Bern Kelly

Photography by Michael Butcher / Butcher Photography

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Bern Kelly – Lost Films (out June 23)

If there’s one constant rule in Nashville, where musical trends come and go each year, it’s that there’s nothing more important than the song. That’s the guiding principle of Bern Kelly’s new album, Lost Films, a record that deploys a sweeping array of styles, from power-pop to plaintive folk & reverb-washed Americana, all in service of that eternal truism: The song comes first.

Recorded with an array of the town’s brightest studio pros, including producer Patrick Damphier (The Arcs, Tim Easton, The Mynabirds), steel guitar legend Russ Pahl (Dan Auerbach, Patty Griffin, Miranda Lambert), drummer Jon Radford (Steelism, Lily Hiatt, Leigh Nash) and bassist Travis Vance, Kelly’s latest record is a community-minded effort, the result of his decade-long tenure as a singer/songwriter in Nashville.

Kelly’s influences come through loud and clear on Lost Films’ ten songs, from the gruff Josh Ritter & Bruce Springsteen-channeling album opener “Unsold” to his gorgeous country-folk duet with Thirty Tigers artist Elise Davis on “Garage Sale,” a tune that recalls Ryan Adams’ Whiskeytown-era duets with Caitlin Cary. It’s an eclectic album, shifting from swooping Marshall Crenshaw guitar hooks to Mark Kozelek-inspired gothic-noir sketches. Elsewhere, Kelly draws from Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith—in particular, the dreamy, introspective ballad “Forever Alone”—and he stretches out on the exploratory “Madeline Street,” a meandering, seven-minute epic that Kelly considers one of the proudest moments of his recording career.

“That was really a songwriting exercise for myself,” he says. “The original verses were five times longer. I’d done some co-writing in the past, but on this record, I handled everything myself. I wanted to have complete freedom to take the narrative wherever I wanted it to go.”

Lost Films (out June 23), was written over the course of three long years during which Kelly mined his own life experiences and honed in on a distinct, dense narrative style. This refined sense of craftsmanship can be heard plainly, whether in the huge pop hooks of upbeat rockers like “Win Your Heart,” “Cash in the Basement” and “Julie” or in the devastating lyrical detail of ballads “Last Day of Spring” and “She Keeps Her Light on.”

Kelly found himself with a treasure trove of material to choose from on his new full-length. “After years of writing, I had all these songs from different periods in my life,” he says. “I went through them all and picked out the ones with themes that best represent where i’m coming from as an artist and a writer.”

Bern Kelly grew up in the coal country of Northeastern Pennsylvania, an upbringing that helped shape the stories he tells in Lost Films, a collection with narratives often centered around the simple, daily routine of coming to and from work. “I didn’t have to do any research to come up with that kind of imagery,” Kelly says. “Some of the songs deal directly with the real-life struggles of working people, and to a degree that work can define a person, but it’s about more than that—it’s about trying to find something meaningful for yourself outside of whatever you do to pay the bills.” 

After going to school in Pennsylvania, Kelly moved to New York in 2006 before settling in Nashville in 2008, drawn to the city’s supportive community of like-minded songwriters. “In New York, when you’re in a band, there’s a competitive vibe of trying to outdo everybody,” Kelly says. “Coming down to Nashville, I learned real fast that everybody here just helps each other out. We play on each other’s records, lend each other guitars, tour in our different bands, and no one thinks twice about it.”

That easy sense of communal companionship is palpable on Lost Films, which features a close-knit group of colleagues, friends and neighbors, and was fittingly helmed by Kelly’s old buddy Patrick Damphier. “He’s a great communicator and knows how to push you outside your comfort zone,” Kelly says, praising his collaborator. “Patrick really creates a sonic landscape with his production. He always knows how to elevate the track to a place where the scenery and the characters really come to life.”

Kelly has been self-releasing records for years on his own label, but this new album is the most concise summation of his life’s work as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter to date. From one track to the next, he draws on his own life for the cinematic mini-narratives that fuel these new tracks. With Kelly quietly polishing his craft for more than a decade now, Lost Films is the sound of a songwriter coming into his own as an expert storyteller.

To set up an interview with Acid Tongue, or get your hands on press passes, advance music, hi-res photos, album art or videos, contact Baby Robot publicist Steve Labate.