Brendan Kelly (The Lawrence Arms)

Do you know Brendan Kelly? He likes to read heavy-duty literature like The Brothers Karamazov and he also watches dirty movies like Greased Big Butts 7. He's a guy in The Lawrence Arms and they have a new album out called Metropole today, which is basically Org-core made tangible.

Because one of the Punknews readership's most anticipated albums of the year hits the shelves today, Features Editor John Gentile met up with Kelly where they spoke about the new album, sex in punk rock, and how the universe works… or something.

I saw on twitter that you were watching the "Batkid Saga."
Every town needs a hero and that is a pretty fuckin’ cute hero. To say the least, it’s emotionally devastating. I've got two small kids. On one hand, God what a wonderful thing for a community to rally together for. But, on the other hand, a little kid should not be dying of cancer! It’s just like an emotional speed-ball. On one hand, I’m so happy and on the other hand, I’m devastated.

What does the very existence of Batkid say about the universe?
Well, you know, fuck dude, that’s the universe that we live in. That’s the natural world. Baby hamsters get eaten by their mom every day. The thing that I think is worth taking away is that there is such a beautiful amount of compassion that comes out of total strangers. There is a lot of good that exists because of conscious effort and choice.

Cancer is just a metastasis of cells that start attacking each other because they get confused. Fuck, you look at cells, that happens every night. The idea that a community can come together and make Batman real and make him a kid, that’s beautiful thing.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum, your last solo record was very well received. People are really excited for Metropole. Are you on top of the world?
That’s a pretty two-fold thing. On one hand, being a parent has taught me - my son right now is very sweet and is very demonstrative and affectionate. He is very gracious and thankful for things. People meet him and are like, "Wow, he’s such a great kid!" And, I’m like, "Well, he’s going through a good phase," and people laugh. The thing is, if he’s acting like a total shit, and he is the worst, I’ll say he’s going through a bad phase. The truth has been revealed to me through this five year old. The world is all phases. This too shall pass, is an ancient colloquial proverb.

Right now, the Lawrence Arms put out a record and everything that I’m a part of in music, I’m very stoked about. It’s a good phase. With that being said, it’s important to always stay hungry. I like to listen to stuff and be critical of it. I just got into that new RVIVR record and I hear that song "Wrong Way," and I’m like, "Fuck! THIS is a jam!" I hear Against Me!’s "Fuckmylife666" and it’s so emotionally resonate that it’s insane. Laura is singing from such unique perspective. There are so few people that can identify with the specifics of the song. But me, as a privilege, cis-gender, straight white guy, it’s heartbreaking. I’m like the last guy that should be able to relate to it. I’m happy with what we’ve done, and I think the new record is great, but dissatisfaction is what breeds excellence and I’m always striving for the next thing.

How do you see the new record fitting into the Lawrence Arms discography?
The record is a conceptual look at a stranger in a strange land. The solitude of the urban environment. The way of existing in a vast sea of people. It can be so isolating. The things that came to mind instantly are like Native Son, or Crime and Punishment, or even Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. These sort of isolated human beings who are very much a part of their urban environment and are disconnected. Stranger in a strange land swimming in a sea of people. It also has an age element to it. As a younger dude, I might have sought out more company and companionship. I don’t want to speak on anyone else’s behalf, but as we've grown older, we've found ourselves as people that are in cities, walking through them alone. That is the beginning thematically of where this album is coming from.

Why do you feel so disconnected as you are growing older?
It’s not anything as concrete as that, My experience is what drives me and nobody else has that experience. It’s a double-edged sword. I get to be a unique individual, but there’s nobody out there that truly understands everything about me. There are things that I can only tell my brother or only tell my wife. There are situations that I don’t really want to be in with Chris McCaughan of the Lawrence Arms, but ultimately, I think there is a certain malaise, an isolation, in existence.

It really exists in the current of humanity, and as you get older, you become less able to distract yourself from that universe truth. Ha ha ha! I know it sounds like I’m sitting at the top of the mountain… maybe that was a little deep.

Au contraire- this is the time for you stand atop your pedestal. As you mention isolation, I think about guys like Jello Biafra or Buzz Osborne of the Melvins who I would think believe that they are the very best at what they do. Not that they are the very best at everything, but at that one unique thing that they do, they would probably think they are the tops. Do you feel that way?
No… I feel like I offer a perspective. There is a unique point of my perspective because I’m into low brow dick jokes and high brow literature and I think I have a pretty healthy command of my own English vernacular- I’m just trying to do the best I can. I don’t think I’m doing anything earth shattering or life changing… If I could quote Say Anything, "I’m not really trying to figure it all out tonight, I’m just trying to hang out with your daughter for a while." I’m constantly trying to do the best, but I’m under no illusions that I’m on my way.

