Kelsey has spent his lifetime exploring the limits of the guitar.
Lafayette-bred musician got his start as an ensemble player, but he's made his
mark as a solo artist. Beginning with 1996's Gruvency, Kelsey has
effortlessly crafted polyrhythmic songs using only an acoustic guitar and
whatever objects happen to be handy when performing live. Often that can make
Kelsey sound like a band unto himself.
isn't necessarily to achieve guitar god status, though Kelsey once won a
national guitar competition and performed in the 2004 of Eric Clapton's
Crossroads Guitar Festival. Rather, it's about summoning a storm of emotions
through lush, heartfelt performance.
Sunday at Birdy's, Kelsey will premiere his sixth studio album and first in
four years, Submerged. He recently talked with NUVO about all things guitar.
did you start playing guitar and what attracted you to the instrument?
Kelsey: When I was eight, I realized I wanted to play music. Drums were my
first love. My mother always played guitar. I wanted to make chords and write songs,
so she started teaching me. She soon found a guitar teacher for
me who showed me all the fun stuff to play and that just kept it going.
The guitar always felt natural in my hands. I like playing many different
instruments. The guitar makes me understand those instruments better and those
instruments make me understand the guitar better.
did your unique style of playing come about?
am constantly curious about the instrument. If I were a piano player I would be
doing the same thing — just stepping back and thinking about the
possibilities. I don't know what I would do with a piano, but it would probably
include duct tape, wind chimes and a strong sense of adventure. When someone
has that state of mind they thrive on finding new ways to an old idea. I
just happen to play guitar. I discovered [pioneering finger-style guitarist]
Michael Hedges about 18 years ago. He woke me up. Not so much his music as much
as his approach to music and his spirit in making music.
do you draw from so many different genres?
always admired people that locked into a style of music so passionately. It
never struck me that way. I am listening for expression in sound — not so
much a style. So I could be drawn to a [Robert] Fripp and [Brian] Eno
soundtrack that someone might consider background noise, and then turn around
and love some '80s pop song because of the clever melody line — and
then I could be lost in the story of a folk song. I like bringing
a variety of styles to a live performance, but when I make a
recording that variety could be distracting. So I try to have a focus
for each project. This latest project satisfied the guitar instrumentalist
in me. Not technical playing, just a moody acoustic guitar telling some melody
stories with some atmospheric enhancements. The next project will be more of
one-man, one-guitar, singer-songwriter CD, maybe a live recording. That kind of
variety is great for my music inner world and terrible for the
business outer world.
NUVO: Have you always had a magnetic stage presence?
was always on the shy side of interacting with people as I grew up. Expressing
through sound is the one place where I felt at home. I like making musical
discoveries in my alone time and then being able to go out and share them with
an audience. I get kind of excited about that. That excitement hasn't faded at
all over the years. I think it just gets more intense.
NUVO: How important is audience interaction to your shows?
strive to create a moment that the audience and I can call our own. I like to
stay open to the things around me and weave them in and out throughout the
night. If I don't, then I almost feel guilty that we had an
opportunity to make an authentic moment, but instead I just stuck to the
program. There is that balance of opening yourself up to the moment, but also
sharing something that you brought from home. I don't have it perfected
yet, but I am always trying.
NUVO: Why are you taking longer to release new material now?
Hmm...I don't know. I tend to let things take their natural course, even if
that means the scenic route. Maybe I need some anxious band mates or more pushy
friends. I do have the next project mapped out in my mind. I tell myself I
will have it completed within six months, but then that is what I always tell
myself after each project.
NUVO: At this point in your career, do you feel you've learned and manipulated
as much as you can out of the guitar?
has always felt like an infinite instrument. It never bores me. When the day
comes that I am one with the instrument, and can evoke more emotion
and speak clearer than any other form of communication, then I
will try that piano, wind-chime thingy.