The long and heartfelt road

BY REBECCA KOONS | MAY 14, 2009 7:27 AM

Since 1995’s Lead Me On, singer/songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps has created a number of solo efforts that provide intimate glimpses into his heart and soul. His latest album, Western Bell, released on March 24, has done more of the same through a different vein. Western Bell is Phelps’ first fully instrumental studio effort, which seems fitting for a man with an extensive musical history.

“Instrumentals are how I started learning music,” he said. “The album embraces both how I started as a musician, as well as my 35 years of experience.”

Phelps will perform at 8 p.m. today at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., with special guest Ben Schmidt.
A Washington state native, Phelps’ decision to make his living as a musician was a bold but natural step. Both of his parents are musicians, and that environment provided plenty of education and exposure to the craft’s various elements.

“Because my mom and dad both played music, I began to love it enough where it was the only thing I wanted to do,” he said.

While he is occasionally accompanied by other musicians, he heavily prefers to be a solo artist.
“It was a conscious decision for me to be solo, and that’s how I have enjoyed it the most,” Phelps said. “I like playing on my own, for some reason; I like the space of being a solo performer.”

After 15 years of touring, he is used to life on the road. Over the years, he has learned just how he likes to travel, and he said touring’s special brand of solitary existence “suits him.” While it can be exhausting, he said, he definitely finds the energy to perform each night.

Phelps’ passion certainly comes across in his music, and his audience has grown steadily since he began his career 15 years ago. For him, creating perfect songs is definitely not a matter of immediacy. He is able to take his time to craft a piece of music, making sure it says what he wants it to say.

“The process is usually a long one — I can’t put a song together quickly,” he said. “I’ll work on it for several weeks or months, trying to figure out what I’m after. That’s not quick or easy.”

Through music, Phelps has gained a great appreciation for what he and other creatively inclined people contribute to society. Artists are able to share their emotions and experiences, he said, which many other people can ultimately embrace as well.

“Music is my way of doing my own part to explore parts of the world that are hard to reach for most,” he said. “It’s up to the people on the other side to invite themselves in.”

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