A Conversation with The Falcon’s Brendan Kelly: Grown-Up Punk Philospher

Posted December 4, 2006 in

The side-project is an interesting beast in the world of punk rock. More often than not, it serves as an excuse for any given frontman to break out the acoustic guitar and contemplate their own existence in an overly pretentious and boring manner. Other times, the side band will stray so far from the original that fans are left wondering whether or not they ever really liked the original music to begin with. With The Falcon, Brendan Kelly has hit side-project gold. Being a 15-year veteran of the punk scene, Kelly has a firm grasp on what he wants to do with his music and what his fans want to hear. Consisting of Dan Andriano of Alkaline Trio> and Neil Hennessy and Kelly of The Lawrence Arms, the Falcon continue in the tradition of drunken and grizzled Chicago punk that those bands revel in without sounding incredibly close to either one of them. Their debut album, Unicornography, brings in elements of the 21st century punk rock paradigm and accents it with folksy elements and a healthy dose of humor. This year brought the release of Unicornography, on Red Scare Records. Kelly and his friend Tobias Jeg started Red Scare Records in 2004 to release the first Falcon EP, later signing a bevy of first-rate pop-punk bands including The Lillingtons, Teenage Bottlerocket and fellow Windy City artists The Methadones. “I help to run the business-end of Red Scare and try to bring other bands on the label out on tour with us whenever we can. We had Bullets to Broadway booked on the last Lawrence Arms tour, but unfortunately they couldn't play the Salt Lake date." Kelly sounded almost professional and in stark contrast to the drunken public image he has become notorious for cultivating. Fortunately, Kelly's newfound professional endeavors haven't hindered the quality of his music. The Falcon have created a sound that is simultaneously unique and immediately familiar to Lawrence Arms and Alkaline Trio fans.

While it would be easy to attach the “super-group” tag to The Falcon, Kelly insists that was never the true intention when the band got together. “It all just started because I wanted to play music with (ex-Rise Against guitarist) Todd Mohney.” Neil jumped on board later and Kelly’s former Slapstick bandmate Andriano completed the lineup, and the group recorded their first EP, God Don’t Make No Trash, at the grand cost of zero dollars in various living rooms and practice spaces. The band drew some obvious comparisons to the Lawrence Arms because of Kelly’s signature nasal and raspy voice, but Kelly maintains that the two entities were always intended to exist independently of one another. “I’ve never brought a Lawrence Arms song over to The Falcon or a Falcon song to the Lawrence Arms. They’re both their own thing.”

The opportunity of having The Falcon’s music recorded in an actual studio and receive professional production and mastering on Unicornography did a lot to help flesh out the sound. Kelly said, “All the elements of the album were there on the EP, it’s just that we recorded that in our living rooms so it turned out a lot more raw sounding. You couldn’t hear all of the stuff going on.” The new album makes liberal use of acoustic guitars and Kelly's voice is complemented throughout the album by Dan Andriano's distinct, mellow drone. The album runs the gamut from the abrasive “The Angry Cry of The Angry Pie” (inspired by a friend’s birthday cake) to the folksy "Blackout" and the pseudo-ska of “The Unicorn Odyssey.” When I spoke to Kelly about this song, it seemed to epitomize what The Falcon and, in a more overall sense, what Brendan Kelly is all about. On “The Unicorn Odyssey” Kelly said, “Well, I could give you an honest answer about the title, but it would really be kind of disingenuous.” I thought he’d leave it at that, but he continued, “I guess it’s kind of a metaphor for a lot of the mythical problems that I faced in my adolescence and into my adulthood that did a lot to shape who I am.” This balance between the absurd and the serious is apparent throughout all of Kelly's music. Putting a humorous spin on all of the crap that life throws at you and making some high-energy, fist-pumping punk rock to get it all off your chest has become his trademark and is one of the reasons his music remains so appealing.

Kelly's philosophy extended beyond the personal and moved toward the punk scene in general when we talked about the negative effects the Warped Tour is having on punk rock these days. “Warped Tour is like the fuckin’ Wal-Mart of summer touring. It used to be that smaller bands like us could go out in tour with the bigger bands in the summer, but that just isn’t the case now.” Kelly went on to say that people think that they’re getting a good deal by shelling out 25 bucks to see 100 bands, but a lot of the bands don’t even go into the tour with the idea of giving the kids a good show. “A lot of these bands are going into it saying ‘Well we get to play a half-hour set everyday and still get paid the same amount for a headlining show’ and that’s just bullshit to me. When did it become about playing giant stadiums and fields? Isn’t that kind of why a lot of us got into this whole punk rock thing to begin with?”

It was interesting to hear someone who has been a part of the punk scene for so long to still remain true to the ideals that attracted them to it in the first place. Brendan Kelly will probably remain largely unknown outside of the punk rock world forever, but I got the feeling that’s the way he wants it to be. As long as he can drink beer and write songs about his life for the rest of his days, Brendan will remain relevant to those of us who already know who he is and will surely draw more support from like-minded people who are hearing The Lawrence Arms or The Falcon for the first time. With 15 years already behind him, Kelly shows no signs of slowing down and will surely provide us with many more years of raucous and energizing punk rock, perfect for throwing your fist in the air and singing along to.