This past week, I was able to get a hold of Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Arms before he embarks on a full US tour, including an expertly planned “troll job” of a gig on August 21st at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping venue with Laura Jane Grace. In this interview, we talked about the circumstances that led to this show, the things he admires most about Laura, his songwriting process, and how the pandemic delayed a lot of his creativity and motivation. Brendan’s “Here Goes Nothin'” tour begins on July 30th in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and will wrap up in Cleveland, Ohio on August 22nd. Merchandise for the Four Seasons Total Landscaping show is now on sale.
Thank you for connecting with me today, Brendan. What inspired this expertly planned troll job of a gig at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping show with Laura Jane Grace?
Well, the way it worked was Toby Jeg <of Red Scare> and I were talking, and we were very interested in doing safe, socially distanced, outdoor, or mostly outdoor venues, for just a safe ride, if we could. This was sort of before the vaccine was up and running, and doing it’s thing, but you know, we said something like, “If the vaccine comes out and it works. And if people take it, maybe we’d start to think about going and doing some barbecues or some breweries, because they’ve got a lot of big open space, right? And doing things like outdoor venues and stuff. And we were having a hard time. First of all, motherfuckers were like, “Oh, look at these guys trying to kill people.” I don’t know about trying to kill them…but whatever, I guess. So anyway, we get to that Philly venue and Toby’s talking to the promoter that he likes and the dude says, “I’ve got a lead on a pretty awesome potential show.” And he’s like, “I’ve been saving it for the right person and I think Brendan is totally the right person for the Four Seasons Total Landscaping, right?” And so Toby, he comes to me, and he says, “Buddy, you’re not gonna put down anything, you’re holding positions. You’re gonna just, you’re gonna drop it. So I’m like, “Yes, I am all on board with this!” And then he comes back and we confirm that we want to do it. The venue didn’t want to announce it yet, because I mean, they’re a landscaping business and they don’t know anything about this kind of stuff. And so the venue comes back, and says, “We really need to make sure that this is a total home run. If we’re going to delve into this…” I think we had Toby’s responses where it’s gonna be a total home run, and there’s no problems. And I didn’t think we’d have trouble selling it out. And so we’re talking about who else is like…fun to have on, and Laura Jane Grace, she’s just the perfect choice for us. So it kinda trickled the other way, but it’s really the promoter. They deserve a lot of credit. But all the way along, I think every single person was like…it was like a game of telephone where people just got more and more excited.
Yeah, I remember when his email came through, and it had that headline of “Four Seasons Total Landscaping” gig…and so I’m like, “Yes, I’m 100% on board and I need to connect with Brendan!” It was just hilarious to me just to see that being put to fruition. So, my hat goes off to you guys.
Yeah, it’s really exciting. I mean, it’s almost nerve-wracking now. Because this might be the most high profile show that either of us have ever played.
Why did you choose to partner up with Laura on this Four Seasons gig? And what do you admire most about her?
Well, I mean, I love Laura, and we were very, very close friends back in like our 20s and stuff like that. And I hadn’t seen her in a long time. But I mean, you know what don’t I admire about Laura? She’s a tough lady, man. <Laughter about making sure we transcribe “lady comma man”> Anyways you know, she’s a tough lady. She’s an old friend. And I just did admire that. She’s always doing what she wants to do and has done what she’s had to do, from signing to major labels to starting her own label or whatever. It’s always been…she just envisions it and it happens, and that’s sort of a big reason why I think we decided to team up. You know, I said to her, “This is great, too, for radical leftist groups to dance now on the grave of this shitty past presidency.”
So that leads me to my next question: What are you hoping to most like point out about the tragedies that were found in the last administration through this upcoming gig? Have you planned out your stage banter about what you’re going to say?
