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Ruston Kelly

Live at the Ryman

Ruston Kelly

with very special guest Tim "TK" Kelly

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With his sophomore album Shape & Destroy, Nashville-based artist Ruston Kelly now documents his experience in maintaining sobriety, and finally facing the demons that led him to drug abuse in the first place. But while Kelly recounts that journey with an unvarnished honesty, his grace and conviction as an artist ultimately turn Shape & Destroy into a work of unlikely transcendence.

With its unsparing reflection on what Kelly refers to as “the cycle of frustration and temptation after getting clean,” Shape & Destroy took form during a period of painful transformation. “It wasn’t surprising to me that getting sober was a challenge, but there were moments when it was challenging in a way I’d never experienced before,” Kelly says. “There’s so much repair your brain has to do—spiritually, emotionally, physically—and at one point I really felt like I was losing my mind.”

That momentum continued as Kelly headed into the studio, co-producing Shape & Destroy with his longtime producer Jarrad K (Kate Nash, Weezer, Elohim). Working at Dreamland Recording Studios in Upstate New York (a space converted from a 19thcentury church), Kelly enlisted musicians like Dr. Dog drummer Eric Slick, bassist Eli Beaird (who also performed on Dying Star), and a number of his own family members: his father Tim “TK” Kelly played steel guitar, while both his sister Abby Kelly and his wife Kacey Musgraves contributed background vocals. And in shaping the album’s nuanced yet potent sound, the band deliberately channeled the raw vitality Kelly continually brings to his live show.

In bringing Shape & Destroy to life, Kelly again tapped into many of his longtime inspirations—Jackson Browne, Dashboard Confessional, the brutal and visceral energy of Kurt Cobain’s live performance—but also looked to such unexpected sources as transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. “A huge turning point in my spiritual life was reading his essay ‘The Poet,’ which talks about how artists love wine and narcotics, but the true artist doesn’t ingest anything but water from a wooden bowl,” he says. “As soon as I read that I thought, ‘Damn, you’ve got my number there.’” And through the process of creating Shape & Destroy with total clarity, Kelly emerged with a greater understanding of how to fulfill his purpose as an artist.

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