Reckless Ones: We made sure Brian Setzer wouldn't regret giving us a song

Reckless Ones: We made sure Brian Setzer wouldn't regret giving us a song
Photo by Alexander Thompson

How often do you have a legendary guitarist wanting to work with you on a project? Not often, but Minneapolis rockabilly band Reckless Ones found themselves in that fortunate situation when Brian Setzer offered up a song he wrote and arranged to the band to record. The band has been touring extensively, but set some time to record their third album; the self-titled record is not the band reinventing the rockabilly sound, but rather adding their own flavor to the genre. It commences with nostalgia and ends with a flurry of sweet, rich noise. In between, over the course of six songs, plate after plate of delicacies are placed candidly on the feasting table.

Set for their album release, Gimme Noise spoke with lead singer Kevin O'Leary before their show at Lee's Liquor Lounge on Friday on his interactions with Setzer and what the rockabilly world is like outside of his hometown.

Band Members: Kevin O'Leary, Adam Boatright, Dylan Patterson

Gimme Noise: There's a country rockabilly sound to the music. What draws you guys to this type of music?

Kevin O'Leary: Not that I'm not drawn to country music, but it doesn't actually make up much of my "diet" in terms of what I like to listen to. I have a couple of the icons in my collection, like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, but they're there more because I'd be ignoring a large ingredient of rockabilly music, the country side, if they weren't there. I think we go to that country beat because of the upright bass. The way Dylan's drums and Adam's bass lock in on the beat on a song like "The One" just makes it a no-brainer. It sounds great! Of course this song has to move in that direction. And once that beat is there, all the guitar hook ideas just start to come from that family. 

The three of us have some pretty different tastes, but rockabilly is a spot in the middle where we all meet up. And each of us sort of found it in different ways at different points of our young lives. I just love the attitude and look of it, the bare-bones song structure, and that structure really leaves you with lots of room to grow, if you're so inclined. We take rockabilly as a blueprint, something that we can build on top of. Many rockabilly bands around the world take that song structure and they're like, "OK, that's it. We only want to write straight rockabilly music." We're just too big of music geeks to ever go about it that simply. 

GN: How did you take this genre and update it?

KO: Rockabilly is so easy to update, because it's not a current music trend. It hasn't been for 60 years. So the mainstream isn't going to be like, "Oh, you can't write rockabilly music like that, that's not what we're doing right now." You can just do whatever you want with it. For good or for evil. So we just attach things that we like to it, like poppy choruses, harmonies, chord progressions used more in rock 'n' roll and pop, big drums (we're all children of the '80s), but it all still comes out with a rockabilly coating on it, because we can't help it. That beat and that style is just kind of in our DNA. But we don't let it define us or limit us. 

GN: You all toured extensively in Europe and all over the US. What's the rockabilly scene like in these places?

KO: When you start to tour in rockabilly circuits, you learn all of a sudden that rockabilly is actually an umbrella term under which many subcultures reside. There's traditional rockabilly, high rockabilly, neo-rockabilly, car-guy-rockabilly, psychobilly, punkabilly, and different towns and different festivals will have one or more of these subcultures thriving. So we've played rockabilly festivals, psychobilly festivals, car shows, and the three of us go into most of them being like, "Do we really fit this?" because each subculture is sort of singularly devoted to its type of music, and we're not exactly any of them. But we go over well. I think it's because we're honest about who we are and what we sing about. If your music and performance comes from a place of honesty, you'll win over everyone. Europe is super fun to play, they really love live music and festivals, because their holiday system allows for more partying. 

GN: What's it like coming home to Minneapolis when you've been on the road so long?

KO: Usually it's a relief. It's always good to come home, even if you've been having the time of your life out in another city or country. After a few weeks of constantly waking up in new places without your own room or personal space, you start to miss your hometown routine, the domestic things in life. Or at least I do. I'm kind of a boring guy, though. When I think about it, it kind of is a "grass is always greener" situation. When we're traveling, staying still and being at home starts to seem awesome, but playing music and getting to play it for other people is really fun and the thrill is sort of addicting. So after a few weeks of being at home, I start to get an itch to be in front of a crowd, and all the crap that goes on on the road gets a rosy tint and I start to miss it.

GN: How did you meet Brian Setzer, and how did you come to work with him on this project?

KO: Reckless Ones and Mr. Setzer have a common friend, a super-cool dude from Northeast named John. And over the years the band has been together, we've had these brushes with Setzer where it's like, "Wow, it can't get any better than that!" And most of the times, if not all of the times, John has been helping make each interaction happen. Like, we were thrilled the time we got to meet him in the basement of Lee's Liquor Lounge, and he shook our hands and said we sounded good. We thought that was the coolest thing ever, we could all die happy! And Setzer's the nicest guy in the world, so we'd see him at John's parties and he was always friendly, he let us shove our CDs in his hands, he'd remember our names. How could it get any better?! 

Well, John invited me to have a beer with him at a bowling alley about a year ago, and after we'd been sitting at the bar, John says, "Oh, I invited some folks here to join us, hope you don't mind," and in walks Setzer and his wife! We all had dinner, chatted about touring, and Setzer asks me what's next for Reckless Ones. I told him we had been writing new songs and wanted to start recording, and he hands me a CD and he says, "Well, here. I've got a song you guys can use if you want it." Ha! I did my best not to just freak out like someone who's just won the lottery. I was just like, "Are you serious?! We can use this? And we can tell people you gave it to us?" And Setzer says, "Well, I just did!" That's how we came to work with him on this project, we had a beer in a bowling alley and he gave us a song just because he likes us! Having Setzer's sort-of seal of approval gave us the confidence to approach Mark Stockert to record and produce the project, because Mark worked with Setzer on the Brian Setzer Orchestra album "Songs From Lonely Avenue." So we knew that having a song Setzer recorded in Mark's studio would make Mark agree to work with us. So now I really can die happy.

GN: Any favorite tracks off the new album?

KO: This is generic and clichéd to say, but they're all my babies, besides "Mean Pickin' Mama," the one written by Mr. Setzer. With that one our main goal was making our own version and making sure Setzer would hear it and not wind up regret having given us the song. But the other ones ... It's too difficult for me to pick. We were so deep into the project that by the time the songs were done being mixed, they'd ceased sounding like songs to me. You kind of have to step away, and let yourself go back to just listening to the song as a whole. I recommend "Desert Rose," "The One," and "Merry Go-Round" if you're going through a breakup, "Mean Pickin' Mama" and "It's Time" if you want to rock out, and "Come Back" if you want to get all romantic inside. 

GN: What can we expect to see at the CD-release show?

KO: You can expect to see a large group of people who seem more like family than fans. The roots and rockabilly communities in the Twin Cities are a close-knit group. Most of these people have been in bands together at one time or another, have had crazy nights together, they might even have worked together! So each Reckless Ones hometown show feels like a really great reunion party, where everyone is eager to get crazy and whoop it up together again. I expect and hope to see a lot of new faces. I love to have new people at our shows, so that they can find out that you don't need to dress or act in any way to be part of a rockabilly show, it's just good rock 'n' roll music for you to bang your head and dance to. You can expect to see a lot of fun. And two spectacular bands with whom we'll be sharing the stage. Ross Kleiner's hips are deadly, and his band is so good that I always sweat having to go on stage after them, and L'Assassins are so damn cool, so 100 percent on, I walk out of their shows wishing I could be a L'Assassin!

Reckless Ones will release their self-titled album at Lee's Liquor Lounge on Friday, May 10, 2013 with Ross Kleiner & the Thrill and L'assassins. 21+, $8, 9 pm

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