It’s impossible to separate an artist’s journey from their work, they’re permanently bound. As a result, when one transits through the deep self-reflection and necessary acceptance one must in order to find and maintain sobriety, there is no choice but to share the results with one’s audience. Ruston Kelly’s Shape & Destroy, his second album and remarkably strong follow-up to 2018’s Dying Star, lays out an unflinching examination of his process and the results are stunning.
Surrendering to stream of consciousness free-writing, Kelly arrived not only at single “Radio Cloud”, but the album’s title and over-arching theme. “This phrase just came to me one day: ‘Shape the life you want by destroying what obstructs the soul,’” he recalls. “I realized that was the ticket to healing myself and healing my mind: figuring out what kind of person I want to become, and then getting rid of everything that keeps me from being that person,” Kelly explains.
Co-produced with his longtime producer Jarrad K (Kate Nash, Weezer, Elohim), many moments on the album feel soft and light, and at times almost jubilant even when addressing the dismissal of demons and coping with their aftermath. This overarching vibe endows the record a weightlessness that carries from start to finish as there is no skipping tracks. “Making this record definitely taught me that I don’t want to be selfish: I want to channel something larger than myself, and give myself to the process as fully as possible, because these songs also become the story of whoever hears them. Whatever someone might get out of listening to this record and hearing me express myself in this way, it’s completely theirs,” Kelly says.
Kelly’s path through sobriety opened up his ability to throw himself headlong into the album process. “From reading about other artists who’ve gone through recovery, I was sort of expecting a dry spell after getting sober, but that didn’t happen,” he says. “Instead I felt this very heightened awareness that lent itself to so much more artistic output, and the songs just started pouring out.”
The success of heightened awareness is undeniable, and “Radio Cloud” is out now with Kelly’s hometown WRLT, KRSH, Birmingham Mountain Radio, and WJCU leading the way.
Photo by Alexa King