Kelly Pardekooper
by Johanna J. Bodde

Kelly Pardekoper Interview
Transcript from audio interview October 4th, 2003

Kelly: I'm done singing for the night, my voice is just good for talking now!

Johanna: Kelly, that last name of yours, Pardekooper, Paardenkoper is definitely Dutch! You'll probably get this question from everybody around here, but please tell us about the Dutch roots?

K: Yeah, I'll tell you what I know. My greatgrandfather came to America from Holland, somewhere in Holland where they buy horses, right? Paardenkoper, I've been learning, means "horsebuyer", but all I know is, that when he came through New York City, at Ellis Island, probably that's where the name got changed to the way it's spelled.

J: It's easier to pronounce here!

K: Yes, I think so, Paardenkoper is much easier than Pardekooper. They just make fun of me at home, you know... They don't know! They don't know, they call me Partypooper at home! (laughing)

J: Kelly, that must be short for something else, so what is your full first name?

K: Actually, Kelly is my full first name, my middle name is Charles, Kelly Charles Pardekooper.

J: Cool name! Yeah, some people here are wondering: well, it's also a last name, Kelly and it's also a girl's name, Kelly, you know, so...

K: Yeah, confusing, isn't it?

J: You're from Iowa, the picture in the CD-booklet shows you with a background of melting snow, do you get lots of snow in Iowa winters?

K: We do! And also, I have an album out called "Johnson County Snow", even before this one. It's very cold in the winter and we get that dirty kind of snow, it starts out pretty and white but after a few storms it blows over the fields with the dirt and it gets to the kind of a muddy snow. And I wanted a picture to kind of show where I was from and it also shows it's very flat in Iowa. So it's a good one, that's my home, that's definitely what my home looks like.

J: And Teddy Morgan, the guy you're working with, he is living in the Arizona desert, so how did you ever meet and start playing together?

K: We met through Greg Brown and Greg Brown is a folksinger, pretty well-known, he's from Iowa. He and Teddy were doing a benefit and Teddy had just stopped working with his band The Pistolas, so my band at the time backed him up for a couple of shows and we had a good time! And we connected, I think our music is not too different in a lot of ways, so we toured in the United States a couple of times and it's kind of been evolving, you know. We did the record "House Of Mud" together and now this is the first time coming to Europe to play together, so... He's a great friend and we have a good time playing together.

J: Your album "House Of Mud" was recorded in Key West, Florida, that's about as far away as you can get, how did you end up there?

K: Ah, well... You heard of Jimmy Buffett? Have you ever heard of Jimmy Buffett?

J: Yes...

K: O.K., he has a club called Margaritaville, named after one of his songs. We had a week long show at Margaritaville and part of the deal was, we got to use Jimmy Buffett's studio, during the day when we were not playing at night. So we took some recording tape with us and "House Of Mud", it just kind of came out. It's very live, very few overdubs and I think it's how we sound. So that's how we ended up in Key West, it wouldn't have been my..., it was a working holiday kind of, you know... (laughing) I'm not that big a fan of Jimmy Buffett, you know, I wouldn't give you the wrong impression!

J: Some of the songs on your album have intriguing titles, like "Hell's Kitchen" and that's also a tough Irish neighborhood in New York City, is that right?

K: Yeah, it is a neighborhod in New York City. In the song though, Hell's Kitchen would definitely be much more of my idea of hell and in using the kitchen, the Hell's Kitchen image from New York as...,  I don't wanna say a metaphore but I'm trying to treat a very simple... Like here's a kitchen, you have waitresses and you have politicians and characters and we can bring them all into this one little area and talk about hell and ultimately sin and salvation, I think too. That's kind of a dark song, they requested it last night (somewhat astonished) and we played it. It wasn't one I was planning to really do on this tour but... Yeah, that's uh... I like that one..., it's kinda, you know, there are a lot of kinda religious overtones to the song, like "Highway Home" also, with the references to Jesus. I tend to like to write songs about faith and sin and I was not raised Catholic completely through my childhood, but I was baptized and had a part of my childhood with a lot of religion. So I think I'm still..., I'm still processing that, you know...

J: That never leaves you, believe me! (laughing)

K: It's not that you'll ever stop...

J: No!

J: And please, tell us something about "Drown In Alcohol". Well, you said something about it already, but do you like to write about the darker sides of life?

