Interviews

Tim Kelly Realizes Decades-Old Dream of a Debut Album With Son Ruston Kelly

John Chong

Ruston Kelly's earliest musical influence came from neither the roots nor punk end of his self-described dirt emo sound. Instead, he learned to love songwriting from his father and future collaborator, Tim Kelly.

The elder Kelly began writing country and folk-grounded songs as a teenager and had dreams of a life spent in and out of concert venues and recording studios. However, marriage, fatherhood and a manufacturing career took precedent when Tim was a young man.

"Everybody has multiple lives, I think," Tim told Wide Open Country. "For me, I started out, let's say from my teens through my college years... I had no plan other than to play music, and that's what I did during that time. Playing a guitar is kind of like an appendage to me. I had plans to do all of that, but my life took a different turn. I still played music for a while, and then I got busy with a family and so forth and took a different path with it."

Tim never lost sight of his creative goals, and he's accomplished some of them in recent years by playing pedal steel guitar in Ruston's touring band and on the albums Dying Star and Shape & Destroy.

"I always wanted to do that type of thing," Tim said of touring and recording as a musician. "I never had a clue that I'd have a son who'd be interested in the same sorts of things in terms of music, but I do. So it's kind of like everything happens for a reason. We obviously don't know the timing of those things, but I think it worked out pretty much the way it was supposed to work out."

Gigs as a session player and touring bandmate weren't enough exposure for Tim in the opinion of his biggest fan, as Ruston kept pressing to produce an album of his dad's songs.

"This is something I've been trying to convince him to do for the past 10 years," Ruston told Wide Open Country. "Even when music wasn't my vocation yet, I still encouraged him to put an album of work together. Some of these songs I'd known as a kid."

Selections on Tim's debut album Ride Through The Rain (out Nov. 5) stretch from a song he wrote as a teenager to "Grandma's House," a ditty finished right before the recording process began.

"The oldest song on the record is a song called 'Old Friends'," Tim explained. "I wrote that song when I was 18 because I had moved with my parents in my senior year of high school and left everything that was part of my identity with friends behind. The interesting thing about it is it's a lot more appropriate now than it was then. When I play the song, it resonates more with me in a different way obviously than when I was 18. I've got to confess that I was really not in favor of putting that song on the record. Ruston had a different point of view on that, and ultimately we decided to put it on there. Basically he said, 'You can't do the record without putting it on there. You have to!'"

Ruston insisted on including "Old Friends" on the tracklist for multiple reasons.

"One was because I was so familiar with it," Ruston said. "It spoke to a lot of the reasons why I wanted to convince him to do a record. I remember hearing him play me a reel-to-reel demo that he had of that song. Maybe it was a cassette. But that's the song that inspired me to want to write songs. And on the other hand, it's just such a good song. It's just as good four decades old as it [would be if] it were written yesterday. That to me is the hallmark of a timeless song."

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All three of Tim's children helped make his new album happen. Daughter Abby Sevigny provided backup vocals, with oldest son Chip serving as art director.

"I tried to use the best talent available, and some of it was right at home," Tim added.

Thanks to his connection with live audiences, Ruston will continue to ride the high of his dad's first album well past its release date.

"Dad has been busy working on this record so he hasn't done this tour with us, but he's come out and done a few shows," Ruston said. "When he comes out, we walk out for an encore together and sing 'Leave This Town,' the first single off this record. With the oomph behind that moment of it being a family affair, even though maybe Abby's not there, Chip's not there... It's still felt onstage together.

"It's something very surreal," Ruston continued. "It's already a very prominent memory that I hold really dear of hearing people sing the words to his song very emphatically. And to see that being the beginning of him stepping out of a place that I feel like he was born to step out of, which is stepping out of not playing music all the time."

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Tim Kelly Realizes Decades-Old Dream of a Debut Album With Son Ruston Kelly