Songwriter Charles Kelley engages in grassroots effort to release debut disc

Allison Corneau

University of Georgia graduate Charles Kelley was in quite the predicament following his college commencement. Armed with a finance degree but spending his days at a job that offered little advancement, the budding musician took a giant leap of faith when deciding to turn his hobby into his new full-time gig. The Nashville-based performer released his debut disc, “2 the 9’s,” online this week, and has an East Coast tour planned for this spring.
The Chronicle gave the music newcomer a call to get his take on creating an album from scratch, his musical family, his feelings on how the Internet is changing the music industry, and much more.

What’s it feel like having your own CD out?
CK: “It’s out and selling. Right now I’m not with a label, but what we’ll be doing is selling them at the shows and online. It’s only been a few months since I’ve been in the music game, but hopefully we can get it re-released under some label support soon.”

How long was your production process? I understand your brother (Hollywood recording artist Josh Kelley) lent a hand.
CK: “Josh actually has a ton of experience production-wise. He’s got a studio in Nashville, which worked out great. I wanted people to find out what he had to offer as a producer. I’d come home with some songs and we’d get to work. (Working with my brother, I) have a lot more input in the way it goes, and he’s got a lot of great ideas.”

What’s the best advice he’s offered you in terms of your career?
CK: “(Seeing Josh’s career evolve taught me music is) always a gradual learning process, a craft, and you get better as you go. I could see firsthand the importance of having a good, loyal fan base and street team to help you get the word out. I’m trying to develop that right now. ”

Any chance we’ll get a Kelley brothers double-bill show here on the east coast soon?
CK: “We might entertain it at some point, but right now he’s doing his thing-on a higher level than me right now-so I’ve got to get everything rolling and hopefully we can work something out.”

When I first met Josh a few years ago, I asked him about his memories performing with you in your high school side band, Inside Blue. What are your memories?
CK: “We had a good time. Sometimes I listen to that little CD and am kind of disappointed we never tried to do anything with it, take it to the next level. I think we were too busy scoping out girls and hanging out with friends to realize we actually had something there. It was a lot of fun, we learned a lot.”

While you’re still searching for label support, you’ve turned to the online networking tool to get your music out. Can you talk a bit about how the Internet has allowed you to reach a larger audience?
CK: “( is a giant tool now. I think anyone who doesn’t utilize it as a musician is missing the boat. Before I even put the CD out, I was able to (put songs online), so I had a little buzz started before the album came out. It’s another great marketing tool, especially for an independent artist. It’s really changing the game.”

You graduated from the University of Georgia with a finance degree. Any idea where you would be if music had not called your name?
CK: “I was handling the books for this waste-hauling firm, waking up every morning at 6:30 a.m. and dreading going into work. That’s an awful feeling, especially since I was 22 at the time. I had to get out of that. Josh and I started writing songs and the excitement of getting back into music just crept back. Within a week, we had come up with probably ten songs that in my opinion were great, great songs (and the album was born). Everybody’s always told me that I was wasting a true talent, so finally I succumbed to the pressure and here I am. Now the little savings I had are starting to dwindle, so it’s time to have some of this pay off.

What do your family and friends think about your recent success?
CK: “I say they’re stunned, but they’ve always had a feeling I’d end up giving it a shot. I graduated and had a little desk job, and they just thought that would be what I did. All of a sudden, I said I was going to give this a shot. After seeing Josh have some success, they know it’s not just a shot in the wind. (My parents) could see after I graduated that I wasn’t the same, I wasn’t very happy, not doing what I wanted to do. It was one of those tough times in life-you’re off your parents’ dime and you’ve got to figure out what you want to be. It’s not easy.”

Let’s switch gears to talk about some fun stuff. Other than your own disc, what are you listening to at the moment?
CK: “I’m really, really into Martin Sexton. Maybe it’s out of choice, but to see a guy like that not taking over the music industry blows my mind. He’s so creative, and he’s one of those brilliant artists out there hitting the road everyday. He does have a huge following, but it’s shocking to me that he’s not out there winning Grammy’s because he’s done some bold stuff.”

And since I know you’ve got an indirect hookup (brother Josh is currently dating series star Katherine Heigl), can you tell me what’s going to happen on next week’s “Grey’s Anatomy”? What other shows have you hooked?
CK: “I don’t really watch too much TV. I watch a little reality television every now and then. I’ve got to admit that “Laguna Beach” catches my eye when I watch it. I like to see what Kristin’s up to. I watch “Grey’s” every now and then. It’s a little too much drama for me. It’s like a soap opera in an ER. It’s a good show, definitely taking the world by storm.”

Lastly, being a college student-turned-successful musician, what advice can you offer musicians in our age group?
CK: “I didn’t realize how much work it did take. You’ve got to be true to yourself, but you’ve got to realize you’re being watched. If you work hard, good things hopefully will come.”