K: Mmm, yeah, I would say I do (laughs for a moment), people ask me this a lot and uh... I'm pretty much a happy-go-lucky guy and maybe it's because I put a lot of those thoughts into songs. Maybe it's like therapy to some extent. "Drown In Alcohol" is... really a story-song you know, about a character, not anyone in particular, but in the business that we're in, we see a lot of people in bars drowning, you know, to use the... Really drowning and you can tell, so it's sad to watch people, I think, drown in alcohol and that was one. Enough years have gone by me working in bars, that I think it was time for me to finally write a song about one of these characters. Cause you can tell when you see someone, you know, it doesn't take much, you can tell when they're really, really drowning and should not be drinking. That's what that song is, there, I can't help but notice those people either. So answering your question, it's a long answer to your short question but I'm drawing to those characters and to..., you know, roques or castaways or vagabonds maybe. But I think alcoholics and people who are chronically abusing themselves with substances are the kind of characters that I see and write about too.

J: I think "Pray For Rain" is beautiful, what's the story behind that song?

K: See, my wife loves that song and we... Yeah, on the American release, the Trailer Records release, we wanted to end the record in kind of an uplifting way and I think it's a very happy song. Oh, we had in Iowa very dry summers, so, I have some farming friends who suffered, you know, greatly. Uhm, it doesn't take much to have a drought really affect your livelihood in Iowa and this was a song where I again wanted to incorperate praying and images of the church and faith, but in a maybe more positive light. I look at "Pray For Rain" as a very happy, uplifting song. The chords are open, they're not minors, they're not heavy, they're very light... Yeah, it's my wife's..., it's my mother's favorite song too! She wishes I would do them all like that, you know. (laughs)

J: You wrote all the songs on your album yourself, except one, "Whatever It Was", written by Greg Brown. He's not very well-known here but various musicians speak highly about him. Is he a friend of yours?

K: Well, I... He's someone who's been very good to me. He's my parents age, so he's more of an elder, you know, someone that we look up to but I wouldn't say he's a friend, you know, but he's been great. He's been great to us and he's uh... Many musicians know of his songs because he's such a tremendous songwriter and he has been nominated for a Grammy twice in folkmusic. So..., a lot of people in the United States do know about him but I don't think he comes to Europe to tour. He lives out in the country, small town Iowa. And a good lyrical rolemodel for me... I like to rock & roll a little more though, he's kind of folky and I still like to rock it up a little bit, you know! (laughs)

J: Yes, you can rock & roll as long as you're young, you can do the folk stuff, sitting down, lateron!

K: Yeah right, later... and then fifty years from now we come back and do a wheelchair tour!

J: Isn't it harder to build a career in music while living in Iowa, then it would be when you were living in cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, New York?

K: Yes! Definitely it is! (convinced) My wife and I..., we love our home, we've talked many times about moving and... My family is there and really my songs are there too, my stories are there. I don't know if... I won't ever leave Iowa but it's really my home... For my career, yes, it's definitely gone slower and I think it's probably harder. Because, you know, it's a very small market and people don't really pay a lot of attention to it. So coming over here is wonderful, it's like a dream come true, you know, I get to play in Amsterdam and these festivals. I would say on that same note though, a lot of what's on American radio and a lot of the audiences there... I'm not really all that interested in doing that kind of popular music, so... It's been very refreshing to come here and find an audience for the kind of music that I do. So in that respect, Iowa is just fine for me, you know, it's great, it's my home, it's where my roots are... Not till I quote the Take Root issues here, you know... (laughing)

J: While touring, like now in Europe, do you try to see some of the cities where you play? Do you like The Netherlands, do you feel a special connection with this country?

K: Yes! I mean, outside of the name, the obvious, you know, Dutch connection to the name, there are lots of things that appeal to my... uh... Amsterdam was a city I wanted to see, but you had said earlier about going to Leiden (he played there), that was, I believe, a university town which is a lot like the... Iowa City where I'm from, is a university town and very simular, you know, the crowd was very simular. I had a feeling (sighs), that I would probably connect, you know. Even from E-mails, whether it's..., there's lots of folks I've had E-mail contact with, really off and on for three to five years. This is just the first physical trip that I've taken here... But this is a..., a beautiful country! The landscape is kind of like home in some ways, I lke the way the clouds are coming and going this time of year, right and the rainy season, it seems like you have a rainy season right now... And you know (enthusiastically), I like your beer too, your beer is better! (laughing) I said that in Leiden and it's the truth! Smaller portions but better quality!

