Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Gaily gallivanting with Kelly & the Kellygirls

Swing, ska, Latin, cabaret — whatever it takes to move you

When I first metR Kelly Clipperton way back in 2003 we were both nursing hangovers and alternated between our hair of the dog and a side of Perrier as we excavated his past and talked about his latest musical muse — Kelly and the Kellygirls. I walked away with my hangover satiated and a homemade EP containing three of the band’s original songs.

Well, baby, you and the girls have come a long way. “It was a long labour,” says Clipperton. “I wanted to start a musical pro-ject that could morph and evolve as my interests changed and grew. I’ve always loved horns and that became the impetus for the Kellygirls’ sound. The first album [Swing Swing from 2004], had a swing/ska feel to it, while the second [We Love You, But Not as Much as We Love Ourselves from 2006], took on a black and blue bawdy burlesque feel.”

On Thu, May 28 at Revival Kelly and the Kellygirls launch its third full-length album, Modernism.

With the success of “Catherine Deneuve and the Deus Ex Machina” track and video from the second album making such an impact, bandleader Clipperton felt the ensemble was up for the challenge of a concept album. Modernism has a decidedly Latin swing to it, but the band’s familiar flavour of brassy, big-band swing runs a subtle undercurrent in the delicious flamenco riffs, driven by Clipperton’s growling baritone.

Challenging himself and the band with maintaining a musical theme, he admits he is his own greatest critic. “I’m pretty hard on myself. Nothing ever goes as I had envisioned — and I have lots of visions! So it can be a bit taxing getting along with myself,” says Clipperton.

Added to the need to keep the through-lines present in the music and lyrics without everything sounding the same, Clipperton also decided to tackle teaching himself to collaborate and sing in several new languages. “Part of me felt I’d said everything I needed to say in English,” he says with a laugh. “The one thing I learned about my voice, singing in Italian and Portuguese in particular — as I’d never uttered a word in either — was how free my voice became, completely different in colour and tone and oddly more confident.”

That confidence shows through in the sultry, passionate tracks that gallivant from beginning to end on Modernism. “This is our third album, an amazing feat all on its own for an indie band. I would say the songs I wrote with others, especially the lyrics in other languages, as I’ve never written lyrics with anyone really, and it was very gratifying seeing ‘Tarantino’ and ‘Para a Espinha’ come together so beautifully.”

Yet for all his confidence Clipperton laughs when I ask him about the band’s success. “Success? What the hell is that? Everything surprises me frankly. The sun coming up takes me aback on occasion…. If I reach one person in any of the avenues I venture down then that is success.”

But he is extremely proud of this latest effort. “I really pushed myself in many directions and truly feel I’ve come out on top. I’ve written songs that are thematically ‘gayer’ than anything I’ve done before [like “C’mon Boys”], songs about heartbreak and relationships which I’ve usually shied away from [“200 Degrees Fahrenheit” and “X”] and sung a duet with another fella.”

Sticking around town long enough to play Toronto Pride, they’ll then be hitting the road starting Thu, Jul 9 for a world tour. So make sure you catch Kelly and the Kellygirls before they’re off and swingin’.