Next month, The Falcon is set to release its first album in nearly a decade. We met up with singer/guitarist Brendan Kelly at the GMan Tavern to discuss the record in detail. We talked about the band’s new guitarist, Dave Hause, and how his contributions helped to shape the album’s sound. Original members Dan Andriano, (Alkaline Trio) and Neil Hennessy, (The Lawrence Arms) are of course still onboard for the ride. We also spoke about how the record was written, what it was like recording with Dan Tinkler at Atlas Studios and how the album’s cover came to be. Additionally, we conversed about the record’s dark lyrical content and how it mirrors the style of the music. Longtime fans will be eager to find the band exploring new sounds, but at the same time retaining the characteristics that they’re best known for. By all accounts, Gather Up The Chaps finds The Falcon sounding very much revitalized and ready for take-off.
Bill – Given that the band’s last album came out almost ten years ago, at what point did you start thinking about writing songs for The Falcon again?
Brendan – What happened was we did a show next door at the Metro. And the reason we did the show next door was because it was Red Scare’s tenth anniversary show. As you know, I’m part of Red Scare with Toby. The whole way that Red Scare started was I had this idea for a band with me and Todd Mohney and Dan Andriano and Neil Hennessy. Toby was like, “Man, I’ve been thinking about starting a label. If you’re going to do a band with those dudes in it, I’d like to put it out.” And I said, “If you’re going to do a label and put out The Falcon, I want to be part of the label.” And so boom, Red Scare was born, right? A little bit later Unicornography came out and that ended up being the best-selling record in Red Scare’s catalog. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that it came out at a time when people were still kind of buying records. The Menzingers, for example, they’ve had a record since then and they’re obviously a very big band, but people don’t buy records anymore. So, it’s a little skewed, but The Falcon is so integral to the rise of Red Scare or whatever that Toby was like, “You guys have to play, you have to headline the show.” And it’s a big room, obviously, it’s like 1,200 people or whatever. So we got this whole thing together. We had to recruit a guitar player, so that’s how we got Dave Hause. I got him via Twitter and text message. Dave’s an old, old friend of all of ours, so it’s a real natural fit. The first time we’d ever played, the four of us, was on the stage, headlining the show in front of 1,200 people. We’d never played, the four of us together.
Bill – Did you practice?
Brendan – No, that’s the thing. We all practiced individually. Neil and I rehearsed the shit out of everything. He’s the drummer and I’m kind of holding everything together, playing rhythm guitar and singing all the songs. So we had to be great and these two actual great musicians had to come in and just be themselves. No offense to Neil. Those three great musicians had to be themselves. I had to rehearse with Neil so I could not look like the flaming butthole in the center of everything. When we got off the stage, all four of us were like “Wow, that was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever played.” And so we were sitting backstage and pouring drinks and hanging out and we were like, “Okay, so we’re a real band now.” It was not even a question. It was just like, “Wow. We’re a band. I guess we should make a record.” And so the next day I started writing songs. It was just sort of a natural progression from that show. That show was the inspiration for the birth of this record.
Bill – So how did you go from that show to getting into the studio at Atlas? How much time went by?
Brendan – That show was in October of 2014 and then we got into the studio a little less than a year later. It took me about a year to write the record. I just cranked at it every day. When I was younger, I used to maybe write a bunch of songs and a few of them would be good and I would pare down the good ones and the bad ones. This time I just wrote so much. I had a Moleskine notebook and in the course of writing ten songs it took me one entire notebook to write those ten songs. As I get older, my bullshit detector is still just as strong as it used to be, but my ability to just like shit out something original is definitely not because I’m fuckin’ 40, you know what I mean? I’ve seen too many things. I don’t know how to say it in a better way. When you’re young and you haven’t seen that many things it’s like you can imagine the world. But once you’ve seen a few things you’re constrained by what you’ve seen. So it just takes a long time for me to get to something that I think is fascinating enough that it’s worth putting on a record. So, it took me a lot of work to get to those ten songs. Have you heard the record?
Bill – Yeah.
