From Altar of Plagues to the altar of pop
James Kelly came to niche international attention in the Cork black metal band. His new project couldn’t be more different
James Kelly aka Wife: ‘When you have a fan base it adds different considerations. You ask yourself: is there another life left in this?’
‘There isn’t any subtle way of transitioning from black metal into pop music,” says James Kelly, but the Co Cork musician is willing to give it a go. Kelly, who hails from the small country town of Ballinhassig, achieved international – albeit niche – success with his first band, Altar of Plagues.
This band were a stripped-back take on black metal. The genre revels in flamboyant make-up and leather, but Kelly and his bandmates preferred to take to the stage in their own everyday attire. Now under the pseudonym Wife, Kelly is taking things to the mainstream with his debut solo pop album, What’s Between, on Triangle Records.
Kelly was into heavier music when he was younger, like many teenagers.
“I was drawn to black metal because it has a bit more substance to it than other forms of intense metal, which are often a bit shallow and heavy for the sake of being heavy.”
It was this genre that inspired his initial songwriting, which is a far cry from the subtle and melodic tones of Wife.
Kelly’s first instrument was drums, bought as “my incentive for doing well in the Junior Cert”. Cork has a thriving youth culture, with teenage fans flocking to Paul Street to kill time and swap music. “All of us hung around in Paul Street, which is where all the goth kids go at the weekends. I met loads of guys there who I was in various groups with.”
His fast metal playing made him a valuable asset within the scene, and it was from there that Altar of Plagues took shape in 2006, with Dave Condon.
The band came to a close last year, which Kelly says was the right decision. “When you have a fan base it adds different considerations. You ask yourself: is there another life left in this? At the end of the day you have to do what’s right for you and not appease other people.”
Kelly moved to London to do a master’s degree, and experimented with electronic music in his spare time. Despite having an established fan base, he initially kept his identity a secret. “I was concerned that people would be quite critical of a metal guy taking on a pop project, but they have been quite the opposite really. Even the Altar of Plagues fans have been really supportive.
“My ultimate ambition was to write a pop record. I wasn’t going to cushion it or worry about what people might expect me to sound like.”
Which is where that difficult transition comes in. He recorded the album in his home studio, and got label mate Bobby Krilc aka the Haxan Cloak involved in production.
“It helps you see the wood from the trees,” he says. “When you’re working alone and so closely with the material, you get a bit overexposed and you can’t really hear if it’s good any more; you lose sight of things.”
The buzz builds
The buzz around Kelly is slowly building. What’s Between was released to critical acclaim in June. With a US and extensive European tour behind him, he has just been announced for the Red Bull Music Academy in Tokyo. Triangle Records is gaining traction, and Flea showed up for the Haxan Cloak shows in the US. For now, however, the 25-year-old is remaining rooted to the ground:
“It’s 100 per cent honest; whether or not people like it is another story.”
Wife’s debut album What’s Between is available now via Triangle Records