Epitaph has taken a special precautions to keep Metropole from leaking. What’s your opinion on file sharing these days?
The way I see it, sure, it’s really nice for there to be a financial component or reward when putting out a record. It’s really cool. Fuckin’, it was really nice back in the day when people got paid to pump your gasoline, but at some point, because of the pumps or whatever, that didn’t need to be a job anymore. The guys that were pumping gas were like, "What the fuck, man! I get paid to pump gas!" and people were like, "Well, sorry, the world has moved."

I could cry about a lot of fucking things in the way the world has changed, or the way I feel depressed, or shorted, or cheated, but that’s not a cool way to go about life. I wish I could put out a record and people would pay for it, but that’s not gonna happen. I could shit into one hand and wish into another and see which fills up first.

You talk about sex a lot on your blog and twitter, but these days, very, very few punk bands even mention sex. Why is punk trying to erase sex from the records?
Punk rock is definitely very virginal. There’s this idea that talking about sex is dirty. Punk is very puritanical in that sense. Pretty much the only place you see honest depictions of frank sexual nature- you have two extremes- your dipshit bro-core bands that respond to sexual infidelity with violence and you have your super-posi-anarcho-lesbian-garage band who feel comfortable about singing about sex because it’s a platform.

But the idea about singing about fucking because fucking is awesome- that’s just not there. And that was like a huge thing on that Wandering Birds record that I wanted to explore. I also wanted to explore the dirty and seedy side that is less socially acceptable.

Listen, we live in a world of dirty fucking and there’s no two ways about it. Whether it’s like punk rock or congress or the back kitchen at your favorite restaurant, everybody’s doing dirty fucking. It’s a fascinating topic to explore and it makes me sad that punk rock is so reactionary. I think, and I’m sorry to spin my wheel backwards, I think the whole thing is like still reacting from 80’s hair metal and how obsessed with fucking it was.

"Oh my God! Those guys are just a bunch of clowns. Let’s make something that means something!" That’s laudable,. But at the same time, man, fuckin’, it’s one of the greatest motivators of all time. For me, it’d be one of the main things that drives anybody on Earth. It’s at the base of Maslow’s pyramid. Fuckin’ is down there. If you’re in a punk rock band that chooses to believe that or not, to deny fuckin’ is denying a sandwich, you need it to live.

You know, I’d argue that people in punk rock are having just as much sex, if not more, than any other random sample of people… well, except for like nuns.
You think nuns are having the most?!

Yeah. Everybody’s fucking. It’s totally cool. It’s one of the most awesome, joyful things that you can do. The fact as a culture that we have marginalized fucking and demonize it to some degree, it makes it weird to celebrate it- like the creepy record that I made it. It was sort of a satirical take on the whole thing. We should be singing about fucking. It’s nothing to be ashamed.

You also talk about porno on your twitter. Do you think that you watch more than most people or are you just more honest about it?
I like my pornography to be super fascinating. I’ve seen my fair share of pornography, but I don’t think I consume it in any perverse level or anything. It goes back to human instinct, but it’s also tied in with celebrity and voyeurism and very weird decisions that people make. Going into porn is such a high dive socially that people make. It’s just fascinating. Especially on twitter to interact with these girls and dudes that are doing porn. They’re just human beings, but they’ve made this crazy decision to fuck each other in front of us for a living. It’s bizarre! I am totally sex industry positive. I love that stuff. But, I don’t think I watch any more than anyone else… I just don’t lie about it.

I mean really, most dudes are almost always thinking about girls, but they don’t talk about it.
Well, even that depends what crowd you’re hanging out with. If you go to a FSU tailgate party, it’s not like they’re not talking about it.

Metropole is the first Lawrence Arms record in a long while. Do you feel any pressure?
First of all, I feel no pressure. We wouldn't have made this record if we didn't think it was good. There’s no label breathing down our neck. There’s no touring pressure to do it. At this point, we've been not-the-Lawrence-Arms for so long- not that we broke up- but we've been a semi-inactive. We’re protected in that all our identities adjusted to that.

There was never a point where we were like, "We need to make a record!" It was more like, "I’ve got this song that I think is pretty good." And I was like, "Chris, I want you to be on it. Maybe we should do an EP." Then, all of a sudden, some really good songs were coming along and we were like, "just like two more and we’ll have a good record." Then, we wrote six more and were like "this is definitely worth putting out."

There never was any pressure. We made what we think is a worthy part of our cannon and we waited til it was the right time. Will people like this record? I don’t know. It’s been a long time. I don’t know if we are playing to the same kids. Our fan base has grown since the last record, but I don’t know if it was a transfusion or just a growth- but I don’t worry about it at nights.