Brendan – I think it’s up to my standards. I think it’s the logical next step in my career and I don’t feel like it sounds like a shitty cash-in or anything like that. I feel like it’s vitally important to me, artistically. But again, I also feel like my bullshit detector is cranked on high, so it’s going to take me a long time to do anything.
Bill – Having recorded with various projects at Atlas Studios many times in the past, what was different this time around?
Brendan – One of the biggest things that was different was when we went in this time we were looking around and we were like, “Huh. Me, Neil, Dan Andriano and Dave Hause, the last thing we really need in the studio is more studio experience.” So we went with Dan Tinkler, who’s like a young dude in his early 20s. He’s a great up-and-coming engineer. We wanted like youthful exuberance and somebody that would be like, “Oh that’s fucked up and weird. I like it.” Not somebody that would be like “I’ve never heard that before.” Not that Matt Allison is in any way like a curmudgeon, he’s a fuckin’ amazing engineer. I mean, he’s a curmudgeon, but not in the studio, (laughs). He’s a top-notch engineer, but we needed an injection of young blood, right? So we got it in the form of Dan Tinkler and that was awesome. It’s hard to use any terms like refreshing because I just recorded a record two years ago with Matt Allison and it was refreshing and awesome to be in the studio with him, so I don’t want to take anything away from that. But it was definitely a different vibe that was very welcomed to work with a young guy who maybe knew less about being in the studio than we did, but who knew how to handle the modern intricacies of Pro Tools better than any of us did. And that was awesome. The four of us were never in the studio at the same time. We were supposed to be, but Dave had a delayed flight or something so he ended up coming in the day after Dan left. So it was a little piecemeal, but I don’t know, it felt really cohesive. You’re not really all in there in the studio anyway, you know?
And this isn’t a different thing, but those three guys are so good at knowing what they’re doing that it’s just like, “Oh, so you’ve nailed it. That’s good. Let’s move on to the next thing.” That was really cool. It’s like my shitty hands and stupid voice were like the big problems, which they always are every time I record anything, but it was awesome. One of the great things when we went in with Dave and we laid down the first track, Dave’s like “I want to start with this one” and he starts doing this thing and it sounds great, but he’s looking at me and I think he could see on my face. I didn’t even realize I was making a face and he’s like “You don’t like this?” I’m like “No, what you’re doing is awesome and it sounds perfect for the part, but it’s not what this band is about.” It was a real pop punk, almost Screeching Weasel thing over the front half of the song “The Skeleton Dance.” It’s like a real big, almost centerpiece song on the record. I was like, “Dude, this is supposed to really ugly and dark. It’s not supposed to be beautiful. It’s supposed to be ugly and dark and then the beauty will shine through in the cracks.” And he’s like, “Oh, so you want me to do something like this?” I was like, “Yeah, but move it down a half step.” And then he did it there where it was real kind of dissonant and we were like “Yes. That’s the thing.” And Dave, he came in fully prepared to do all the songs, and in that moment he switched on a dime and changed his entire approach to the record and recorded everything else without missing a beat. And it was just like, “Holy fuck. That’s a consummate professional. That’s somebody who knows what they’re fuckin’ doing.” He came in with all these poppy ass things and then was like “Oh, I get exactly what you’re saying. What about these guitar parts instead?” It was just very impressive. Neil and Dan I’ve worked with in the studio in the past and I know that they’re consummate professionals, but they work in the rhythm section where things are a little bit more cut-and-dry. To see somebody in more of an editorial position to have that kind of wherewithal to change on a dime…I send Dave enough texts about when I go back and listen to the record at how amazed am I at his imprint on the sound. I feel like it’s so integral to the sound of what The Falcon is now. I’m like, “How were we even a band without him before?” I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m totally bullshitting him, but Dave if you’re reading this – Ha. See, it’s true. I say it to other people too, (laughs).
Bill – The overall vibe of the record reminds me more of the Falcon’s debut EP than it does the last album. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?
