For Kenny Childers, songwriting is an everyday practice. While working closely as a co-writer with the rising Indianapolis folk duo Lily and Madeleine over the last few years,
the seasoned Hoosier musician also continues to front his long-running rock band, Gentleman Caller, which recently released its fifth full-length album titled Downtown in the Dark
earlier this month.
And now he's on the road writing, too. The 43-year-old started traveling to Nashville to co-write tunes with many different artists too, which has ultimately forces him to keep his creative juices flowing at all times.
“I write like crazy now, and it's because I feel like I'm constantly preparing for the next trip to Nashville or the next record that I’m going to be working on with someone else, whether it be Lily and Madeleine or whoever,” Childers says. “With my free time, I deliberately am absorbing things for songs. I kind of do everything with a purpose because I have to write so much.”
As a player in several notable Indiana bands over the course of his life, the Bloomington native is certainly well-suited for the burden of his songwriting responsibilities, though. Since starting out on bass guitar at age 16 – because “it only had four strings,” he says -— making what he describes as “skronky Sonic Youth-y” music with a band called Tangleweed, being in bands simply became a regular part of life for Childers. He went on to play in Velo Deluxe
(featuring John Strohm of Antenna
), The Mysteries of Life
in the’90s and ’00s. In the midst of all of this, Childers also found time to start his own band too, naming it Gentleman Caller.
Marked by Childers’ masterful songcraft,
Gentleman Caller has turned several heads over the course of their five-album lifespan, including one Richard Edwards. Drawn to the band after moving from Muncie to Indianapolis years ago, Edwards was a fan of Gentleman Caller before he starting Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s
, according to Childers. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that the only two non-Nukes releases from Margot’s Mariel Recording Company have been Gentleman Caller’s previous two albums — Wake
and Downtown in the Dark
, released on September 10.
“There are people like Randy Newman, where every word is great, but there are also people who have a way of lulling you into having your senses down in a song and then just sort of killing you with one line at the end,” Edwards says about Childers' music. “Kenny’s really, really good at that.”
Gentleman Caller’s latest album showcases several examples of Childers’ potent songwriting style. Written during a disconnected time of his life, the album lyrically and musically reflects the hazy state of mind that the frontman was in during its writing process.
“I definitely was suffering during the time that I was making Wake
. I was having pretty bad anxiety and that kind of thing, and it took some real actual psychiatry to get me back on track. So when I came around to making this record, that's kind of where I was. I felt a little glassy and wrung out, and that someone had unplugged a light,” Childers says.
According to Gentleman Caller bandmate David England, this hazy effect was created with the use of several unconventional instruments, including sitar and Mellotron keyboards.
All in all, Heidi Gluck, who sings backing vocals on the album, believes the band successfully pulled off the sound it was aiming for too.
“It drives and pulsates and thunders and screeches,” she says. “And then the pretty parts feel so lush against the rough. It sounds wavy and wobbly, yet really solid.”
In recent years, Childers has also been pretty busy working with Indianapolis sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz. Since 2013, the young duo released two albums and an EP via Asthmatic Kitty, with a third full-length on the way in February of next year. With all of these releases, Childers has served as a sort-of musical uncle to the sisters, helping them mature by co-writing songs with them.
It was Zero Boys frontman and Bloomington record producer Paul Mahern who first brought Childers into the studio with the Jurkiewicz sisters in the summer of 2012. After stumbling across some videos of Lily and Madeleine covering songs, Mahern saw potential in the duo and thought that Childers would serve as the perfect songwriting partner for them.
“Knowing the girls and knowing Kenny’s personality, I had a pretty good feeling that they would hit it off and get each other,” Mahern says. “Kenny’s a very loving and very careful person and he’s a great listener, but he also always comes prepared with ideas.”
Childers accepted the invite and has worked with the sisters ever since, watching them grow into their own. In fact, the next Lily and Madeleine record will feature some songs that were entirely written by the duo without Childers’ help.
“It’s been pretty remarkable watching them,” Childers says. “Nobody could’ve predicted that they were going to be thrown into the fire as quickly as they were, but they’ve handled it so well. Maturity-wise, they were ahead of the game when I started working with them, and that has proven to be consistent.”
Childers has also started another project with Madeleine called Sandpaper and Silk.
“My idea is to sort of make this like those Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood records. They’re kind of the blueprint,” he says. And although they’ve only released one song to date, Childers is hopeful that there will be many more to come, adding yet another project to his current musical workload.