Photo: Rachel Cassels

The Gang’s All Here: An Interview With the Cairo Gang’s Emmett Kelly

Emmett Kelly’s the Cairo Gang returns with an Untouchable album of no frills rock ‘n’ roll; Ty Segall guests.

The Cairo Gang

“A Cairo Gang record ends up being the music that comes from me entirely.”

Emmett Kelly — guitarist, singer/songwriter, and prime mover of the Cairo Gang — is on the phone from Los Angeles, talking through the complexities of navigating a solo project that is also a band. “I’ve been making records pretty much by myself for years, but there’s a band. We play live,” Kelly says. “I’ve been trying to work on bridging the worlds. It’s all about connecting things. It seems like as a musician, or whatever it is you want to call yourself, the whole point of doing anything is to connect these different sides of your brain and make them into something that’s tangible, that somebody else can get something from.”

Kelly has worked under the Cairo Gang banner for 20 years now. While the group’s origins date back to his high school music making, nothing was officially released until a self-titled debut appeared in 2006. The group’s sound can evoke a near-Platonic ideal of mid-’60s rock ‘n’ roll, basking in the moment when garage rock attitude took on a proto-psychedelia shimmer. Their newest record, Untouchable, released by Drag City imprint God?, is as pure an expression of straightforward rock ‘n’ roll you’ll find in 2017. Over its lean eight-song tracklist, guitars chug and chime, drums strut and swing, and Kelly’s melodic dexterity satisfyingly soars. Kelly explains that the record grew from working with garage maestro Ty Segall.

“The record was recorded in Los Angeles at the home studio of Ty Segall. Ty and I made the record together; he engineered it and played the drums. I played pretty much everything else on the record, except two songs have different bass players on them, one being Shayde Sartin, who you might recognize from The Fresh & Onlys, and Ryan Weinstein who is the bass player in the Cairo Gang live.”

Kelly has played on Ty’s records and been a member of Segall’s touring band, The Muggers. Bringing Segall in to return the favor on a Cairo Gang release just made sense. “I felt like it was a good time to open up to others, you know? Ty has been a great support to me, both musically and as a friend over the past few years. He’s a phenomenal drummer, so I wanted to cut the basic tracks with him playing live, just because his demos are the best.”