As I prepare for my phone interview with Kellen Wenrich, 23, of The Apache Relay, I only know two things about him—One, he plays the violin and keys for his indie roots band and, two, he is “the man seen jumping off the roof on the album cover,” as the Sacks & Co. contact kindly informs me. I refer to the cover of the band’s self-titled album (to be released April 22nd) and spot the casually floating man with flowing red locks that trail his descent into the pool.
But Kellen hardly spends (all) his spare time relentlessly plunging into pools. Despite the appearance, his manner of speaking is calm, down-to-earth. He is no crazy, adrenaline-pumped, speed-talking daredevil. He is just one part of this six-person band whose responses to my questions are often prefaced with, “I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me…”
And as I talk to Kellen, he continues to remind me that there’s a larger band beyond just himself. He reminds me that the journey to the present has consisted in learning how to live on Taco Bell and sleep on floors, allowing other members their breathing space, and meshing with a variety of personal and musical backgrounds. “It’s kind of like being married to a bunch of other people,” he says.
As a matter of fact, I get the sense that this musical marriage has become a life-consuming devotion for Kellen since the members met at college. And even though their sound has changed throughout the years, they’ve always had the “willingness to flow as inspiration strikes” and to be true to themselves. They’ve moved through many phases including electric-folk, and are currently stationed at a more “layered classic pop” sound.
The Apache Relay’s new self-titled album is the pinnacle of the cohesion that the band has been honing in on since 2009, according to Kellen (who can’t speak for everyone, of course!). My sneak peek of their newest album gives me a similar impression. It has an organic sound with a polished touch. There’s a certain ease and flow that is difficult to deny. Kellen veers from his usual plain spoken short sentences for just a moment: “It feels like a painting where the colors go together. That’s kind of the aesthetics of it.”
There’s somewhat of an endearing awkwardness that stems from this modest wallflower. He’s not into vomiting out run-on sentences when I ask about his life; it seems that music is his language of choice. His 18 years of mastering the violin certainly seems to speak for itself.
“Every song kind of comes together in its own way,” he tells me. Group work and collective decisions are made, but there’s no set process in songwriting. Kellen tries to walk me through his creative process. “It’s not something that can be qualified or quantified…making music to me feels like a passionate act instead of banging your head against a wall to make something happen.”
Kellen mentions that the angst of life on the road serves as a binding theme in much of their music. But whether he’s at home or on the road, music seems to be as constant as air for this Philadelphia native. I ask him what he does when he’s not making music–a long pause. I imagine a wrinkling of the forehead and puzzled eyes. Even when he’s home, he’s working on music for the band.
His mere diligence and talent strike me as his defining characteristics. There’s no snobbery or pretense of profundity. “How do you set yourselves apart from other bands that label themselves as ‘indie roots’”? I ask. A pause at the other end of the line. Then he says, “Shit, I don’t know about that one…” Perhaps a brow-raising response, but he says he can only hope to produce high-quality music and perform captivating shows. His uncertainty is rather hopeful and charming. He chuckles, “I don’t know if it’s working or not, but I guess time will tell.”
Nor does he project some deeper meaning onto the band’s name. It was given to the band by a friend of theirs, as a reference to the 1995 movie, Heavyweights. They were in search for a name and there it was, bestowed upon them. It’s not these surface features that matter to him, it is the fact that there is a married band of brothers behind him with musical passion in their veins. There are numerous “minds working together and coming together.”
A relay is a team effort, after all.
written by Juhee Lee