The country chaos of Nora Kelly

Entrevue réalisée par Varun Swarup

renseignements supplémentaires

A raconteur writing at the borderlines of where country meets chaos, Nora Kelly sings endearing tales of heartache and rebellion. With her sharp and soulful songwriting Nora has charmed the hearts of many on the local alternative-folk scene, releasing her first LP, Rodeo Clown, with the the support of BC based label Mint Records. Now six months after the fact, after seeing her performing at a house-show, we caught-up with Nora to see what she has been up to and how the music is going.

PAN M 360 : Your set last week was really great and I’m happy to have the chance to talk to you Nora.

Nora Kelly : Thanks, that’s sweet.

PAN M 360 : So how long has it been since Rodeo Clown came out now?

Nora Kelly : It came out on August 25th, 2023. So, six months about. 

PAN M 360 : Well that’s an interesting time to be at with a release. How do you feel, looking back at your first album launch? 

Nora Kelly : Of my life it was the most energy I’ve ever put into a release and I think because of that, on the other end, it was the most sad I’ve ever been once it was over. It was a crazy emotional roller coaster. It was just so much fun, we were touring and making all these videos and then… then it’s just over and you start from scratch essentially. So I feel like at this point now, six months out, I’m back to being sane. But there were a couple months, September and October especially, that were kind of rough. I was like an empty nester mom whose kid just went off to college or something like that. I don’t know…you do everything to build it up and then you’re at zero again basically for the next wave of putting out an album. 

PAN M 360 : Well, that’s led to these great songs that I heard at your performance, right?  So you’re not doing too bad!

Nora Kelly : No, I’ve been cranking them out. That was the medicine I needed. I needed more children to raise. 

PAN M 360 : And so what kind of direction are you taking here?

Nora Kelly : I kind of want to lean into outlaw country vibes. I feel there’s a lot of amazing outlaw country artists like Waylon Jennings or Townes Van Zandt or something, but they’re all men and there aren’t that many female outlaws to aspire to. Maybe Lucinda Williams is a little bit of an outlaw, in her spirit. So I kind of want to channel that, because my background is in punk, but also lyrically kind of exploring more of a storytelling approach. It’s not all super based in my personal life and growth now, but I’ve taking inspiration from friends’ experiences and stuff. I mean it’s a little bit all over the place. It’s everything but the kitchen sink, this next album, but I think that with the band it becomes coherent.

PAN M 360 : So then really leaning into the punk influences as well as the country.

Nora Kelly : Yeah cow-punk. 

PAN M 360 : Well, I mean actually after seeing you perform I really checked out a lot of artists that I hadn’t really heard of before, and it got me thinking, what is country? Where does the line between folk music and country music become blurred? 

Nora Kelly : Yeah, I mean, I feel like you could do a university course on that question, but because there’s some discourse around Americana is what a lot of left-wing country musicians in Nashville get labelled as, and the right, more right-wing people or the more conservative people get labelled as country. It’s kind of a bit arbitrary. Members in the Nora Kelly Band will sometimes say that we’re not really that country, which is sort of true. I think in 2024 that genre has become pretty loose. To me it’s about arrangement and themes and the instruments that are going to be on the album. Definitely a lot of pedal steel, fiddle, banjo, you know. Just kind of…, we’re saturating ourselves in the sounds and essence of country, but I mean, I’m obviously not born and raised from Kentucky or something, so yeah.

PAN M 360 : I can see you’re having fun with that idea, like “Horse Girl”, you know, it seems very tongue-in-cheek. You’re using these clichés and tropes to explore more subversive ideas.

Nora Kelly : Yeah, exactly. And I think that some people in country take themselves extremely seriously so it makes it more funny to kind of mess around with the genre to me. I feel people are doing that in general, like Lil Nas or Orville Peck are kind of like spinning it, because it outrages a lot of people and because they love the genre too. But I think there is a lot of room that’s kind of being kept as this sacred space only allowed to true country stars and that’s kind of changing now, where people are feeling more comfortable to dabble in it, I guess. 

