooted in caveats, “If there’s a vaccine, and if it gets rolled out, and if we can do these shows outside, and if we can all be socially distanced and responsible, then maybe, we’ll tour.”
He adds, “being hard on myself is kinda my thing.” Kelly says he doesn’t take anything for granted, and three decades on, still assumes that everything could be a fluke. “I could explain everyone's music careers probably to the tee except for The Lawrence Arms. I don't understand it… I remember being 30— I’m 44 now— and being like, well this is going nowhere… it’s too late for me to do anything else, my fucking resume is ‘last 15 years, drank beer in a van… Then, all of a sudden we got popular. And that’s way after we were supposed to be done… this isn't supposed to happen to bands in their forties.”
Currently, Kelly finds himself in a post-quarantine-pre-tour purgatory, equal parts excitement and panic. Though exacerbated by the pandemic-induced hiatus, this isn’t a new anxiety for Kelly. “I always get a little antsy about a tour. There’s only so much gas in the tank, only so much toothpaste in the tube. I said to Chris and Neil [of The Lawrence Arms], one day we’re going to come together to do this, and it’s just not going to be good… but so far that hasn't happened.”
With trepidation comes anticipation, too. “I'm excited, I think this is the kinda thing I needed personally in order to get out there, see people. I’ve spent more of my life on the highway than not on the highway, you know? It's really a return to normalcy for me in a way. I miss all y’all out there.” Kelly continues, “I just wanna come out and say ‘hi,’ you say ‘man you look like shit,’ and then I say ‘come on, don’t be an asshole’ and we have a great time, we clink beers.”
But there’s more to look forward to on this tour than live music and backhanded comments from the people you love. On August 21st, Brendan Kelly is joining forces with Laura Jane Grace for a show in Philadelphia on the eternally sacred grounds of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the site of the beginning of the end of Trump's presidency. As Kelly tells it, the local promoter had been holding on to the space for the perfect act- “he didn’t want to unleash someone that wasn’t a rebel-rousing asshole.” Once the offer was made, Kelly said yes without hesitation. But it was the good mulch-making women of the venue who raised the stakes. “They were like ‘look, if we’re gonna do this, we want to make sure it's a home run,’” explained Kelly. “So we hit up Laura Jane Grace and she’s like, ‘oh yes, yes, yes, absolutely.’”
“This is my life,” laughs Kelly. “This is a dumb one-off joke, this will be what you’re most known for.” He contends he doesn’t typically attract media attention, “there’s not that much interesting about ‘guy does this pretty well again for 25th year in a row.’”
Ever-prolific, Kelly is already working on The Lawrence Arms next record following 2020’s “Skeleton Coast.” “What if I just rip off my favorite Bad Religion songs and mix them with Townes Vans Zandt?” he asks. He’s also got a mystery record lost somewhere in his home, “I wrote all the lyrics to like twelve songs… and I can't find it. I don't know what I did with all those lyrics.” He reiterated his success formula, with a smile, “it's been a lot of luck. Tiniest little bit of skill, sprinkled on top.”
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.