INTERVIEW WITH GUITARIST SEAN KELLY (CRASH KELLY, LEE AARON, EX-HELIX, EX-FOUR BY FATE)
Date: May 20, 2019
Interviewer: Greg Troyan of Lipstick Generation
CRASH KELLY HAVE RETURNED AFTER A TEN YEAR HIATUS. THE RETRO-GLAM BAND WAS WIDELY LOVED BY ROCK AFFICIANADOS WHEN THEY FIRST HIT THE SCENE IN 2003 WITH A SOUND THAT INCORPORATED EQUAL PARTS THIN LIZZY, T. REX, CHEAP TRICK AND ALICE COOPER. WE SPOKE WITH CRASH KELLY FRONTMAN, SEAN KELLY, ABOUT THE RETURN OF THE BAND AND TOUCHED ON HIS PLAYING WITH ARTISTS LIKE LEE AARON, HELIX, AND OTHERS.
Sleaze Roxx: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. It’s been a long time since Crash Kelly has released new music, so for a lot of our readers, this interview and your fantastic new single “Touch Me” may be their introduction to the band. Would you mind telling us a little bit about the formation of Crash Kelly and what inspired you to create the band?
Sean Kelly: Crash Kelly began one day in 2002, when I was looking for something in my record collection to listen to, but I couldn’t find anything that I wanted to satisfy a very specific craving for something that was part ’70s glam with a sprinkle of early ’80s L.A. rock a la Hanoi Rocks and Mötley Crüe. I decided to grab my old four track recorder and write a song right then and there, and that song was “Penny Pills”, which became the title track for the first album. At that point in my career, I was tired of trying to squeeze my musical sensibilities into the dull post grunge / alt rock music scene, and I decided that I wanted to do something purely for my own enjoyment. With the help of some very talented friends, I made the first Crash Kelly album and the response was very enthusiastic and inspiring. It led to a very modest, but fun-filled run from 2003-2009, with three world wide album releases, four if you count the ‘Love Me Electric’ best of that came out in Europe, touring in Europe and North America with The Quireboys, Alice Cooper, Backyard Babies, Enuff Z’Nuff and many others, and the chance to make records in Los Angeles with Gilby Clarke of Guns N’ Roses, and sign with a US label, which was Century Media’s rock n roll imprint Liquor and Poker Music. It was a wonderful time in my life.
Sleaze Roxx: What made you decide the time was right to bring back Crash Kelly?
Sean Kelly: In the time since Crash Kelly stopped being active, I have been blessed to have a great career working with a wide variety of artists, and to work on a number of exciting projects. I just didn’t feel the creative impetus to do another record until this year, where the fire returned. Just like the first time around, my decisions were fuelled by wanting to create music in that space.
Sleaze Roxx: The new Crash Kelly single is fantastic and picks up exactly where the band left off. Your vocals sound great and the production fits in perfectly with past releases. When artists return, often their sound or songwriting shows signs of aging, but it feels like Crash Kelly is the exact same band as it was previously, without any drop in quality or any drastic shifts, which in my opinion is a good thing. How were you able to accomplish this and pick up right where you left off?
Sean Kelly: Thanks so much for the very kind words! The one thing I am very proud of with Crash Kelly is that all three albums I made had absolutely zero compromise of vision, for better or for worse. They were exactly what I wanted to do. This blend of ’70s /’ 80s hard rock is never going to be a mainstream phenomena, although we all had hope when The Darkness were breaking in 2003! But there are people who love it, REALLY love it, and I’m one of those people. I fell absolutely no need or desire to try to make a record that sounds like anything other than what I want. The way the drums sound, the way the vocals and guitars work together are very specific to my vision, and perhaps that is why there isn’t a perceivable stylistic shift.
