Reckless Kelly’s Long Night Moon twists and turns like an endless highway. Bandleader Willy Braun recently spoke with CMT Edge about evolving as a songwriter, working with steel guitarist Lloyd Maines and the band’s excellent new country-rock album.
“I was writing the first batch of tunes, and I noticed that a lot of them have a traveling vibe to them,” Braun says. “Even the love songs and the others have something about moving around or going back home. “
CMT Edge: Do you write on the road?
Braun: I don’t write a whole lot on the road because I usually don’t have a lot of time or a place to go. What I normally do is save up ideas. If I have a hook or a melody or whatever, I’ll jot it down on my phone or on a scrap of paper or a napkin and then save them up until I have time to go somewhere for a few days and check out. I’ll finish them up then.
How many songs that you started didn’t make the album?
Oh, over the years, hundreds of them, but probably not a ton for this album. You weed out the titles right off the bat. You think of something at 3 in the morning and write it down. And two days later, you find that scrap of paper in your pocket, and you’re like, “Aw, Jesus. That was awful.” Lots of those get tossed out right off the bat. Some you start working on and then realize they’re just not going so well. I don’t know, maybe 10 or 20 I got halfway through and just kind of bagged them.
Tell the story behind writing Long Night Moon’s title track.
It’s about going back to Idaho. I have a place up there where I wrote a lot of the stuff for the album or at least finished them up there. “Long night moon” is Indian for the solstice moon on Dec. 21. It’s the longest night of the year, and I was up there for that time. I’ve had that title in my head for quite a while, and I was just sitting up there all by myself in the middle of wintertime, and I ended up finishing it up.
How do these songs represent your evolution as a writer?
Man, I don’t know. It took me a year and a-half to write the album, but I think it’s getting a little easier to write songs. You can tell what’s working — and what’s not — a little quicker after doing it for a while. I’m not afraid to abandon a song if I don’t think it’s working out or maybe certain parts aren’t going the way you want. It makes it more efficient.
Also, I think I’m not quite as afraid to write about certain subjects or use different language. I used to think, “That might be cheesy or over the top” or not want to do it, but these days, I’m not scared to write about anything or use a strange word that might be perfect for the theme but doesn’t really roll off the tongue. It’s something you get better at with every record, I think. Or at least I hope. (laughs)
How did “Irish Goodbye” come to you?
That’s kind of a funny one because it’s really a true story about a trip to Ireland. We’ve always had this expression “the Irish goodbye.” It’s when you leave a bar or the party without telling anyone. You just get out of there and don’t want to deal with telling everybody goodbye and sneak out the back. To us, it’s funny, but if you don’t know what that term means, it sounds kind of sad. It’s really a punch line.
That’s one that Lloyd Maines played on.
Yeah, it’s my favorite that he played on. He did four passes, and we were in love with all of them. It was really tough to pick the best parts. We ended up chopping them up, using one solo and some of the other stuff from other spots. He’s just so good. Everything he plays is usable, so it’s hard to pick.
Describe working with Lloyd.
He has a great feel for the song and what it needs and what you’re going for. On this, we actually sent him a couple of the tracks, and he cut them at his house without us even being there and not giving any direction. He just sent the files back to us, and they’re all awesome. It’s pretty inspiring to work with a guy who has that experience and knowledge of music.
Cedar Creek Studios has a great history, too.
Yeah, that’s where Uncle Tupelo recorded Anodyne. The Dixie Chicks have done a bunch of stuff there. Pretty much everybody in Austin has been there working on something. It’s in the middle of town, but it’s on 12 or 15 acres, and you feel like you’re out in the country. But you’re close to home, and if you need to run and grab tacos, it’s right down the street. We’re real comfortable and have made several albums there. We have a good feel for the layout and gear.
How does living in Austin generally shape you guys as musicians?
Man, it’s really inspiring. You can go out and see music all nights of the week, really great music, rock or folk or blues or country or heavy metal, whatever you feel like. Literally, any Monday night, you can go down to the Continental Club and see Dale Watson or see Alejandro [Escovedo] on Tuesdays. Jon Dee Graham plays Wednesdays. There’s a great country band at Donn’s Depot every night playing old standards.
Also, fans are really supportive in Austin and in Texas, in general. It’s one of the few cities where you tell people you’re a musician, and they’re like, “Oh, wow, cool.” Not, “Stay away from my daughter!” (laughs)