An Interview with Emmett Kelly of The Cairo Gang

Kelly discusses his new album 'Untouchable,' collaborating with Ty Segall, and more

the cairo gang band

The Cairo Gang is the musical project of Emmett Kelly, who will release his new album, Untouchable, on March 24 via God? (Ty Segall’s Drag City imprint). Kelly has done a great deal of collaboration in his career, including projects with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Joan of Arc, Angel Olsen, and many more. Untouchable was produced by Kelly and Ty Segall. 

Emmett Kelly answered some interview questions about Untouchable for us via email (read below). You can also listen to the Untouchable cut ‘What Can You Do,’ which Kelly describes as “a song about time and waiting.”

Culture Creature: The Cairo Gang grew out of your high school band and developed into a prolific solo project. What does The Cairo Gang mean to you in 2017?

Emmett Kelly: The Cairo Gang is my personal music project. It’s also my band and collection of friends and brothers. It’s distinct from the rest of the projects I’m involved in because it has my voice at the center. It also, in 2017, is reborn as a trio that once lived in Chicago to one that now lives in Los Angeles. Maybe that means something in an emotional sense.

How does Untouchable differ from your previous releases?

The main difference with Untouchable is that it was recorded as a group at first. Not since 2007’s Twyxt Wyrd had there been a record by The Cairo Gang that was a recording of people playing together in the same room. Twyxt Wyrd was an extreme version of that as there was no overdubs on the whole record.

Untouchable is kind of a hybrid of approaches. I used to have lots of rules about recording. Like, how I felt like recordings “needed” to be in order to be “good.” These rules, as I would learn over time, weren’t my rules, though self inflicted, and I realized my approach to making records WAS the correct way for ME to do them. And so I unabashedly embraced technology and created records entirely by myself using all kinds of tools I had previously thought were totally off limits (i.e. drum machines, false echoes, etc.). This was an essential part of the process for me. To learn that superstition is real and extremely inhibiting and that freedom is what’s up, and records are abstract renderings of songs in a false reality that is moveable and manipulable.

So the past two records (Tiny Rebels and Goes Missing) are examples of how I work when I am working alone on something. Of course I love the idea of doing stuff with others. All kinds of stuff! Music or otherwise. And I felt as though it was a good time to let some people in and join forces to make this album. At least at the starting point.

How would you describe the collaborative process between Ty Segall and yourself in the studio on Untouchable?

Ty has been a joy to get to know as a musician. He is a wildly talented instrumentalist, as is well documented in his bands (Ty Segall, Fuzz etc.), but over that past few years in particular he has developed advanced recording engineering abilities. I have loved his self-made records of the past in all of their crazy and experimental qualities, but like I said, over the past few years there has been a marked shift in approach aesthetically. It largely has to do with him building up the space that we used to record Untouchable, which is his personal home studio in L.A. Val’s.

We have been playing music together in his band for the past couple years and I have gotten to know these new recordings he has been making of his own at home and been totally blown away by them, of course musically but sonically. Sonically they rival in my opinion what goes on in most studios. Just because he is a freak. He is a serious nerd about sound, and a certain type of sound. And so it has developed. It’s apparent on the latest record by Ex-Cult and on the GØGGS record. So I approached Ty to play drums and engineer the sessions for the new Gang album. The basic tracks were cut primarily by Ty on drums and me on either guitar or bass, with the exception of ‘Broken Record’ and ‘In The Heart Of Her Heart’ which were cut entirely live with Shayde Sartin and Ryan Weinstein respectively on bass. And then I overdubbed the rest of the music with Ty on the decks. Ty spent the majority of time as an engineer on this record just trying to get the clearest sounds possible. I think he did a marvelous job, and think the record came out great.

What was the lyrical inspiration for ‘What Can You Do?’

‘What Can You Do?’ is a song about time and waiting. Patiently aligning yourself to that which is your destiny. Manifestation (cringe). It’s a paradox because who knows what is what!

What inspired you to name the album after the song ‘Untouchable’ – did you see that song as a thematic centerpiece of the album?

Well I thought it had a ring to it. Though ‘Untouchable’ (the song) is in my mind fully exemplary of the main theme of the album which is something not too easy to describe. Truth be told, the album is a collection of thoughts that truly only make sense as songs. I can’t tell you what they are about in a clear and linear way. If I could, I wouldn’t have made them into songs! One thing I can tell you was that I originally thought of the word untouchable as in reference to the Indian caste system.

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