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The Cairo Gang’s New Song Alludes to the Brilliance of the Velvet Underground

Listen to 'That’s When It’s Over’, a new track from Emmett Kelly's upcoming album.

by Tim Scott
07 March 2017, 8:34am

The Cairo Gang was a group of British intelligence agents sent to Dublin during the Irish War of Independence to conduct intelligence operations against the Irish Republican Army. It is also the personal music project of Emmett Kelly, a guy who sounds like he could be a one time member of the IRA, but is a Los Angeles singer, songwriter and guitarist.

A respected collaborator, Kelly has built a reputation working alongside Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Angel Olsen and Joan of Arc, but the Cairo Project has his voice front and centre.

His latest album Untouchable, will be released March 24 on God?, the Drag City imprint run by Ty Segall, who also plays drums and engineered the sessions for the album at his Los Angeles studio.

Kelly produces literate and polished pop that doesn't shy from the past, and his previous album, 2015's Goes Missing, drew from the Byrds' jangle as much as it did the raunch of the Kinks.

Following Untouchable's first single "What Can You Do?", today Kelly releases "That's When It's Over".

Take a listen and read a chat we had with Emmett.

Noisey: The guitar and drum beats at the very start sound similar to "Sweet Jane". Was this deliberate?
Emmett Kelly: I obviously love that song. This allusion to it is definitely deliberate. The song has a few key popular references and are meant to be there to function as a subtext. 

Since the change of the United States Presidency it becomes to read into American songwriters lyrics and especially the line, "Blind is the man who convinced he sees the truth". When was this written?
It was written probably around the time the election process started I suppose. This song is not a reflection on current events. The political situation is inescapable, and I am totally abhorred by the vastness of it. How deeply fucked everything is. It's truly revolting! It also is humbling to witness because it paints a pretty clear picture of the scope of intelligence people seem to have, and how proudly ignorant they are. But they are living in the postmodern world and intelligence and ignorance seem to have become synonymous. Thus Père Ubu, Donald Trump and all the other Devils play dolls with the world. I won't claim to be intelligent that way. 

You grew up in LA, spent a lot of time in Chicago and now back in LA. Does Los Angeles influence or affect the way you write or approach music compared to living in the Mid West?
Where I live definitely influences my music. I spend a lot of time in a far better environment in California than I did in Chicago, be that hallucinatory or otherwise. There is no need to be so masochistic.

What was it like recording at Ty's studio? I heard he's got a pretty cool setup. 
He has a wonderful set up. He also has a wonderful mind for music and capturing it. But effectively it's like recording at home which is close to the way I have always worked. 

What is the best lunch spot or late night snack spot near the studio?
Cacao is a far out Mexican place. Strictly one of a kind. The Blue Hen is good too. And the Dell just opened, so ....

'Untouchable' is available March 24 on God?