Interview: Brendan Kelly [The Falcon]

By Mat Stokes

It has been 10 years since the last release from Chicago powerhouse The Falcon. Comprised of The Lawrence Arms’ Brendan Kelly and Neil Hennessy on guitar and drums respectively, Dan Andriano from Alkaline Trio on bass, and Dave Hause of the Loved Ones also shredding 6 strings, The Falcon is poised to release their second full length and third release on Red Scare Records, ‘Gather Up the Chaps’. I recently sat down with Brendan at Pippins where we talked about the record over a few lunch beers.

Super group. Do you all embrace that title?

Well, you know, we’re all from different bands. There’s a lot of bands that have that dynamic. You could call Rise Against a super group, too. They were all in bands before that one. The Falcon is a thing that I take very seriously. It’s with some of my best friends.

It’s like any other band.

That’s what I’m saying. If someone wants to call us a super group, that’s cool. If you take our record to someone and say listen because so and so is on it, great.

2006 was when ‘Unicorn(ography)’ came out and I wasn’t aware that the lineup was considered a super group. I just saw Brendan and Neil and Dan. Cool.

We grew up together. Dave’s been our buddy for 20 years.

How’d he get involved with this project?

The Falcon EP is the first thing that Red Scare ever put out. It was the reason that Red Scare started up. Toby offered to start a label to put out our record and I knew that if he was going to start a label based around my band, I would need to be involved. Like that, Red Scare happened. ‘Unicornography’ is still the best selling record on the label.

I’m not surprised.

Well, some of those Menzingers records, or Masked Intruder records. We put out some big stuff on Red Scare and I think this one came out just early enough that people were still excited about buying records.

So, for the 10 year anniversary show, Toby called me up and told me, “You guys have to play and headline the show.” Well, we didn’t have a guitar player and we knew it had to be someone cool. I tweeted something stupid, kind of as a joke asking who wants to play guitar in the Falcon. Then, Dave Hause texts me asking if I seriously needed someone to play in the Falcon. And I was like, “Yes! Of course!” The first time he played on stage with the four of us was that show. We didn’t even get to rehearse.

Did you Neil and Dan at least get a chance to get together?

Me and Neil got together and Dan came in time for one practice. He came into town that day because he had been doing the Past Lives tour. During the show I just remember being on stage having a good time with these guys.

I remember Dave having pages of notes on how to play the songs on stage with him.

Yeah. After the show we all just kinda looked at each other and were like, “So, we’re a band now. Let’s make a record.”

It all came full circle: The Falcon wouldn’t exist without Red Scare, Red Scare exists because of The Falcon, The Falcon plays Red Scare Fest, The Falcon becomes a band again and puts out another record on Red Scare.

Pretty much. Yup.

When was the last tour with The Falcon?

We did that tour where The Falcon and Sundowner opened for the Lawrence Arms. But that was just all of us switching places on stage.

What year was that?

2007, maybe.

Cool. I remember seeing Chris play bass with you all in 2008 for Red Scare Fest. I was pretty excited because it was one of my first concerts after moving to Chicago.

Yeah, it was sort of a thing where Chris was always cool with being the bass player for the Falcon when we would get offered shows. He was always really nice about doing it. I wouldn’t say it was really his thing, but he was always really cool.

How did the writing process differ for this record from the last one?

That’s the thing about not putting out a record for ten years. I’m not even sure I totally remember the process for the last one. What I do remember is going for a sound that, to me, broke out of what people thought we were capable of. That sort of ignited a trend in me trying to do that over and over and over again. I did that Wandering Birds record and that was super different. I think that was the point when I realized, “Oh, I can do whatever I want.” People sort of begrudgingly accepted that and that kind of informed the new Lawrence Arms record and all that in turn informed this one. Have you heard the record?

Yeah. I was spinning it earlier.

I feel like it’s the ultimate synthesis of everything at this point. When I was doing ‘Unicornography’, I was really trying to push the limits of expectations. People think I hate ska and I’m pretty sure it’s purely based on the idea that people thought I hated it. Really. I just didn’t want people yelling songs for a band I’m not in. I totally don’t hate ska at all, it’s just not the band I’m in, right now.¬†I was also going against people’s expectations based on the Lawrence Arms having a more maudlin sense of humor and I wanted The Falcon to be a little more reckless. It was hard to sort of break through and do something.¬†The Wandering Birds record in turn was where I learned to take a different approach and create these sort of dark alley, pervy songs to get naked to.¬†With this record, I had the tools to synthesize everything together. It wasn’t as much, “What can I do that’s weird?” but, more I’m gonna do this and it’s gonna turn out weird.

After 10 years, you can’t even have the same process with everything that’s gone on since then.

