Bern Kelly’s new album, Lost Films 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. Growing up in the Pennsylvania’s coal country helped shape the stories Kelly tells in Lost Films, a collection of narratives often centered around work.
After school in Pennsylvania, Kelly moved to New York, then settled 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.
Kelly talked about Lost Films for Elmore: I’ve always been drawn to storytellers—in both songs and books. I wanted to focus on more narrative-based stuff this time. I looked at most of these songs as short stories, and tried to put the listener right there with the characters, giving them roads to follow and places to go. Most of the themes are people just trying to find a meaningful purpose between the sunrise and sunset in the course of a day, or their entire life.
Sonically, I also got into some of Mark Knopfler’s solo work leading up to tracking, so I found some new ways to approach the ’76 Les Paul I was using. That guitar found its way onto almost every track.
“Madeline Street” initially just ended after that last chorus. We had a bunch of shorter tunes, so at the last minute we added the four-minute instrumental tag on the end. I was in the booth with the guitar amp and Patrick was outside turning knobs and pushing buttons on all sorts of pedals and this crazy feedback loop started. It was so loud in there I couldn’t even tell if the song was still playing. After a while he gave me the thumbs up through the glass.