Brendan – Well, I was actually talking about this earlier today. With that first Falcon EP, what I wanted to do was just go a little bit harder than what I’d been doing in The Lawrence Arms. It wasn’t that The Lawrence Arms didn’t have enough room for that…the reason I that I came up with the idea for The Falcon in the first place was because I wanted to work with Todd Mohney, who was in Rise Against. I’d watch him onstage and I was just like inspired by his playing and his stage presence. I was like, “What kind of band should that guy actually be in?” Because it didn’t seem like he was totally right for Rise Against. I’m like, “He should be in like a sleazy, hard ass rock band. I’ll write the songs and I’m gonna ask him to be in the band.” And that’s exactly what happened. And that’s how that first EP started. By the Unicornography album he was out of the band because he just had vanished. At that point, I wanted to push the boundaries of what people thought I was capable of. Because people used to yell Slapstick songs at The Lawrence Arms people think I hate ska. It’s like “Fuck that. I love ska. I’m going to put ska on the record.” People think that I don’t know how to play guitar and I can’t play riffs. “Fuck that. This entire song’s going to be just a riff.” I was pushing against what people thought my capabilities were. Then I did the Wandering Birds album and that was really where I kind of freed myself from any expectations. I didn’t even sing like I usually sing. I think history has redeemed it. At the time when it came out people were like “I don’t know about this,” but anyway. It’s the record it is. And then I did the other Lawrence Arms record and by the time we came back to do this Falcon record I feel like I have all those tools at my disposal. I know how to use my clean voice and I know how to touch the dark perversions of things because of that Wandering Birds record. I didn’t feel like I was proving something with the record, I felt like I was using a Swiss Army knife where I knew all the tools that were in there, you know what I mean? This is the synthesis of what I’ve been doing for a long time. I’ve always been a real big proponent of, and this kind of goes back to the idea of my own bullshit detector. And this is making me sound like I think so much of myself, which I am not trying to suggest at all. But I always try to learn from my mistakes and I try to learn from my successes as well. Like the things that I like that work in a song, it’s like all of a sudden I’m like “I can switch between these two totally different vibes and come together with something.” So, I think the general notion of the first EP is almost like a stark admiration for a dude’s stage presence and this one is more of like me just doing my business the best way I know how, which makes that Unicornography record standout because I was trying to play so hard against type there. It was really bright and I don’t want to say a cry for attention because that cheapens the fun of it or whatever. This record and the first EP were very utilitarian, whereas that record was like a real exploration I guess.
Bill – You touched on this a little bit, but by and large the album’s lyrics are very dark. Did this start to happen at the onset of writing the record or did it more take shape as the songs came together?
Brendan – No, I’m pretty fascinated with that point where happiness turns to sadness and desire turns into shame, all those kind of things. That sweet spot is…when something makes you laugh so hard and then all of a sudden you start crying because it’s so tragic, that is the thing for every song that I’ve ever made that I’ve always aimed for. I think that this record, for whatever reason, it comes from a dark place and aims at the light, as opposed to some of the other records that I’ve done that have come high and then gotten low. And it seems like maybe it’s a little bit darker, but I think that this one is a realist record where it’s like, “We’re never gonna be that happy, but today could maybe be kind of happy for a few hours.” And that is something that’s pretty pervasive throughout. I don’t feel like that evolved.
Bill – It’s interesting because that reminds me of what you said about the style of music on the record, with some of the more melodic stuff shining through the darkness.
Brendan – Absolutely and I think there are some really uplifting moments on the record lyrically, but it’s definitely couched in an overall despair. I don’t think it’s uncharacteristic of my writing in general. But yeah, the record’s dark for sure. I had a friend who I sent it to and she’s like, “Everything cool?” I was like, “As cool as it gets, I guess.” I’m getting old. My friends are starting to die and shit, weird times.
Bill – Where did the concept for the record’s cover and its title come from?