I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a dildo, so I’m just going to say it and sound like a dildo, I am a real student of song craft and I believe really strongly in looking where I’ve been and utilizing those ideas again, but better. I feel like a lot of people when they get to my age get really complacent with the things that they’ve done in the past and never attempt anything they’ve never tried before and their songs totally suck that make them sound like an old geezer.¬†I try to learn from my mistakes and my current successes and try and create something that to me holds up to my bullshit detector. I don’t want to write an album where people say, “I remember when these guys were good.” I had to write a lot of songs to get to the ten that I thought were good enough to put on this record. A lot more than I used to. It’s just like doing push ups: when you’re 18, you can drink all night, wake up the next morning, do like 40 pushups and you’re good. Now, if I want my body to look like it did at 18, I have to do like 3,000 pushups. It’s the same thing with songwriting. Now that I’m older, I have to burn through more bullshit to get to the good stuff.

How much, if any, of your experiences influenced this record? It’s dark as shit. Take ‘Sergio’s Here’ for example.

Oh, god. That’s about a real guy. I haven’t seen him in years and years. The name Sergio, he was the first guy I knew who was a career drug dealer. I never really knew him outside of the context, but any time he came over, he would hang out and have a beer. When I was younger, all the drug dealers you knew were some guys sister who could get good weed. This guy was the first one I ever knew where it was his full time job. The name “Sergio” is just a place holder, though.

Like Brian Fallon?

Ha! Yeah, Sergio is my Maria.

[At this point, Billy Idol comes on the jukebox and overshadows our conversation about the Falcon exploring the dark impulses of the human psyche, the Id, if you will. We touched on the subject of politicians who get caught with their dick out and go to rehab because they’re so ashamed. In reality, they’re sorry they got caught because they having a great time up to that point. The Falcon can be seen as an outlet for those dark thoughts and a chance to explore them from a safe distance. Stupid Billy Idol.]

What do you hope this record accomplishes? Do you have any expectations?

We’ll see what happens. I don’t think I could get into something like this with any sort of expectations. Based on where everyone is right now, Dave’s done touring with his solo record, these Loved Ones shows are about to happen. Dan’s bandmate has another job that’s pretty time consuming. Neil and I aren’t touring on the Lawrence Arms record and Chris is pretty tied up with his job in Portland. Things right now are just falling into place for the Falcon to be a thing.¬†That being said, we didn’t expect the show to go so well. We didn’t expect to book a tour. We didn’t expect the record to come out so well. You can’t go in with any sorts of expectations or you’ll just end up disappointed when things don’t go your way.

What was your favorite song to write on this record? Are there any that you are particularly excited how they came out?

I’m really stoked on the way that ‘Dead Rose’ song turned out because it sounds like the way these songs are supposed to sound. Also ‘Black Teeth’. Despite all the doubts about the structure of that song, I kept telling everyone that it would come together and all work out. Every step of the way, there were those doubts about Neil just playing his parts straight through. But, in the end with all four of us singing and Dave’s killer solo, I am really stoked on how it came out. We all listened to it and were like, this is really fucking good.

Is that why it’s the closing track?

It all just sounded so final. We could either make it first or last. If that’s first, then what’s second?

Plus, you were able to successfully tie the final chorus to the beginning of the album. You did that on Metropole as well, right?

Right, and it goes back to doing it on Metropole. It’s part of how I work as a songwriter. It’s something I did once before, but now I have the knowledge to do it again, but better.

What do your kids think of the new Falcon album?

They don’t really give too much of a shit about my music. They recognize that it’s me and they think that’s cool. They LOVE Dan, Dave, and Neil, though.

How could you not?

Right? But, they don’t care about my music. My sons into football and my daughter is into ponies.

Was the cover for ‘Gather Up the Chaps’ a Minor Threat joke?

I just had this idea of what the aesthetic for the Falcon was going to be. I thought the leatherdaddy culture fit it perfectly. If Rancid did the Minor Threat cover about 20 years after that album was released and it’s been about 20 years since that album came out that it was time for an update. I thought it would be perfect to have a leatherdaddy do it. We got Dan Tinkler, who produced the album, to do it.

Dan and Dave’s songs are so different than anything else on the record. Did you ask them if they wanted to contribute their own styles?

Dan came to me and asked if I wanted this to be strictly my vision and I told him fuck no. There are good minds in this band and we should all do whatever we can. Dan’s song came about a lot earlier and was a fun challenge. Dave brought the building blocks to his song and we hashed it out in the studio. It was nice to have them bring their vision and leave their very distinctive marks on the record.¬†Its like when someone who doesn’t speak English reproduces it? That’s how it is listening to those jams; it’s so great to hear what we sound like from a slightly outside perspective. I love both of those songs so much.

How long did it take to write this?

About 6 months. We had to do it in such small chunks because of everyone’s schedule. Tracking, including mixing, took another 16 days.

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]