Kelli Scarr is Digging In

“My first album really was born out of necessity – the desire and need to write and record music at that time in my life, coupled with the reality of raising a kid. I couldn’t be rehearsing with bands as much anymore,” singer/songwriter Kelli Scarr (former Moby and J. Viewz collaborator and member of Moonraker and Salt & Samovar… and Emmy-winning composer) tells me of her debut album, Piece (released in August of 2010), during a recent chat.  Piecefit in with my life perfectly at that time in that I could write and record in my room at night while my son was sleeping.  Then as he got older, I was able to start playing Piece out more, live with my band.  It made me realize how much I missed playing live, which became the seed for the next record – Dangling Teeth.

Dangling Teeth was released on June 5th on Silence Breaks and Kelli had quite high hopes for what she might achieve on her sophomore effort: “I wanted Dangling Teeth to be representative of all my favorite music to listen to.”  In order to do this, she implemented a more traditional method of recording with her band: “I wanted it to feel great and I knew that in order for it to feel great to me, it had to be recorded live, with all of us in the same room, facing one another.  It pushed me to write songs that I felt would showcase the high level musicianship of my players – Scott Metzger, Andrew Southern and Taylor Floreth.  I also wanted to write songs that I could really dig into vocally.”
Kelli tells me that the musical inspirations behind Dangling Teeth weren’t exactly contemporary but, what could be considered almost other-worldly, compared to our lives in the society of the spectacle: “Due to the live nature of this record, I was really forced to sing out a lot more.  I’m really inspired by the vocal styles that I hear in Bulgarian and Appalachian folk music. I think my desire to try to make my voice sound as clear and direct as possible has helped steer these songs to have more energy while maintaining a sense of intimacy.”  In order to achieve this aesthetic, Kelli felt it necessary for her band to temporarily escape Brooklyn for Woodstock:

“I really wanted myself and the guys to be free from as much distraction as possible during the making of this record. Being upstate in the snow and, sometimes even without power, helped us achieve this state.  It was a grueling, but fun, process. We recorded over 300 takes in 10 days.  The process required extreme discipline and a lot of energy.  I don’t think we could have achieved the same level of playing if we had stayed in the city.”

While Piece embodies a delicate and minimalist whimsy, reminiscent of the 90s’ best blues-tinged alt. pop, the sound of Dangling Teeth harkens back to times far more distant and places extremely desolate.  The album’s heart is about a football-field further into the forefront, with Kelli entirely unafraid to explore the core of all that inspires her… positively or negatively.  The sound is classic Americana, trading a country aesthetic for a folk aesthetic nearly track-by-track.  It’s far more inspiring and, at times down-right “fun,” than her debut.  But even in its darker moments, Kelli seems to be addressing her demons in a more active, and motivational, manner than on her previous release. 

In addition to the aforementioned folk music, Dangling Teeth had some non-musical influences as well.  In fact, her press release is accompanied by a quote from Georgia O’ Keeffe: “It was loud and raw under the stars in that wide open country.”  I am really into Georgia O’Keefe – her paintings of course, but also all the writing that she did throughout the course of her career. I recently poured through a book of love letters between her and Alfred Stieglitz,” Kelli tells me, before also adding, “Other non-musicians who really inspired Dangling Teeth include Wim Wenders, Joan Didion, and Pina Bausch.”

“We recorded this music in early 2011 and I still love playing these songs live, which I think is a good sign,” Kelli tells me, reflecting on the work in hindsight.  Well, she is currently in the middle of (actually, at the start of) a full-blown tour, with more dates coming soon (current dates listed below).  If you’re located near any of her upcoming dates, she tells me, “Fans should expect to come and see a great group of musicians play a batch of songs I love to sing.  I dare you to turn off your phone, shut your eyes and your mouth, and just see what happens. I promise, it will be worth it.”
6/30 – Jacksonville, IL – House Show
7/1 – Springfield, IL – Brewhaus
7/3 – Des Moines, IA – Vaudville Mews
7/5 – Hayward, WI – Park Theater
7/6 – Minneapolis, MI – First Ave
7/7 – Cedar Rapids, IL – Java Creek Café
7/8 – Cedar Rapids, IL – Unity Church (early)
7/8 – Omaha, NE – Barley Street Tavern
7/9 – Spearfish, SD – Crow Peak Brewing Co.
7/11 – Bozeman, MT    – House Show
7/12 – Coeur D’Alene, ID – The Grail
7/14 – Seattle, WA – Barboza
7/15 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
7/17 – Sacramento, CA – The Blue Lamp Lounge
7/18 – San Francisco, CA – The Vortex Room
7/19 – Carmel Valley, CA – Plaza Linda
7/21 – Salinas, CA – California State Rodeo
7/23 – Los Angeles, CA – Hotel Café
7/24 – San Diego, CA – Park Gallery
7/27 – Sante Fe, NM – Betterday Cafe
7/28 – Marfa, TX – House Show
7/30 – Austin, TX – Skinny’s Ballroom
7/31 – Hot Springs, AR
8/1 – Nashville, TN
8/2 – Louisville, KY
8/3 – Lexington, KY