Brendan – It all starts from the same place, which is that I love leather daddy culture. I grew up in Boystown and I’ve always thought that those dudes were the coolest looking guys. As a kid, I was scared of them because they looked like gang members to me. I didn’t know anything about the cultural differences between dudes wearing sideways hats and dudes wearing leather straps around their bodies or whatever. They just all looked like big guys who could beat the shit out of me, but I was so fascinated by the whole thing. So we started talking about how we wanted this record to come together and, you know, The Lawrence Arms is a collaborative effort between me, Chris and Neil. I don’t feel comfortable making draconian edicts in that band at all. And the Wandering Birds is so just me that it’s not about a team thing. So to me, The Falcon is like my band kind of, even though at this point I don’t think of it that way anymore. But when we were coming up with the concept of this record, this is before Dan and Dave had written songs for the record or we’d even rehearsed anything, I was like “We should be leather daddies. That would be dope. Let’s do photos where we’re leather daddies.” I’ve always kind of wanted to do that. I’ve always kind of wanted to own the outfit, but it’s like how do I justify spending $200? I’m a married, straight male. I’m like, “Sweetie, look what I bought.” She’s like, “Why?” And then “I don’t know. I don’t have any plans to wear it actually. I just think it’s kind of cool,” (laughs). So I was like “I think we should all be leather daddies.” And then Dave and Dan and Neil were like, “Yeah, that sounds pretty kickass,” which is awesome. So I called Toby and I’m like “Toby, when we do our promo photos, we’re gonna need a big budget because we’re all going to be leather daddies and that shit ain’t cheap.” And then he goes, “Dude, if you can convince Neil and Dan and Dave to dress as leather daddies, yeah, I’ll gather up the chaps.” I was like, “Holy shit. Did you just say gather up the chaps?” I was like, “That’s the title of the record, man.” Because it’s just so appropriate to the fact that we’re all like all over the country and we haven’t been a band for so long. It’s like “Gather up the chaps! Let’s get the band back together, let’s get the dudes together,” (laughs).
And the next thing you know that’s the title of record and the reality of us all being leather daddies on the front cover wasn’t happening. And I was like, “You know what, man? It’s been 20 years since Rancid’s …And Out Come the Wolves, and it was 20 years from Minor Threat’s Complete Discography to …And Out Come the Wolves, it’s time to revisit it.” It’s so much sadder, a lone leather daddy, than a lone skinhead or a lone rooster punk. The models in both of those album covers weren’t actual guys in the band, so it couldn’t be one of us. So it’s Dan Tinkler, our engineer, in that costume. I don’t know, I think it’s the best album cover I’ve ever put music beneath. It’s so rad. I’m pretty stoked.
Bill – What are you looking forward to about The Falcon’s upcoming tour?
Brendan – There’s something real kickass about just the idea of going on tour with a band that I’ve never really toured with before. We’re all pretty different dudes and we’re all very old friends, so I feel like it’ll be pretty seamless and effortless in that way. That’s always been sort of one of the pleasures of being in a band like The Lawrence Arms, you know what I mean? We’re all good friends and it’s really easy. But to do it in a different capacity, it’s so refreshing to me and exciting. And to play new songs, the opportunity to kind of blow people’s minds for the first time, as opposed to coming and playing the hits. That’s really exciting. I get to wear my leather daddy costume, (laughs). To tour on a new record for a band that’s kind of a new band and also kind of a legacy band, it’s a pretty neat and interesting place to be. There’s also like no expectations. If the shows go tits up and they suck, we can be like “Well, it was our first tour.” And if the shows sell-out, we can be like “Yeah, we’ve been around forever.” It’s really exciting. And I also get to play guitar, that’s fun.
Bill – What do you guys have planned after the tour wraps up?
Brendan – We’re trying to book other tours. We’re talking about the West Coast, we’re talking about Europe, we’re talking about all sorts of stuff. To me, The Falcon is just getting started. I don’t plan on this being the last Falcon record by any stretch of the imagination. I’m pretty fuckin’ stoked on the way this turned out and I’m pretty excited on the chemistry of the band. I think it’s rare for dudes of our tenure to get to do something new that’s like really fun and I think kind of genuinely cool. I know you see a lot of side project bands of like older bands and you’re like, “Eh, I’m not even gonna check that out.” That’s probably how a lot of people feel about this, but on the other hand this is a pretty cool band. I think it’ll be fun.