Tune Traveller interviews David Kelley of 2 a.m. Orchestra
This Artist Q & A segment is with David Kelley, an Auckland, NZ (by way of California)-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Be sure to check out TuneTraveller’s April 19, 2014 post containing details about David and 2 a.m. Orchestra and a review of the song “Man On the Moon.”
TT: Describe the circumstances surrounding your initial interest in music, i.e., how did you get your start in music?
DK: When I was 10 or so, my grandmother took notice of the middle-child mopeyness I was exhibiting and decided the two of us should go for weekly guitar lessons. That lasted a short time -my interest waned. Then a couple of years later, I heard Nirvana. From that point, life very quickly became all about playing music. Around that time my dad had, after many years, picked up the guitar again, so I had additional guidance and instruction when I needed it.
TT: It seems like every 2 a.m. Orchestra release garners critical acclaim and is well-received by fans. That being said, the band releases new material only about every five years (although the 2013 release of Working to Divide deviated by taking only three years). Is that by design or does it take that long to write and produce music to your satisfaction?
DK: There exists a good deal of unreleased material, specifically between Impermanence and Working to Divide. For example, there is a group of songs titled The Ashlan Recordings I had fully intended to be the 3rd album to be released in 2007. But the songs were never mixed properly and eventually put aside as I pursued new ideas. I have a particular emotional attachment to these songs and the unique time in my life in which they were recorded – I sometimes wonder if I’ve sabotaged the release of this material because of the intensely personal nature of the content. I don’t know. To answer your question more generally though, the reality is that I currently make my humble living from teaching private students and mentoring young bands. 2 a.m. Orchestra has yet to be a full-time thing for me. Even with amazing people doing amazing favors it takes a certain amount of money to record, mix, master and distribute a record. Then there’s the time it takes to actually do it on top of regular work hours. I’m sure anyone reading this could relate in some way. And besides, I like releasing records for free, like the last one [Working To Divide] – but the consequence of doing so means I can never depend on making back what I invest in recording. Look man, if I were able, I’d release an album every 18 months.
TT: Most of the press the band has received seems to focus on the present and recent past, but glosses over the details concerning the band’s creation. Perhaps you can provide those details (the whys and wherefores) for those just discovering 2 a.m. Orchestra. Also, people may be interested in why you left the U.S. to pursue the band’s future in New Zealand.
DK: Around 2000 I was interning at a small recording studio in Fresno, California, trading hours worked for personal hours of recording time. The first 2 a.m. Orchestra album is a product of this period in my life. So from the outset, 2 a.m. Orchestra was never a band in the traditional sense, more of a “project name.” Live band members have always fluctuated. The changing style and changing membership has become a kind of theme for 2 a.m. Orchestra. Thus, geographical relocation is possible because I am essentially the only permanent member. Having said that, I’ve found a couple guys here in Auckland that I wouldn’t mind becoming a more permanent addition, and in ways they already are, specifically Tim and Andy. Coming to New Zealand in 2009 was in some sense an arbitrary decision. I was burning-out living in LA and had a friend from Auckland suggest I come hang out in New Zealand for a few months. I’ve been here five years.
TT: In a somewhat related question, the 2 a.m. Orchestra “sound” seems to have changed substantially with the release of Impermanence in 2005. Was that a conscious decision on your part? Of course, some of the elements have remained, but there seems to have been a right turn from alterna-pop to indie rock. In fact, the band’s Web site doesn’t include the first release in its discography and we’re left to wonder if that’s an oversight or a deliberate burying of the past. Please elaborate.
DK: I don’t think I’ve ever deliberately thought “okay now I’m gonna do something different,” at least not for 2 a.m. Orchestra stuff. I would think whatever changes have occurred are correlates of my own personal growth and change. As for the first album, it’s still widely available online (iTunes, etc.).
TT: Of all of the songs you’ve written, which one(s) are you the proudest of and why?
DK: I’m proud of different songs for different reasons. So I’ll answer based on the lyrical aspect, ok? I’m most proud of those songs that deal directly with what are for me, fundamental issues, like identity, belief, and meaning. “Who I Was,” “Life is Easy,” and “Working to Divide” are good examples.
TT: Are there any musicians (past or present) that you admire and, if so, why?
DK: No specific musicians come to mind. But, in general, I admire those who are true to themselves, who amplify rather than obfuscate.
TT: Based on your personal experiences, what advice would you give to musicians just starting out and trying to make it in today’s music business? What do you know now that you wish you had known much sooner?
DK: Write great songs and make recordings that capture honesty and vulnerability. And do it now, not “one day when I have money/time.” For better or for worse, my own journey has been necessary and I don’t wish I had known anything before its time.
TT: What do you enjoy doing outside of writing/recording/performing?
DK: Reading. Video games. Podcasts. Spacing-out. Running. And more recently, being a father.
TT: What five things do you refuse to live without?
DK: Family and friendship, options, risk, diet soda and Steinbeck.
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