Kelly Deco and Val Garay: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Kelly Deco and Val Garay: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

By Greg Prato

Do you long for the grand, sweeping, cinematic sound of ’70s rock? If so, then the latest release by the Kelly Deco Band, Constellation, may serve as a much-welcomed musical time machine.

In addition to Deco’s songwriting skills and musicianship, the album was produced by Val Garay – a gentleman who has worked with some of rock’s biggest names (James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Santana, etc.) – which certainly adds another sonic element to such tunes as “Automat Girl,” “David Bowie’s Brain,” and “Destination Fascination.”

Both artist and producer discussed the album with ClassicRockHistory.com, as well as other topics pertaining to their individual careers, and if there will be further Deco/Garay collaborations in the future.

Kelly, how did you first cross paths with Val Garay?

Kelly Deco: Although I had heard about Val Garay in the early 1980’s – while I was recording and staying with Laurel Canyon rock scene cronies who were close friends to him – it wasn’t until 40 years later after a lot of living, recording records, and personal growth, that during Covid-19, I had what I thought was a great record. So, I got a hold of producer Nic Tenbroek who I had been working with since 1983.

I knew the sound I wanted – I had written the songs on acoustic guitar with classical piano accompaniment. The sound was the sound of the 1970’s analog rock – like Andrew Gold’s “Lonely Boy”  and Linda Ronstadt’s “When Will I Be Loved” – where everything is clear, with a musical melody, yet tough and sonically balanced. This is where Nic Tenbroek says to me, “You should see if Val Garay would do it. I am working with him and he practically invented that sound.” I finally got to meet Val Garay at the recording studio when we started the recording session.

Who are some of your musical influences?

Kelly Deco: I have always been interested in dramatic singing styles, classical piano, and rock guitar. I played guitar in jazz band in high school and college. Singers like Frank Sinatra, Anthony Newley, and Elvis Presley really stuck with me. The hippie movement songs about love and peace resonated, and in the 1970’s it was David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and Elton John. When I heard Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, it all made sense to me.

Please discuss a bit of your musical history up to Constellation.

Kelly Deco: I started pretending to be in a band when I was about 5 or 6 – I built a bandstand in the backyard, and forced a group of kids to play with me in the Snoopy Gang. I started writing descriptive poetry at around 8, and my school teachers loved it. At about 15, I got a cheap guitar and put together some songs. I joined the school band, got pretty good and bought a Gibson. I went straight to recording and playing local clubs as the Kelly Deco Still Anxious Band. One night we went down to Los Angeles in the late 1970’s as kind of a dare, and stayed.

We recorded a demo at United Studios – rumored to be for Robert Stigwood. Mentored by Three Dog Night affiliates, I met with music attorney Bill Jacobsen in Century City. I played all the local LA clubs including the Troubadour, and continued recording, made a record, and eventually connected with producer Nic Tenbroek. I made 3 to 5 records with Nic as Kelly Deco over the years, including Big Fish – from which the video for the song, “No Reality’ directed by Wayne White (Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time”) was a national video hit. Time sure went by fast.

What are some memories of writing and recording of Constellation

Kelly Deco: When I wrote the songs for Kelly Deco Constellation, I had had a lot of life behind me, including marriage, divorce, death of close friends and family, and, most of the rock singers I idolized were gone. Coincidentally, I had been working as a lead scenic artist in the motion picture industry since I was introduced to the biz by a close friend of Val Garay, Richard Davis, long ago.

Having a steady creative career gave me a great lifestyle, and allowed me to easily pursue my new records. Since I was really ready and anxious to make Kelly Deco Constellation, I wrote the music for the songs in rapid-fire succession, then, I filled my mind with ideas of outward celestial travel, love, art, and discovery, waited for the words to come, and they did. I am very happy with the songs, and really amazed at how Val Got exactly the sound I was looking for.

Which tracks are your favorite from the album and why?

Kelly Deco: All the songs are very personal and strangely painful for me, though you might not think so. The one thing I learned over the years is great music has to come from real experience.

Before writing Kelly Deco Constellation, I had reconnected with my high school girlfriend and soulmate, Tracy. Her being here filled in a lot of the personal gaps that might have been, and made it easy to sing about love and life experiences. Romance is a constellation…all right now!

What was the lyrical inspiration behind “Automat Girl”?

Kelly Deco: Back in the 1990s, I designed a stage play based on Edward Hopper’s paintings, and it won a Drama-Logue Magazine Award for Stage Design. Edward Hopper’s Automat is a painting from the 1920s and shows a woman in the rapidly approaching modern world. I found this very inspiring and imagined how a 1970s Bruce Springsteen would approach it. I also added 4 other Edward Hopper painting titles in the lyrical mix.

“David Bowie’s Brain”?

Kelly Deco: Ever Since David Bowie left us, I had wondered how – and do we really understand – another artist’s way of thinking? Even ones we think we know about. After seeing the film Being John Malkovich years ago, I liked the idea and I gathered all the vague bits and pieces. I felt I could make a loose roadmap, and take an insider’s trip beyond this living world.

“Destination Fascination”? 

Kelly Deco: This song was written with the 1960’s hippie counterculture generation in front of mind. Back when “scene clubs” like Los Angeles’s Pandora’s Box on the Sunset Strip and the like existed. The idea is of going on an adventure “inside to get outside” and beyond normal social limits to another world somewhere.

Do you plan on playing shows in support of the album?

Kelly Deco: The Kelly Deco Band has been rehearsing the Constellation record and sound good. Planning to bring the live theatrical show everywhere. Destination fascination.

Future plans?

Kelly Deco: I have About 5 more records worth of finished songs, and that same number I would like to rerelease from past recordings. If I am lucky, they will sound as good as this one.

Val, what were your initial impressions of Kelly as an artist, and what drew you into his music?

Val Garay: I never really got to hear Kelly before I went into the studio with him. But when I heard the songs and the way he sang them, I felt that he was extremely talented and very unusual, which is great. And as far as being drawn into the music, I really never heard anything until I went to the studio.

Do you see or hear any similarities between Kelly and any of the artists you’ve previously worked with? 

Val Garay: Well, yes, in terms of originality he’s right there with everybody that I’ve worked with in the past.

Which tracks are your favorite from the album and why?

Val Garay: My favorite track is “Automat Girl” and I think it’s just a very cleverly written song. I also like “David Bowie’s Brain” because I love the lyrical content of it.

Do you prefer the recording process now or from back in the day – with all the new technological advances of recent times? 

Val Garay: I much prefer the recording process today than I did 25 years ago in the analog world, because it’s so much easier to do things. And if you use the proper front-end stuff, to me it sounds as good as or better.

Of all the artists you worked with in the past, who were some of your favorite or most memorable? 

Val Garay: I would say James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Elton John, Kim Carnes, and Martha Davis in the Motels, are some of my favorites.

Do you hope to work with Kelly on future projects? 

Val Garay: Yes, if he decides to do another record I think it would be a lot of fun.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Deco

Kelly Deco and Val Garay: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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