PAN M 360 : That’s good. I felt more comfortable listening to it for the first time!

Nora Kelly :  Yeah, and it has a bit of a dark history, 

PAN M 360 : Actually, I’d never heard of outlaw country before. Is that just a subgenre? 

Nora Kelly :  Yeah, kind of. Johnny Cash is like a classic example. It’s that criminal cowboy energy you know…

PAN M 360 : Yeah it suits you well!

Nora Kelly : I just want more women to do crime.

PAN M 360 : Ha. So this will all lead up to a new album I suppose yeah and is that kind of slowly making its way to us? 

Nora Kelly : We’re trying to secure some grant funding. And yeah, looking towards who we’re gonna work with and everything, but the album is pretty much written at this point. At least by me and then we’re still working out some arrangements. It’s been really fun, it gives me an opportunity to kind of reach out to people and ask if they would like to get a coffee with me because I want to talk about the next album. So I feel like I’ve connected with some cool Montreal musicians in the genre and the scene. 

PAN M 360 : Do you have a name for the upcoming project? 

Nora Kelly : No name yet. But I wish I did, but yeah, the songs are there. There’s some gender-bending kind of stuff. I’m sort of appropriating different male gender roles in some of the songs. One’s about being a miner in the salt mines of Lake Huron, Ontario, and one’s about being a boxer, you know? So kind of stuff like that. 

PAN M 360 : A killer too?  I remember I heard a song like that at your show. 

Nora Kelly : Oh, one is about, yeah, it’s about being an asshole dude who gets murdered by his Tinder date. A Murder ballad, that’s a classic little country thing.

PAN M 360 : I gotta write me a murder ballad, too.

Nora Kelly : Yeah, you should. I know. You should, I think everyone should write at least one murder ballad.  

PAN M 360 : You know, it’s great you’re having fun with all these characters and stuff. It such an interesting and creative direction to take. You know, a lot of people sing about themselves, and a lot of people have this penchant of telling stories. You must lean into that a lot. 

Nora Kelly : I do. I lean into that a lot. I think the healthier I become as a human, the less I have to write about in a song. Right. When I was younger, I was just, I feel like everything was always really chaotic in my life. And I had a lot to put into songs. But the older I get, the more I kind of have to look towards storytelling. But I actually enjoy that, and I think I’m becoming a better writer for it. 

PAN M 360 : Yeah, it’s really cool. And I wonder, is there some sort of ritual that you get into to write?

Nora Kelly : It’s difficult to pin it down to one thing, but one thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the vocal melodies and lyrics will come to me while I’m walking around. So I recently gave up my iPhone for a Blackberry because I noticed I was always listening to music or podcasts while I walked around. Right. And I’ve written a bunch more songs since I switched. Yeah, I’m just walking around, raw-doggin it. 

PAN M 360 : Yeah, well, I mean imagine how many people are missing out on that, you know? We all do that, you know, we’re all distracting ourselves from boredom.

Nora Kelly : Boredom sucks, so I get it. And I want to just listen to audiobooks of like fantasy elves all the time or something. But I won’t write any songs and I won’t really be as introspective as if I kind of forced myself into that. So it’s helpful, but it’s not always fun. It’s not always that fun. 

PAN M 360 : So any great music that you’d want us to hear about?

Nora Kelly : You should check out Wood Andrews, who we played with at that show. I think he’s really special. He is one of my new friends, plays super good country music. What other homies can I plug? Tonk is like the best country kind of style band, very similar to R-Sound. Out of Vancouver, one of my best friends plays in that band and they’re just really cutting edge stuff. Really into Gus Englehorn, they’re kind of like the Pixies, weird stuff. 

PAN M 360 : Right on. And any upcoming shows?

Nora Kelly : Well we just got into Sled Island today! In Calgary.

PAN M 360 : Well congratulations, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to PAN M. We wish you all the best and we hope to cover you more in the future, Nora!

Nora Kelly : Appreciate y’all. 

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