Last week Ruston Kelly kicked off The Weakness Tour, following the April 7th release of his third full-length, The Weakness, on Rounder Records. The LP had No Depression saying, “Ruston Kelly created an album that turns his own experiences and the layers of his own existence into a universal message laced with hope,” while Nashville Scene noted, “expansive and his most intricate, with arrangements veering more closely to indie and arena rock than his earlier Americana-adjacent work.” The album followed the singer/songwriter’s very public divorce and relocation from Nashville to the small, secluded town of Portland, Tennessee, where he remodeled an old Victorian bungalow before composing the album’s 12 tracks. Although the songs (and the process behind them) had Kelly getting exceptionally introspective, the collection also proves to have his biggest sounds to date which, he suggests during a recent interview, will lend themselves exceptionally well to being played live on his current headlining tour, which runs through June 2nd at the 6,800-capacity Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, and includes a stop this Saturday, April 22nd, at our very own Theatre of Living Arts (Additionally, June, August, and September will see him playing dates with Noah Kahan.)
Izzy Cihak: This is a Philadelphia publication, so I have to ask your thoughts on the city. Any favorite memories here? You’ve played TLA, World Café Live, Boot & Saddle, and Camden, which is right across the river.
Ruston Kelly: I really love Philadelphia. I haven’t been able to spend as much time there as I would like but I did find one of my favorite clothing spots called Ethik. Like a skate shop brand sorta. It was right next to TLA. I mean, all of that area I loved and plan on exploring more when we come through.
Izzy: I know you relatively recently relocated to Portland, TN, which I have to admit I had never heard of prior to now. How has the town been treating you? Has it been conducive to making music?
Ruston: It’s a very blue collar/older small town with a lot of super nice and quiet people who work hard and sit on the porch at night. It’s been really conducive to making an album because I don’t have many distractions at all out there, when I’m there I’m there alone 90% of the time.
Izzy: You just released your third LP, The Weakness. How do you feel like the album compares to previous releases? Were you trying anything new on this one, whether sonically or even just related to the recording process?
Ruston: I attempted to create a larger and more lush sonic space for this album. Where other albums were primarily focused on me and a guitar, this one I wanted to have a whole world revolving within it and the production be just as much a focal point as the lyrics and (hopefully) in turn create a very inviting and new sound for myself.
Izzy: You released three singles prior to the album release. Have you had any favorite fan or critical reactions to those songs?
Ruston: Yes! Someone pointed out to me in “The Weakness” that the line, “fuck that guy he’s just a piece of shit,” could be me talking to my former self. That’s the beauty of recorded music. My intention or narrative impetus doesn’t really matter once it’s out in the world. It isn’t mine anymore and everything is completely open to a person’s interpretation and relationship with something that moves them. That line wasn’t meant that way but now that I think about it, it potentially was.
Izzy: You’ve been signed to Rounder for a while now, which is one of my favorite labels. How is it working with them and being a part of that family?
Ruston: It’s been fantastic, we’ve really created a synergy on this project between me, my management, my publishers, my agent, the label, and Nate, my producer. It’s felt very all hands on deck with all of us having the same end goal.
Izzy: I hate to ask you to play favorites in any way, but do you have any labelmates whose music you especially love, or with whom you’ve become especially good friends?
Ruston: I especially like Billy Strings’ music and vibe. We haven’t hung out yet or anything but man that guy can play the absolute shit out of a guitar.
Izzy: You have a ton of upcoming live dates, both headlining shows and dates supporting Noah Kahan. Are there any venues or cities you’re especially excited to revisit, maybe places that have always been especially good to you?
Ruston: TLA, DUH!!! But actually, Philly has always been super fun to play.
Izzy: On a related note, do you have a particular favorite type of setting to play? You seem to mostly play clubs and theaters these days, but you’ve played a ton of listening rooms and barrooms in the past, and I saw you have a show coming up at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, which is pretty enormous.
Ruston: Ascend will be my first headlining show at an amphitheater. I’ve played them before opening for people and I have to say it feels extremely good to be in that type of setting. Outdoors, lots of room on stage to move around. But I also love theaters, those are always fun.
Izzy: What can be expected of the live show when you return to TLA, in terms of the setlist, production, and even just the general feel of the evening?
Ruston: We’re a loud band that feeds off of the energy of the crowd. I move around a lot. My clothes are always soaked with sweat after. We try to make the setlist bangers only. Come ready to sing as loud as you want and move however you want to move.
Izzy: For a number of dates, including your local stop, you’ll be playing with Purr, who I also really like. What are your thoughts on the duo? Is there anything you’d tell your fans to get them to come out to the show a little early?
Ruston: They’re a fantastic duo with such intriguingly catchy songs with depth and style that’s super unique. I think anyone that sees them will become a fan.
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