What do you think of being the archetypical "Org-core" band along with Hot Water Music?
I mean, any place where we are put in the same category as Hot Water Music is awesome. I love them and they make great records. However, the idea of Org-core, it is a valuable adjective to describe a very specific kind of music to a very specific audience. Most people don’t know what that means. If there is a group of weirdos from this cyber suburb that have gravitated to it through Hot Water Music, us, and I’d throw Dillinger Four in there, that’s awesome. I couldn't be more stoked. That’s awesome. I don’t think that’s reductive because I think it stops being relevant once you step out of that culture.

What were you like in high school?
Mmmm… in high school, I went to three different high schools. I went to a private high school,a public high school, and a religious high school. I was always very bookish and studious, but I never had any problems with having friends. I definitely wasn’t a jock. I didn’t have any athletic ability. I was on the hockey team. I had really long hair, and they shaved my head, so I quit the team.

I think I was about exactly who you’d think I was. I was kind of a wise-ass. I definitely didn’t have a lot of girlfriends. I had a lot of friends. I never felt lonely. When I went to the public high school, I worked at McDonalds and hung out with the stoners. When I went to the religious school, that was when I first started hanging out at the park with the stoners… I guess I was a stoner. I quit smoking pot when I was 18. It started giving me anxiety attacks. Through all that, being a good student was kind of at the top. That was the definitive characteristic about me.

Why did you go to so many high schools?
Because we moved and there was issues within my family that made the situation around us impossible. It didn’t really have anything to do with me. My mom got married and we moved to the suburbs, and I didn’t want to let go of living in the city. So, I commuted to the city to got to the religious high school. But after a year, it sucked so bad because I wasn’t getting home til like 7pm and I left at 5am, so I was like, "fuck that!" So, I started going to a public high school and at working at McDonalds and started hanging out with the stoners and my mom was like, "Fuck that!" So, we moved back to the city and I started going to a private high school. So, I was reunited with my old buddies and that’s where I graduated from.

How did you get into punk rock? Did you have an older brother our cousin to show you the classics?
I grew up in the city of Chicago in the neighborhood that is now Boystown, which is now like the gay town. When I was there, it was sort of Boystown, but it was a pretty bohemian town. There were gangs and bums, but it wasn’t a bad neighborhood. It was a weird town. There was a gang of rude boys. I didn’t know what ska was but I knew what rude boys were.

Do you mean like Jamaican gangsters?
No, no. Like white skinheads. There were a lot of punks. The house where Naked Raygun lived was right around the corner. I found that out later. I lived in this super weird, diverse universe. A lot big, six foot tall black ladies with Adam’s apples and muscles walking around. It was a colorful scene.

One of the first business that opened up there was Reckless Records. I went over there and bought a few tapes. This was when I was 9 or 10. My friend had given me the Dead Milkmen Bucky Fellini cassette. I was blown away and it wasn’t on the radio. I went over to Reckless and was like, "look at all this stuff that has never been on the radio!" I’d do my chores and get a little allowance, and do little jobs, and spend it on tapes, and it was sort of idiosyncratic. It had no definition to it. I didn’t have a big brother or a pal that knew what as going on.

Dead Milkmen got me in the doors that said you didn’t have to listen to Poison. I was listening to underground funk bands, underground punk bands, underground country bands, and I was kind if liking it all- Existing in a pretty insular world. It so happened that the bands that I really, really liked ended up being punk rock bands. When I was 12, I was a regular at Reckless, and I heard a band, and was like, "this really good. What is this?" It was Jawbreaker, but it wasn’t out yet. The guy at Reckless said, "They are doing an in-store show." So, I went back. It was a very small room. There were only six people at the show and it was Jawbreaker on the Unfun tour and I got the cassette.

But, at that point, I was already into the classics- like Minor Threat and Bad Brains. That was my first live show. Then, the next week, I got to see Dead Milkmen live. Then, the next week, I got Bad Religion's No Control cassette and that was the end of it for me. Before that, I was wading through stuff, but that changed my life.

What on the new album will surprise fans?
I can only speak about Chris’ as to his guitar playing. It is really, really- he really busted his dick in the studio and it shows. He lays back where he’s supposed to lay back and comes hard when he’s supposed to come hard. Lyrically, it’s kind if funny and is kind of dark. There’s a lot of- we’re old dudes. We’re not kids writing this record. There’s a certain amount of reflection and knowledge that we are taking from a position of outsiders, not necessarily part of anything.

I think that we feel that we’ve always come from an outside perspective. I mean, listen, one of the first tours that we were ever on, we played in like 1999. We played this festival in Massachusetts called New Bedford Fest. This was when Thursday was blowing up. Every band had like, the bangs and the sadness. And we rolled up with shitty flannel shirts and our hats flipped up, and we opened up with the song "A Toast." When we got to a guitar solo, the crowd started laughing. They laughed like it was a comedy show! And we were like, "what? We’re just rocking?"