Crash Kelly‘s “Touch Me” lyric video:
Composed by Desmond Sean Patrick Kelly Produced by Frank Gryner Lyric video directed by Frank Gryner © 2019 Canadian Shield Music
Sleaze Roxx: My introduction to the band was back when Crash Kelly toured with Alice Cooper. How did that tour come about and what was your experience opening for him?
Sean Kelly: That came about through an A&R rep at my label, Clay Marshall. He pitched Toby Mamis, one of Alice’s managers and a rock n’ roll legend in his own right, and Toby liked the vibe of the label, which also had Hanoi Rocks, Hellacopters, Backyard Babies and more on the roster. Fortunately, he liked us as well. The Alice experience was one of the most exciting and rewarding of my life. It was a thorough education, and prepared me for playing the big stages I would go on to play with Nelly Furtado. As a life long Alice fan, the chance to witness an absolute master of his craft kill it night after night was extraordinary. His band was world class, the crew treated us incredibly well, and I watched his show every night with awe. It was the perfect tour for Crash Kelly.
Crash Kelly‘s “She Gets Away” video:
crash kelly’s she gets away video… pretty cool vid…
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve done a wide variety of music, from classical guitar albums to playing pop music with Nelly Furtado. Do you find it difficult to hop from genre to genre and is it fulfilling to play different types of music? Obviously, you have a passion for rock n roll, but are you able to get as invested playing pop as you are hard rock?
Sean Kelly: The one thing I have learned throughout my career is that good music is good music, period. I found that working with people who are passionate experts in their fields is inspiring regardless of genre, and that passion inspires the investment necessary to play at a high level. Also, as a session player and sideman, I always tried to play for the song while still maintaining my own identity. I am who I am, and I wasn’t going to cut my hair or not play from the heart, and my heart belongs to rock n roll.
Sleaze Roxx: You’re obviously an extremely talented guitarist with excellent knowledge of theory, so I would personally put you into the “virtuoso” camp of musicians. That said, with Crash Kelly, there’s a strong emphasis on simple, catchy hooks. You also love bands like KISS and Cheap Trick, so you’re not a virtuoso who is obsessed with complexity. I’d love to get your thoughts on the merits of simpler music and why someone as skilled as you still enjoys listening to and creating simpler music.
Sean Kelly: Well, thank you for that compliment. I actually don’t think in terms of “simple” or “virtuosic.” I just follow what my heart or the song tells me to play. I love complexity in music just like I love the complexity of a good debate, or an engrossing conversation that isn’t forced. Conversely, I also love a direct emotional message. I consider Ace Frehley solos to be high art, just like a consider Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen, Brian Robertson or Kim Mitchell to be high art. It’s all about knowing what is right for the music, and that actually takes a lot of time to understand and a high degree of emotional connectivity. Johnny Thunders or Johnny Ramone knew exactly what to play, and while not technically astonishing, there instincts were genius level.
Sleaze Roxx: You were a founding member of the band Four by Fate but ended up leaving the band pretty early in their history. How did that band get started and why did you end up leaving the group?
Sean Kelly: My good friend Mitch Lafon had put together an excellent KISS tribute CD called ‘A World With Heroes’ that raised funds for a cancer hospice in Montreal. I had contributed a track with Terry Ilous from XYZ/Great White, and Mitch had also enlisted John Regan and Tod Howarth from Frehley’s Comet into the project. I think Tod and John rekindled some of the fire they had playing together back in the day, and wanted to put something together. Ace was busy at the time, but Mitch suggested I might be a good fit. Danny Stanton from Coallier Entertainment came on as manager, and he brought in the amazing Stet Howland on drums. We all met for the first time in Long Island, and walked into a full decked stage, complete with a festival sized backdrop, amp scrims, bass drum covers — the works! It was a super exciting experience, and we played a few amazing shows together, including the Alcatrazz festival in Belgium with Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P. and Marilyn Manson, and a sold out show at the Chance Theatre in Poughkeepsie.
