Up Close: Drew Kelly

He has something to say …
Drew Kelly has learned to embrace the comparisons to Bob Dylan’s sound that comes his way. The 22-year-old Scranton native has been performing his original folk songs throughout the region for the past three years and will release his second album, “Running Time” later this month. You’ve most likely seen Kelly playing in local live music venues as of late, but you may remember him as a musician on the streets of Scranton belting out songs to the downtown dwellers and playing for his keep. Now he travels near and far (New York, Massachusetts,Virginia) to play music for people who want to hear it and interact with strangers, forever looking for more influences and inspiration. Meet Drew Kelly…

When did you first pick up the guitar and write a song?
Three years ago. I got a guitar in November ’09 and I started playing it. I started going to Sarah Street Grill in Stroudsburg every Wednesday for their open-mic night. I knew a few Woody Guthrie tunes and a few earlier folk songs. I would make it a goal to write a new song every week when I would go back to the open-mic, and that added up. Everybody I met there was very nice. The thing I really liked about it the most is that you would go there on a Wednesday and see everything and anything in regards to acts. Everybody would sit and listen to each other.

Tell me about your busking days
I started right in front of The Scranton Times-Tribune building. I wasn’t in Scranton much between ’08 and ’10 and when I came back, I was playing guitar and singing songs. I went to the Vintage Theater to try to get a gig and they were closed. I figured I came all the way downtown with my guitar so I just started playing some songs. I played under a fake name (Tom Riley). Nobody knew who I was. Some days I wonder why I still don’t do it. There were some days I would make some pretty good money.

Where are some of your favorite rooms to perform in?
I love Arlo’s Tavern in Ararat, Pa. I love playing at the Dancing Cat Saloon in Bethel, N.Y. The booking agents will book music that they know the crowd will enjoy. I like that because there’s no pressure. There’s no “I didn’t bring 25 people and I’m not getting a lot of money.” You go to these places and don’t think about pay; you just go out and play.

Talk about the local music scene.
Scranton has a great music scene. There is a lot of talent around here, even better than in some of the big markets. I love the music scene around here.

The Bob Dylan influence in your music is very apparent.
Yeah. A lot of it sticks to the Dylan influence, but in some of these newer songs that I’ve written, my voice is really starting to come out and I am really excited about that. There is nothing that hasn’t already been done. To me, I think you see all these bands and they sound great, but they really don’t have anything to say. I just have something to say and I’m going to say it. If people listen to it, that’s awesome. I saw Bob Dylan perform when I was 19 and the next day, I got a guitar. Dylan has influenced thousands, millions, but no one has ever really gotten him. I don’t think so. I’m not saying I do. I had a man from the Princeton Folk Community who heard my music and he said I do Dylan out of respect. I’m not trying to be Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan and Drew Kelly is Drew Kelly.

This is your second album. How did this come about?
I was going to move to New York City. I was staying in Brooklyn for a week or two. I saw this jazz band and got into this mindset where I thought “I should do an album.” Originally the album was going to be completely different. I started recording in October and 10 of those songs were done in one night. It was a good learning experience. It’s definitely a big shift in the dynamic from the first one. I can’t wait to record again.

Why call it Running Time?
I wrote a lot of these songs in (creative producer) Dave Herbert’s kitchen. We were sitting around one night and trying to think of a name and I said something with running. He said “running time.” It worked, and it’s appropriate. You listen to the record and go down all these avenues with all of these people.

What inspired you to sing about Colton Harris-Moore?
I turned on the news one morning, saw Colton Harris-Moore and thought that this guy was pretty cool. I kept him in my mind. That thought came back into my mind and I wrote some words down and put some music to it.

As a solo artist performing live, you have the freedom to take the songs anywhere you want at any time. Are you interested in getting involved with other musicians and forming a band?
I don’t play a lot of the songs in my catalog out because they don’t sound right without that backing band. I’m really itching to get into that. This album originally was going to be half acoustic half electric.

What are your plans for the future?
Stay young as long as I can. I want to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m having a good time. I’m enjoying meeting as many people as I can. People write the majority of my songs. I just happen to have the pen and the paper. — tom graham

Drew Kelly will play a Running Time cd release show April 21 at The Bog in Scranton. Charles Havira will open the show. Doors will open at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.DrewKellyMusic.com.