The Cairo Gang

Text: Vicente Gutierrez
Image: Jim Newberry, Alex Knost (color)
Issue: #1, Fall-Winter 2014-2015

“MY RELATIONSHIP TO MY OWN MUSIC ISN’T TO BE A RECORD-MAKING MACHINE. IT’S WHAT I DO CONSTANTLY, BUT I DON’T FEEL LIKE I NEED TO SHARE EVERYTHING WITH EVERYONE. SOME THINGS ARE PRIVATE.”

Cairo-Gang-EmmettKellybyJimNewberry-600

Emmett, how has all the touring been?

The tour, or should I say tours, went well. We started in California and played Oakland, SF, LA and Fullerton, mostly with the band Tomorrow’s Tulips. This was the first time the full Chicago outfit played outside of Chicago. The Cairo Gang has done numerous attempts at touring and they have been really isolated experiences because we had never been able to afford taking all five of us out of town for any length of time. We figured out to book some gigs and then put together totally radical line-ups with bands that we love and feel connected to on some sort of spiritual level, and then throw caution to the wind and project that they would rule. We met Tomorrow’s Tulips during one of our aborted tour experiences in Big Sur. We had worked on trying to get enough gigs for the whole band to go, and when that fell through we decided to say fuck this, lets do the opposite thing than The Cairo Gang and call ourselves Gnagoriaceht. We played improvised music to start the day of a two-day festival put on in part by the Mollusk Surf Shop in the warm sun amidst redwoods and people getting out of tents and drinking coffee and smoking joints. These dudes came up to us and said they were swimming in the river and heard this beautiful cloud of sound rolling through the trees and were psyched. And then they played…and were great. Anyway, we played really high energy gigs in California with classic Chicago brutality. It was a dream of sorts. Especially because the last time we tried to come out, it was a total bust. The music was good and with great friends but it was energetically off the subject for us and booked and promoted badly. So this was a blast. I booked it all and finally they got to hear this band I been talking about. The one that’s been playing together in Chicago. A couple weeks later we went around the Midwest with our friends from Chicago, Famous Laughs. The singer for Famous Laughs runs a tape label called Teen River and we had put out a tape with him. Me and him have had all these wild dream think tanks and we decided to join forces. Share all the gear, share all the expenses and divvy up the loot at the end. We came out on top, and played only great gigs in good spaces. In Minneapolis we played a place called Shitbiscuit that was awesome, and in Detroit with Shelly Salant’s band Rebel Kind, and in Louisville with a tremendous band called Tropical Trash among others.

You grew up in California, how did you end up getting around and collaborating with so many people?

For me growing up in LA, I had a kind of skewed perspective on “gigs.” I grew up in a family of struggling musicians. Primarily doing bar band type gigs, which I thought was the only way to make any money doing gigs, albeit slim. I sort of rejected that kind of music for a long time because it felt totally spent. The truth is, I love that music— bar band music. It’s rock and roll. The reason why it’s spent is because the energy is generally missing. It could be from the band itself or from the audience, or the club. There are tons of reasons why it isn’t there but old dudes playing old rock and roll tunes is kinda beat. I got into punk and through that found tons of other things with similar obscurity. I took a liking more to spacey mellow stuff. I moved out of LA and went to Boston to learn more about music at Berklee College of Music. This did happen. I learned a lot about music there. Not so much in school but through all of my friends. I started to open up as most kids do at that age. I got into The Grateful Dead, started taking psychedelics and jamming. In no time I realized I needed to get the hell out of there. I moved to Amsterdam and began a stretch of time busking. After a few months, I started to travel around Europe, having super weird experiences until I ended up in Paris and started a band with one of my old friends Kevin and his girlfriend Cheryl. September 11th happened and everything got confusing. I went home. Kevin and Cheryl continued with the band that eventually became Women and Children. They went on the road all over the place. After multiple stabs at trying to find a good place to live in early 2004 I moved into a converted warehouse near downtown LA with my friend Jack, who plays as Jack Name. We started a band, The Charlemeignes, where we split up the drum kit and both played guitar and half of the drums. In continuance with the general confusion in LA’s club scene, we decided only to play on the street. We got a generator and jack built a wheeled platform and we would do it that way. Our music was very noisy and conceptual. We never made any money. We decided to move to New York. I had attempted that twice before and failed, so when I set out to drive myself there, I was in no hurry. I drove around, spent a few months in Oklahoma, recorded a few bands and then went to go visit my sister in Chicago. I had never been there so I was excited to check it out. I had no idea that two weeks later I would be getting a place to live there. Jack made it quickly to New York and then he turned around and came to Chicago on my recommendation. I got deep in the scene there, first playing with Azita. I felt like I was back in school again with her. Totally freaked me out having to learn that stuff but it brought me on the road for the first time. I was pretty drunk, but we had a good time. The turn outs were small, but some wild times. Through Azita I met Rian Murphy who was working on Edith Frost’s album and he asked me to play. This was when “gigs” started coming. I could obviously play, and so people started asking about me. I got this gig playing in a bar band oddly enough in Iowa. It was weird but I ended up coming home and wanting to do that and so Leroy Bach and I started The Boogie Band. This was a great band. We played dance music R & B at this fucked up Mexican bar. Word got around and it took off. Through Leroy I ended up playing with Beth Orton. Jim O’Rourke made her record and recommended Leroy play bass live for her. I ended up on guitar. We played a gig and everything was cool. I was just doing a gig but it was alright with me. Meanwhile in Chicago I was hanging around, mostly at the Rainbo. I was 25 and obviously wanted a beer most nights. This is where I met tons of musicians. John Herndon, Leroy, Tim Kinsella, Ryan Weinstein, John Klos, Derek James, Azita and Will Oldham. With Will and I, we met and it was casual. Then I ran into him in New York and then we stayed with him in Louisville on Azita’s tour. Then I ran into him again at the Rainbo. We decided playing was in order so in December we made our first record together in Iceland. This was a crazy experience. Compounded with the surrealism of playing this music, and simply being in Iceland which is like another planet. After the record was finished I went home and got another call from Beth to do the Letterman show. We did it and then she asked me to go on tour with her. We went all over playing the record. It was cool. I didn’t think much of it other than that it was fun to travel and meet all the people. After a while it ended. Somewhere mid-tour we were in Louisville, and Will gave me an advance copy of The Letting Go. The tour for that album changed my life. It cracked me open as a musician. As a person. I was free. Free to play whatever but not whatever. I was free to make music which I had never done before in any of the “gigs” I had done. I always had a part. Will encouraged me to play the way I saw suitable and to try not to play it that way over an over. We traveled the world, the West coast, the Middle East. I feel like at this point my guitar playing blossomed into something new. At home I started to play more, making a few albums here and there. Somehow I ended up playing with Takuma Watanabe and going to Japan. That was crazy. I met up with some good friends in Chicago that make some good music and for the most part we all tried to make everything inclusive, sharing the joy with like-minded talents and friends.

From all of the musical and physical ground you have covered, to what extent are you a product of where you’re from?

I have been traveling for a long time. I would say the most significant traveling experiences I had were                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

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