Over the past couple of months, I’ve written quite a bit about the Austin, TX-born, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and composer Kris Kelly. Kelly relocated to the New York metropolitan area, when he attended my alma mater, NYU, where he studied classical vocal performance and music composition. For years, he performed his original compositions for guitar, vocals, flute, violin, bass and percussion at a number of venues across town.
Kelly then spent the next five years traveling through South America, primarily living in Argentina and Brazil with just his guitar and a suitcase. And while in South America, he met his husband. As a songwriter, his experiences traveling and falling in love have deeply inspired his self-produced, recently released album Runaways, an effort that thematically touches upon finding pure and lasting love, loss, discovery and personal growth.
Upon returning to the states, Kelly spent time in studios in NYC and Los Angeles recording the album, which features an all-star cast of musicians and collaborators including Todd Sickafoose (bass), who’s a member of Ani DiFranco‘s backing band; Brian Griffin (drums), who has played in the backing bands for Lana Del Rey, Brandi Carlile and as a member of The Lone Bellow; Dave Levita (electric guitar), who’s a member of Alanis Morisette‘s backing band; Benji Lysaght (electric guitar), who’s a member of Father John Misty’s backing band; and Dave Palmer (keys), who’s played in the backing bands of Fiona Apple and Lana Del Rey. The album also features string, wind and horn arrangements by John Philip Shenale, who has worked with Tori Amos.
“Cracked Porcelain,” Runaways‘ latest single is an incredible cinematic track, centered around a soaring string arrangement, strummed acoustic guitar, shuffling drumming paired with Kelly’s gorgeous vocals, the song — to my ears, at least — reminds me a bit of the late (and somewhat under-appreciated) Scott Walker, whose work was imbued with a similar aching longing and sense of loss. But at the core of the song is a narrator, who’s desperately trying to figure what his romantic relationship meant to him and on his own terms. And of course, it means maneuvering the contradictory push and pull we often feel as we enter romantic relationships with others.
“‘Cracked Porcelain’ is a story about two gay men who find freedom in defining their relationship in an unconventional, ‘open’ way but who end up getting lost in the revelry and ultimately drive each other apart,” Kelly explains. “I think the LGBTQ community has a unique opportunity to redefine our relationship with sex within our partnerships. Not having forced onto us the traditional ways of defining a healthy partnership gives us the freedom to discover it for ourselves, but it also comes with a great responsibility, and I think we often fail. I failed at least. And that’s ok, because I realized if I wanted to be happy, I had to make a change. I’ve been forced to reevaluate constantly my relationship with my partner and to figure out how to respect each other while maintaining a healthy individuality, and we’re still navigating it to this day.
“The song definitely has an element of the sacred vs. the profane in it. The spiritual vs. the carnal. Monogamy and commitment vs. free love and the expression of uninhibited sexual desire. Attachment (the couple) vs. freedom (the individual), which is a theme that runs throughout the album. In the song, the two men fulfill all their personal desires, and get lost with the help of alcohol and drugs, but forget to care about each other, neglecting the needs of their relationship. In that seductive lifestyle, it’s easy for them to use sex, drugs, and alcohol to cover up a lot of issues they just don’t want to deal with. And it feels like ‘freedom’ but are they really in control? What are the boundaries that protect the relationship? What is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ for them?
“In In the end, like everything, I find it all about balance,” Kelly adds. “Yes, gay men pride themselves on being able to separate love and sex, but do we slip into the trap of serving only the quick-fix, instant gratification of anonymous sex, sacrificing the part about ‘love’ and the fulfillment of a deeper, long-term relationship with someone? It’s easy to go unconscious and do whatever feels good in the moment, but without consciously, intentionally taking care of the relationship, it falls apart. There has to be a balance in order to nurture both carnal desires and the spiritual connection with another human being (if that’s something that you value). And when things are out of balance, suffering is inevitable. That’s what happens in ‘Cracked Porcelain’.”
Directed by Jack Kubizne and Steve Winfield Meyer, the recently released animated video for “Cracked Porcelain” follows two men, who wander around the desert until they stumble upon a mysterious ruin. Once inside they find themselves trapped by an invisible force, which provides endless sensual pleasure — food and sex — but it ultimately ends in tragedy.
“I approached Jack Kubizne, who had animated videos for songs by Animal Collective that I really loved, about animating a video for ‘Cracked Porcelain,’ Kris Kelly says in press notes. We spoke at length about what the song meant to me and how we might bring it to life in an animated video. Jack ended up presenting a narrative revolving around two guys who stumble upon mysterious ruins. Inside, they are entrapped by an invisible force that provides an endless feast for the two until they start to lose control and awareness.”
Check out the album, below: