San Francisco home-recording multi-instrumentalist Kelley Stoltz spent the better part of the past three years promoting and distributing his last album himself. “I finished Antique Glow in 2001, but found myself without a label when it was ready for release. So, being a vinyl nut, I decided to press up a couple hundred and, to save some money, painted all the covers myself. I sold them at shows and stores all around San Francisco. After that the record took on a life of its own.”
With the support and praise of SF songwriter Chuck Prophet (ex-Green On Red), Antique Glow made its way down to Australia where it was picked up by Corduroy/Raoul Records who gave the album its first proper CD release in 2002. A five star review in The Melbourne Age led to an Australian tour and a minor radio hit followed in the Small Faces-go-to-sea romp, “Underwater’s Where the Action Is.”
Back in San Francisco in 2003, Jackpine Social Club (Oranger, Sonny Smith) gave the album a much-needed US release on CD. And, soon enough, on the recommendation of an SF record store clerk, one of the hand-painted Antique Glow LPs landed in the hands of Ben Blackwell of Detroit fuzz-rockers, the Dirtbombs. So smitten with the album was Ben, that he ordered another copy and passed it along to Simon Keeler, of England’s Beautiful Happiness label. Antique Glow soon caught on with the English press and Stoltz was given a 4-star review and tapped for a “Mojo Rising” feature in MOJO magazine, as well as critical praise in Ptolemaic Terrascope, Uncut, Record Collector and on BBC6 radio. At year’s end Antique Glow was ranked #24 in MOJO’s “40 Best Albums of 2004,” described as, “a time capsule only recently discovered…a jamboree grab-bag of delights filled with everything from psychedelic folk and cosmic troubadour pop to garage-rock and lysergic r&b…one of the year’s major finds.” UK and European touring followed in the spring of 2005.
Stoltz next turned his attention to an accidental tribute record: a song-by-song cover of Echo & the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles. “I recorded that the last week of 2001. I had just finished Antique Glow and wasn’t writing any cool original stuff and one day, fooling around, I recorded the first song on that record. Crocodiles has always been one of my favorite albums and that first track was so much fun I did the rest of the album in succession. I knew most of the words and the drum parts from when I was a kid and the chords were easy to figure out.” The recording of the Crockodials album coincided with several live performances of the record with a full band that featured Spiral Stairs (Pavement/Preston School of Industry) on lead guitar. “It was great, we had a fog machine, I spoke in a drunken Liverpudlian accent – we ended up playing that show for the CMJ festival in New York and Will Sergeant from the Bunnymen came and saw it…he was chuffed.” Released on Beautiful Happiness in early 2005, the album garnered accolades from domestic and international press, and Stoltz was finally free again to focus on his own songs.
Below the Branches, like Stoltz’s past efforts, was recorded at home on an 8-track reel-to-reel. “I have the drums, amps, pianos, toy xylophones and the rest all crammed in with my bed and desk… it gets a bit claustrophobic, but it’s the way I like to record; to get something at the moment, or even before the moment, of creation; to roll tape and see what comes out, before rethinking things too much.”
“I play all the instruments and record everything myself, at home, so essentially I’m always ‘in the studio.’ I write and record things all the time and my home studio affords me the chance to work on songs whenever I want.”
The years that passed between official releases allowed Kelley to amass a wealth of great new songs (many of which may never be heard until the career-spanning box-set is released). “I’ve got loads of songs…so making a record is really just choosing my favorites and deciding which ones sound best together.”
Below the Branches picks up where Antique Glow left off, combining psych rock, folk, blues, and pop in its 13 tracks, but Kelley explores new directions as well. “On the new album, I played lots more piano. For the first time ever I had a piano in my recording room, so it appears on a lot of the new tracks. The guitar has been my primary songwriting instrument for the last ten years, so switching to something new, learning the chords as I go along, has made the writing process more fun.”
Stoltz’s songs take shape as improvisational-pop, and as a devoted music fan, his influences often leap out in the songs but just as quickly merge into something else. “’Ever Thought of Coming Back’ is the obvious example in that it’s indebted to the Beach Boys style of harmonies and it has a Carl Wilson-like lead vocal, but halfway through, some New Order guitar-line comes in and it’s all new again”, says Sean Coleman, who plays guitar in the live band and who along with Kevin Ink (the Residents, Frank Black) helped Stoltz to add further overdubs and mix the record. The live band is rounded out by Shayde Sartin (Skygreen Leopards) on bass and John Hofer (Mother Hips) on drums.