Kristen Kelly and the Modern Day Drifters

Modern Day Drifters are a band making waves in the Texas and Americana scenes with their diverse blend of styles.  Led by co-lead vocalists, Kristen Kelly and Joe Churchill, the Drifters weave their way through highways both literal and metaphorical.  They inhabit and express all the places people visit in the highways of their mind and the backroads of their good times.  Survivors of other bands, Kelly and Churchill learned as backing members what and what not to do with a band.  Their experiences helped them create a vision for Modern Day Drifters.  Thusfar, that vision has been steadily realized through hard work, determination and talent.  The contrast of Kelly’s bluesy vocals and Churchill’s laid back yet wise vibe have combined to make them a band to watch.

1.   What’s new and exciting in the world of the Modern Day Drifters?

We have a debut album out The Highway Is My Home now available at any of our shows, and Please request the first single from the album “Tired of This Town” at Radio Free Texas and any radio station you listen to.-Kristen

2.  The two of you produced the new record yourself.  Was this by design, or out of necessity?

By design. When you are establishing your sound, who better to do so than yourself?   A lot of the basic tracks I’d already laid down for a solo project.  Then, we teamed up and began to add layers to the songs.-Joe
Coming from other bands, we knew we had a specific vision and sound in our head for our first record as the Modern Day Drifters.-Kristen

3.  Name association:

-Drew Kennedy- I like his songwriting and ability to construct melodies which set the mood for the songs that he writes.-Joe
-Rich O’ Toole-Puts on a very energetic show and of course I love the song “When Kelly Comes to Town”! – Kristen
-Josh Grider -Very gracious.  A fellow survivor of the Waco music scene.-Joe
-Billy Joe Shaver – Papa Joe… one of the most influential singer/songwriters ever and my godfather in more ways than one.-Kristen
Will never forget the night he played my guitar for his whole show, unreal. – Joe
-Randy Rogers-Love the way he balances melody and lyrics.-Joe
-And the way he treats his band as equal partners in everything is how it should be done!-Kristen
-Pat Green -One of the reasons the Texas Music Scene is where it is today. -Joe.
-Wade Bowen-Super nice guy, has been willing to help us from day one.-Kristen
-Jason Boland -Cheap bourbon whiskey and pearl snap shirts.- Joe
-Bo Cox -Drinking plenty of Miller Lite while pickin and grinning in the garage after his show at George’s- Joe

4.  You graduated from the prestigous McLennan Community College commercial music program led by Dick Gimble.  Other notable alumni include Drew Womack and Ruthie Foster.  What made you want to pursue your education there?  How beneficial do you feel it has been for you?

I happened upon the music program at MCC and was pleased to find that it was a Commercial program and not a transfer program. It helped me hone the skills that I had built on my own. It has made my musical progression a lot easier, and I’m a much better musician than when I was prior to going through the program.   -Joe

I never liked school  and when I realized I could go to school for music I jumped on the opportunity, because I didn’t feel like I was going to school.   I had a lot of trouble with harmonies and feel that my vocal lessons with Beth Ullman really helped. I learned theory and things I probably would not have applied myself to learning otherwise.  Most of the guys in the band went through the program too, and I think it gives us an advantage stepping on stage and being so well-rounded. -Kristen

5.  You are based out of Waco, which at times can be a very fickle live music town.  Yet, you guys seem to have made it work for you.  You’ve developed new venues and created a hardcore and loyal home fanbase.  What is the best thing about being based from central Texas?  What are the drawbacks?

The fact that we are centrally located within the state, would be the best thing about being based from Waco.  We are just short drives away from DFW or Austin or just about anywhere else for that matter. The only drawback of being out of Waco is we get all the silly, “Oh, y’all are from Wacko” jokes and stuff.  Then you have to explain that all that actually took place in tiny Mount Calm about twenty miles outside of town, but whatever.  (laughs)  The pros definitely outweigh the cons.-Kristen

6.  While starting out in the music industry, all musicians must support themselves with day jobs they are not huge fans of.  What have been the worst day jobs you’ve had to endure?

Tire delivery man!  Lots of long drives and late nights.  It is hard to be out changing tires in the middle of nowhere at the same time you’d rather be home or gigging.  (laughs) -Joe

Waiting tables.  The hours weren’t very conducive to gigging and there are way too many crappy tippers out there!  You know who you are! (laughs) -Kristen

7.  Stories behind the following songs:

-Tired of This Town – Drunk in the garage – I  had the verses and Joe had a chorus.  We started meshing them together and they seemed to fit…then again – it could have just been the alcohol. (laughs) -Kristen
-Rock Bottom – Relationships suck.  (laughs) – Joe
-Gypsy – It is what I am, it’s what I wanna be.  Being a musician is either in your blood or not.  I crave the road and the adventure as much as the show itself. – Joe
-Nature To Run -You know those times where you wish you could turn back time, this is about one of those times. – Joe
-Broken White Line -I was delivering tires in that job I hated.  I was  somewhere between Hico and Stephenville middle of the night and the radio didn’t work, thus a song was born – Joe
-Shades of Gray -I had the lyrics, and a melody.  Joe helped me make the song happen by adding all the music and I think it came out really cool. – Kristen
-Gone -Hey Kristen…help me finish this!- Joe

8.  Kristen, you wrote “Down in Flames” with Stoney LaRue and Brandon Jenkins.  What do you find most difficult about co-writing?  What is the best thing about writing with others?

I actually have always found it a welcoming task and it always helps having outside ears. It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle. Each person puts in their pieces.  I like collaborating with everyone I can.  I have slips of paper and journals that are almost ten years old that I still keep around and share, because you never know when someone will have that missing link to your song.- Kristen

9.  On this album, you cover “Angel From Montgomery” by John Prine.  What made you want to cover that song in particular since it’s been covered so many other times?  Were there other songs you considered covering for the album instead?

