These days, beloved musician and songwriter Dan Kelly is just as happy tending to his garden at home in Victoria’s Castlemaine as he is playing around the pulsing live music scene of Melbourne he stumbled upon more than two decades ago.
“I had been recording demos at home in Brisbane since I was 17 but everything I did seemed to sound like Ween,” he laughs while resting his green thumb on a picturesque spring afternoon.
“I moved down to St Kilda in ‘96 and lived with my uncle [Paul Kelly] and aunt and worked as a dishwasher for years,” he recalls. “Then I was the kitchen-hand and after that I worked as a cook. I was making my way up through that world, just meeting people and trying to play in bands, and by end the of that period, probably around 2000, I had made enough friends and played in enough bands that I built a little bit of confidence to write my own songs, and put together an EP.”
It was around this time that his debut, and arguably best album, Sing the Tabloid Blues began to take shape. “I wrote a bunch of stuff at the shed where I was living, so the record came together incredibly quickly, in about five days – but it took about a year until we had twelve songs. It was the classic Dan Kelly journey that I had repeated over and over again,” he jokes.
“The songs were basically taken from jokes said around the kitchen table and they all referenced my flatmates. We were slightly mad back then,” he says. “The songs are still pretty gag-heavy but we didn’t want the album to be a joke. I didn’t want to be a joke writer, a comedy writer, that’s a whole different world – I didn’t want to hang out with comedians the rest of my life.
“We’d signed with In-Fidelity who had just signed The Datsuns and started working with [renowned producer] Magoo who I had done my first recordings with as a teenager in Brisbane. It was a big deal because he had just had success with Regurgitator and Midnight Oil.
“What I think is really good about this album is that it maintained the looseness and excitement that we felt in the first five days of recording. We thought we were doing demos. That’s the trick, if you can convince yourself it’s not the real thing you’ll always do better because you’ll be less uptight and play with more spirit,” he says.
Fifteen years on, with the help of promoter and long-time supporter Jeremy Dylan, Dan and his band, the Alpha Males, are coming from far and wide to join forces again for a weekend of rock ‘n’ reminiscing in Melbourne next month.
“We’re going to play Sing the Tabloid Blues in its entirety at these shows. I can still remember the launch so it’s some kind of full circle thing. Now, I’ve got ‘til December to get back to my 2003 weight, and to train my voice to sing three times higher, otherwise I’ll be getting the band to sing the high bits,” Kelly quips.
As for new music from the multiple ARIA Award nominee, Kelly says to watch this space. “Right now I’d prefer to be an eco warrior and not worry about putting out records – but I’m not fit enough to be an eco warrior,” he smiles.
“Right now, I’m looking for an angle. I’m up here in Victoria working on a piano record. I feel like the more people have to say in the world, the quieter I get – maybe it’s middle age. I’m trying to work on a zen Leonard Cohen-style record, but that involves becoming zen myself.
“Every record I work on I have to go through a personal change, which sounds like a great excuse for procrastination, maybe it is – but something is coming soon.”
Dan Kelly & the Alpha Males come to The Gasometer Hotel on Saturday December 7 (sold out) and Sunday December 8. Grab your tickets via Moshtix.