Here’s how far removed Drew Kelly, who had relased an album and toured just a few years prior, was from music: When he was first dating the woman he would marry, she asked him to sing to her. He had to stop by a music shop for a guitar.
“She found out about my album from 2012 and didn’t even think it was me,” says Kelly, of Scranton.
A lot happened between that 2012 release, “Running Time,” and his new record, “From a Deep Abyss,” released today. He and Michele had two sons, Hendrix and Cale. He got sober. He got a job as a mailman, which he recently left. And he rediscovered his joy for songwriting and performing.
Much of the spark came during moments of solitude during the mail delivery job.
“Last year, I guess my ‘going postal’ instead of going violent was writing a crazy amount of songs,” he jokes. “Most of the songs were all written in a matter of months.”
Still, recording was not on Kelly’s mind.
“I still had no ambitions of doing anything serious with music,” he says. “In September 2018 I wrote the title track. Before we were engaged, we lived together part-time. We were on the couch, and I was trying to play ‘Ship of Fools’ by the Grateful Dead. I got sidetracked and wrote it out of thin air. I didn’t even call it that. I gave her the lyrics and said, ‘This is about you.’ She named it.” Michele also designed the artwork for the album.
Inspired by J.J. Cale — a legend in musical circles but more known for Eric Clapton’s hit versions of his songs “After Midnight” and “Coacine” — Kelly was hoping to find someone else to use his new tracks. He called Eric Ritter of Windmill Agency studio in Mt. Cobb and asked him if he wanted to cut them.
“He talked me into singing them,” says Kelly. “He said, ‘If you’re going to record, why don’t you put them out as an album?'”
Besides the last song on the album, “Rainbows in the Dark” — which features Ritter on bass and Bill Lieback on drums — it’s all Kelly. Included on the record is “Poppy’s Song,” a tribute to Kelly’s late grandather, Bill Murray (no, not that Bill Murray).
“He was my best friend and my main man growing up,” Kelly says. “I wrote it four years ago. I had just started with the Postal Service and thought I’m going to be like John Prine, a songwriter and a mailman. That ‘Poppy’ song, it’s one of my favorite songs.”
“M-I-N, double-O, K-A,” Kelly sings on the track, pulling from a folk song his grandfather would sing about his beloved Minooka, a section of Scranton.
“He loved Minooka,” Kelly recalls. “He founded the Minooka Notre Dame Club. He was Mr. Minooka.”
Murray would sing the old song at the Murray family reunion, one of Kelly’s favorite childhood memories.
“He was big and tall and drove a truck. He was never rich, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he was,” Kelly says. “He was very gracious, very generous, just a beautiful man all the way around.”
“Por Favor Señor” is another song on “From a Deep Abyss” with an interesting backstory. A friend from Virginia, Mike Chapin, showed Kelly a chord progression that Kelly turned into a song he was calling “Señor.” He says he sat on the song for years before turning it into “Señor Lee,” about Robert E. Lee.
“Robert E. Lee always fascinated me,” he says. “I’m not a Confederate by any means. I wrote it as a biographical song. My wife said, ‘No, you can’t do that right now, people will take it the wrong way.’ That day I was cutting the grass and I wrote ‘Por Favor Señor.’ I made it more upbeat and wrote new lyrics.”
Kelly will have the opportunity to share his new music in a live setting Saturday, July 17, when he will play an album-release show at Jack’s Draft House (802 Prescott Ave., Scranton). Also on the bill are Charles Havira and the Greg Kondrat Trio. Kelly will play solo as well as with some of the other musicians on the bill backing him.
“I’m fired up about it,” Kelly says. “I had no intention of ever playing again, and here I am booking gigs and being excited about it. I was working over 60 hours a week to make ends meet and didn’t have time to do anything. My wife, she’s my rock for everything. She motivated me and inspired me.”
Back in business after nearly a decade since his last album, Kelly is moving quickly. He’s recording another album that he says should be ready for release in late September or early October, and he has another album in the works after that.
“I’m hungry, man, I’m not going to lie to you,” he shares. “I don’t know why I went the way I went, but I always wanted to be a songwriter.”