Published on June 12th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
A Fragile Tomorrow Takes Care to Keep it Nice on the Road
2013 has been a busy year so far for Charleston-based pop-rock quartet A Fragile Tomorrow. After celebrating the release of the long-in-the-making studio album Be Nice Be Careful on Piewillie Records in January, singer/guitarist Sean Kelly, drummer Dominic Kelly, guitarist Brendan Kelly, and bassist Shaun Rhoades hit the road hard.
The band recorded the new album last year at Fidelitorium Recordings in N.C. Veteran studio producer and songwriter Mitch Easter (of Let’s Active fame) and assistant engineer Ted Comerford oversaw the sessions. Be Nice Be Careful features 14 carefully arranged power-pop gems.
Since January, A Fragile Tomorrow has traveled up north and throughout the Southeast. They went out to the Midwest in January and February, landing in Chicago, Indianapolis, Madison, and other cities. They showcased in Austin, Texas during the South By Southwest in March. They made their way back to Charleston with stops in New Orleans, Atlanta, and other places in route.
Sean, the oldest of the three Kelly brothers in the band, hooked up with Metronome Charleston this week as the band prepared for a homecoming show at the Royal American on Sat. June 15.
Metronome Charleston: It’s been a few months since you officially released Be Nice Be Careful. To your ears, how is the album holding up? Have you been able to step away from it and come back to it in a healthy way?
Sean Kelly: This still sounds like a new record to me. I don’t listen to it much since I spent so much time listening to it before we released it, but when I do, it stands up really well to me. We’re all so proud of this album. It showcases us at a really comfortable, confident, and important point in our band life and personal lives. Also, it feels really cool to have a record that has been received so well by critics. I think somewhere between 30 and 40 reviews came in, and every single one was great. It makes me feel really great about the future.
Metronome Charleston: How have the songs from Be Nice Be Careful developed on stage? Have you all fine-tuned or revved-up little things here and there?
Sean Kelly: We’ve definitely revved some things up. The basic difference is that when you see us live, all the extra instrumentation and flourishes are stripped away, and you get the basics. There are definitely things we do live, though, that compensate for some of the parts we recorded that we’re simply not able to recreate. I think you get a little bit of a punk energy from the live versions, too. We’re playing some of the cleaner songs with a little more drive and grit to them, and it translates really well. Almost every song on the record started out as a live song and evolved into its arrangement, sometimes over the course of a year or more. The challenge was taking that album arrangement and making it work on stage.
Metronome Charleston: You and the band have traveled and performed extensively around the country since the release of the album. How are y’all holding up?
Sean Kelly: We’ve been lucky enough to cover all parts of the country since the record came out. Those post-SXSW shows in March and April were acoustic and a lot of fun. We’d never really done an acoustic show before so it was exciting. After all of that, we came home for a couple of weeks and then hit the road in April and May with K’s Choice, doing acoustic shows on both coasts. We started on the East Coast from Maryland to New York, stopped in Chicago to do a full-band gig for International Pop Overthrow, and then went out to Seattle and rejoined K’s Choice down to Los Angeles! We’ve been taking some time off to breathe and pursue some other things at home and in New York. We’ll be back at it later this summer.
Metronome Charleston: How did you hook up with K’s Choice this year? How well do the bands’ styles complement each other at double bills? At what cities will you gig with them in Europe this fall?
Sean Kelly: K’s Choice is one of our favorite bands. We’ve admired them for a long time and just love what they do. When we heard they were coming to the U.S. for the first time in something like 12 or 13 years, we immediately got in touch with them and pursued the tour. We have a mutual friend in Amy Ray [of the Indigo Girls], and I’m sure that connection helped to get their attention, but Sarah Bettens [K’s Choice lead singer] told us that they picked us because they really liked our record. I think our styles complemented each other really well. We’re both acoustic, and it was just a really great fit and a fun tour.
The coolest thing was the fact that they’re all really big Crowded House/Split Enz fans just like we are, so we wound up doing Crowded House’s “Weather With You” together at the last two shows. It was a blast.
This fall, they’re touring under the name Bettens (same members as their acoustic lineup with a new project) and doing eight shows in Belgium and the Netherlands. They’re from Belgium, and they’re really popular there. They invited us to come over and do all eight shows with them. It’ll be our first time in Europe. We’re going to Brussels, Antwerp, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, and a few other cities. The venues are all theater-sized places, and it’s just going to be an all-around fun tour.
Metronome Charleston: Did the audiences react to the recordings and performances the way you hoped they might?
Sean Kelly: The audiences have been really great — really responsive and enthusiastic. The cool thing was seeing more people at our own shows than there were before the record was released. Since we’re still a small band, there are some markets where we’re still pulling small numbers, but even at those shows, there were people who came to see us because they’d heard of us and were new fans. It’s a really cool feeling when you start to gradually build a fan base and you can kind of see it happening before your eyes.
Metronome Charleston: What’s the most solid pop gem in the set list these days?
Sean Kelly: I’d have to say that “Don’t Need Saving” sticks out in terms of its pop-ness. It’s a song that has just always gone over really well on stage. On the first night of the K’s Choice tour, we were doing a sold out show in Annapolis, Maryland, and I decided mid-set that I wanted to play that song. We’d never rehearsed it acoustically and hadn’t planned on it, but it just went really well. We wound up keeping it in for the rest of the tour. I think it’s just got this really bouncy, vibrant feel to it that works well in front of any audience.
Metronome Charleston: What’s new in the A Fragile Tomorrow show? What might surprise local fans at the show at the Royal American this week?
Sean Kelly: I think we’re planning on a new cover. I’m pulling for a Split Enz song. We’ve also worked out a new ending to the show that we’re excited about. We retired an old song that we’ve been ending shows with for like four years and replaced it with a song from the new record. We sort of arranged this song to almost blow up at the end, and it just sounds really cool.
Oh, and I’ve got this brand new song that I spent two months obsessing over and we’ve been rehearsing it just to sort of start working it out for the future, so I’m trying to convince everyone to do it at the Royal American show as a one-off and then put it back in the vault until the time comes to collect for the next record. We’ll see.Other than all of that, expect a really fun night and me in a bow tie. The great Matt MacKelcan is opening the show, which will be a blast.
Metronome Charleston: Looking ahead to 2014 or so, what’s on the horizon for A Fragile Tomorrow?
Sean Kelly: At this rate, our hope is to have another record out in 2014, probably later in the year. We’re playing it by ear, of course, but that’s the ultimate goal. I’m starting to write a lot again, and I’m feeling great about what I’m coming up with. I’m actually trying some new approaches and working things a bit differently and I like where it’s going. I’d also love to see us write a bit more together this time. Other than that, though, I think the plan is to just keep touring and making this all happen.
I’ve come to realize that if we spend a little time off here and there, it’s OK as long as we always have things on the horizon. We’ve done pretty well, considering that we’ve covered the whole country in the first five months of the year and will be bringing the record overseas by the end of the year. It makes me feel better about taking a month or so off the road and working on other things.
I think that after this year, it’ll be just about capitalizing on what we’ve accomplished and stretching ourselves out further and further in terms of what we do and where. And I feel really good about our ability to do that.
Top photo provided by A Fragile Tomorrow.
Click below to hear “Long Time to Be Happy” from Be Nice Be Careful.
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