This year, The Cairo Gang released Untouchable, the latest album in an extensive catalog of moving, mysterious, and truly unique musical work. Emmett Kelly is the man behind the Cairo Gang moniker, beginning his musical endeavors when he was still in high school. In 2006, Kelly released the first of his Cairo Gang releases, and since then he’s continued to tirelessly create, working alone and collaborating with others, including Ty Segall, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Angel Olsen.
As he looks back on the album, Kelly shares with us more about his desire to create an album that “was about sharing something,” the importance of living in mystery and what he’s already begun to brainstorm of next. As you’ll discover from our questions exchanged via e-mail, The Cario Gang is “an ever changing organism” and that capability to constantly evolve and change is what makes the band, and the man behind it so special.
You’ve been working as The Cairo Gang since high school. When you first started what did you envision for it and how has that changed since you were younger? What have you learned along the way about yourself and what you see this project becoming?
I’m not sure what I envisioned for it when I was 16. It always had a sort of dark quality to it. When I was 16, my favorite album was Souvlaki by Slowdive. I guess I thought of the band feeling like the cover of that record. Not like the cover of that record is special by any means. Just black. Since I was 16, I have lived a handful of lives that have led me to this point, and I could go into it, but I’ll spare you the volumes of bs.
Is it harder to be in music nowadays with the advent of social media where you’re supposed to be connected all the time?
I would say that being “in music” is easier now than its ever been. Modern technology definitely seems to be an enabler of a certain type of self invention. This of course is dubious because it occurs through a new brand of narcissism thats been spawned out of things like social media. Which, whatever, is fine. It just makes one feel like they are in a serious clusterfuck of “popular” people. Who knows where the collective consciousness goes. Or where it is. For me personally, I just am terrible at doing social media things, and I don’t feel like it should be an obligation to be good at it or interested in it. It has nothing to do with music. So yeah, that stuff is annoying, but my involvement with it is minimal at best, so it’s not so much of a problem.
How does it feel to have your album finally out in the world? And when did you first begin writing and recording it? How long was the entire process and did you experience any bumps along the way?
It feels good to have this new record out. I guess I began writing it sometime last year.
I demoed everything out, and went in and recorded it with Ty in fits and starts, just working around being on the road. In total I think it took two weeks to make. Everything went great and it actually turned out exactly how I’d hoped.
You mentioned in a previous interview that the main difference with Untouchable is that it was recorded as a group at first? What made you decide to make this change and is it something you envision for the band going forward?
I just wanted to make an album that was about sharing something. Ty and I had been working on music pretty heavily for a little while and I wanted to share the experience of making a record of mine with him, and expand our musical relationship. I definitely think that everything is a new bit of track to ride on, but who knows in what capacity. I only want to make music with my friends and grow and connect further.
You also mentioned how the record is a hybrid of approaches. With so many collaborations and other musical endeavors, what approaches did you pull from for this record? Has there been something you discovered or tried along the way that didn’t turn out like you had hoped and you wouldn’t ever take inspiration from again?
Nothing was consciously taken from other working experiences. It definitely is a snap shot of my headspace at the time in lieu of all of the things that have led me to there. I think this record was a success, and didn’t really have any hiccups with it. Of course, the record I’m working on now is completely different, but thats The Cairo Gang. We are an ever changing organism.
You shared some of the tracks that inspired the record with The Talkhouse, but what other elements or moments in life did you take inspiration from for this record?
Oh life, you know? The first song on this record is about how jacked it is to commodify your life and sell it to the world for the sake of.. well I don’t know what that would be for. My stomach turns when I read about peoples’ lives in relation to their albums. This and that happened to me and so this song is about this and that. I personally like to live in a world of mystery. And my life is private, so I don’t go telling people about my private life, especially assorted strangers at the buffet table of the indie-pop zeitgeist. This record is what it is on account of many factors and situations. You can use it as a mirror, and mirrors have many different uses.
You frequently collaborate with others. How does working with other people differ from when you’re totally with your own headspace? Is there an artist you have yet to work with that you’d like to?
Of course working with others is different than working alone. Everybody is different, so every project is different and is approached differently. Right now, I am really psyched on playing music for a good time. This sounds like an obvious motivation, but I don’t think lots of people “in music” really enjoy playing it or traveling or dealing with people or any of it. I personally want to have a good time. That’s all.
There are loads of people I’d like to play with. A lot of them I do play with! But I would like to play with Matt Lux more. My buddy Jesse Gallegher, James Gallegher and The Double. I’d love to play with Neil Hagerty.
Now that the album is out and you’re on tour, what other plans do you have for the future with The Cairo Gang or working with others? Is it hard to create and find time to think on music when you’re frequently on the road?
There are two new records in the works for The Cairo Gang. One is nearly finished and one is in the beginning stages. They are different trips, and we will ride them wherever they will go. There is new music in the works with Rob Mazurek, The Double and Ty Segall. I worked on a beautiful record for Shannon Lay that will blow everyone away the instant it drops. Got a new sketchy band in the works as well which I’ll keep a secret for the moment. Music! It’s awesome. As far as being on the road, I love it. It makes a lot of sense to me. It streamlines my life and envelops it by a project. And all the while I am always collecting information and storing it away.
CONNECT WITH THE CAIRO GANG:
The Tote, Collingwood, VIC, Australia
The Corner, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
The Chapel, San Francisco, CA, US
Zebulon, Los Angeles, CA, US