MK & The Gentlemen
AC Lounge, Venice Beach, CA – CD Release Show – October 8, 2009
Words by Trey Highton
One of my first memories of Mick Kelleher was watching him burn bootleg copies of Britney Spear's first album, which he was selling like hotcakes in his high school. This was in the hay-day of Napster, and Mick was on the forefront. So I guess you could say, he's been in the record making biz for a while now. Uprooted from his childhood home of Virginia Beach just before his senior year of high school, Mick's family moved to The Woodlands of north Houston, Texas - truly a world away from everything he had known growing up. But rather than sulk in his isolation, he focused on his music and wakeboarding to maintain his sanity. I remember the first time I visited him in Texas, he could barely make it through a sloppy rendition of The Beatles' “Blackbird.” Only a short time later, I was surprised to see Mick grab an open mic in a bar in Costa Rica and completely wow the crowd. The house band didn't even want to go back on. Since then, Mick has had the good fortune of playing at the Winter X-Games, the House of Blues in Dallas, and countless venues throughout the LA area. Mick and his band are even going to be featured in an episode of HGTV's “Divas & Daughters of Dallas” on October 18th. His music has progressed from a solo acoustic act to a full on five man band that can sound like a jazzed up G-Love one minute and then turn around and hit you with love-struck heart-broke avant-garde blues the next. Mick's got a surprising pair of lungs and an ability to deliver his lyrics in a spitfire rhythm that is uncanny.
So how did this bootlegger turn into a rising blockbuster in the burgeoning music scene of LA? I tracked him down just before his second CD release show and party at the AC Lounge in Venice Beach on October 8th to find out. What follows was my conversation with MK & The Gentlemen over a delicious dinner of BBQ and beer at the world famous Baby Blues.
OE: OK gentlemen, we're going to start easy and broad . . .
MKG: I like starting with easy broads, haha . . .
OE: Do you guys have any influences, musical or otherwise? Do you identify yourselves with any larger genre or artistic movement?
MKG: Well, we have defined our sound as “frunk” - funk rock. We're trying to be on the cusp of not only what we like to play but what's current too, so we're kind of heading into indie rock too. What we do is indie I feel like. Some of the new stuff we've been writing and working on together has been a little more on the indie side, a deviation from your typical blues progression song.
OE: If you had to give your music a celebrity name analogy, it would be . . .
MKG: Scott Baio on Viagra.
OE: Would you say your music is a product of your environment? If so, would you expand on the importance of place, the importance of geography within the context of your music, because it seems that the places you guys have lived or visited in your past have had a strong influence on your body of work.
MKG: At least 3 or 4 of our songs are about the city (LA). The first time I ever lived in a big city was Madrid, and that's where I wrote “Boom Boom Yeah.” But absolutely, I mean I'm inspired every time I go to New York, every time I go abroad, whether we're hanging at the beach, there's always surroundings that are absolutely inspiring. . . I mean there's a pulse in New York that's like no other, it's not like California, it's not like Texas, but then you know to the Texas thing, we've got a little more country-vibe tracks and that's a direct result of surroundings. So for me, inspirationally, that's everything. It's your surrounding, it's the people, it's what you see, what you do, the girls you . . . you know what I'm saying. We're a relatively new group, these guys together, but you know, for instance, the new track you heard, it's about the city. “Gone” is about leaving Venice and going somewhere else. It's about getting out, it's about doing. New instances, meeting new people, it brings up something new to your mind and it's always something good to write about. It's different and it's stimulating, it's not the day-in day-out routine, you know? I think on top of all that too, a lot of these songs may be written in other cities, or based in other cities, but the outlook is seen through the looking glass that is Venice, that is southern California. I think we have a very definitive California sound. We're not definitive of the California sound, it's the other way around. Being in California makes us sound a certain a way, I feel. I know we've all spent time in the mid-west, in the mountains, on the east coast, etc etc, but until you get five guys together in a room in Venice Beach, CA, you don't know what that mish-mash is going to sound like.
OE: Rolling off of that, rolling off of physical geography, and the notion of Venice as an epicenter for you guys, describe your experience working with Todd Hannigan at Brotheryn Studios and recording up in Ojai on this latest project, a bit removed from the bright lights, big city. What did that bring to your creative process on this album?
MKG: It's definitely removed. It's kind of a trip, a little bit. It's literally up in the country. It's cool though, it helps you focus. That vibe, I think Todd kind of transcends that northern California surf rock sound, and that definitely comes out on a couple of tracks. I just love getting up there and getting away, being on a ranch. It was very, very peaceful. Hannigan's recording studio is called “Haley Ranch.” It's this big ranch up there where he's got a recording studio. It's so removed, you step outside and you're looking at hills and horses, and it's always cold up there, no matter what time of year you're up there. It's sweet, it definitely had an influence.
OE: I know you guys have an HGTV episode coming up, and I was just wondering if you could walk me through your song “Highland Park.” The twangy guitars, the House of Blues venue that you got to play for the show, in association with the importance of place that we've been discussing. I know this show that your appearing on is “Divas & Daughters of Dallas” and I was just really wondering about some of the lyrics that involved in this song, the refrain of the chorus goes: “my sassy sexual machine, my girl from Highland Park.” If I understand correctly, most of these girls in episode are around sixteen or seventeen, so how does that sit with you as gentlemen chasing jailbait?
MKG: For the record, I grew up in Dallas, and this song was written way before this promotional TV gig ever came to fruition. We went down to Texas, we didn't really know what to expect. We walked into a show where there was a nice mix of like 14 – 29 year old girls, basically. This song is kind of an exaggeration. But all that stuff we sing about, partying and f*cking, blah blah blah, it's like exaggerated real life situations, like a spoof or a parody. Highland Park is like the Beverly Hills of Dallas, so it's easy to write about, it's fun to write about. So we wrote that song, we went down there to play the show and it was definitely an interesting experience. There were some broken phones and missed flights coming home, you know burning the candle from both ends. We love Dallas, lets just say that, and we all slept in our own beds after that show.
