11 Questions: Kelly Sorbel
interview by Brent Cole
photo by Jess Bonin
A little over a decade ago, there was a quirky band full of art punks playing some of the best music the town has ever produced. Remarkably understated, A Gun That Shoots Knives were so quirky and weird, they almost weren’t real. I asked them to play a benefit show at the 3B and afterwards I saw something I’d never seen before or since… a small group of young women who’d seen AGTSK singing their songs outside at 2 a.m. And they weren’t subtle about it – which was glorious. Through AGTSK, who quickly became one of my favorite bands, I connected with drummer Kelly Sorbel. He went on to move to Seattle, but through the years we stayed in touch. He recently moved to Mount Vernon, I was stoked – he’d be back around for the music (and art) scene, a great influence on up and coming bands!
As luck would have it, he is releasing a new album (under the moniker Kurly Somthing), which gave me the perfect opportunity to have him here for 11 questions.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Kelly Sorbel.
Who are you and where did you come from? Please tell us a bit about yourself.
My Name is Kelly Sky Sorbel. Sometimes people call me Kurly. I grew up on the Washington State Peninsula. After a series of run-ins with the law I moved to a very small town north of Spokane to finish high school.
After High School I moved to Bellingham… and eventually Seattle… with my lifelong bandmates and best friends Jimmy and Jeff (Vk, Schezia Gheist, A Gun That Shoots Knives and live support for Kurly Somthing) to follow our dream of being a band.
You recently moved back to the Whatcom/Skagit area from Seattle. What is your favorite aspect of small town living?
I absolutely love living in Mount Vernon. There are so many nearby farms, you can actually eat very well, responsibly and for very cheap. I love that it doesn’t matter what band you are in, who you skate for, what your tag is, what you curated… it’s more about how you interact and communicate with people. Seattle can become a very small world for some, myself included, at times.
In June you’ll be releasing a new album. How has your songwriting developed and please tell us of any players that were instrumental in the musical process?
Kurly Somthing began as a therapeutic recording project between myself and Scot Michael. He had the studio and I had some songs. We were never bound to a genre, and never worried about how we would perform it. The tunes had a broad range of influences, from Trans Am to Gwar to Africa Bombata . I was really insecure about my singing at the time, so we used a lot of vocoders and effects. This ended up being an integral part of our sound. Scot has an amazing way of hearing what I want a recording or arrangement to be, and sometimes bringing out additional parts I didn’t even know were there or possible. He has worked tirelessly tracking, mixing and mastering all of our songs as well as adding drums, bass, synths and continuously masterminding how we can reproduce these songs live. We would do stupid covers of songs like “Boom I GotYour Boyfriend” or “Safety Dance” because we thought it was funny. We started putting out collections of studio recordings as mix tapes. Out of three mix tape releases there would only be maybe 3-4 songs per release we would play live.
After six years of recording, touring and hours and hours of writing time, I finally felt that we had created a style of our own. The new album is the full length I was always searching to make, with seven of what we have deemed the best songs from the old mixtapes and three new previously unreleased recordings.
While putting this album together we have demoed 10 more songs for an EP we plan to put out this fall. “You’re only as good as your last album.” is the motto we like to have in the studio.
You make your living with art and music. What would you tell any other aspiring musicians or artists about that lifestyle?
Music and art are very much what make me walk amongst the living. There is not a moment in the day there is not a song playing in my head or some sort of visual expression being formed. If I did not have a way to get all this out there is no doubt I would be completely insane; the world would hurt too much for me to be in it. At the end of the day this is who I am, whether I’m getting paid to do it or not.
As far as how to “make it” in art and music 2017, here is the big truth in my opinion: You are most likely going to have a day job, a few days a week, forever. Every single “established” or “famous“ artist and musician I have ever met has a job. They just might not tell you about it. Maybe it’s a gig between checks, it might be an industry job, it might be cool, but they still have a job.
After that, it’s all about finding mentors, expanding skills, and taking it one day at a time.
It’s Sunday morning, what are you doing?
These days I’m up at 6 am… coffee, shower, get the cat back inside, read the day’s head lines, smooch my beautiful partner, and I’m out the door to another fine Sunday working in the produce department of the Skagit Valley food co-op.
If you could have a drink with anyone living, who would it be and why?
Any one of my friends or family, especially anyone I haven’t seen for a while. New faces are always welcome! A famous person is still just a stranger ‘til you meet, and then, they might be a weirdo!
When was the last time you cried and what prompted the tears?
To tell you the truth I cry pretty easily, happy or sad. Being alive is awesome and terrible all at once sometimes. If I cry I know I’m still connected to the world and not isolated in my own. I actually enjoy it in a way.
I have lost a number of people to drug overdoses and suicide lately. Those all hit pretty hard.
What are your top five all time favorite records?
Secret Chiefs 3- Book of Horizons
Mr. Bungle -Disco Volante
Devo- Duty Now For the Future
Bad Brains- Self Titled
Jeffrey Lewis- The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane
Name one artist and one musician you feel is a kindred spirit and why?
My guy Specs Wizard aka Specs 1. Artist and Musician. Born and raised in Seattle, he has been in hip hop and Graffiti since before I was born. No joke. He is also an amazing comic book artist, historian and illustrator. Dude’s a legend and I’m lucky to have worked with him and learned so much from him. If you don’t know, now you know! Look him up.
What do you hope to be doing in five years from now?
Living, working and playing music with my partner in crime Jess Bonin (Sleepy Genes), putting out Kurly Somthing albums, getting better at art and design, expanding my art company Something Else, taking on more commercial artwork and falling off my skateboard. I really want to have my own house so I can build a music studio and the skateboard half-pipe of my dreams.
What is the last great book you read and why did it have such a big impact on you?
Skateboard art of Jim Phillips. He is the godfather of all skateboard graphics and continues to have an amazing, inspiring work ethic.
Any last thoughts?
I’m very grateful for this interview. Thank you anyone who ever liked a song, came to a show, bought a piece of art or said hello.
Catch Kelly Sorbel, aka Kurly Somthing, at The Shakedown on June 9. For more about him, follow his Facebook page.
Published in the June 2017 issue of What’s Up! Magazine