Irish singer-songwriter duo Byrne and Kelly will take the stage at The Rococo Theatre on Saturday, April 7, at 7:30 p.m.
Byrne and Kelly, full names Neil Byrne and Ryan Kelly, are both members of the group Celtic Thunder, who decided to merge their complementary talents into the dynamic duo they are today. Byrne and Kelly released their latest album, “Echoes,” in 2016, which hit the number one spot on the iTunes World Music chart. Soon after, they released the music documentary film “Echoes: The Story,” which received critical praise. The pair started their world tour in Kansas City on Jan. 24. The Daily Nebraskan spoke to Byrne on the duo’s experience on tour so far, their influences and their start as a music duo.
The Daily Nebraskan: How would you describe the music you write?
Neil Byrne: The music that Byrne and Kelly write is inspired by real life stories, history, places of importance and beauty. Without sounding pretentious, our main interest is to be completely honest when we’re on stage performing, and we can only achieve this by writing music about subjects that are very honest and close to our hearts. The style of our music is definitely a collective mixture of folk and Celtic with a strong commercial sound.
DN: Are there any musical talents you find yourselves drawing inspiration from?
Byrne: We have many musical influences, perhaps too many to mention from the Celtic song book. Celtic melodies and compositions have lasted hundreds of years due to the beauty and depth of the writing. We are heavily influenced by these stories and melodies. American folk and country resonates throughout the B&K camp as well since we have spent many years growing up to the sounds of Glen Campbell and Alison Krauss to name but a few. On the more commercial, pop side of things, Billy Joel, Damien Rice and The Beatles are a few of the names that have made a huge impact on our songwriting.
DN: In 2012, you performed a series of shows called “Acoustic By Candlelight.” How did this come about?
Byrne: In March 2012 myself and Ryan Kelly were on a promotional tour of PBS TV stations to promote one of Celtic Thunder’s productions. We sang live on TV every night, and it was also in front of a studio audience. On more than a few occasions, folks from the studio audience approached us after the TV show and expressed how they felt that Ryan and myself blended so well together and that we should think about performing some duet shows together. When this had been suggested quite a few times, it got us thinking about this idea of a Byrne and Kelly collaboration. The rest is history.
DN: In what ways were the “Acoustic By Candlelight” shows the starting point of Byrne and Kelly?
Byrne: I have to admit, our first setlist consisted of a lot of random songs, but the most important thing for us was how natural it felt together on stage and how well our voices blended. We decided to take our time in finding the true B&K sound by recording our first album consisting of cover versions of classic Irish songs. We didn't want to rush into writing our own music before we found the essence of our style and sound.
DN: What inspired you to create the music documentary “Echoes: The Story?” What was your favorite experience in making the documentary?
Byrne: We had released our album “Echoes,” and having received amazing feedback on and off the tour gave us great confidence in our own creative writing through all of our original songs. This was a huge step forward for us. People seemed to really enjoy the backstories of our songs, and this became a big part of our show.
I suppose this led us to recording a live show to a small invitational audience in Kansas City. Our director wanted to film some interviews also to capture our personalities both on and off stage, and because we had written these stories about Ireland and our upbringing on the Emerald Isle, we felt that it would be the icing on the cake to take our camera crew around Ireland to all the various places we wrote these songs about. When I watch the DVD back, I'm so glad we had gone that extra mile. My most memorable moment in the making of the documentary was standing on the Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean and thinking about our ancestors leaving those shores back during the famine times. We are still celebrating our ancestors through song today. They were very heartfelt and powerful moments.
DN: Both of you still live in the town you grew up in. How does this influence your music, as compared to your experiences traveling the world?
Byrne: I find a huge contrast from the small Irish town in Bray, County Wicklow that I was brought up in to the big cities of the world we spend a lot of our time in while touring. I guess it gives you a real perspective upon the different cultures and [is] a great tool for songwriting.
DN: In a 2016 interview with Celtic Life International Magazine, you reveal you plan to share stories and engage with your audiences on tour. How has your crowd experience been so far on the Home from Home World Tour?
Byrne: The Home from Home Tour has started well with a two week visit to Australia. It was the first time our Australian friends had heard the songs from our “Echoes”album live, along with the backstories. I always feel like it's a challenge when performing your own compositions to an audience for the first time; It's like introducing your kids and hoping people will like them. But thankfully, the Aussies gave us an amazing reception and made our 18 hours flying time worthwhile.
DN: Now that you’ve had the experience of performing in arena-sized crowds with Celtic Thunder and intimate venues as Byrne and Kelly, all on the same tour, how do the two experiences compare? Are there certain advantages or disadvantages to both?
Byrne: I really enjoy both shows and concert styles in their own right. It's an amazing feeling when there are 3,000 people in one room and all on the same page, singing and cheering for what you are doing. You get a real sense that people are forgetting about the stresses and anxiety in their lives for two hours, and if I can be part of providing that getaway, it's one of the biggest rewards at any show—big or small. The more intimate concert style can strangely enough be more enjoyable because you get to chat to people. I can look into their eyes and connect so much more. I guess it's like inviting someone into your living room and chatting about your life and experiences along with singing to a cozy, captive audience.