OE: Do you have anything to say about that country twang that's so prominent in that song and also getting to play the House of Blues in general? Was that your first and only show at the HOB?
MKG: Yeah, and honestly that was probably one of our better shows. The show was produced really well, they had lighting and smoke, cameras everywhere. The House of Blues was a great venue, the sound was killer, we got to do a proper sound check, which we're not used to. The whole country twangy thing, you know growing up in Dallas, just kind of brings everything full circle, which is crazy, now that I think about it. Coming back to Texas to play that song, for that episode, for our friends in Dallas, it was like a big reunion.
OE: So rolling right off of that, is your sole motivation for making music getting laid? As evident in songs like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” or are you a true post-modern pre-apocalyptic romantic? And if so, what place or importance does romanticism have in the world today where we're faced with the daily dilemmas of global warming, the world falling apart, etc, what kind of place does this kind of happy-go-lucky, kick your shoes off and forget about your worries music have in the world today?
MKG: Ok, what I was going to say, thank you Benny, is no, it's not to get laid. The purpose of writing about girls and all that is not to get laid, but, fringe benefits. It's like a musicians 401k. No, but honestly, a lot of the songs, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, a lot of these songs were kind of inspired by going out and partying and hanging out with girls, but like I said earlier, a lot of it is just real life, only exaggerated situations. “A Beautiful Plan” is all about leaving one girl and meeting a new girl, and it's so inspirational. I know it might sound cheesy, but it's literally what drives us sometimes. You know how it is, it's like when you're bummed on some chick, that's sometimes when you write your best stuff. That's when it comes out. It's like, well that's what happened and you know maybe it's an escape, maybe it's a segway to something else, but yeah, girls make the world go round, and MK & The Gentlemen go round. I've also gotta say, that a lot of that depends on your definition of romanticism. In my opinion, humble as it is, music, or your life in general, is based around a couple of things. The people you meet, places you've been, and the other arts that you've had the benefit of seeing in your life. And lets be honest, when you're in your twenties and early thirties, women make up a majority of the people of you meet. And you can't just skip over the rest of the album, it's about going to NYC or going to Madrid or going back to Dallas. I mean that's romantic. When you're leaving where you're comfortable, and you're going someplace else and seeing something else, that's romantic. That's a story, you know, that's a novel, a movie waiting to happen, or an album waiting to happen. Seeing the world you know, you open your eyes.
OE: Completely off track now, could you talk me through the prominence of the keyboard in “Twenty.” Are we going to be seeing more of that, are the keys becoming more and more prominent?
MKG: The keys in “Twenty” are kind of like a blues thing. To answer your question, yes, we want to bring the keys in more, but in kind of an indie, kind of a more obscure sound. The keys in “Twenty,” as a matter of fact, I was with Todd Hannigan and he was like “Hey, I've got a friend that would be epic, maybe we should lay keys down. Just wait 'til you meet this guy.” We meet the guy, the guy used to tour with James Brown, we called him that week, but he was in the hospital because he got gangrene on his big toe, probably from drinking and had to get it cut off, so he's in the hospital. Couldn't wake up until a month later, the guy is like seventy, just more soul than anybody you'll ever meet. I literally had to sit next to him with a piano and a guitar and it took us, even to do four measures, it took like ten takes. But when he got it, he got it. It was sick, I've never seem someone play a Hammond like that. It was like sitting next to history.
OE: So we're gonna close this out kind of easy, when did you start playing and why? And when did you start writing your own songs? Do you want to walk me through that move to Texas and what that did to your personality, as such an extrovert in Virginia Beach, and what effect that my have had on you in becoming a more creative person?
MKG: Growing up in Virginia Beach, and we talked about this today as well, going to that Dave Matthews concert as a kid, I was like that's incredible, I'm going to start playing guitar. I know it might sound cheesy, but if anyone can entertain that many people, make that many people stoked, I want to try that out. It started in Virginia Beach, you know parties, hanging out, the guitar, and being that extrovert back there, and then moving to Texas, I didn't know anyone. It was literally like a blessing in disguise. I could've gone to college in Virginia, and probably just screwed around for four years, not saying I didn't . . .So moving to Texas, anyways, I had a lot of time on my hands and not a lot to do. So I started writing, and getting serious about it. I met my buddy Wes down there who pushed me to kind of start playing music and thinking outside the box, doing what you do and to be confident about what you write. But the other half of that, moving out to California, with these guys, I'll write it, but these guys will cultivate it. Unless I had these guys to really enhance that, it would just be a stick in the mud. I mean I could be a guy with a guitar, but the real creative process starts . . . I mean I might have lyrics, I know what the lyrics need to be, but as far as parts and bridges and melodies and harmonies, it happens when I sit down with these guys. That's probably seventy percent of it, to be honest. For instance, I'll play a song, or a scratch, just a few chords, and these guys will fill in with what they feel like, or how they hear it, which is how it comes together. It's always different, which is cool. It's a direct reflection of where we've been, what we did.
LIGHTNING ROUND . . .
no thinking, spitfire answers
white or wheat white
top or bottom bottom
blonde or brunette blonde
stocks or bonds bonds
towel or air-dry air-dry
windows down or AC windows down
you buy or go dutch you buy
thong or booty shorts booty shorts
tits or ass tits
unleaded or regular wait, is there a difference?
dark or light beer light
whiskey or vodka whiskey
beach or mountain beach
condom or penicillin penicillin