Earlier this year, country singer Ruston Kelly announced via tweet his “official genre” is “dirt emo.” He even made t-shirts to prove it. If you’ve heard Kelly’s 2018 album Dying Star, which we named one of the best country releases of the year, this nomenclature needs no explanation. But for the uninitiated, Dying Star sounds like if Kurt Cobain (may he rest in peace) drove a jet-black tractor down to Nashville and recorded an album with Willie Nelson’s harmonica player, throwing in the occasional Auto-Tune. The album tackles issues like drugs and addiction while seamlessly blending country, emo and rock.
When you take into consideration Kelly’s influences (he cites the aforementioned Cobain, as well as Townes Van Zandt and Eminem), it makes complete sense. Kelly, along with his dad and tour mate Tim “TK” Kelly, stopped by the Paste Studio on Friday to play two tunes from Dying Star, the title track and “Faceplant,” plus a recently written, still unreleased song, “Closest Thing.” You can watch the whole session below.
During the session, Kelly described the inspiration for the album’s title:
It pretty much wraps up the emphasis of why I felt like I needed to write to get out of a particular personal situation that I was dealing with at the time. And this was the first two words that popped into my head. It was like ‘Dying Star. Alright, that sounds like a record.’ So I wrote the song.
And he spoke candidly about the personal issues that contributed to the lyrics on the record:
I’m making my way out of the woods, and nothing’s perfect yet, but I’m not at least I’m not abusing myself anymore. It was extremely cathartic to write a record revolving around some of those situations and then be able to say this is a chapter in my story. Being able to figuratively close the book on something, that helped more than anything.
Kelly and his band are currently on tour with Patty Griffin and will resume their headline tour later in the year. Find all the dates here.
Watch Ruston Kelly’s Paste Studio session below. While you’re at it, listen to his 2013 Daytrotter session further down.