Emmett Kelly’s taste for Gibson Les Pauls includes different flavors. He cut the album with a ’59 Special revamped with Duncan Antiquity humbuckers and currently he’s playing a goldtop with P-90s onstage. Photo by Debi Del Grande
Talk about your musical backgrounds.
Kelly: My parents are both drummers, so I grew up surrounded by, like, boogie-bar music, because they were bar-band musicians. When I was young, I listened to classic rock: Cream and stuff like that. Then, I got into Sonic Youth and punk-rock stuff, and that kind of changed things. From there I got into more acoustic music, like medieval folk and Irish music, and when I lived in Chicago I spent a lot of time doing free improvisation.
Everybody in my friend group taught each other what to do. We were figuring music out on our own, which was pretty cool. Charles, who’s the drummer on this record—an old, old friend of mine—we went to high school together, and we would just swap drum moves and teach each other licks. I was a drummer before I was a guitar player.
What impact do you think being a drummer has had on your approach to guitar?
Segall: I think it’s had a strong impact for the rhythm of strumming. I’m not a very crazy lead player. I don’t know many chords or scales, but I do know how to play rhythmically. And it definitely helps with writing, if you understand the counts.
Is your rhythmic approach something that you’ve cultivated or more of a natural ability?
Segall: I don’t think I’ve ever had a natural ability with guitar. It’s always been a battle, but a fun one. On the other hand, I think I’ve always had a natural sense of rhythm. Oftentimes, I’ll play drums first and then record guitar over it. It’ll be like I know the parts of the song based on time structure, and I’ll just make everything else up after that.
Can you talk a little bit more about your writing process—any other strategies that you might use?
Segall: That’s pretty much it. I’m most insecure about my lyrics, so I can’t sit down and just write lyrics all day. I have a lot of friends that are great lyric writers. They have their journals and they sit down and use them to write some lyrics every day. I could never do that.
As much as you should have your brain turned on to write a song, it’s hard to sit down and try to think about a lyric. It doesn’t work for me. It’s all about not thinking, as weird as that sounds. If there’s a filter there, even if it’s an unintentional one, it doesn’t feel right to me.
What’s it like to be a musician in L.A.?
Kelly: I like the fact that L.A. is a little bit blown-out. It’s weird working in the music business because it’s just an odd profession, and people either thrive in really remote locations or really slammed locations. I don’t thrive in small towns, and as ridiculous as it sounds, Chicago, where I lived until recently, feels like a small town. I wanted to move to a place where no one’s very impressed by anything, so I moved back to L.A. It’s kind of amazing because there’s a youthful scene here—a lot of great rock ’n’ roll. It’s inspiring to be around because people don’t have too many qualms. They just like to have fun.
What was it like to make your new album?
Segall: It was super fun. I haven’t made a record with a band playing my songs in the studio before. I’ve only made records where I play everything or most instruments, so it was a great experience to just play guitar and let everyone do their thing. It creates such a different feel to have a band
playing on a record. I don’t know why I hadn’t done that sooner.
Were you very specific about what you wanted everyone to play or did you let them come up with their own parts?
Segall: It was pretty much like, “Here’s how the song goes. I’m going to rip this solo. Feel free to
rip yours here. Here’s the jam section, so everyone, let’s just figure this out. Do whatever
you want.” Kind of like: These are the parts, this is what has to happen, and the rest should be free. I would never want to have a drummer that was scared to play how they want to play.
There seems to be a bit of improvisation on the songs—especially on “Break a Guitar.”
Segall: It’s controlled in a certain way, but then there’s a lot of looseness, so that is a huge, crazy jam. Emmett and I are both improvising. We’re basically just playing off each other. I’m not telling him what to do, and I wouldn’t tell him how to solo. You know, he’s insane. He’s such a psycho guitar player. That’s kind of the idea: keep it free and open, but within a structure.
Emmett, what was it like for you?
Kelly: It was fully badass. I love how when the guitar solo is ripping, Ty and I are just, like, full-blown freaks, you know? There was a lot of improvisation going on in general on the record, but Ty is a prolific songwriter and demo-maker,
and so he had the whole album pretty much mapped out. When Ty and I tear into these crazy solo sections, they’re just super bonkers. It’s fun because the spirit of it is really apparent—a positive vibe that you can feel when you listen to the record.