Kelly Pardekooper‘s 3 SONG SLICES comes some 25 years after his first release, providing a document of the present while signaling to the journey that has delivered the Iowa City native to this moment in time. The trio of songs were recorded with Bo Ramsey sitting in on electric and slide guitar, and long-time touring partner Teddy Morgan adding session work, on top of production and mixing duties. The EP was created in Nashville, which is fitting as the city was Kelly’s first step out of Iowa on a creative adventure that has ultimately taken his music around the world. The nature of the EP brings his lyrics and the tone back from the global to the local, however, with the track “Doing Fine” revealing a yearning for a sense of home, and a desire for a return to the familiarity of his roots. In this Q&A, Kelly discusses what was driving that feeling, how his relationship with collaboration has changed with time, and the meaning behind the release’s dedication.
villin: Due to my own experience, I can’t help being focused on the Nashville angle to your new release. I believe when you first left Iowa you moved from Iowa City down there, and last year I moved from Nashville up to Cedar Rapids. What sort of feelings came up for you when returning to town to cut those tracks and why did you decide to work with the team you did when creating the EP?
Kelly Pardekooper: Yes, I left Iowa City initially for Nashville almost 20 years ago now. My good friend and former touring mate Teddy Morgan lived down there in East Nashville and invited me down, thinking it might be a good place for me. As it turned out, I met my wife about a year into living in Nashville and have been following her medical career all around the country ever since. Teddy Morgan still lives in Nashville as a producer/guitar player and we’ve reconnected to record my last two releases. We’ve toured all over America and Europe together and have always worked well together. The trust level is strong and pretty unconditional at this point. On this new project, it was basically Teddy and I recording… and then Bo Ramsey came down from Iowa City to add his guitar work.
villin: A few years back in an interview with Joyce Kettering you talked about the co-writing process, which is wound so tightly into the fabric of the industry down there. As more distance continues to grow between that period and the present, I’m wondering if your experience of collaborating with others has changed at all along the way?
Kelly Pardekooper: I tried co-writing a bit when I lived in Nashville, but really don’t think I lived there long enough to get a sense of whether I could ever do it well. As I’ve gotten older, and after working many years now with my Los Angeles music publisher, my sense is that I write better alone. I love collaborating on the recording process with talented friends, but I think the initial spark and melody and heart of the song needs to be written alone. That’s just me, I know some people can write to spec and write to TV/film scripts, but I’ve found better success just writing what moves me and then letting my publisher try and place them in film/television.
villin: A few days ago you commented on Facebook that Bo Ramsey’s solo on “Doing Fine” “might make you cry.” The song’s lyrics feel deeply personal, speaking to feeling somewhat torn, longing for a sense of home while also having an urge to roam. Did Bo’s feature on the track represent having one foot back in Iowa, in a way, and how hard has it been to reconcile those two sides?
Kelly Pardekooper: Yes, both Teddy Morgan and I knew Bo Ramsey would be perfect for that track. I really wanted the Iowa love on that song in particular and Bo ended up playing on all three songs. In my opinion, no one sounds quite like Bo Ramsey and that’s no small feat for a guitar player. I think his solo sounds perfect for the lyrics and song vibe. Both Teddy and I have a long recording history with Bo Ramsey, so I was thrilled he was able to contribute. I think I’ve known/recorded with Bo Ramsey off and on since 2009. And on the music dedication, I lost my mother this year after a cancer battle and definitley wanted to get these songs released this year. A document of sorts. I think you can probably hear that longing to be in Iowa in “Doing Fine.”
villin: My favorite from the new release is “Mr. Middle.” I’m wondering what the song’s lyrics might mean to you and if they align with the AI-produced visuals used in the video you released for the track?
Kelly Pardekooper: Ha, I wish I could say the new AI music video aligned well with the lyrical theme of the song, but as I’m really new to making those AI videos, there’s a bit of randomness to some of the images. I do love the way that video turned out, especially the feeling of being a bit lost, which seems to come through well. And yes, “Mr Middle” has been a favorite of many people; probably the “single” of the group of songs. It has a really lush two part vocal that is the best example I can give of why my songs end up in TV/film. I’ve been really grateful that so many film/TV music supervisors like my voice and music. Liking someone’s voice is a really personal and, I think, almost instant instinctual thing that happens when you hear music. I probably started writing “Mr. Middle” over 20 years ago. It took a long time to finish. I love the melody and really long breaths when singing those long notes. I’m guessing my mother’s illness pushed me to finally finish the song, though I couldn’t say there was a lyrically direct correlation… just some of the overall feelings in lines like “she don’t wanna die.” Pretty sounding lush songs that have a bit of melancholy are probably my favorite types of songs. “Mr. Middle” sounds the way I heard it in my head when I finished writing it… and that’s always what I’m chasing when recording new songs.