When we last spoke with Reckless Kelly fiddler Cody Braun for a cover story on the band for Texas Music last year, Braun was just getting ready to begin gigging again after a freak medical mishap resulted in five operations and a lengthy recuperation. But the burly Idaho transplant is back up and at 'em, ready to keep the Reckless machine oiled and moving ahead.
"I've made a full recovery with no lingering issues or anything," says Braun, who comes to town Saturday night for a Texas Music Fest show with another hot Texas act, Turnpike Troubadours.
"I'm not a blame kind of guy," Braun explains, "some mistakes were made that really affected my life, but I just try to look forward instead of at what's already happened. I'm in great shape, that's all that I really focus on."
Since coming to Austin from Bend, Oregon in 1997, Reckless Kelly has become one of the highest-profile bands associated with what is referred to as "Texas Music." Which is pretty funny, considering that the Brauns are originally from Idaho.
"Austin has been so good to us," effuses Braun. "I love Idaho, love going home, love skiing, but Austin's my home. I can't wait to get back here when we're on the road. It's got problems, but so does ever other big town nowadays."
The band originally established themselves with a regular Monday residency at Lucy's Retired Surfer's bar on Sixth Street. The show was acoustic and included not only originals by writer/singer Willy Braun (Cody's brother) but wacky covers like Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." The gig eventually became a must for a certain set of Austinites and Mondays became mob scenes at Lucy's.
"We just found the right town and the right audience at the right time," Braun suggests. "That wasn't something anyone could have predicted. But we worked it hard, and we got better."
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The band counted Chris Wall as an old friend from back in the Northwest, and they quickly found a supporter in Joe Ely, who went out of his way to give the band his stamp of approval. The band really blew up with the release of its first studio album, Millican, in late 1997 and followed up in 1998 with another studio effort, The Way, and the scorching live recording Acoustic: Live at Stubb's. By that point they were hard on the heels of Texas music acts like Pat Green and Robert Earl Keen for top billing.
The band was also smart enough to spread the music well beyond Texas.
"Songs about Shiner and Lone Star may be big here," Braun laughs, "but that doesn't move anyone in Portland or Boston. We've been pretty conscious of not pinning ourselves down as Texas only. And that's worked well for us, I think."
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After 17 years in Austin, Braun says things actually seem a little easier these days.
"We've been at this long enough we don't get as excited about a bus breaking down or things like that anymore," says Braun. "And we came up playing in our dad's band, so we like a family atmosphere when we travel."
The band is also known for its love of baseball. Reckless Kelly sponsors an Austin music charity softball game annually.
"That's one of the great things about touring for us," says Braun. "We've gotten to see games at places like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. We try to make the most out of having to be on the road."
It's been over a year since the band released Long Night Moon (right), which won a Grammy for packaging, and Braun says the band is shifting gears slowly and getting ready for some recording later this year.
"Our twentieth anniversary is coming up, so we're thinking of doing something special," he says. "We aren't sure yet, but we're sort of thinking that we'll do a studio record but we'll also release some stuff from our vaults. We've got so much stuff we've recorded that hasn't made it out into the public. And we've got some live stuff we think fans will dig and want."
One thing Braun is highly aware of is the band's brand and what that means.
"The music, the art, that's one thing, but you have to take care of that by tending to your business, by managing well and making smart decisions," he says. "The whole model for bands has literally changed 180 degrees since we got into this.
"One of the goals now is to be smarter," he adds. "We've got a recognizable brand, we've got a good, solid base of fans, and we have to protect that and nurture it while we try to appeal to new audiences.
"We're also aware that our audience is maturing just like we are, so we're consciously playing fewer rowdy bar gigs," Braun says. "We still like to do those and we will probably never stop doing them, but we also know that if we're smart, we'll start doing some earlier shows in listening rooms and nice theaters where folks can have a nice seat and not have to stand, where they can get a nice cocktail, and where they can hear us without having to strain over a bunch of loud bar noise.
"We need both sides to be able to continue to do what we do."
Reckless Kelly performs with special guest Turnpike Troubadors Saturday night at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. Doors open at 6 p.m.
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