‘Cigarettes and Whiskey’ a key to success

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First Posted: 10/20/2014

NEPA musician Katie Kelly is on a seemingly endless creative quest, and her perseverance is being noticed on a larger scale. Case in point, her recent win at the inaugural Steamtown Music Awards for “Female Vocalist of the Year.”

Kelly, who divides her time between the ambient, witch-rock band Harlot, a duo with musician Aaron McCurdy, and her own band, The Charming Beards, is all about that emotive expression she so successfully channels through her music.

“We like to play music people can dance to or catch a case of the feelings,” she says of her varied projects.

Kelly, along with The Charming Beards, will release their debut EP on November 4 titled “Cigarettes and Whiskey” via Bandcamp. The EP, with music ranging from rockabilly rave-up to ambient, strewn-out folk sensibility, comes just two years after Kelly herself released her debut solo album, “Three Dark Days.” Even though her name was stamped to both releases, she says that the two albums are very different.

“Unlike the ‘Cigarettes and Whiskey’ EP, ‘Three Dark Days’ took about a year and a half to complete,” she reveals. “This new EP was recorded in about 12 hours with an emphasis on our live sound.”

Kelly says the new material with The Charming Beards was “road tested” for about a year, the songs being tightened through live performance. She indeed wanted the songs to paint an accurate picture of what the band sounds like live.

“It was important to us to capture our energy and raw emotion,” she says. “We did very few overdubs, and most of the EP was recorded live in our rehearsal space by Mark Wohl of Wide-Eyed Studios and Mock Sun.” Kelly notes that though she wrote the foundations for the songs, her partners in The Charming Beards – guitarist Ray Novitski and drummer Theresa Lazarri (guest contributions come from Andrew McCurdy and Caitland Hawk on bass/vocals and Montana Delrango on melodica), each wrote their own parts and had a hand in the production and arranging.

“I don’t like telling people what to play at all,” Kelly begins, “I want everyone to be themselves and add dimension to the songs.”

As far as the songs taking flight, Kelly, who spends a great deal of time practicing the guitar, says the music will usually come first. She’s the type of songwriter that when inspiration hits, she’ll grab whatever’s handy to transcribe her muse – be it napkins, paper plates, or envelopes.

“Once I write a basic chord structure and lyrics, I bring it to the band,” she says. “Ray, Theresa, and Aaron come up with their own parts and then we start working on arrangement together. They all think outside the box and really make the songs come alive. Their musical influences are so diverse; when it all merges together it’s something completely different than the tune I’ve been strumming on an acoustic guitar.”

What the listener gets from hearing that music is up for interpretation.

“I’m very open to listeners deriving their own meaning from what I’ve written,” Kelly admits. “In fact, it would be very flattering, because in a way, my words and music have spoken to them personally.”

Katie Kelly and The Charming Beards truly enjoy bringing their message to fans via the live stage.

“We are blessed to have great fans, friends, and we have a great musical community we like to think of as family,” Kelly says. “The NEPA music scene is so vibrant, diverse, and supportive; playing a show is one of the greatest experiences for me.”