For Kellen of Troy, the concept of pop honors the way the world works in real-time. As this multi-talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist knows, creating finely crafted songs that are personal and political keeps alive a tradition that stretches from The Beatles, Randy Newman, and Paul Simon to Kurt Cobain to Father John Misty.
Kellen of Troy is the moniker of Kellen Wenrich, whose foray into the world of high-grade pop for modern sophisticates is Vanity Project – a title that captures the Nashville artist’s ability to be simultaneously profound and self-deprecating. Despite the title, it’s no vanity record; Kellen gets into the real stuff that the topsy-turvy, post-Trump era dishes up on a regular basis.
Vanity Project is, quite simply, great pop, with reference points that range from Jeff Lynne to Miles Davis to Randy Newman’s still-relevant 1972 album Sail Away. It’s political alright, and you’ll learn new things about our dauntingly complex world, but Kellen’s latest music has its own style, brio, and humor. In his universe, fun and meaningfulness are not mutually exclusive.
Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?
I grew up around Reading and Lancaster Pennsylvania, about halfway between Harrisburgh and Philadelphia. Reading was made famous by the Reading Railroad found on Monopoly, and Harrison Ford came to Lancaster to film a movie called Witness. When my town finally got a Target in 2007 or so, they built the parking lot with designated horse and buggy parking spots (covered no less!). Just to paint a picture of what it’s like up there.
I started playing music when I was five, starting out on fiddle and competing in bluegrass contests. I dabbled in songwriting as a teenager, as most teenagers with a guitar do, and kept faking it on different instruments, really whatever was my interest of the week. It wasn’t until I started writing the Kellen of Troy stuff that I found a tone I resonated with.
Formative moments would have to be stepping onto the stage at Red Rocks alone to start the encore, the first time I played for my ornery grandfather, and debuting Kellen of Troy songs in Dublin with an impromptu band when some band members I was on the road with didn’t show up to the gig.
As an artist, how do you define success?
Whether writing a song or tracking a record or taking a solo, success is achieved when you get at the pure, unadulterated essence of what you’re trying to say. It’s when you’re able to distill the thing down to the thesis as concisely and eloquently as possible. Not until all the marble that doesn’t look like David is chipped away do you succeed.
What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?
Caring about it. I get consumed by writing, recording, arranging, producing, and performing music. I have a hard time concerning my self with Instagramming, rubbing shoulders with scenesters, taking lunch meetings, and seeing and being seen.
What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist? What do you hope to achieve?
Realistically all I can hope to achieve is to perpetually improve, never repeat myself, and always have observations, stories, or emotions deserving of metered rhymes set to melodies atop harmony and groove.
Unrealistically, I’d like to make something that moves me as much as “Good Intentions Paving Company”, “Clair de Lune”, “Boplicity”, the “Ciaccone” from the Partita for Violin No. 2, “Her Majesty”, “Ahead of the Curve”, “If I Needed You”, “I’ll Believe in Anything”, “Biloxi”, “I Get Along Without You Very Well”, “Pretty Good”, “Spirit in the Sky”, “Helplessly Hoping”, etc etc.
Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?
I do a lot of carpentry when I’m at home. I don’t know that it contributes to creativity as much as it flexes another part of my brain. It can be refreshing to do something more binary – something that’s either right or wrong, complete or incomplete – as a juxtaposition to living in constant subjectivity and opinion. Also running.
Vanity Project is due for release on March 13th.
Words by: Jonathan Frahm