Providence’s Tyler-James Kelly is one of the best songwriters in Rhode Island. Whether it’s fronting The Silks, performing with his significant other Jess Powers or by himself, he has a knack for spanning the realm of Americana ranging from blues to folk to country. He also has a trademark voice that very few of his contemporaries can match. On Saturday evening, Kelly will be performing at Pump House Music Works on 1464 Kingstown Road in Wakefield with local folk-rock act The Honk at 6 p.m. To abide by the current COVID-19 guidelines, the show will be taking place outdoors on the venue’s front lawn.
Kelly and I recently had a talk about adjustments he’s had to make since last year, keeping things fresh while performing solo, growing up with old stuff and a new album from The Silks that’ll be due out soon.
Rob Duguay: As a full-time musician, what would you say is the biggest thing you’ve had to adjust to since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year? You’ve been doing it all ranging from live streams to socially distanced shows.
Tyler-James Kelly: Honestly, I would say muscle memory. What I really mean by that is from going really hard for a while to absolutely nothing happening was pretty interesting on the body. When 10 p.m. rolls around I’m sitting at home and I’m not loading a van and taking gear in and out so it’s pretty wild but also kind of refreshing at the same time.
RD: I can totally tell that because before the pandemic hit The Silks were playing all over the northeast and heading to Nashville and back a lot. Going from having that workload and then going home with not having any shows to play most have been a complete 180 for you.
TJK: We typically did Thursdays through Sundays for shows almost every week, if not every other week. It’s just a lot, you know?
RD: Yeah, definitely. Speaking of socially distanced shows, The Silks recently played a gig at The Porch in Medford, Massachusetts. From photos I’ve seen it looked like you guys were playing behind panes of glass, so how would you describe that experience? It looked like you were playing in an aquarium or a zoo exhibit.
TJK: Totally, we kept joking about that for sure. Despite how terrible it looked, the sound is better because you’re stuck in a smaller bubble and the sound doesn’t bounce around in a gigantic room the way it normally would at The Met in Pawtucket or these larger places. The sound was really great for us to let us do what we do so that was helpful and it cut out a lot of the chatter from the audience, which is also nice. I always tell people, believe it or not, I’ve played a lot of these songs 1,000 times so sometimes I can actually hear someone’s conversation as clear as day while I’m doing something like performing. It was cool to not hear people with the chatter and whatnot.
RD: It must have been different but also refreshing. When it comes to playing solo like you’re going to be at Pump House Music Works on the 24th, do you feel like you have more freedom for improvisation or fleshing out new material that you’re working on when it comes to putting your own spin on a particular song or trying out new things on a song you’re currently working on?
TJK: You kind of nailed it on the head with just the freedom to try out new stuff that’s fresh. I pride myself on being the best musician I can be so it’s really great, I tell people who like to play solo to do it as much as they can. You gotta rely on yourself and I like that challenge, which is what I’m getting at. As much as I love playing in a band, I do enjoy the challenge of holding it down on my own, trying new things and keeping things fresh like you said. I might try a new song the day of a show.
RD: That setting must give you a larger bandwidth to experiment and create.
TJK: Totally, some of the songs are more singer-songwriter as well and people tend to like that. It can be fitting for a listening room type sound where it’s not so much about the dance floor and more about the lyrics, Kris Kristofferson type stuff.
RD: You’ve been selling a lot of antiques online lately including mirrors, a piece of wall art that’s shaped like an anchor, an owl wall plant mount and other things. Do you go search these types of things out at vintage shops and consignment stores in your spare time? How have you ended up with these old school objects?
TJK: I grew up with a lot of antiques when I was younger and I always had a lot of fun with older artifacts, older music and older everything. I think it’s mainly because of my nana being around in the house. To put it this way, when a lot of kids were playing with their big wheels and battery powered cars I was playing with the pedal aluminum cars.
TJK: Yeah, they’re super heavy and they’re from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. It’s super cool stuff but they’re super heavy cast iron, you gotta be like The Flintstones with those things. Of course those things go for big money now which is funny, I wish I still had those around. Jess and I have collected a few things from running our AirBnB and closing it because of the pandemic. We don’t collect too much stuff, we’re minimalist so everything we have we use. If it can go to a good home then that’s where we prefer it would go.
RD: What are your plans for the summer? Can we expect a new album from The Silks later this year or do you and Jess have plans for a new Cowboy & Lady release?
TJK: This year I’m hoping to get The Silks record out. It’s almost done and it’s been so cool recording with Graham Mellor at his studio Uptown Sound in the Columbus Theatre in Providence. He’s been incredibly helpful and everything that we’ve done has been pretty organic and natural. Then hopefully later this year I can actually finish my solo record which has some different material and that’s about it, I’m sure I’ll be doing other things too.