Posted May 21, 2017 by Jeff in Tunes

A Quieter Kelley Ryan

Kelley Ryan
Kelley Ryan

Working out of dual home studios in Palm Springs, California, and Cork, Ireland, singer-songwriter Kelley Ryan goes into the studio on a daily basis to work on new material. She recorded her latest album, Telescope, at both spaces. The album opens with “The Darkest Stars,” a gentle tune that features woozy horns and fragile vocals; it sets the tone for the well-crafted disc. Ryan plays most of Telescope‘s instruments herself, but the album also features key contributions from longtime friends and frequent collaborators Don Dixon and Marti Jones,

Talk about what first drew you to the world of singing and songwriting.
It comes down to the fact that my dad was a disc jockey. I’m the oldest of four. My dad was traveling from station to station. As there were more kids, he settled down and bought a station with another guy. I grew up with records coming home. When I was 12 and got a guitar, that’s just the way I went.

What was it like getting records out?
My first five records came out under the name astroPuppees. I had a deal with Hightone Records. It’s weird. I’ve been writing in the closet all my life. I went to Ireland for cooking school for three months and weirdly enough when I came back, I had written some songs. Hightone picked it up and I was off. Now I have my own label.

You’ve said that ditching the astroPuppees moniker represented a shift in your music. Talk about that.
Besides songwriting and having a few friends on the album, it was mostly all me. I played all the instruments on my first record and just wanted to make it about the songs. I worked from the beginning with Don Dixon in some capacity. He’s a friend. When Twist came along, it was going to be an astroPuppees album but Dixon said it sounded different. He said, “It sounds like you and it always is you so you should put your name on it.” It was time for me to own up. At that time, I was half year in Ireland and half in Palm Springs. I had a studio in each place. They’re remote and full of nature. With astroPuppees, I was living in L.A. and it was electric and loud. Now, it’s scaled down and deeper and quieter—not loud like the traffic.

The songs have such a peaceful feeling.
The mood is something I’m really proud of. Of all the records I have done, this one I had the least idea about what it would sound like. With each record, I would do it and put it on the stack and go from A to Z. It was like a book. I’d work on one and then put it away and start another song. For some reason, [this time] it was like reading a bunch of books at once. I was working on the whole thing at once. I never thought, “This is done.” I went until it felt okay. Funnily enough, I had a good reaction . . . more than anything else I’ve ever done.

Where did you record?
I did some with Don Dixon at his studio in Ohio. We did the percussion in Jim Brock’s studio in Charlotte. And we recorded in Ireland. That’s what I done for the last several records. Marti [Jones] is my closest friend on the planet. I think we make records so we can get together and sing on them. We have so much fun.

How do you know Don Dixon and Marti Jones?
Dixon and my husband were friends. My husband has a publishing company in California. They pretty much introduced us and we’ve been good friends. I went to his house for the first record and Dixon said he’d mix for me. I went there and they’re great. I had met Marti a couple of times but not that much. I spent the night at their house. There was someone there the week before me who was really demanding. When Dixon told her about me, she complained that she would go crazy. She also knew I had just gone to cooking school for three months. She was worried about what she would bake for me. I cooked and by the time the four days were up, we were fast friends.

You write about quitting smoking in “Cigarette.” Were you really a smoker?
I did used to smoke. I can tell you about every song. It was an experiment. Marti sent me a picture of one of her paintings. I wrote that song for a painting. I used the painting in my music video. I stared at the people in it. She was backstage at the green room in House of Blues in Cleveland but the painting is mostly red. I looked at the people and made up what they were doing. I figured it was a bar and the two people were hanging. I went into a story and it didn’t have anything to do with smoking other than the people thinking they were going to quit.

Did you have any extra songs? How did you know which ones to include?
I went one at a time. The first one is “The Broken News.” I went from there. I would go back and forth and I would start something and put them away. The only one I didn’t write specifically was the one with Marshall Crenshaw. He has a version of that on his last record. It has that mood added to it.

Your career stretches back some 20 years. What continues to motivate you?
I have been doing it since I was 12. I am constantly writing, just like anybody else. It’s a way of getting stuff out. I do it to get back in there and do another one. I sit in a room by myself all day and talk to myself and come out and see my husband and have dinner. It’s super satisfying to put it out and talk to people like you about it. Soon, Christmas is over and then you have go back in and do another one. I really like it.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].