It's a warm Wednesday night in Phoenix at Carly's, and songwriter Lonna Kelley's thoughts flow out in a steady stream, punctuated by sips from her Lumberyard IPA. She's speaking about how life influenced her new EP of swooning noise pop, Take Me Home Spiderman: her desire to live honestly, being faced with mortality, losing love, and finding it again.
"Sometimes it just pours out," she explains as she turns the conversation to early June, backstage at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona, where she found herself speechless. Patti Smith, one of Kelley's heroes, had just come into the dressing room Kelley shared with her bandmates in psychedelic Sonoran band Giant Sand. She was determined to keep quiet, for fear of saying nothing beyond "You're my hero, I love you" to the punk poet, but Smith focused in on her.
"She just looked at me, and I didn't know what to say to her," Kelley says. "I think I said hi . . . and there was this long pause, awkward, and she said, 'Would you like some wine?'"
Smith found two glasses and filled them. "She took this moment to be totally authentic, and she just said to me, 'Cheers to happiness,'" she said to Kelley, raising her glass.
Reflecting on that meeting, Kelley surmises that to her, happiness means freedom. Her new EP is a record about the ideal: freedom from musical rules, from traditional gender roles, from listener expectations.
It's a survey of the immense darkness in Kelley's life. Three years ago, Phoenix musician Mark Erickson, her partner and father of her son, Jack, took his own life, and that pain loomed over the writing and recording of the EP. But even more than an elegy, the songs serve as a celebration of the life Kelley has built for herself, the joy she's found playing with her band Cherie Cherie as well as Giant Sand, the joy she's found with her adopted daughter Sophie, husband Jay Hufman, Hufman's son Harrison, and Jack, who appears on the album cover of the new EP, draped in a towel at the Clarendon Hotel, looking "like a boxer or something," Kelley says.
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It was Jack's obsession with the comic book hero that provided the album's title, combined with Kelley's penchant for blues songs about "going home," about finding a place where you belong.
Recorded mostly at Kelley's house, the record features Kelley's friends Robin Vining, Hufman, Matt Wiser, and Ryan Breen of Back Ted N-Ted, whose drum machines pulse beneath Kelley's voice, draped in reverb. The record exists in its own hissing and haunting world. Girl-group numbers like "Wolf Pack" and "No Body No Mind" seem to float, and wistful pop songs like "In the Dark" and "Pretty Boy" collapse into noisy collages, with disjointed samples adding eerie resonance.
Kelley approached this album unlike any project before, building on the moods and striking qualities of her last solo effort, 2009's Go Away Closer, but moving into a space beyond that album. "I had this expectation of what I wanted that record to be, and even more so, how I wanted other people to feel about the record," Kelley says. "I wanted to make a record that's good and that other people think, 'That's a really good record.' That's fucking insanity. That's the complete opposite of freedom. As a result of trying to exert that control, you completely destroy it."
Kelley swigs a beer, noting that she'll likely hear Take Me Home Spiderman differently in five years. But now, it feels like the exact record she needed to make. "There's a big difference in trying to do something and just doing something," she smiles.