It must be the difference in hemispheres. In the Land Down Under, night is day, summer hits in winter and the water spirals the opposite way down sinks and toilets. Furthermore, Kelley Stoltz is king. Well, almost.
“We just played for 350 people in Melbourne,” says the 33-year-old songwriter/multi-instrumentalist. “That’s about as many as I get at home in San Francisco. And if I venture down to L.A., it’d be about 30. So it’s pretty weird.”
Though the hype hasn’t reached Dandy Warhols proportions (Courtney Taylor and Co. have had 12 top-10 singles in Australia), Stoltz laughs as he claims his own share of fandom.
“Some girl had pictures blown up that she wanted me to sign,” he says. “I told her that’s good stuff for eBay. It’ll at least get her 48 cents.”
All joking aside, Stoltz—who spent much of his adolescence thumbing through albums at Detroit-area record stores—knows a thing or two about salesmanship. When he found himself without a label to release his sophomore album, 2001’s Antique Glow, he pressed a couple hundred vinyl copies and hand-painted each cover to cut down on costs. The record eventually made it onto CD in Australia (on Corduroy/Raoul in 2002), thanks to fellow Bay Area musician Chuck Prophet (Green On Red).
“I first met Kelley when we played an odd show together at a gay leather bar called the Eagle in San Francisco back in 2002,” says Prophet. “After the gig, Kelley came out to my van and sheepishly handed me his record. He’d painted this Br’er Rabbit over an old thrift-store album cover and tucked his white-label vinyl inside. Somehow, I just knew I wouldn’t be letting go of it anytime soon.”
Antique Glow’s domestic release followed in 2003 on Jackpine Social Club, but Stoltz’s loyalties lie with the original handcrafted run. “Halfway through, I realized it tied in thematically with the record and with the title,” explains Stoltz of his one-man endeavor. “Afterwards, I was glad because it was a way to stay involved with the record without letting it go.”
Holding on to the past is normal for Stoltz, as showcased by the nostalgic strain that resonates throughout the folk/pop blues of Below The Branches (Sub Pop), his new full-length. On groovy, piano-driven opener “Wave Goodbye,” he sings, “There’s a rock, and I’ll be clinging/Until all my days are done.” Later, on the bouncing “Memory Collector,” he warbles, “I remember your childhood hair/Flowing wild at the county fair.” The song concludes with some Beatlesque “ba-da-da”s, as if Stoltz can’t escape the musical history that binds him.
“Any time you’re looking back a little bit, it’s with a degree of satisfaction or a degree of self-loathing,” he says. “It’s just trying to make something out of what happened in your life.”
Last year’s Crockodials made work of his childhood obsession with Echo & The Bunnymen; it’s a track-by-track cover of the 1980 classic. Ian McCulloch’s woozy touch is all over Below The Branches, as are traces of Ray Davies, Syd Barrett and the Band. Ironically, there is no band; Stoltz records every instrument at home on eight-track reel-to-reel.
“I’m something of a control freak,” he admits. “Part of it comes from wanting to play those instruments on the record, and part of it is kind of like taking a Polaroid picture; the gratification you get from that rather than taking it down to get developed at a lab.”
Even with this do-it-yourself attitude, Stoltz isn’t opposed to loosening the production reins in the future. But it would take the right offer.
“If I could take my eight-track machine over to London and work with George Martin, I’d do that for sure,” he says. Looks as if no man is an island—even if you’re loved by one.