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Kelly Deco talks about working with producer Val Garay on 'retro futuristic' rock album

Kelly Deco. (Courtesy: Kelly Deco)
Kelly Deco. (Courtesy: Kelly Deco)
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Meatloaf. David Bowie. Elton John.

Those are just some of the artists who's songs painted the musical canvas back in the 1970s. Those powerful and majestic melodies that you didn't just listen to, but took you on a journey. A sound that seems to have been lost in the new millennium.

Kelly Deco has gone back to those the songs and artists he loves to produce a kaleidoscope of sound with his new album "Constellation," a collection of songs for his Kelly Deco Band that he calls “Retro-futuristic, rock, love, and fantasy. Songs with a mix of old 70s rock and futuristic spins on Bowie, Meatloaf, Anthony Newley, and Love.”

I'm a big fan of all of those artists from the 70s like Meatloaf and David Bowie," said Kelly Deco during a recent interview. "I fully intended to do make an album with that rich sound that you heard back in those days. I'm honored that there is a place for that kind of music because most of those artists have passed on. I'm gladly carrying the torch.

Kelly said he's always writing song ideas, but it wasn't until he reconnected with his high school sweetheart that the creative floodgates came open, and he immediately knew he wanted to write an album in the vein of Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell."

I got back together with my high school girlfriend and it was shocking how much the memories of my youth just came flowing out," he said. "It was almost like I could relive it. It was like I had a second chance to do a lot of things and say a lot of things with the wisdom of an older person. That really helped me in the writing of this album. I wrote all the music first and then I run it down with a classical pianist much like the Jim Steinman idea. I really love the way Jim Steinman overplays and the guy I collaborated with, Paul Franks, really overplays too so it sets the tone for the whole album. We just set out to write one song to see how things would progress, and then we'd write two and then three until we had close to 30 songs. I put the music after because the music guides you. I always had the constellation theme and traveling through space, life and love and all the experiences.

Knowing what kind of sound he wanted for the new album was one thing, reproducing it was always going to be a challenge. A talk with a producer friend of his during the COVID-19 lockdowns turned his dream into a reality.

"I really wanted to get that 70s sound on this album. I wanted those melodic songs with a powerful sound that actually tell a story. Interesting songs that you can list to and the story kind of unfolds throughout the record. And most people don't know how complex some of those arrangements are," he said. "There is a lot of intensity and clarity. A friend of mine, producer Nick (Timbrook) told me that I should get with Val Garay who basically invented that sound. And Val was Nick's partner so that really worked out. And because of COVID, Val was available and he agreed to do it."

Val Garay is a five-time Grammy Award winning producer, engineer and songwriter, who has worked on albums Jackson Browne (The Pretender), Elton John (Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy), seven albums with Linda Rondstadt and won a Grammy for his work on the Kim Carnes smash hit "Bette Davis Eyes" in 1981.

Kelly wasn't sure that a producer of Val's stature would want to tackle his futuristic sounding album.

I would never have expected someone with five Grammy Awards and 120 platinum records to get that involved, but he sure did," he said. "Val brought his own drums, his own guitars, modules to plug into the mixing board. So the first thing is we had to find the right studio so he could bring his equipment. He was personally involved in making this album work and getting that sound that I told him I wanted. It was surreal. I was using his microphone that so many famous artists sang into. I'm so happy at how good Val made this record sound.

Kelly has been in the music business since the early 1980s during the heyday of the Sunset Strip and the Los Angeles sound that produced bands like Van Halen, Motley Crue and Quiet Riot. He started working on his first album "Big Fish" in 1982, but it would take eight years for it to see the light of day.

"I got in with Nick in 1981 when we got to do some songs for Robert Stigwood," he said. "That is also when I met up with a gentleman named Richard Dickie Davis, who was manager for Buffalo Springfield, and he pretty much plugged me in to working in the movies. But I had the chance to work with Nick and 'No Reality' was the first song we wrote together in 1982. It is not far off from what I'm doing now. But it took a lot more time in the studio through the years to get some more songs for the album that would become 'Big Fish."

Now that the album was done, Kelly knew from his work in movies that he needed an amazing video. A chance encounter with three-time Emmy winning designer Wayne White, who worked on Pee Wee's Playhouse and Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” was just what Kelly needed.

I bumped into Wayne White, who was the designer and puppet master for 'Pee Wee's Playhouse," he said. "He came in and heard the album and really liked it. I asked if he could do a video and he jumped at the chance. He said it had to be 'No Reality.' We worked for months on that video. We built all these sets, and because I was involved in movies, we were always able to find the space to build them. And the video came out really good and we shipped it off to the video channels like MTV and Night Tracks. And it got some really good airplay and we were really proud of it.

The video for "No Reality" gained national attention and major airplay on the video music channels.

In 1994, Kelly released the album "American Dream," followed by the release of "Get Out," with the title song originating from the 1982 Stigwood session at United Western.

Since the 1980s, Kelly has worked as a scenic artist for countless movies, including 1984's "Dreamscape," 1989's "Pet Cemetery," 1991's Steven Spielberg film "Hook," and the 2012 Academy Award winner for best Picture "Argo." Working on films is what has filled Kelly's time in between writing songs. But he feels that now was the perfect time for this kind of album, but it didn't come without it's share of pain.

"I really love that the people are getting this music," he said. "I can't just play this music, I have to live it. It has to come from the heart. It has to hurt me a little bit. Some of the subject matter makes me break down, but this album is way more personal than I would have ever imagined even a few years ago. I have to thank my girlfriend for that."

CLICK HERE for more information on the Kelly Deco Band.

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