Kelly Jean Caldwell has started having mask dreams again.
“I didn't for a long time, but now I'm in public and all of a sudden I'm like, 'Oh my God, I don't have a mask on!'” she says.
Caldwell, who has been writing and performing dynamic, relatable, and, raw jangly rock for decades (and long before having children), describes herself as an anxious person and a hypochondriac, two features of her mental makeup that makes her ripe for catastrophe during a global pandemic.
But, given everything, Caldwell is holding it together, and her latest record Birdie
is a testament to her ability to allow herself to fall apart to come together, stronger and more self-aware than before. Oh, and the record, out Friday, is jokingly dedicated to “everybody out there watching so many murder shows on TV and all the freaky cult stuff,” but, in reality, it's mostly about her family.
Named after her daughter, the record takes on deeply personal subjects that are rarely paired with girl group shimmer, vibrant retro-rock clammer, and Patti Smith-like choral cadence. We're talking dead kids, depression, and the constant balancing act that is motherhood.
“How far away is death tonight?/ What do you remember from the land of your primordial light?/ I know it's hard to sleep when you try,” she sings on “SIDS,” the first song she wrote as a mother years ago, adding a line about how she lied to her doctor about sleeping with her newborn because she was so scared her son would die.
“I was so freaked out about [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome], being like a super anxious person, I couldn't stop reading articles about it. I couldn't sleep. I was like breastfeeding so my son would wake up all the time, so it made more sense to sleep with him, but then you're just like, 'Oh my God, I'm going to roll over my baby!'” Caldwell says.
“I mean, now, looking back, like, you know, I had postpartum depression and anxiety, but I didn't know like how to deal with it. And I was like, well, I'm just going to try to deal with the way I deal with everything, which is to write a song about it. But I didn't want it to be a sad song because I don't want people to think that I'm sad about being a mom,” she explains. “So it's like a super sad song disguised in like the happiest way.”
Putting out Birdie
, which is, for the most part, a collection of mostly older songs recorded in the fall of 2019, has not been as easy as Caldwell's previous releases. In addition to being a songwriter and a mother of two, Caldwell and her husband John Szymanski co-own the popular Detroit bar and performance venue Outer Limits Lounge, which also has its own record label and recording space. Like most of Michigan's bars and performance spaces, Outer Limits has been closed since March due to the pandemic.
“We own our building, like, we're going to be OK. But like, you know, it's not ideal,” she says. “I mean, it's like, you work so hard on something that takes up so much of your life, but again, no one could have seen — no, I could have seen this coming.”
Caldwell admits to preferring the formal state-mandated shutdown than having to make the ethical choice to open or stay closed, and says it's allowed her to gain some perspective as to how special Outer Limits Lounge is for many of its regulars and countless local musicians and bands that look to it as a second home.
“It's a dream come true for me, you know, just as like a musician, as somebody who's traveled to different countries, and played at different bars and stuff, to have young people associate our place as like a clubhouse,” Caldwell says. “It's very sweet the way that people think of it as like their grandma's house or something. People are always like, 'Oh my God, it's so cozy. It's like my grandma's.' And I'm like, I like that. I'll take it as a compliment because I'm obsessed with my grandma.”
OK — so loving on her grandma and worrying about her kids might not seem like a cocktail for a trippy boot-stomping record, but if Birdie
hones in on any one, OK, two
things, it is that being a mom and having your shit together is as badass as it gets.
“I mean, people are dying,” Caldwell says of the pandemic and those with mental health concerns. “Like I just feel lucky that like I have my shit together and I'm not a totally, like, alcoholic in a ditch right now or something.”
is available for download on Bandcamp
. Caldwell will also be at Outer Limits Lounge on Saturday, Dec. 19 slinging limited edition copies of the record before taking to Outer Limits Lounges' Instagram
for a live performance with guitarist Craig Brown at 9 p.m.
You can listen to “Meatloaf” below.
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