Well, first of all, no, I don’t ever do that at all. I really have my best <banter> when I’m off the cuff, and I’m at my worst when I have to say something prepared. But the thing is, that’s how much of that is really the point. I mean, just playing the show is the motherfucker here now and I think that when we get there, it’s gonna be like, “Holy shit! We get to play a show!” It’ll be pretty hilarious here. And then we’ll get into the business that we do, which is hopefully playing songs that people really want to hear, right? And I’ve missed it for the last year and a half, because that’s really what’s important. You know, I enjoy political insurgency as much as the next person. But I also don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we haven’t played in a long time, and people haven’t seen any shows in a long time. And that’s what’s important here.
Gotcha. So let’s talk a little bit about the music you’ve been working on. Also, your band Lawrence Arms released a great record called Skeleton Coast last year, but what else have you been working on during the pandemic and also currently?
With the pandemic, I had this project called Liquid Death where it was called Greatest Heights and what it is is a hate mail to the company Liquid Death, which is a canned water company that I’m affiliated with. And myself and Jen Pop from the Bomb Pops, and Chris Number Two from Anti-Flag, and Joshua from Baobab, we converged at Paul Minor’s studio in California and made a record where the lyrics were entirely the hate mail itself. From me, the liquid that got online and it’s weirdly so much better than it has any business being. <Laughter> It’s like that across the board. That’s what everybody says…they’re like, “How the fuck did you do this so good?” And so that was the big project I did. That’s been a second now, too. You know what I mean? Like sitting down trying to write stuff…I’ve written two songs that are kind of like pirate songs, I guess. But I think that I think that the fatigue of this whole thing has gotten to me and I am not really snapping out of it very easily. Like, can I just think about this morning? I haven’t gone on a bike ride in weeks. And I think, at this point, I just have to be…it’s kind of like when school starts, you know that I’ll have to read books again, or whatever. It’s kind of like waiting for the tour. And I’m hoping it’s the ass kick I need too. But I mean, I’m doing my first couple shows for a friend’s wedding on Friday, and then Saturday I’m flying out to Boston to play a barbecue. But I mean, the world is weird right now. And I definitely have been affected by it. But yeah, it’s not like I had all these grandiose ideas. I was someplace and I wrote an entire album’s worth of lyrics one night, and then I just lost it. I lost the book of lyrics. We were really trying to be ambitious. Oh, there’s the book…I found it! <Laughter>
Yeah, because I know like Laura did this, Stay Alive record during the pandemic and everybody’s kind of been reacting differently to the way the pandemic is affecting their artists’ creativity and stuff like that. But, what did you notice during that time period for yourself?
Well, for one thing, Laura had that record written before the pandemic…I think it was going to be for Against Me! And for me, I just did Skeleton Coast, and that’s usually a sign for me to take some downtime, and so I took a little downtime where I didn’t write. And then we did the “War on Christmas,” which was as much of a production as anything I’ve ever done in terms of getting guests and stuff. This was a live stream that we do every year around Christmas, but we usually do a live show. And we have a lot of cool guests like Kyle Kinane hosted with us. And I had a wheel that I would spin and then like people like Brian Fallon, to Macro Roger from guns to learn from the warriors. All sorts of people. I mean, they would do songs of ours <from The Lawrence Arms>. And it was a really wonderful thing. But I mean, it was a big, production heavy thing. So, after getting off Skeleton Coast and then doing the War on Christmas, I decided that I don’t have to do anything for a while. And then that’s when the fatigue sort of started to decide for me…Like, bodies at rest have to stay at rest, right? I didn’t have that motivation of saying I’m gonna start doing push ups every day kind of thing. There’s a certain point where it’s like, once winter hit, I think that was when I said, “Man, fuck this!”
Everybody was so worried during that time period, because you don’t want to get out and run, or walk the dog, or things like that. Because you’re worried about interacting with other people without a mask on, or things like that.
Yeah, I think I just kind of gave up. You know, I’ve been working out a lot, riding my bike. So I was just like, “Fuck this. Why do this? So I can sit here and remotely do my job?” It doesn’t sound worth it. I kind of wish I hadn’t done that in retrospect. But that’s what happened, really.
So what’s your current take on the punk rock landscape right now? There’s a lot of new bands coming out. But are there any new bands that you kind of pay close attention to these days? Or is it like a core group of bands that you kind of listen to a lot?
