By Eric Schlittler

As we continue to pick up speed towards Arts on the Square, our Interview Swap series picks back up again on the Highway 81 Revisited stage.  This week the subject of our interview is Katie Kelly, who along with her group The Charming Beards are making waves locally with their very original brand of electric folk rock.  Katie Kelly and The Charming Beards will grace the Highway 81 stage at Arts on the Square on July 26.

H81R:  Can you tell me a little about how the band got started?

KK:  I had been performing my original songs for a few years while working at JL Studios on a full-length album “Three Dark Days.”  While in the studio, I was able to arrange the songs without the constraints of being a solo project.  I really didn’t want the album to lack dimension, so I invited some of my favorite musicians to come into the studio and add their own parts to the tracks.  There was nothing set in stone when they came in; their creativity and musicianship affirmed my belief that they’d interpret the tracks and have their own unique input.  People like Justin Mazer, Joe Loftus, Matthew Gabriel, Ray Novitski, Betty Harlot, Montana Delrango and Terry Childers came in with great ideas and gave me a taste of what it would be like to perform with a band rather than solo.

Since the album was lush with instrumentation, I wanted to put on a show with a full band for the release party.  Ray Novitski joined me that evening at The Rattler almost two years ago and has continued to be a part of the project.  He’s one of the most innovative guitarists I’ve ever played with; his passion for making music is vast.  He also plays with Terry Childers in an up-and-coming psychedelic band called OVA.

Playing the album-release party with a full band inspired me to form The Charming Beards.  By chance, an old friend, Theresa Lazarri, came into Guitar Center to buy some guitar strings.  I knew she was a great drummer, worked up the nerve to ask her to play with us, and she accepted.

I love Theresa and Ray and consider it a great honor to play with them.

H81R:  What are some of your biggest influences?  What are some favorite albums that the band has in common?

KK:  The number of bands that have influenced me has grown steadily as the band continues to develop our sound.  I will always have a soft spot for folk and the newer indie folk.  I was obsessed with listening to Peter Paul and Mary on the record player as a child and they still give me the goosebumps.  Folk music definitely has a huge impact on my songwriting, but I’ve been exposed to a much broader range of music that The Charming Beards have come to incorporate when fleshing out new material.

We all enjoy PJ Harvey, Ween, The Beach Boys, Explosions in the Sky and much more… especially oldies. We recently decided to play all electric, so now we’re exploring the sonic possibilities of effects pedals and such.

Playing in this area, we’ve had the opportunity to do shows with other bands from this area.  We all love Hank and Cupcakes, Kaleigh Baker, Harlot, We Were Templars, Mock Sun, 3 to Breathe, A Social State, Keep Coming Back and many more.

H81R:  What are your thoughts about being part of the local music scene?  What are some of your favorite or least favorite parts about the NEPA music scene?

KK:  I think I can speak for the three of us when saying that we’re really proud to be a part of such a diverse, vibrant and friendly music scene.  There is a lot of great original music in our area.  We’re very fortunate to have venues and venue owners that support us.  Places like The Vintage Theater, The Factory: Underground, The Keys and The Other Side (just to name a few) give us the opportunity to play the music that we create.

I love going to a local show and seeing other local musicians in the audience cheering on the band that’s on the bill that night.

I really can’t complain about our local music scene to be honest.  I know that there will be multiple great acts playing almost every night.

H81R:  Do you feel this area has an influence on your music either directly or indirectly?

KK:  I believe this area definitely has had an influence on my music. The music scene and the musicians within always inspire me. I learn a lot from them.

As far as songwriting goes, I’ve definitely been influenced by a lot of things going on in this area.  I fictionalize it a bit, but some are point blank – a true story.

I’ve written songs about known sex offenders working in our high schools, preying on young students without consequence.  An older song “Wilkes-Barre” describes the tension about wanting to leave an economically depressed area, yet staying because your large Irish family lives here and mean more to you than anything else.

H81R:  Can you tell me a little about your involvement in Arts on the Square?

KK:  Katie Kelly and the Charming Beards were invited to play this event. It’s definitely a great honor to be a part of it.  When Mike Lello of Highway 81 Revisited invited us, we jumped on it. We’re very excited for it.

H81R:  How do you think events like this benefit the local community?

KK:  Events like this show that there’s life in this area beyond the terrible news stories we are inundated with.  The arts are vital to every community.  I remember a quote from school that stated, “Public art humanizes the built environment and invigorates public spaces.”

H81R:  What does the future hold for Katie Kelly and the Charming Beards?  Any plans for recording or touring?

KK:  We have been writing non-stop and are taking on a large task of releasing an EP and then a full-length album.  Since “Three Dark Days” came out, the sound has definitely evolved and we’ve written a lot of new material.

We’re going to make a very raw EP with engineer Mark Wohl.  Our practice room is going to serve as the recording space.  We want to capture our live sound.

In the next few months, we hope to return to work with Joe Loftus on a full-length album.  I’ve been recording at his studio for about five years, and it’s always a pleasure.

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