On Friday, June 6th, the Carolina Beach Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar will host American singer-songwriter Kelley Stoltz. The folk-psychedelic artist will entertain the crowd with his Bob Dylan-like looks and Velvet Underground musicality. His most recent LP, “Double Exposure,” released by Jack White’s Third Man Records in 2013, encompasses an eerily warm and clean sound. Kelley Stoltz isn’t like other musicians. He doesn’t force out records to keep his name on the minds of his listeners. He tours to spread his music and makes clear his unadulterated passion for it.
“I actually got into listening to music as a young kid,” Stoltz tells. “I had an older step-brother who was really into music, kind of a new-wave guy with cool hair and played synthesizer. I just thought he was cool and I wanted to be like him. I was about 12 when I actually started playing guitar and listened to a ton of music everyday. It just blossomed from there.”
In his early 20s, Stoltz headed to New York City with a job interning for the great Jeff Buckley’s management company. The opportunity was kismit, really. After only a few years on the East Coast, Stoltz, running low on money, moved to the West Coast to find something new. Earning a living as a teacher in San Francisco, he somehow managed to create his first official release, “The Past Was Faster,” which was self-recorded on his eight-track tape recorder at his home.
“I have a love of eight-track recorders that kind of came into my life like San Francisco did,” Stoltz remarks. “I just kind of guessed. I needed something to record on, and I actually hadn’t really saved up any money. I was at the very tail end of the credit card I was living on, but miraculously was able to buy an eight-track on eBay, and it was exactly what I wanted. It was small and only about $350, so I bought it and started recording right off my desk.”
In 2001, Stoltz followed in the same footsteps by recording his second album, “Antique Glow,” on a new and improved eight-track, reel-to-reel tape recorder at home. He played all of the strange instruments himself, and originally released only 300 vinyl records of “Antique Glow.”
“At one point when I was recording, I actually had my bed, my drums, my guitars, my piano, and guitar amps all in one room,” he remembers. “I didn’t ever get any noise complaints somehow, but I was just really lucky I had good roommates that didn’t mind coming home from work and hearing me bashing away on the drums for hours at a time.”
The self-painted album sleeves he originally released are now rare collector’s items. The album revealed a nearly flawless self-recorded sound Stoltz was capable of producing. It gained wider distribution and popularity when the record label Jackpine Social Club released it in the U.S. and The Beautiful Happiness label released it in the UK and Australia. This allowed Stoltz to quit his teaching job and make music his priority.
“It was great to be able to stop and just start focusing on my music and some other odd jobs,” he says, “but I actually really enjoyed teaching and being around kids. I would bring my guitar to class sometimes, and I even showed them how to use the eight-track. We tried to record some songs; it was a fun time teaching mainly first and second graders.”
At the tailend of 2001, Stoltz decided to record a track-by-track cover of his idols, Echo & the Bunnymen. They’re 1980’s album “Crocodiles” became “Crockodials” by the time Stoltz finished it. “I was trying to create something everyday, but some days you find a really great song, and some days you make shitty songs that you can’t quite put together,” Stoltz recalls of the process. “At that time, I was kind of going through a hard time where nothing really was inspiring me, so to stay busy. I recorded that album to get my mind out of my own music and just get back into having fun.”
Stoltz finally hit the road to travel across the United States and Australia for the first time. On his tour through Australia in 2003, he recorded a live nine-song album, “Australian Tour,” which went directly to disc through Corduroy Records. Between travel and publicity, his music began dotting the map, and his album “Antique Glow” received excellent reviews. After his Australian tour in 2004, Sub Pop Records swept up Stoltz and released “The Sun Comes Through” EP in 2005. The enchantingly smooth sound led Stoltz back on tour through Europe and Australia.
His first full-length album with Sub Pop, “Below the Branches,” came out in 2006, rife with sonic detail that Stoltz so carefully honed. To make good use of his newly rising fame, he released the first album ever to use the Green-e Program. The making of “Below the Branches” incorporated amps, mics, PA systems, and recording equipment all powered by renewable energy.
“My girlfriend at the time actually hooked us up with the Green-e Program, which provided us with the wind power,” Stoltz explains. “Then everything else was figured out by exactly how much energy we were using to make the music, and then we were able to turn it all into renewable energy, which was really cool to be a part of.”
In 2006 Stoltz took to the road again and through a friend, who happened to be Jack White’s nephew, he began opening for White’s band, The Raconteurs. Stoltz also had the honor of playing at Lollapalooza in Chicago with a few all-time greats, such as The Shins, Ryan Adams and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Since, Stoltz has released two more albums with Sub Pop: 2008’s “Circular Sounds” and 2010’s “To Dreamers.” “Circular Sounds” once again proved his immaculate skill in the studio with layered, thick and juicy sounds matched by intrigue and oddly catchy, unidentifiable background instruments on “To Dreamers.” Stoltz’s Third Man release, “Double Exposure,” has the sound of a musician reaching greater heights.
“I am a perfectionist in the studio to some degree, but in a lot of ways I’m not,” Stoltz notes. “Double Exposure” was mixed and mastered by Mikey Young of Eddy Current Suppression Ring/Total Control. “I have just had great teachers help me along the way,” Stoltz says. “Whether it is now, 1950, or 2050, there is always certain musical knowledge that is very helpful. I just try to work fast. I jump in on an idea and go for it.”
“Double Exposure” showcases a variety of music, from the folk-rock track “Storms,” to psychedelic groovy tunes, like “Kim Chee Taco Man,” to the funky blues of “It’s Summertime Again.” He utilizes vintage synths, 17 guitars, tape echos, mellotrons, a ‘50s jukebox, and more to sonically enrich the recording.
Though legendary for his self-recordings, Stoltz isn’t in the business to compete with or copycat musicians of his ilk: Sonny and the Sunsets, Brian Wilson, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen. Still, all the players around him in San Francisco know him quite well.
“I play a show about every month or two at home and have a great time,” he explains. “I almost always get to jam with good friends, which makes it fun.”
Wilmingtonians will be able to catch him in Charlotte, opening for Jack White at the Fillmore on June 5th. Or head to the Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar in Carolina Beach on Friday, June 6th, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.