Well, I do Red Scare with Toby. And I think that’s a pretty good barometer of what we’re kind of into when we play and pay close attention to. I mean, there are cool bands out there. I just heard a band called…Rainmaking. They’re from Portland. And it’s like real screaming, and metally, but it’s also really good. That’s usually not my stuff with the screaming. But with this band, I think that the guitars are really smooth and cool. And I just liked them. I liked that it sold well beyond me. But I feel like that’s a real bandwagon move, even though they’re not a super popular band where everybody’s just like, “Whoa, I love the solo, and they’re gonna be cool.
Plus, everybody wants to peg the “next big thing” and be the one to brand that kind of thing…
Do you know who’s awesome? Sam Russo put out that Refuse To Lose EP, and that’s awesome. And with his Back to the Party record before that. I mean, criminally underrated.
It also seemed like some legacy acts, for example, The Bouncing Souls kind of came back with these awesome records, and they’re just legends. So, I was just curious if there’s anything else that you kind of pay attention to where you wonder if they have “enough in the tank,” and then they release something amazing?
Yeah, totally. I spent a lot of time trying to make sure that we did. I mean, I’m kind of blanking on what I’ve been listening to all year, I mean, because I’ve been listening to a lot of spaghetti western soundtracks. Just because I’ll try not to listen to a lot of punk rock, because then when I sit down to write punk rock, it would sound like that stuff..You know? But what if I listened to someone like Ice Cube? Or Enrico Marconi? I sit down to write punk rock and maybe I just created a new genre? <Laughter>
So your tour kicks off later this month, right? And it comes to a close in late August, I believe. What are you most looking forward to about getting back on the road?
That was the most salient thing I can say about this and I want to see you guys. Like, I want to be out there with the fucking people and be doing the thing that we all love to do. I have said this before, probably ad nauseum. So I’m sorry, if anybody’s heard it before. People will come up to me and say “Man, I don’t want to sound like a total fanboy. But, you guys are my favorite band or, I love your band.” And I always say, “Do you understand that when I was you, I saw bands that I love so much, that I went and got in a van <for touring> and I’ve been in it ever since. You’re talking to the right person!” I’m not opposed to being a fan of music. In fact I have fallen in love with it, and married it. And so I want to be out there doing that thing that I do, that I fell in love with, and being able to do. And I want to see all the people that…maybe all they want to do is say “hi” or elbow bump since the days of the handshake might be over. But maybe there’s some kid out there that will go jump in a van and be the next sort of mediocre band, that then becomes a kind of old legendary legacy actor after 20 years.
That’s cool to think about! What are your hopes for this current administration? Obviously, the last one was a big dumpster fire…so what do you think the U.S. needs to focus on during the years to follow?
I think that there’s a lot of just repair work to do, to be honest. I mean, if your teenage son throws a party on your dock. You know, the main thing is that there’s hopefully not holes burned in it. I mean, all the rights that have been stripped away from more marginalized communities, those need to be restored. I mean, that’s first and foremost. And there needs to be some sort of just like…it’s just so fucked here. Their comprehensive health care reform is something that’s just not going to happen. I don’t have that hope for this next administration. But it’s not like I go to the doctor anyway. But, what I’d love to see actually is an infrastructure bill. I would love for there to be a sort of federal initiative to make sure that the bridges don’t fucking fall down. I would also like to see what sort of personal surveillance rolled back and thereby giving people a little more freedom. I would like to see an end to a couple of wars. That would be really nice. It’s just such a pig fuck. I mean, when we are fighting two wars that are two of the longest wars in the world’s history, in American History. But there’s these two wars going on, and people are dying because they can’t afford health care in the middle of the night. And the main thing is, what we have to do is what everybody gets to say. We need to get back to that principle of being a good person. It’s crazy. The debt, and other shit is so fucked. The priority is something so obvious and so baked into what this country is supposed to be about. You know, it’s like what the fuck man?
The previous administration kind of broke us at our core, and what people valued and now all these things that kind of bubbled up to the surface are much more prevalent now.
