Shaking the Family Tree

Father & son team up to rock down.

Father & son team up to rock down.

“We laugh, because no matter what happens, we can’t lose each other,” says guitar slinger Rory Kelly, describing what it’s like to be in a band with his father, drummer Mike Kelly. “Every time he does a drum fill or I do a lead part, we automatically know where it’s going. He’ll do something intentionally to keep me on my toes, and I’ll say, ‘I knew where you were going, man, you ain’t going to lose me.'”

Rory Kelly has absorbed the best of classic rock’n’roll, alternative rock and heavy metal. It’s all in evidence on his trio’s debut, Family Tree, from the title track’s two-beat barrage to the deep groove of “Better Than The Blues,” from the pop crunch of “Precious Time” to the smoking lead guitar on “The Waiting Game.”

“I always tell people that in a lot of ways music chose me. When I was 8 years old my friends were out swimming in the summer, and I sat in a room with Nirvana’s Nevermind record until I learned the whole thing,” Kelly recalls. “My dad taught me basic chords and some lead stuff, and I just wanted nothing other than to play music. I formed my first band in the 7th grade, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Kelly attended McDowell High School in Marion, while feeding his interest in guitar-oriented heavy metal stuff like Pantera, Megadeth, and Metallica. He went to Western Carolina University for two years, and after receiving an offer from a touring band he “resigned” from college at 19 to play music full time. “Ever since the day that I decided to go on the road it’s been absolutely non-stop,” says Kelly, now 30. “It engulfed me and I decided to make it a career choice instead of just a pipe dream. I found a way to make a living at it, to incorporate music in my everyday life.” Kelly runs a recording studio and teaches guitar, as well as holding down a steady solo acoustic gig in Marion.

As a lengthy tenure with the touring band Crank County Daredevils came to an end in 2009, he got busy conceiving Rory Kelly’s Triple Threat. “I had a lot of other ideas that just didn’t fit that band,” Kelly says. “I started laying down demo guitar work, doing programmed drums on Pro Tools. Finally I asked my dad, ‘Hey Pops, why don’t you come and lay these demo tracks down with me.’ He was playing in a cover band at the time, and he was more than happy to do it, and it just clicked.”

Mike Kelly, a left-handed drummer with a powerful, driving beat, has a history in thrash metal dating back to New Jersey’s Old Bridge Militia. “When I was 22, we were sitting in my dad’s truck and he said, ‘Just give me five minutes of your time and listen to this guy.’ It was Johnny Winter,” Kelly recalls. “That changed my life, and my outlook on guitar ’till today. He’s a live wire. He doesn’t have crazy effects pedals or anything — he just plugs in, cranks it on ten and goes for it. Every time he plays a song it’s different, and we try to do the same thing. We try not to rehearse things to death. I learned that from Johnny Winter. We all know the key, G or A or whatever we’re playing in, now let’s play our instrument like we like it, like we want to play it, not just, ‘Hey okay, every time we do this song it’s going to be exactly the same.’

“We hash out the songs, but when we get to a part that might be a little bit more jam-oriented, I tell Billy and Pops, ‘Listen, just do whatever you want to do there. When we get to a point where we feel right, we’ll come back into the riff.’ And it allows the music to be organic.

“I’ll come in with gibberish lyrics, just syllables with a guitar riff, lay it down on tape, and give the tracks to the band. Let them soak in whatever riff I’m doing, and then we get together and each person will put their own flavor to it. Each one of us has something different to put towards that particular song, and it comes out with a pretty unique sound.

“We definitely set out to bring it back to the old school roots of the rock and roll that I grew up on. When we started this project we didn’t say no to any ideas, and just started forming our own sound. We can’t deny the fact that we live down here in the south, so we’re going to have that southern influence. I also grew up in alternative rock and heavy metal, so there was a pretty cool hybrid with our stuff.”

Bassist Billy Miller, another McDowell County native, joined the band after an eight-year stint with the industrial goth-rock band VooDou, getting signed to Invisible Records and touring with Nine Inch Nails. Kelly recalls their first conversation. “Billy said, ‘Man, I’ve been waiting for you to call me. When are we rehearsing?’ I said, ‘Well, we’ll rehearse next week, but we’ve got a gig tomorrow.'”

In less than two years, Kelly’s Triple Threat has played festivals, signed a record deal with Rusty Knuckles, made an album and toured. Europe. “We never sat down and said, ‘This is going to be a band, this is how it’s going to run,” Kelly explains. “We didn’t put any stipulations on it, and by not forcing the issue, good things happened.”

The band keeps it loose on stage too — no set lists in sight. “I usually just kick off a song,” Kelly says. “I’ll just get on the mic and say, ‘This one’s the title track of our newest record, this one’s called ‘Family Tree.’ That’s exactly when Billy and Pops find out we’re getting ready to play that song. It makes it feel organic, keeps it interesting each night.”

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