Unfortunately, Stet was involved in a bad car accident that laid him up, and he could not participate in recording sessions for the debut album. The great A.J. Pero, rest in peace, from Twisted Sister was brought in, and John, Tod and AJ convened in New York to record, while I recorded parts here in Toronto. At that point, I was still quite busy with a number of projects here, and the band was moving in a direction that was a bit different than I wanted to go in musically. They made a fantastic album that I am proud to be a small part of, but at that time I felt it was best to focus on my projects closer to home. We parted with great respect and as good friends, and I am very proud to have played with such legends.
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve also performed as a member of Helix. Growing up as a Helix fan, how was that experience for you?
Sean Kelly: Helix and Honeymoon Suite were the first two bands I ever saw in concert, and I’m proud to say I have played live and written songs with both of them. Being a member of Helix, even for a short time, was a thrill and career highlight. The best part of the experience was the friendship and writing relationship I developed with Brian Vollmer. I am proud to have been featured as guitar player, co-producer, and songwriter on four Helix studio albums. The live highlight was playing the Rocklahoma festival in Tulsa. Helix shared the bill with Ratt, Night Ranger, and Warrant that day, and it was a headbanger’s dream come true!
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve been playing with Lee Aaron for a number of years now. Are you still playing with Lee and, if so, what can fans expect in the future?
Sean Kelly: I am most definitely still playing with Lee Aaron. It is my main musical endeavor at this point. Lee is an incredible musician and artist, and we have been writing for a new album. This will be my third album as a member of her group, check out ‘‘Fire And Gasoline’ and ‘Diamond Baby Blues’ if you get a chance. Next up on the plate is a new live album called ‘Power, Soul, & Rock N Roll…Live In Germany’. It is an amazing sounding live document of the 2017 ‘Fire And Gasoline Tour’.
Sleaze Roxx: What are the future plans for Crash Kelly? Is a full album or tour in the works?
Sean Kelly: I just had a writing session with Moe Berg from The Pursuit of Happiness, and we came up with two songs that now give me enough to record a full length. Of course, with busy schedules and a completely different musical landscape, I think I will go the singles route and release them digitally until I have all the songs recorded. Then, I would like to compile them into a nice physical package and do some shows.
Sleaze Roxx: There are two musicians I see as a huge influence on your music, one being Marc Bolan from T. Rex and one being Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy. What makes these musicians appealing to you and what musical lessons have you learned from them that you’ve incorporated into your music?
Sean Kelly: I am drawn by their charisma and their songs, simple as that. Phil strikes a deeper chord because of the humanity in his lyrics, but I always loved the world that Bolan created… It’s a glorious escape into boogie! I’ve been deeply influenced by Bolan’s rhythmic swagger, and Lynott’s celtic melodic sense, his romantic lyricism, and those great harmony guitars!
Sleaze Roxx: Last question. What advice do you have for the kids out there just starting in bands?
Sean Kelly: Make music that makes you feel cool, not what you hope others will think is cool. Collaborate with people who are better than you. Be a good, kind person, even when others are not. Don’t create in a vacuum, go outside and live and experience as much of life as possible. Be a rock star for all the right reasons. Access all the business tools you can, but not at the expense of dreaming about big stages and packed houses. Those dreams can get you through a lot of stuff.
Lee Aaron’s “I’m A Woman” video (from Diamond Baby Blues):
The latest video from Lee Aaron’s critically acclaimed new album, Diamond Baby Blues, now available: iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/diamond-baby-blues/1367225332 Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Diamond-Baby-Blues-Lee-Aaron/dp/B07BW14Q5R Amazon.ca: https://www.amazon.ca/Diamond-Baby-Blues-Lee-Aaron/dp/B079ZVM86G Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Diamond-Baby-Blues-Lee-Aaron/dp/B07BK6KVD7 Amazon.de: https://www.amazon.de/Diamond-Baby-Blues-Lee-Aaron/dp/B07BK78QM7