Nearly four years after its last album Sunset Motel, Reckless Kelly is making up for “lost” time and doubling down with new music.
On May 22 the Austin, Texas, quintet will be releasing not one, but two new albums — the conceptual American Jackpot and American Girls, whose opening track “I Only See You With My Eyes Closed” is premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Jan. 30). It’s a bit more than the group initially planned to put out, but singer-guitarist Willy Braun and company decided to just go with the proverbial flow.
“We were actually going to put [American Jackpot] out last year,” Braun tells Billboard, “but I ended up having this idea to make it a double record at the last minute. We went back into the studio a few months after we had wrapped it up and decided to take our time and not rush it. Since it had already been awhile we wanted to do it right, so we just took our time with it.”
The 10-song American Jackpot is, according to Braun, “songs about America and American themes and stories…but I didn’t want it to be all rah! rah! rah! kind of stuff.” Rather, American Jackpot has songs about Jackie Robinson and riding mules out of the Grand Canyon. “It’s not all about America in your face,” Braun says. “It’s things you experience when you live here; characters and situations.” He and his bandmates know the timing of an election year is potentially fortuitous — and certainly provocative. But Braun hopes the album isn’t considered a political treatise.
“It’s an interesting time to be in America right now,” he acknowledges. “I could’ve written an entire record about the current administration, but I think people are tired of hearing about that. There’s a little bit of that in there; It can’t help but creep into our songs here and there, but I think people will be OK with that.”
American Girls, also 10 songs, stems from material that didn’t fit the original theme of American Jackpot but still seemed like fertile ground. Braun broached the idea of two albums to his bandmates during the spring of 2019, as American Jackpot was being mastered. “I wasn’t expecting them to say yes, but they did, and we were back in the studio a couple months later,” he recalls. “It just naturally happened, and it ended up turning out really good.”
In addition to touring, which is a Reckless Kelly constant, the group is working on a visual addendum to the two albums, “almost like cinematic film type of thing,” according to Braun, whose brother, multi-instrumentalist Cody Braun, is spearheading that initiative. And Braun is certainly curious to see how Reckless Kelly’s fans react to getting so much music after a lengthy drought.
“I know these days people don’t really buy records. It’s hard to get anyone to listen to a full song, let alone [an album], let alone two,” Braun acknowledges. “So it’s a little bit of a roll of the dice. But I think the concept is cool, and we really want to still make records, and we like to have a full concept when we go into a record. I’m really proud of both of these, so whether or not the critics or the fans or anybody fully grasps it, that’s up to them. I’m just happy with what we’ve done.”
Listen to “I Only See You With My Eyes Closed” below.