We never really considered covering any other songs. The Prine tune is one I had been singing for a while and we felt compelled to include it after recording it.  It always gets such an amazing response at the shows, that I knew it must go on the album. – Kristen

10.  Favorite touring memory of the following towns:

-New Braunfels – Late nights by the campfires at a cabin right on the river and copious amounts of alcohol (laughs) – Joe
-Stephenville -Lots of things come to mind.  LJT Fest.  Mandatory FM Stage. Naked band members from a band that won’t be named roaming around at sunrise.  Crawfish way too early in the morning…should I go on? (laughs)-Kristen
-Ft. Worth -Bad house PA but plenty of free beer.  -Joe.
-Houston- A hard town for us to crack.  Sometimes feel like Ryan Bingham…”Houston gets me down.”-Kristen
-College Station Keg party before the show, so drunk I fell down on stage.  But, actually ended up playing one of the best shows ever.  Funny how that works sometimes. – Joe
-Dallas -Adair’s and the old Front Porch show with Justin Frazzell…he rocks my face off.-Kristen
-Austin -Galleywinter/Americana Roots SXSW Showcase at Waterloo.  Any show where Drew Kennedy talks about a pinata massacre on I-35 is memorable.-Kristen

11.  Every band has a gig memory that could be a horror story.  Without giving away the details can you describe the worst gig you’ve ever had?

To drive all the way down to a gig and find out the place is closed. Then turn to find someone pulling in to ask us  “Hey, when did they open this place back up?”   -Joe

12.  On the flip side of that question, tell us about the coolest gig you’ve played to date as Modern Day Drifters?

Our album release party at the Horny Toad in Cranfills Gap was awesome!  It’s a small place but lots of love.  That SXSW show was pretty cool too.  The energy in the room that night was good for our set.-Kristen

13.  Kristen, your sister, Kimberly Kelly is making quite a name for herself in the scene as well.  Can you describe what y’alls relationship is like, and talk about how your family has supported the two of you.  Also, to what do you attribute the musical prowess in your family?

We have a great supportive relationship. We equally spread the word about one another and share contacts, road stories, etc. Our family is very supportive, although I don’t think I’ll ever get used to hearing one of them talk about us. Our grandfather was a musician and our father and uncles all played in his band. Music has been a part of our family for as long as I can remember.-Kristen

14.  Prior to being in this band, you have all participated in other projects.  What do you think makes the chemistry work so well as the Modern Day Drifters?

We are partners in crime, as cliche as it sounds, we are like brother and sister but without all the fussin brothers and sisters tend to do.  The people we have working with us and all the guys that have joined the band fit right in and we’re all just enjoying the ride. -Kristen

15.  If they were to make a movie of your lives, who would play each of you in the film and why?

I think Joaquin Phoenix would play the role of Joe well. – Kristen
James King for the role of Kristen..because nobody puts baby in the corner and she loves that Lone Star State of Mind movie! (laughs) -Joe

By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie Lone Star State of Mind, you must purchase it immediately and watch it religiously!- Kristen

16.  There seems to be a growing wave of quality bands in this scene that feature a male and female lead working together.  Such as The Gougers and Blake & Fallon.  What is the biggest benefit of sharing lead vocals?  Are there any drawbacks?

Our fans get the best of both worlds…male and female perspective on life and music.-Joe

I think it is just a reflection of society and modern music.  Acts like Sugarland and the Gougers and other male/female duos seem to connect with their fans on a very passionate and personal level because they are making music from the heart.  And, that’s what we do too.-Kristen

17. If you could erase one song from the public’s collective consciousness what would it be and why?  What is one song everyone should have on their Ipod and why?

Nothing should ever be banished completely, because it can be learned from even if you hate it.  That being said, I am tired of hearing that Ashton Shepherd song about the cold beer and wedding band every five seconds. (laughs)-Joe

Everyone should have “Heavenly Day” by Patty Griffin.  She’s one of my heroes and this is my favorite song of hers.  We cover it when we play acoustic and I hope we do it justice! – Kristen

“Horseshoe Lounge” by Slaid Cleaves is one of my all-time favorite songs, and one that surprisingly a lot of people don’t remember or know about. – Joe

18.  Rapid fire:

-Favorite hobby?  Anything outdoors-Kristen; Hunting and fishing!-Joe.
-Favorite restaurant?  – Pacho’s in Dilly, Texas.  I’ve tried to describe this place to people, but words alone don’t do it justice.  Seek it out, you’ll be glad you did. -Joe
Any restaurant that serves steak and potatoes and lets me drink my wine out of a Dixie cup.- Kristen
-Any hidden talents? Joe does some pretty spot-on impersonations.-Kristen

19.  What is your favorite George Strait song?

“Fool Hearted Memory”.  I’m a huge fan of that era of country music, and this is one of my favorite songs from that time.-Joe

“Unwound”…still great to this day.- Kristen

20. What do you think sets your music apart from that of mainstream country music?

Simply put, it’s homegrown.-Joe

We make music from our heart and soul wherever the inspiration or motivation takes us.  We don’t try to only think about what radio will like.  We just do what we do, and the more people that dig it the better.  If that is only a handful of people who truly believe in what we do, then so be it.  I’d rather be real and struggle than fake it and have it easy. -Kristen

Brad Beheler

Raised in Waco, refined in the Hill Country, escaped from DFW. I've worked in just about every facet of the music business for 20 years. I like to write about it all. e-mail Brad Editor-in-Chief

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