Yeah, but it also really emboldened a bunch of idiots. And not even just idiots. But, evil-doers. People out there that just want to draw swastikas on synagogues. And on a different scale, they broke into the Capitol. It’s a deeply troubled marriage of the citizenry that the government has right now. And we have COVID, and people tell me they’re not going to get the vaccine. Because they think it’s a fucking conspiracy theory for getting the vaccine. And I’m like, “Well, I think you’re a bunch of fucking cuckoos!” <Laughter> So there’s like no room for discourse.
These people will be the first ones to say, “I don’t want to put that inside my body!” as they go through the drive-thru for fast food…<Laughter>
<Laughter> Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I was reading an article today about how there’s always pro athletes that won’t get the vaccine and those dudes will drink a beaker of clear liquid that will possibly make them not feel their knee until afterwards. Like, do you know what you’re drinking? Tell me what three of those ingredients are. Like, after water and corn syrup…
Some people think the vaccines are being concocted in some little witch’s brew pot or something. It’s crazy!
I mean, the thing with the vaccine is you’re either a fucking idiot or you’re not. That’s it, pretty much. You know, there’s not really a lot of work. I have heard of a couple of people who have been convinced to take the vaccine when they were staunchly against it before. But people that are anti-vaccines are fucking morons. Or like that fucking doctor that told Jenny McCarthy that her son got autism from the vaccine has admitted that he made that shit up! He’s in prison! His testimony was, “No, I made it up. I don’t think there’s any science behind it whatsoever.”
But those news clips stick with people. That’s the crazy thing!
I mean, I remember because when my son was born, we were in the doctor’s office and said to him, “Okay, we’ve been hearing a lot about vaccines lately, and they’re saying…:” This was before it was a political issue. It wasn’t hadn’t been politicized by the left or right. But still, it’s really been in the news a lot lately. The doctor, I wish that my pediatrician could go on TV and talk to everybody because he was just like, “Oh, really? He believed that? Okay, listen, let me give you some information. Yeah, that doctor who made up that claim about vaccines, he’s in jail right now.” Before you’re like, let me give it to you straight, because no shit that was when he was thinking, “I don’t believe that these otherwise intelligent people are asking me this question!”
Well, thank you so much for this interview, and for your time today, Brendan. Is there anything else you want to share with your audience leading up to this great gig and the tour?
Yeah, just check out our tour dates. It’s under Brendan Kelly on Red Scare DOT net SLASH tours. And be sure to check out Skeleton Coast by The Lawrence Arms. Also the Greatest Hates record. And buy a T-shirt for the Four Seasons Total Landscaping gig, or come to the show or buy all of my T-shirts because I get all the money from those. <Laughter>
Awesome! Thanks again, Brendan!
Brendan Kelly’s Here Goes Nothin’ Tour Dates
- 7/30 – Milwaukee, WI @ The Cooperage
- 7/31 – Green Bay, WI @ Badger State Brewing
- 8/1 – Minneapolis, MN @ Palmer’s Bar
- 8/2 – Iowa City, IA @ Big Grove Brewery
- 8/6 – Chicago, IL @ Cobra Lounge
- 8/7 – St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway
- 8/8 – Springfield, MO @ Springfield Brewing Co.
- 8/9 – Memphis, TN @ Hi Tone
- 8/10 – Huntsville, AL @ Fractal Brewing
- 8/11 – Atlanta, GA @ Boggs Social
- 8/12 – Tallahassee, FL @ The Bark
- 8/13 – Tampa, FL @ The Bricks
- 8/14 – Gainesville, FL @ Heartwood Soundstage
- 8/15 – Savannah, GA @ Riverside Lounge
- 8/16 – Wilmington, NC @ Reggie’s 42nd St.
- 8/17 – Norfolk, VA @ Taphouse Grill
- 8/18 – Harrisburg, PA @ HMAC
- 8/19 – Brooklyn, NY @ Arrogant Swine
- 8/21 – Philly, PA @ Four Seasons Landscaping
- 8/21 – Renovo, PA @ Heather’s Tofu Palace
- 8/22 – Cleveland, OH @ Hatfield’s