J: Well, almost everybody is telling us that, the musicians, so...

K: So we spend our time doing...

J: This is kind of a fun question. Do you still remember your very first professional gig? And also the weirdest gig you ever played?

K: The first gig I got paid to do was in a pretty not-good kind of rock & roll, I would say almost punkrock type of band when I was, you know, twenty-one, twenty-two. And I do remember it, because I couldn't hear anything and we were too loud. Oh, then we had great energy but not a lot of skill I think, not a lot of talent probably at that point either, but it was fun. And even the charge was, it was..., like: wow, we get paid! Probably, you know, five dollars, not much, but we got paid to play, it was great!
And the weirdest show, guh, the weirdest show... Oh! I play a show once a year that is very weird, called The Magic Bus and I told you I live in a university town, where they have college football. Once a year we get on top of an old schoolbus, they build a stage on top of a bus and we climb up on top and we play, on top of this bus. And it's kind of like Mardi Gras, lots of liquor and lots of nudity and that's the weirdest one. Every year I go away thinking: Oohhh, I' ll never do it again! (emphatic) But then, you know, as soon as I get back to America, I'm gonna do it again, it pays very well but it's kind of like going to the circus, so Mardi Gras is about the best explanation I can give with that one.

J: Could you mention three words, that describe you best as a person?

K: Hmm, happy..., pretty content... (silence), but still searching! I threw another word in there, you know, maybe curious would be another word. Sorry, now you got me going on words, I could go, I could go on and on and on. But I'm pretty content, I don't think the songs reflect my personality, as I am pretty happy-go-lucky and content, uhm, but I'm very curious still, so I'm still searching, yeah...

J: Please tell us, why music lovers really should listen to your album "House Of Mud", if they haven't yet?

K: I do think it's my best record. I put my first record out five years ago and I think, I think I've matured a lot. Sonically it's a wonderfully produced record, it's on a recording tape that's superior to what I've used in the past. And then I would say Teddy Morgan is the other part of that, that to my mind makes the record unique! Because it's a great document of Teddy Morgan's and my collaboration as artists... And I like the songs, I really like the songs! Some of it is rock & roll and upbeat and some of it is very spare and just guitar and vocal and maybe one other instrument, so then it's about the song. So then, I would say, for all of those reasons, if you haven't heard "House Of Mud" and had to choose just one Kelly Pardekooper record, that would be the one! And I'm not just saying that because it's my latest one (hastily), I really think it's a mark of where I'm at now as an artist, I'm still happy with it and that's good after a year, you know, I'm still happy with it!

J: Well, I guess this is one of the usual questions, but what are your plans for the near future?

K: I am making another record, it's always, always songwriting and recording and I'm... about halfway through another recording and I'm doing it... I'm doing this one in Iowa City at home, in a studio but I've kind of been wanting to work back at home for a little while. Uhm, maybe some more touring, hard to know, this German label, Trocadero Records, it's just released "House Of Mud" and my relationship with them is kind of ongoing and it's still new... So I would hope that I could put another record out and then maybe come back over and support it some more, you know. It's kind of the same old thing, write songs, record songs, go tour, hopefully people like them, make more friends you know (laughing), dozens at a time! Sometimes more, sometimes hundreds at a time, like this show, you know...

J: Are you going to see some other artists here at the Take Root Festival?

K: Yeah, we just..., we're sharing a dressing room with Cracker. Johnny Hickman and Teddy Morgan know each other real well, so we have had a lot of fun, telling jokes with them... I believe there, I don't know what they're called but there's a, on the acoustic stage, there's a Dutch band that's playing, with a name that I couldn't pronounce if we wanted to. But that's a group, that Teddy and some other people had heard really cool things about.

J: Stuurbaard Bakkebaard...

K: Stuurbaard Bakkebaard, gggg, wow! Yeah and of course I wanna see Cracker, also, I guess those would be the two, the first two that pop out for me. I love Cracker and I've never seen them live, but it's cool that we get to hang out with them and meet them.

J: O.K., well, that was it! Thank you very much for the interview!

K: Thank you!! I appreciate it!

Interview by Johanna J. Bodde, with Theo Oldenburg's technical assistence.
Parts of the audio interview were used in Alt.Country Cooking.