by Fabiola Feyt
Photo by Andy Donohoe
“I have to see Las Kellies live”, I thought to myself a month ago, while I tried not to suffocate at the hands of a headphone cord that had gotten tangled up in the sleeve of a dress I was trying on. Kalimera, the second album by Cecilia, Silvia and Julia (all Kelly’s, of course), who with a large dose of attitude and outfits – including a few Wilma Flintstone wigs – have become a large presence in the local post-punk scene. And internationally too! In 2009 they went on their first European tour, an improvised road trip that was repeated this year as well, but this time with confirmed venues in hand.
A little bit of back-story: they met each other in 2005 at a concert and just a few days later were rehearsing their first songs. In 2007 they released their first album “Shaking Dog!”. JJ Kelly, one of the band’s original members, left to live in Germany, and Julia (Betty Confetti), who was a regular at the Kellies concerts joined the group. Las Kellies sing in English, Japanese (eh?!) and Castellano and flirt around with reggae, punk, cumbía, and dub always with a post-punk sound. They take direct references from the B52´s, Liquid Liquid, The Slits, ESG, Chain and the Gang, Make Up, The Shangri-las, Humpe Humpe. They write about break ups, about boys, about airplanes (a plea to get them to their sisters weddings on time) and about their dog Cuchuflo, the authentic Perro Rompebolas (the ball-breaking dog) from their third album. The girls dress up like safari women, bikers, China dolls, tennis players, ancient beauties (the list goes on and on) that gives their shows that extra twist. And they seem to always be laughing, at the world around them and, more importantly, at themselves, always having a good time, that is the Kelly style.
And so in that very moment, in a very Kelly situation, asphyxiating myself in my dress for the night while dancing alone to Aeroplane, I tried to evoke the girls that were traveling around Europe presenting their third album, Kellies, edited last year by Rastrillo Records, produced by Ivy Lee from Nairobi, and mastered by Dennis Bovell (that holy man that has led gems like The Slits, Madness, Bananarama and Fela Kuti) and was recently reedited in England by Fire Records for CD and vinyl.
The trio came back with their heads full of new ideas, and were kind enough to let me sit down and talk about them.
A little while back I asked myself “What´s going on right now with Las Kellies”, and after a little investigation I found out that you were on this incredible tour through Europe. Where did you go, and how was the tour ?
It was incredible. The tour was beautiful. We went to Holland, Belgium, France, England, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Croatia, Austria and Slovakia. We got to see a lot of things, meet a lot of people, we did everything in this little truck with our instruments, total road trip !
Had you planned on traveling to less conventional places, like Croatia and Slovakia, or were the dates decided as you went along ?
We planned the entire trip ahead of time. In Europe we aren´t just supported by our label, Fire Records, but also by an agency, and they put together the majority of the shows.
What was it like sharing the stages with P.I.L. or Las Robertas ? Did you get along well with the bands over there ?
Yeah, there was a lot of buena onda with Chain and the Gang, with Las Robertas, Electricity in our Homes, Black Lips, there were so many awesome bands. It was comforting to share the stage with such talented musicians. You learn so much seeing them play, they pump you up, it´s an awesome moment.
How do people react to your music, do you guys travel with those epic costumes ?
They treat us well, we´re growing a lot over there. In Europe there is an enormous tradition of post-punk and people are slowing listening to our music. We take along a few costumes, but in some of the shows we dress more normal. When you’re playing every day without clean clothes you have to ease off of the costumes.
What were the differences between this tour and the last ?
The 2009 tour was very Do-It-Yourself. We arranged the dates from here, figured out where to sleep, how we’d travel. We lugged around our luggage and instruments from city to city in whatever way we could, sometimes hitchhiking. This time we had a little truck, our backline, our tour manager Alessio who helped us with everything, taking care of all those little details. It’s really satisfying to do everything yourself, but when you are traveling so much you have to be able to rest for a second. On this tour all that we had to think about was playing, eating and sleeping…and arriving on time. We think that the quality of our shows got a lot better because of that.
I want to hear a little about Kellies, the new album. There was a review that catalogued it as the bands most danceable, and also most “serious”, album, do you guys agree ? Do you see some sort of evolution from the first album ?
Yeah we’d agree with that. Right now we’re concentrating our sound on music that’s about having a good time rather than laughing at ourselves. The instruments have gotten more intense, sometimes we miss the laughter in the first two albums, but what we’re moving towards is making music that makes people´s hips move.
What was it like working with Dennis Bovell ?
We released that album in 2010 with Rastrillo. We recorded it with Ivi from Nairobi with Crang Records. Ceci and Ivi traveled to London, and worked together for a few really intense days, over in Dennis’ studio. He’s an amazing guy, he has this tremendous voice that we want to capture in our music. He showed us the power of mixing, and left us in total awe.
Kellies has a cover of E.S.G., a lot of garage and post-punk, lyrics in Spanish, English, Japanese, instrumental songs, what is it that unites it all ?
The album has a really strong sense of unity even though all of those elements seem so distant from one another. We mess around a lot, trying new things at rehearsal, sometimes one of us brings a more developed idea and we incorporate it into the rehearsal and transform it into something, we like to feel out the music rather than map it out. At first we talked about our music like rap, cumbía, instrumental or ponja (Japanese), but when it was all finished we surprised ourselves that the whole thing had a Kellies sound, it´s distinctively ours.
How did you guys decide to re-edit the album in England ?
It would appear that everything happened all at once. The tour was put together as an homage to Ari Up from The Slits, and thanks to that and Julie Tippez, who put together the tour, the people at Fire Records became interested in us. It was a huge surprise because they´ve released music with Jackie-O Motherfucker and Bobby Conn, who have a very different style, but when we got together in London we realized that we have a lot in common. They develop individual projects, not genres, and since we dip into different styles, it works out.
How is it to return from tour ? What are your plans for here in Buenos Aires ?
We come back with a lot of energy and always very happy. We are always composing, and right now are putting together more tours, in September we´ll go to Chile with Nairobi, and we´re also putting together shows in Buenos Aires. We want to continue composing songs, releasing more albums, traveling all over the world. We don´t want to ever stop making good music, never.
Do you all still live together ?
No right now we aren´t all living in the same house, but when we were composing and recording the third album we were always together. We drank a lot of tea and listened to a lot of music together. We lived with Conchufo, the original perro rompebolas, and Colin, the canary that we set free in the country. That was a time of pure inspiration.
And how´s your dog Cuchu ? Does he like his song ?
I don´t understand how he manages to listen to the song and bark at the same time, that´s just the way he is. Cuchu knows all.