kelley stoltz - photo by Rich Hirneisen
Kelley Stoltz (photo: Rich Hirneisen)

Like many San Francisco musicians, Kelley Stoltz releases music in prolific spurts. The last time we talked with him in 2013, he had put out his record Double Exposure and was playing our very own Bay Brewed. This year alone, he’s putting out two albums and an EP on two different labels, and of course, there’s a reason behind it (somewhat). We chatted with the scene stalwart about his three new releases, his favorite spaghetti in the Mission, and persevering in the rapidly-changing San Francisco arts scene.

The Bay Bridged: You released your record Double Exposure in 2013, and now you’re putting out two records and an EP later this year, In Triangle Time, 4 New Cuts, and an album under the name Willie Weird. I think the question on everyone’s mind is: what was the idea behind the spurt of releases?

Kelley Stoltz: I had been working on new tunes since the last one came out — I did a bit of touring, but mostly was home recording people and working on my new stuff. Late last year, I was offered a good paying spot at the Purple Weekend festival in Spain in December 2015. So that helped give me a deadline. I figured I could turn that into part of my tour for my new albums. No real idea behind all three at once, other than why not. More to sell to pay the bills! The Castleface album and the double 7 inch is more typical of my other albums,  stylistically, whereas the Willie Weird character album is a bit more goofy and ramshackle.

TBB: I think the first thing I noticed about the new songs (and it looks like a few other people) was that there are more synthesizers than before. What was the writing process like for these albums? Were you playing on any specific influences?

KS: Well I grew up listening to music in the 70’s and 80’s and I think for a long time I shied away from chorus effects on basses and using synths and more typically new wave 80’s sounds, because it would’ve been too easy to achieve, as it was all so ingrained. So I had to kind of go backwards for new inspirations when I began — Beatles, British Folk, Psychedelia and so on. I also didn’t own a proper synth until 5 years ago, it was all mellotrons and string machines, so you know, you get a new toy you want to use it. And take a listen to the radio, everyone has cycled back to those sounds — I’m just jumping on the bandwagon.

TBB:  Willie Weird is your alter ego on one of the new records. Can you tell us more about him and your inspiration for this record?

KS: I’m a pretty funny person by nature, at least a handful of people think so…and my Kelley Stoltz albums generally dealt with love, and love lost and more “white man’s problems” kind of themes. So I wanted to do an album that could groove and contain non-sequitur more goofy songs about less serious issues. It was fun to kind of step inside the mind of a character and write from that perspective. It was also an album that had some rules to the writing. Choosing a random beat per minute and working with that, writing the bass line first. Limiting myself to the same 3 instruments.  Embracing tons of computer plug-in effects. That kind of thing — it was fun!

TBB:  I see there’s a track on the EP called “Peoples Park.” Is that a reference to the one in Berkeley?

KS: Yes, but I’ve never been. My song is a picnic scenario. With a line in it from the Diggers who used to hand out free food there.

TBB: In Triange Time is being put out on Castle Face. What’s your relationship like with John Dwyer?

KS: John has always been very supportive of me and I of him… we first played a show together in 2001 and have done many times after. I recorded Thee Oh Sees record Sucks Blood in 2006 or so that to me it still stands as a high water mark for everything labelled “the New San Francisco Sound.” We’re cool? Right John?

kelley stoltz in triangle time
Artwork for ‘In Triangle Time’

TBB: You’ve long been a part of the San Francisco garage rock scene, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes. What’s it like to be a scene stalwart in the middle of a city that’s well-known for its changes, especially in the last couple of years? Do you think the tech boom in the city has impacted the creative energy at all?

KS: Of course it has. Venues have closed or changed, artists have fled. It’s like Patti Smith a few years ago telling young art-focused people, “Don’t move to New York! CBGB’s is a fantasy now.” It’s the same here unfortunately. I think to make things you need lots of time and some space, to try and fail and to keep working. One needs to be free of overwhelming economic-centered anxiety. Of course a little pain is good and normal, and helps so as not to become too lazy! But how can a 21 year old kid move here and hope to create art? And without new ideas, sounds, visuals, words coming in to inspire how can the cycle repeat? I’m afraid the old field of opportunity in the creative, non-money focused areas have nearly dried up. Still, we must persevere!

TBB: Besides working on these records, what have you been up to between touring for your last record and now?

KS: Recording several bands: Useless Eaters, Life Stinks, Virgil Shaw, Cool Ghouls. Doing some musical ad work. Developing a nasty wine habit. Jogging.

TBB: What are your favorite places in the Bay to go to find inspiration/hang out/etc?

KS: I love Ray’s Deli on my corner — good food and great family-run vibe. I like to climb up Bernal Heights and look out over the city. I enjoy a glass of Rosé with my Jazz at the Rite Spot. Real Guitars is a nice chill tone-seekers hang.  La Traviata for spaghetti. Dog Eared Books for a book. Most all about 100 yards from my door.

TBB: Who are your favorite local bands at the moment?

KS: Cold Beat, Dirty Ghosts, Useless Eaters, The Mantles, Once & Future Band, Sarah Bethe Nelson, Ralph Carney, Michael McIntosh, Marc & the Casuals, Life Stinks, Sonny Smith, Cool Ghouls, Anna Hillburg.

TBB: I notice you don’t have an active public presence on social media. I’m just curious, is that a calculated effort or something that just kind of happened?

KS: I spend too much time online as is — with email, Facebook, Ebay, and the news sites — so I’ve not wanted to add any more!

‘In Triangle Time’ is out November 6 on Castleface; ‘4 Cuts’ EP and ‘The Scuzzy Inputs of Willie Weird’ are out October 30 on Stroll On.