Kellen of Troy // Vanity Project
For Kellen of Troy, the concept of pop honors the way the world works in real-time. As this multi-talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist knows, creating finely crafted songs that are personal and political keeps alive a tradition that stretches from The Beatles, Randy Newman, and Paul Simon to Kurt Cobain to Father John Misty. Kellen of Troy is the moniker of Kellen Wenrich, whose foray into the world of high-grade pop for modern sophisticates is Vanity Project – a title that captures the Nashville artist’s ability to be simultaneously profound and self-deprecating. Despite the title, it’s no vanity record; Kellen gets into the real stuff that the topsy-turvy, post-Trump era dishes up on a regular basis.
Vanity Project is, quite simply, great pop, with reference points that range from Jeff Lynne to Miles Davis to Randy Newman’s still-relevant 1972 album Sail Away. It’s political alright, and you’ll learn new things about our dauntingly complex world, but Kellen’s latest music has its own style, brio, and humor. In his universe, fun and meaningfulness are not mutually exclusive.
Kellen grew up in Pennsylvania, taking up the violin when he was five years old. He relocated to Nashville in 2008 to study music at Belmont University and shortly thereafter helped found the dearly departed ensemble The Apache Relay. His musical bona fides further include touring and/or recording with the likes of The Devil Makes Three, Gill Landry, Nicki Bluhm, and JP Harris – to list a few – and charming audiences at prestigious festivals from Hardly Strictly Bluegrass to Bonnaroo to Newport Fold Festival.
On his 2018 collection Posthumous Release – he has a flair for provocative titles – Kellen explored the intersection of ELO, Big Star, and The Beach Boys on songs like “Victim of Apathy,” a carefree ode to the non-joys of dead-end jobs and infidelity. Marissa R. Moss describes it in The Bluegrass Situation as “well-crafted folk-rock with a pop-ish sheen and built on the classics, like The Beatles with a surfy gloss.”
Two years later, he recorded Vanity Project in Nashville with producers Ryan McFadden and Adam Taylor. Its 11 songs build upon his previous music in ways that make it clear Kellen is an artist for these troubling – but far from hopeless – times. In the song “PessiMystic,” he channels his inner George Harrison in the service of the kind of detailed realism that you’ll find on Vanity Project: “Practice makes you perfect / But it doesn’t get you paid,” he sings. Meanwhile, opener “Some Tune We All Already Know” folds in a sumptuous Al Green-style string arrangement that also manages – somewhat uncannily – to evoke ELO.
Vanity Project doesn’t hold back on realism or pessimism. But it isn’t a depressing or despairing record. “I’m not trying to be moody or dark,” Kellen says. “They’re all pop songs, I just happen to write about existential crises.” He sings about eternal questions on “Zeno’s Paradox,” about the ancient Greek philosopher who wondered if change was nothing but an illusion. Another song, “I Could Live Almost Anywhere (But Not with Myself),” addresses gentrification, big-box chain stores coming to your formerly quiet neighborhood, and egotistical hipsters who tell you they built your city on their rock ‘n’ roll.
For all its social commentary, however, Vanity Project does indeed play like a pop album worthy of Lynne, Harrison, and Newman. Kellen pens great, incisive string arrangements, informed by having previously worked with the legendary orchestrator and producer Jimmie Haskell (whose endless credits include Glen Campbell, B.B. King, and Simon and Garfunkel). Vanity Project is about high concept, songwriting, and Kellen of Troy’s unerring production sense.
Rarely has social commentary been more pointed, exact, and entertaining. Kellen has drawn inspiration from the various vanities of our era. On the album’s closing song, “The Earth Isn’t Flat and Other Fake News,” he takes a cue from Wayne Shorter’s jazz classic “Nefertiti,” famously recorded by Miles Davis in 1967. As Kellen says, “The horns stick to melody, playing in and out of phase, for the whole take. It’s the rhythm section that drives growth and excitement. I asked myself, ‘How do I do a version of that as a political statement in this day and age?’” The simplicity of “The Earth Is Flat” becomes, in Kellen’s hands, truly artful, and that’s a remarkable achievement. It’s of a piece with the rest of Vanity Project. Kellen plans to tour Vanity Project in 2020, so be sure to catch this pop polymath when he comes to town. Vanity Project keeps the sacred and the profane in perfect balance, which is just what we need right now.
“Vanity Project’s lush, often anthemic soundscapes contain almost prescient political messages about the times.” – Billboard
“With reference points that range from Miles Davis to Fleet Foxes, the singer-songwriter delivers a powerful series of compositions on this release. ” – NPR
“The album is a wonderful collection of songs filled with wit and personal insights as well as fantastic vocals and instrumentation” – Ditty TV
“The composition makes for a grand effort of pop hooks and healing harmonies that reflect the modern brass flair of Andrew Bird and Father John Misty. Kellen of Troy avoids the cliche, with luminescent layers and forthright lyrics, keeping us listeners both appealed and absorbed.” – Glide Magazine
“Fabulously tongue-in-cheek.’ – Americana UK
Publicist: Rachel Hurley
I’m not sure what’s more impressive about Rachel – her talent or her dedication. I’ve worked with PR companies at all levels, and usually, people only have one or the other. Large brand-name companies have all the talent in the world, but with a bloated client list it’s hard to get individual attention. Smaller boutique companies tend to be highly dedicated to their projects, but often lack the heavy artillery necessary to run a successful campaign. Working with Rachel Hurley was a truly wonderful experience as they are the perfect marriage of the two.” – Kellen Wenrich