Surprise, surprise! Alternative country rockers Reckless Kelly didn’t have much of a following when they first formed in Bend, Ore., just hours outside of crushingly hip Portland. It’s not that the guys didn’t have the talent; the grunge-happy Pacific Northwest just didn’t have enough avenues to showcase them.
“We didn’t have a lot of gigs,” said lead singer and songwriter Willy Braun. “Not too many country music fans up there at the time.”
He and the other members sought safe haven in the still weird, but more twang-friendly oasis of Austin, Texas. It didn’t take Reckless Kelly long at all to confirm it could be successful, if only for the right audience.
“My brother (bandmate Cody) and I grew up in Idaho listening to our dad’s country records, and we always knew about country music down in Texas and Austin. That’s kind of what led us there,” he said. “Eventually, we could play every night if we wanted to — a lot more opportunities down here as a country rock band.”
Reckless Kelly soon found itself playing its rootsy, rock-influenced country tunes in landmark venues like Stubb’s BBQ and Antone’s. The guys have found that repping their adoptive hometown — and the label of being an “Austin band” — commands all sorts of other opportunities and a more receptive, unfamiliar crowds outside of Austin city limits.
“It’s almost automatic respect, for a lack of a better word,” Braun said. “People assume you are going to be at least a certain caliber. They are a lot more ready to give you a shot.”
That’s helped fuel a long and fruitful career. In nearly 15 years together, Reckless Kelly has released six studio albums, all markedly similar.
“We’ve always tried to keep things relatively the same,” Braun said. “I think the fans appreciate that we don’t stray too far from what we’ve always done … as long as they don’t get bored with it.”
Reckless Kelly did switch things up with its latest disc, “Somewhere in Time,” a tribute to country legend Pinto Bennett, long a major inspiration for Braun.
“We didn’t want to let anyone down, and we didn’t want to half-ass it,” Braun said. “Fortunately, his songs are so good, it’s really hard to mess them up unless you are trying to.”
The band expects to head into the studio soon to record a new album for a possible fall release. First, however, comes Saturday’s gig at Wormy Dog, and a May 1 date at the group’s third annual celebrity softball game and concert in Austin. The event raises money for local Little League teams, and provides an opportunity to see some of the best country rockers around make fools of themselves stepping off the stage and onto the diamond.
“Cody Canada isn’t much of a baseball player,” Braun said, laughing. “Actually, not many of us are any good. It’s kind of a spectacle.”