The song “Seventy One Percent” by Wellesley High senior Fred Kelly shows that you just never know where inspiration might strike.
Kelly, who this past weekend launched an album titled “New Conscience” on the DIY-oriented Bandcamp website, says the song takes place almost entirely at WHS “during a particularly frantic and sleep-deprived stretch of Junior year.” More specifically, Kelly dozed off in a Biology class, only to be awakened by a lobbed whiteboard marker intended to hit his desk but that connected with his face instead. “It was equal parts startling and hilarious,” Kelly says, and he actually counts it as one of his favorite memories from high school “because the accumulation of small annoyances that made Junior year so awful peaked in such an absurd and ridiculous way that things could only get better from there.” Thus were born the song “Seventy One Percent” and lyrics such as “Wouldn’t mind the grind if it ever ended” (the song title came from Kelly desiring at the time to waste 5 days out of 7, which works out to 71.4%).
Other songs on the guitar-heavy album, compiled over the course of more than a year in Kelly’s bedroom, document how the tone of his “inner monologue” has changed over the years. He calls the compilation more of a collection of diary entries than an album. “Writing these songs has helped me look at what values are important to me, and feeling more confident in what I believe in has dramatically changed how I process and react to the world around me.”
Kelly works his Agile AL-3100 and SX Furrian guitars on the album, plus experiments with keyboards. He describes the style of music as a mix of punk, emo and folk, and has drawn inspiration from artists such as Weezer, DIY master Jeff Rosenstock, Elliott Smith and Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys. The album is tagged as “bummer folk”, among other things, on Bandcamp. Kelly has an affinity for musicians who started recording music on consumer-grade tape equipment that produces a distinctive distorted analog sound, and he purposely added such fuzz via his recording software.
Word of the album has spread among the local school crowd via social media as well as through intimate basement shows for friends. Kelly also takes his act on the road, such as to open mic and talent shows, and coming soon, to Hearth Pizzeria in Needham (April 7). The young musician is making connections with people who book underground shows in Boston and Cambridge as well.
“I’ve seen him live twice,” says fellow WHS senior Jessie Wrobel. “He really is that good of a singer and guitar player, and I think his lyrics are both creative and relatable to a lot of young people.”
Kelly, who has played in the WHS jazz band since freshman year and joined the advanced jazz band last year, has taken advantage of Wellesley High’s rich line-up of music courses. He has particularly enjoyed Music Technology courses taught by concert band director Steve Scott. “I’m currently taking my third year of Music Tech, which I get to take as a Senior Intensive this year. Although I taught myself most of what I know about mixing and music production through books, YouTube videos, and online newsletters, that class is a great place to experiment with new ideas and get really thoughtful mix advice from Mr. Scott. He’s in a successful indie rock band and knows how well-mixed music ‘should’ sound.”
Kelly expects to dive deeper into music technology as an electrical engineering student at Harvard University after he graduates from WHS. “With all the home recording I do, I’ve been fascinated by the digital tools in my computer that simulate the sound of vintage analog audio equipment like guitar amps, recording consoles, and rackmounted effects (that I can’t afford in real life),” he says. “While these digital simulations sound very good, they don’t sound indistinguishable from the ‘real thing’. I’d like to study the analog circuitry behind this recording gear so I can help progress the digital simulation to a point where it sounds exactly the same as its analog counterpart.”
It sounds as if Kelly won’t mind that grind.