- Carl Dunn & Backstage Design Studio
- Reckless Kelly's Braun brothers keep pushing country-rock's boundaries.
There's no better way to celebrate 20 years as a band than to put out the best album of a two-decade career. At least that's the philosophy of Reckless Kelly.
With frontman Willy Braun and his multi-instrumentalist brother Cody producing — plus appearances by The Mastersons, Bukka Allen, Rosie Flores and younger Braun brothers Micky and Gary — the Texas band's ninth studio album, Sunset Motel, is their top recording yet.
"It's always the goal to top what you did last time," says Cody Braun. "We try to get better every year and learn new tricks in the studio. The cool thing about this one is we got to go back to Arlyn Studio, where we made our first record. It was just really comfortable, a good time in the studio."
The record is filled with music that refines Reckless Kelly's mix of rock 'n' roll and country into a swinging, twangy sound that doesn't fit easily into any category or genre.
"We've always been a country-rock band," Braun says. "We've always wanted to push that edge. It's hilarious to me to see where country radio has gone. Ten years ago, they were telling us we were too rock 'n' roll. Now it's going completely to the other side with the rap and they're still not playing us. It definitely goes to show if you're not in the right pockets in Nashville, you're not going to get played on the radio."
Reckless Kelly addresses just that on the song "Radio," which kicks off with radio static, then rock 'n' rolls through a making-it-in-the-business tale anchored by lines like, "You want the money and the fame and the sold-out shows / You've got to get on the radio."
Well, maybe not. In fact, Braun and his band are beginning to agree with what fellow roots-rocker Sturgill Simpson has lately been proclaiming in interviews.
"He [Simpson] says it plainly: We don't need Nashville anymore," insists Braun. "We don't need Music Row. We're selling records and getting people out to our shows. It's great to see people like Sturgill, Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton doing what they're doing — kind of sticking it to them. There are people out there hungry for real music. But that music isn't getting played on the radio."
That, in part, is because Texas music doesn't fit easily into the commercial country format. It's too country for rock radio and too rock for Americana.
"Musically, it's a mix of country, blues, rock 'n' roll, Southern rock, that's what I like about it," says Braun of the Lone Star State's musical inclinations. "The staunch Americana Nashville scene is more dipped in bluegrass and traditional country. I see the Texas sound as being more progressive and built on songwriters like Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely and Steve Earle. Billy Joe Shaver is another one who really influenced us. Those are the guys we've looked up to."
The Brauns grew up in Idaho and learned about music playing in their dad's Western swing band, which not only was a regional draw but also landed appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and The Tonight Show.
In the mid '90s the brothers had relocated to Oregon and put together the first versions of their band, which takes its name from the famed Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. Six months later, they relocated to Austin.
"We moved here in '96 and have always been a part of the scene," Braun explains. "But we don't have any songs about Texas. We're not from here, and we're not going to try to sing about something we don't know about."
As proud winners of the Austin Music Award for Best Roots Band for three years running, Reckless Kelly continue to tour relentlessly.
"When we first moved to Texas, we got a booking agent who said 'You go out and play these places, even though it sucks. You're going to play to bartenders and cocktail waitresses, but you've got to do it,''' recalls Braun. "I'm so glad we did. Now we can go out and come home with money in our pockets."
The group also hosts an annual Braun Brothers Reunion Festival in Idaho, and holds charity events that have raised $300,000 to rebuild baseball fields and help support Austin's Little League programs.
The Brauns are, in fact, lifelong "baseball geeks," having sung the National Anthem at a dozen major-league stadiums.
"Our goal is to do every one of them in America," Braun said. "There are a lot of ballplayers who are from Texas and fans of Texas music. We'll get to the ballpark to do the anthem and they'll go 'So-and-so wants you down in the dugout, they're fans of your music.' We're like 'Huh?' And the best way to get a good seat is to sing the National Anthem."
Meanwhile, Braun can happily report that the band has shows booked through next May.
"We never had anything to fall back on, any other plans," he admits. "It can be a grind like any other job at times, but we really enjoy what we're doing. It's easy to look up and go 'Shoot, 20 years have gone by.' It's hard to remember them."