Dave Kellan: Carving the Brink of Excellence

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 641   By: Robert E Martin

19th July, 2007     0

There are artists that like well-oiled machinery perform as well during the test drive as they do after logging 100,000 miles of road time, and artists that evolve slowly, more like a flower gestating within its pod that with proper nourishment reveals the full depth of its color.

Dave Kellan is a bit of both: a force of nature that within the span of seven years and four CD's of original material truly blossoms on his newest release Rounder Than the Sound  (see CD Review below) and a breathtaking performer that when placed within his element on a live stage cuts tight seamless corners around musical notes like a full-throttled Masserati.

One thing is for certain: Dave's drive for delivering strongly emotive and catchy music is as strong as his focus is clear.  As a Midland-based musician, Kellan debuted in 2000 with Gutbucket, a band that also featured emerging singer/songwriter Brett Mitchell on drums and Jake Krull on bass. His second CD, Open Up, was a self-produced demo of Dave playing multiple instruments, revealing the breadth of his talent.  And in 2003 Kellan came out with Truth of the Matter, which revealed a maturing style that blended rock, jazz, folk, and blues.

An early highpoint of his career came in 2002 when Dave won the Mid-Michigan Idol contest from Citadel/Epic Records, opening doors with pro studio time and the ability to open for national acts such as Uncle Kracker and Bowling for Soup.

Over the last three years Kellan has secured a total of eight awards at The Review Music Awards Ceremony, and with the release of his latest CD he is preparing for a move to New York City in the fall, hoping to ratchet his career and national visibility up yet another notch.

Recently I sat down for an interview with Dave to discuss his musical journey, experiences on the road, and the important elements in life that make for a good ride.

Review: How did you approach this latest CD? What were you trying to achieve in terms of defining your music on this latest outing?

Kellan:  It's been 4 years since my last release and things were flying at me after the Mid-Michigan Idol period.  Then my Mom passed away and it took me 18 months to finish the record, because I was looking at it under a microscope.

I was working with Mike Laviolette and Chris Roach at Red Road Records, which is a new label, and we got 3/4 of the way through it before I decided to go with my own creative process. They had a big influence at first, shortening the songs and making them more accessible. I put a lot more time and money into this recording and think the product turned out better because I had the vision of making a better album.  I'm really happy with the comments received thus far. I'm really lucky that way.      

Review:  You mentioned the passing of your Mom. How did that affect your music?

Kellan: It affects everybody in personal ways, but for me I started gigging more consistently and studied a lot more. I'm kind of a mutt and like to listen to different styles of music, but keep coming back to Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Not in terms of writing so much, but style-wise which has helped me grow musically.  I've studied a lot more jazz over the past four years and have been hanging out with Byran Rombalski a lot. He's a great friend.

Review:  A lot of great guitarists that start out as 'showmen' often say as they mature it isn't the amount of notes you play but how tasteful you make those notes sound.  It seems you focus a lot more on building the song nowŠ

Kellan: That's definitely something I've learned in the past few years. I listen to grooves and listen to people playing with me more. I've gotten more selective and am sensing more direction than before in terms of where the songs are going - what kind of drum beat and arrangements I want, things like that.

Review:  So tell me about your plans to move to the Big AppleŠ

Kellan:  I've played out there a few times now. WIOG flew me out there and I met with Sony and Atlantic for a day. An ex-girlfriend's sister is aligned with Atlantic and I know another A&R guy climbing the Epic ladder, so doors are opening for me out there. I have lawyers out there and an attorney I'm affiliated with signed Mary J. Blige. I'll be living in Greenwich Village and trying to build as many gigs as I can over the summer.  There's a lot of clubs in New York, so I'm going for it.

I could stay here the rest of my life in Mid-Michigan or get out there and knock on doors.  There's no middle ground in the music business, so if you're doing it full time, you're doing something right.

My biggest concern right now is nailing my demographic. The new CD is touching people from teenagers to 50-year olds, but as far as music goes, I have to trust my instincts. It's a tough business in general and I have no qualms about not being a signed artist at this stage of the game.

Review: What do you find most challenging?

Kellan: Keeping a good head on my shoulders. I a lot of people told me after the Mid-Michigan Idol contest that I was going to make it, but I've still got to keep my feet on the ground. I believe in myself and not letting the environment get the best of me, wherever I am at that particular moment.

Review: You've also spent time playing on the West Coast in California. What was that like?

Kellan:  I played at the Fillmore West and met this guy named Mr. Natural and hung out with him.

Review: Not the Mr. Natural from Robert Crumb's Underground comix from the '60's and 70's?

Kellan: Yeah, that guy! I still have his phone number. That's his legal name because he showed me his driver's license. He dated Janis Joplin and knew Jerry Garcia pretty well and claims he invented the Silvertone guitar. The way he talks about it, I believe him. He owns a music school out there and was teaching Roseanne Barr voice lessons and really liked my music. He said it reminded him of 'Cornfield Blues'. Originally he's from Chicago and he has a lot of Midwestern values.

That's why I love the road. Wherever music takes me, every opportunity leads to another opportunity, so I'm a fortunate guy. Every gig I get another gig comes from it.

Review: What was it like working with people like Larry McCray and Donny Brown and other contemporaries on the mid-Michigan music scene?

Kellan: It was great to work with Noel (Howland) because she really appreciates my music. In a way I think we're musical soulmates.

Donny Brown was totally professional. He helps me look at music in a different way as far as song construction and will take certain parts and bastardize them, much to their improvement. He's also the most professional studio drummer I've worked with.

Larry McCray is the most gracious and talented human being I've met. It took him a little to get into the groove, but I bought him some Bells Porter and he laid down some great lead lines. We had fun.

Rick Armstrong worked in Nashville and has toured around a lot. He's got great ears and chops. And Jim Rosborough is a Dow Executive that has performed with The Michael Scott Band and Blues Controversy. 

I feel fortunate to pick and choose from great musicians in the area and am glad that my music inspires these great musicians to get involved with my project.

Review: Final question. Why does the Mid-Michigan area produce so many great musicians?

Kellan: I just read a book called In the Shadows of Motown about all these guys that played with Diana Ross, The Temptations and The Stones. We're only 90-minutes away from Detroit, so maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe it's something in the water. There's a lot of soul around here. Southern music from Memphis migrated north to Detroit and came up here, I don't know why or what it is. We're simply fortunate.

The Dave Kellan Band will be performing at the Mountain Rock Music Festival in Farwell
July 19
th at 4:15 PM in the Beer Tent and July 20th at 8:15 pm. He'll be opening for Uncle Kracker, Styx and Def Leppard on July 22nd at 4 PM.  He'll also be at The Northern on July 27th at 9:30 PM, July 28th at the Relay for Life Midland Fairgrounds at 4 PM, July 28th at The Northern and Aug. 3rd at 1 PM at the Pig Gig in Bay City.

To pick up his new CD go to myspace.com/davekellanmusic or I-Tunes. It's also available at Mid Michigan Music in Midland, Barnes & Noble, and Elderly Music in Lansing.


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