Kellen of Troy is the musical moniker of Kellen Wenrich, who has played fiddle and performed live with Jenny Lewis, Mumford and Sons, The Wild Feathers, G. Love, The Devil Makes Three, JP Harris, Nikki Bluhm, and others. He released a solo album last month and, if you missed it, you really need to take notice. The album is called Vanity Project, and while we’re sure to some extent it was indeed a vanity project, the album is a wonderful collection of songs filled with wit and personal insights as well as fantastic vocals and instrumentation. Kellen of Troy as an artist piqued our interest so DittyTV Senior Editor Tim W. Jackson touched base with Wenrich for this segment.
1) Let’s start by going back: You started playing violin at a young age and pursued music in college at Belmont University. So what can you tell us about some early musical memories and influences and when you decided you wanted to pursue music professionally?
I never really decided to pursue music as a pro. I just slowly figured out that there was nothing else I could stand doing. Just about every day I wish I had found that other thing, because despite all the glitz and glamour you see on Instagram, it’s not an easy way to get by. I’ve had a few friends recently quit their grind and get stable, corporate, business 9 to 5 jobs, and I’m often jealous of their furlough.
Early musical memories include to trying figure out the differences between a Cape Breton and Irish fiddle cut (never did), continuously getting freaked out by the B string on a guitar, and listening to The Beatles 1 for an entire drive from Pennsylvania to Boston.
2) After Belmont, you started out recording and touring with a lot of established acts. What were you learning about the music industry in all those early collaborations?
That Ray Price and Jimmie Haskel were proof that not all the good die young, nobody fails they just quit, and that no one sums up the music biz better than Hunter S Thompson.
3) Your new album, Vanity Project, released in March. It was recorded in Nashville at The Nest, The Bomb Shelter, and Wavy Cat Studios, and was produced by yourself, Ryan McFadden, and Adam Taylor. So what can you tell us about working with Ryan and Adam and the way the record came together in all those studios?
VP came together the way it did out of necessity. We quilted it together based on what I could afford and what was available. Adam, who I’ve made all the Kellen of Troy stuff with, started making it with me until he graciously bowed out after getting a big-time gig. I was beyond stoked that Ryan was able to step in to take over engineering/share producing duties, and he ended up mixing it as well.
The majority of the record was recorded at Wavy Cat and The Nest, respectively both of those dudes’ home studios. We tracked rhythm sections for “Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead,” “Groundhog’s Day Again,” and “The Earth Isn’t Flat and Other Fake News,” as well as all of the strings and Casey Driscoll’s theremin debut, at The Bomb Shelter. We wanted a better sounding room than Ryan’s place afforded us. Big shout out to Andrija Tokic for having us. It’s a great space.
4) Trust me, I don’t always say this, but I love this album. I was really into it the first time I listened and then the love went up several notches with “Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead” and then jumped up again with “The Earth Isn’t Flat and Other Fake News.” Those songs are two examples of some interesting perspectives and social/political commentary, but such commentary runs throughout the album. What can you tell us about where your headspace was when writing this album and what messages you hoped to convey?
Aw shucks, thanks Tim.
I didn’t want to write about relationships at all on this record. My last record, Posthumous Release, was exclusively about relationships, ranging from exes to Jesus, and I just didn’t want to write another song about how much I love you, or how much you don’t love me, or how much I love you but you don’t love me, so on and so forth. So I just started writing about our vain, narcissistic, self-righteous, conceited, egotistical culture (at an all-time high thanks to the internet and social media) from the perspective of someone with a front-row seat to the worst of it—a fledgling musician. Particularly a singer/songwriter.
I wanted to discuss the homogenization of music and art as a result of its commoditization. I wanted to discuss how little it takes to inflate one’s ego and the arrested development that’s commonplace amongst songwriters. I wanted to discuss gentrification, the modern digital gilded age, superhero movies and their side effects, capitalism, an entry-level comprehension of philosophy, posthumous legacies, and flat Earthers and the society that breeds them.
Side note on that last one, I didn’t think I’d ever heard someone say their love of the record jumped up again with “The Earth Isn’t Flat and Other Fake News.” That’s great! That’s the most self-centered song I could put on a record, at least as of now (hold my beer and gimme a few years). There are few things that are more vain than a white guy from a middle-class upbringing venting political for 7 minutes without giving the listener so much as a chorus. But seemed like a topical way to end the record.
5) As a white guy from a middle-class upbringing, I loved your 7 minutes of venting. But anyway, we started by looking back, so let’s end by looking forward: What’s next for you? More recording and touring with others? More solo albums? Something completely unexpected?
I’m too young to quit and too old to give up. So yes. Catch me on tour this summer or whenever touring begins again …
Listen to “The Earth Isn’t Flat and Other Fake News” by Kellen of Troy here: