Shape & Destroy Tour
SAT, 16 OCT 2021 at 07:00PM PDT
Ages: 21 & Over
Doors Open: 07:00PM
OnSale: Fri, 14 May 2021 at 10:00AM PDT
Announcement: Mon, 10 May 2021 at 07:00AM PDT
With his sophomore album Shape & Destroy, Nashville-based artist Ruston Kelly now documents hisexperience in maintaining sobriety, and finally facing the demons that led him to drug abuse in thefirst place. But while Kelly recounts that journey with an unvarnished honesty, his grace andconviction as an artist ultimately turn Shape & Destroy into a work of unlikely transcendence.
With its unsparing reflection on what Kelly refers to as “the cycle of frustration and temptation aftergetting clean,” Shape & Destroy took form during a period of painful transformation. “It wasn’tsurprising to me that getting sober was a challenge, but there were moments when it was challengingin a way I’d never experienced before,” Kelly says. “There’s so much repair your brain has todo—spiritually, emotionally, physically—and at one point I really felt like I was losing my mind.”
As a means of self-preservation and catharsis, Kelly eventually turned to the ritual of free writing, apractice that led him to the album’s title. “This phrase just came to me one day: ‘Shape the life youwant by destroying what obstructs the soul,’” he recalls. “I realized that was the ticket to healingmyself and healing my mind: figuring out what kind of person I want to become, and then gettingrid of everything that keeps me from being that person.”
In light of that epiphany, Kelly felt a profound lucidness that soon catalyzed his creative process.“From reading about other artists who’ve gone through recovery, I was sort of expecting a dry spellafter getting sober, but that didn’t happen,” he says. “Instead I felt this very heightened awarenessthat lent itself to so much more artistic output, and the songs just started pouring out.”
That momentum continued as Kelly headed into the studio, co-producing Shape & Destroy with hislongtime producer Jarrad K (Kate Nash, Weezer, Elohim). Working at Dreamland RecordingStudios in Upstate New York (a space converted from a 19 th century church), Kelly enlistedmusicians like Dr. Dog drummer Eric Slick, bassist Eli Beaird (who also performed on Dying Star),and a number of his own family members: his father Tim “TK” Kelly played steel guitar, while bothhis sister Abby Kelly contributed background vocals. And in shapingthe album’s nuanced yet potent sound, the band deliberately channeled the raw vitality Kellycontinually brings to his live show.
“This was the first time I ever recorded completely sober, and I wanted to take the intensity ofwhatever it took to get me here and leave that splattered all over the wall,” says Kelly. “Rather thantelling the band how or what to play, I translated that intention to them to get us all on the samepage, and the songs came together exactly the way I needed them to.”
Though Kelly booked nine days at Dreamland, the sessions were so kinetic that the band torethrough almost the entire album in the first 48 hours. That unchecked urgency is particularly evidenton tracks like “Brave”—a plea for redemption made even more poignant by its stark recording,several times spotlighting a tearful crack in Kelly’s voice. “My father was supposed to play on ‘Brave’with me, but I decided to do a take by myself to get my bearings,” says Kelly. “It was just me andmy dad in a room late at night, him watching me sing this song about trying to live up to theprinciples he raised me with. I’ll never forgot how powerful that felt.”
Describing Shape & Destroy as a “mental-health record,” Kelly reveals all the false starts and setbacksin getting sober with a specificity that’s unflinching but never heavy-handed. As the album unfolds,his lyrics drift from forthright to poetic to sometimes even storybook-like (an element manifested inits recurring images of wishing wells and stars, flowers and wild storms). On the piano-laced andluminous “Mid-Morning Lament,” for instance, Kelly proves his gift for gracefully entwining witand confession (sample lyric: “I wanna spike my coffee, but I know where that leads/And it ain’t thesafest feeling when the angel on your shoulder falls asleep”). Another elegantly layered track, “Alive”twists classic love-song sentiment into a moment of tender revelation, its dreamy mood magnifiedby TK’s sighing steel tones and Kelly’s delicate storytelling (“On the horizon/The sun is settingpink/You’re cooking something in the house/Singing John Prine/What a beautiful thing/To bealive”). “To me ‘Alive’ is a testament to how powerful love can be, especially love from someonewho embodies a very strong and empowering feminine spirit,” says Kelly. “It’s like they’re able tolend that spirit to you, so you can pick yourself back up and declare who you really want to be.”Like most of Shape & Destroy, “Alive” was captured in one of the very first takes that Kelly and hisband laid down. To make the most of their time at Dreamland, the musicians ended up recordingtwo songs that weren’t initially intended for the album, including “Jubilee”—a warm and rumblingtrack with a magical backstory. “For a long time I’ve been a huge fan of the Carter Family, especiallyMother Maybelle, and a while back John Carter Cash invited me to stay at his grandmother’s if Iwanted a writing retreat,” says Kelly, referring to the son of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. “Iwrote ‘Jubilee’ at Mother Maybelle’s dining room table and didn’t think it would ever make it on therecord, but in the studio it turned into this train-song thing that felt really good. It’s just so strangeto me that this Johnny Cash spirit came out without me even meaning it to.”
For the closing track to Shape & Destroy, Kelly chose “Hallelujah Anyway”: a minute-and-half-longpiece centered on choir-like harmonies from Kelly and his collaborators (including recordingengineer Gena Johnson), its lyrics nearly prayer-like in invocation (“And bury me in ﬂowers/When Igo I wanna bloom/And come back as the color of a lovely afternoon”). “For me that’s probably themost important song I’ve ever written,” says Kelly. “It’s about having thankfulness for whatever it isthat gives us this ability to be positive even in the thick of the blackest moments, and I can’t think ofany greater weapon to turn against your lesser self. If I wrote that song and nothing else in my life,I’d be very pleased with what I’ve done as an artist.”
In bringing Shape & Destroy to life, Kelly again tapped into many of his longtimeinspirations—Jackson Browne, Dashboard Confessional, the brutal and visceral energy of KurtCobain’s live performance—but also looked to such unexpected sources as transcendentalistphilosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. “A huge turning point in my spiritual life was reading his essay‘The Poet,’ which talks about how artists love wine and narcotics, but the true artist doesn’t ingestanything but water from a wooden bowl,” he says. “As soon as I read that I thought, ‘Damn, you’vegot my number there.’” And through the process of creating Shape & Destroy with total clarity, Kellyemerged with a greater understanding of how to fulfill his purpose as an artist.
“The more I’m doing this thing of touring and gathering a fanbase of people who seem toappreciate these songs and make them their own, the more it fuels the fire to keep doing it—and todo it with even more honesty, now that I’m clear-headed and clear-eyed,” says Kelly. “Making thisrecord definitely taught me that I don’t want to be selfish: I want to channel something larger thanmyself, and give myself to the process as fully as possible, because these songs also become the story of whoever hears them. Whatever someone might get out of listening to this record and hearing me express myself in this way, it’s completely theirs.”
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Event Venue & Nearby Stays
Neumos, 925 E Pike St, Seattle, United States